Ruth Everson is a poet, writer, keynote speaker and coach who strives to live On Purpose. We got to know her as a teacher at St Stithians, where Carel is chair of the governing council. Ruth taught English for 39 years and continues to follow her passions: poetry, speaking, facilitating and workshopping. From time to time, Ruth contributes to the CN&CO blog, for which we are delighted. She does so under the banner “WholeHearted”. Her articles give pause for thought and add enormously to the richness and diversity of our blog. Here is her latest contribution:
Productivity is important. We need to work, most of us, in order to live. There is, however, a threshold where productivity must be curtailed, ironically, in order to survive. On the other side of too much work is stress, burnout, heart attacks and strokes.
I have a handle on what it means to be productive and to work hard. A holiday or something to which we can look forward is a light at the end of the tunnel of work. We can draw a line and step away when a task is complete. I also know that there is no such line when it comes to personal development. We can leave work behind, but not ourselves.
I facilitate workshops, for adults and teens, on creativity and the power of searching not for The Truth, but for a better truth. As a life coach, my role is to be radically present as I help my client to find a way forward. My poetry is an investigation into purpose and meaning. A single new thought, a moment of clarity, can change the course of a life.
My search for my own truth has taken me to difficult places. I know that there are times when I could have been kinder. I could have held back on the witty but cutting remark. I could have made more effort to make my nemesis my friend. My life is full of “could, would, should”. I went to a Nataniël show recently. In one of his magical stories, he spoke about ‘”spyt” or regret, being the hardest thing to bear. Sing it with me: “Regrets, I’ve had a few…” and probably not “too few to mention”.
We can be our harshest critics. Personal development is not about going to war with ourselves. It’s a reshaping of how we see ourselves and the world. Perception is transformation. Rory Sutherland* believes that the “biggest progress in the next 50 years may come not from improvements in technology but in psychology and design thinking”. It’s not what we think; it’s how we think.
I’ll tie this together with a story. I ride a scooter. Just over two weeks ago, a young man in a delivery van turned in front of me. There’s not a lot of dignity in being sprawled in the middle of a busy intersection. The driver, Absalom, came to my help, along with friends who had seen the accident. My overriding memory is of the kindness of friends and strangers and the look of fear in Absalom’s eyes as he said repeatedly that he hadn’t seen me and that it was his fault.
Standing on the side of the road, with a fractured shoulder and a bent bike, I made a choice. If I went the angry route and reported him, he would probably be sanctioned in some way. I have no idea what the ripple effect of that might have been. I told him: “Absalom and Ruth are both names from the Bible. It’s ok.”
Does this make me a kind person? No, not necessarily. Have I worked on the skill of being kind? Yes, I try to improve my thinking and my truth all the time. We are not born being kind, or angry, or helpless. We may have a predisposition to behave in a certain way, but we are also born with choice. Better truth makes for better choices. This is the inspirational teaching of Viktor Frankl, who survived the horror of Auschwitz and dedicated his life to a search for meaning and the power of attitude.
A few days after my accident, I was at a friend’s painting party. The painting, shown here, is awkward, but I needed to capture the words running through my head: “I have seen the world from upside-down and heaven is on the ground.” This is where we can make a difference – in a moment of choice based on how we have taught ourselves to see the world.
Work is hard without purpose. This year has dealt some heavy blows; it has also cleared the space for some wonderful opportunities. All the work that is coming is tied to purpose.
I read this a long time ago and don’t remember the source: If you are holding a glass of water and someone bumps you, what spills out is not the water, but your attitude.
Let’s bump into one another gently. We can all help someone stand up from a broken place.
Sutherland, R.2019. Alchemy. The Surprising Power of Ideas that Don’t Make Sense. London: Penguin Random House.