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  • Paul Rutherford

MUSIC AND BONES


On a recent coaching call, the coachee asked how to find more time and space to reflect on personal and team performance. I ask, what is your preference now? “I like music. Sitting down with a glass of wine and listening to some Chopin or some Liszt is good. Space appears very quickly.” Chopin and Liszt are very specific. Can you play piano?

“Used to. Played a lot in my teens and twenties. The Romantics, even some Satie. But work and family and travel and email - there isn’t time anymore. “We have a piano in the house - inheritance from my parents. It’s a fine upright, but I can’t remember the last time I raised the lid. It’s just a piece of furniture now.” There’s a pause in the conversation, followed by:

“I’m going to get a tuner in, just to see what it’s like now. I don’t think my youngest boy even knows that I play.” Coaching questions are always best self-solved. “What do you do, Paul? If I have lost my keyboard touch, what else could I try?” I assume that your preference is auditory, so any access to sound might settle you. Even listening to white noise. Kinetic people like motion - dance, running, sport. I know one vice-president who talks through all his people problems while cycling. "It’s good for fitness, but it just isn’t settling," says the coachee. "I have to play pop music when I’m jogging, just to keep me going. It’s only about weight control for me, not finding clarity.” That’s why I separated auditory from kinetic; different strokes for different folks. “And for you?” The coachee won’t let me off the hook.

My preference is verbal. Reading, conversation, the nuances of language. And in the right frame of mind, writing is like meditation. I learnt that 30 years ago, from a book called Writing Down the Bones (WDtB). “You’re a would-be novelist?” No! WDtB isn’t about stories; it’s about writing as a practice. Like meditation, or yoga, or running. Or playing scales. Its practice sounds simple. An A4 book (or a yellow legal pad) and a pencil. Date at the top of a clean page, and start writing, whatever comes into your head. That’s hard when you begin. We’re taught to have an objective, to write with purpose. But with daily practice, you can begin to put that aside and let other thoughts emerge. Sometimes you write nonsense. That’s fine. You’re not going to show it to anyone else, so just keep going. Don’t edit, just keep the pen moving. Sometimes you’ll run out of thought. That’s fine too. In one journal I have half a page of the word ‘Pause’ over and over and over, until something else arose. Just stick with it.

The exercise - the practice - is not about writing a bestseller or a Shakespearean sonnet. Nor is it to consciously make a case, trying to convince anyone about anything. It’s just about keeping the pencil moving. Once you get to the bottom of the page (at my speed, that’s 15-20 minutes), put the ending time in the space beneath the last line, and then write a headline at the top. More often than not, the ‘title’ won’t be what you were expecting at the start.

Then put the journal or notepad away. And the next day, repeat.

Simple. And the truth will out. * * * Writing this post prompted me to look out an earlier WDtB journal, starting 1 January 2001. And scribbled in the margin I found this quotation from Arthur Koestler: “The creative act does not create something out of nothing; it uncovers, selects, reshuffles, combines, synthesises already existing facts, ideas, faculties and skills. The more familiar the parts, the more striking the new whole.” Another reason to write down your own bones.

Coachaiku: 17-syllable reflections, in a 5-7-5 form, for personal and professional development.

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