The time will come 
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

(Love after Love: Derek Walcott)

It’s a strange phenomenon in our modern life that most of us spend our time being dissatisfied or embarrassed with who we are. It seems as if we have heard stories from so many teachers and parents and friends about the things we have done wrong. It gets so bad that if someone compliments us, our first thought is often to wonder what they want from us!

Research shows that in order for us to do our best thinking and work we need at least five appreciations for every criticism we receive. So a great starting point is for each of us to start a revolution and go out there and try to live by that rule – give five appreciations for every criticism. Look for the good in what everyone around us does – at home and at work – and take the time to acknowledge what they have done. The change in quality of our relationships is astonishing.

But I think that this might just be the easy part – giving appreciation to others. The greater challenge might just be to turn things around and silence those voices of judgment in our own heads and start appreciating ourselves. I found this to be a really difficult task, but the poem gives us a pointer to attitude and starting place.

Derek Walcott invites each one of us to take down the photographs and re-visit our life, feasting on what you have achieved already. Bring together all the pieces of your autobiography and look at them as a good news story as to how you have travelled the path that brings you to this particular moment in time.

This is the you that stands in front of the mirror – the you that inhabits your body. This is the you that is going out into the world to make a success of your life in the way that you (and no-one else) chooses to define success.

I’ve started doing this and, for the first time have started to appreciate what it took for the thin asthmatic youngster that I was in primary school to refuse to accept those limitations when I went to high school. I took everyone on at what should have been my weakest feature – physical strength – and by the time I was 20, I had become one of the fastest junior 400 metre hurdlers in the world!

I notice that in the past I tell this story by focusing on the might-have-been of my competing at the Olympics if South Africa had not been expelled that year and how this demotivated me so that, in any case, I just missed the qualification time and ...

But the story is actually one of an asthmatic child finding enormous strength of character, determination and guts to aim high and achieve, Telling this story helps me realise that I still have those characteristics very much present in me and ready for use – even if I can no longer jump a hurdle.

The important thing is to hold this particular story close and precious to me and be willing to share this aspect of my life as a good news story without getting caught up in the negative obsession of stories of disappointment and failure as some sort of proof that I am not proud or arrogant.

My invitation to each reader is to start the process of at least 5 appreciations to one criticism on yourself and enjoy the changing perspective - particularly in these challenging post-Covid, current-powerless-Eskom pandemic days.

What would the world be like if we were each able to draw, with elation, on the moments of significant strength and courage. that have been part an integral part of our lives?

I ended Part Two of this series of three Love (and Work) in a Time of Corona reflections with the following intentions for future teaching:

It is time to start. I have a new determination to do this walking with a measured pace that takes time to play with the nuances of each situation. There is no destination in sight (or in mind), but there is a clarity of purpose that asks me to serve those who approach me to work with them. I want my teaching to serve humanity in attempting to find a way to end our separatist views of the world. I want to encourage participants to join me in taking personal as well as collective and organisational responsibility for adding positively to the human and non-human spirit in the world and planet. I want to be part of a movement that encourages and assists a new form of leadership that shares this vision. Let the new journey begin …

The journey did in fact begin in earnest only a week after I wrote these words!

Yet another past EMBA student approached me to work with the full staff complement of around 30 of a company (ON) on whose board he served. The company had recently gone through a leadership change in both position and style, and he wanted to offer a learning programme that empowered every individual in the team to use self-reflection as a way of contributing more effectively to the team. He asked me to cover concepts such as personal bias, error and illusion, personal contribution to conflict and courageous conversations. In addition, he wanted me to work with selected senior team members in building and growing their personal leadership capacity. Given the inner place I had reached by the end of the last blog above, I knew I had to accept!

It was a magnificent journey that pushed me to the limits and challenged my understanding of what was possible using technology and how open and vulnerable participants would be prepared to be on an online platform - and how open and vulnerable I would allow myself to be!

We finished the programme in the first week of December after completing ten three-hour ZOOM sessions plus two one-hour homework check-in ZOOM sessions. I was exhausted after giving it my all and was thrilled to head off into the wifi-free Robertson mountains the following week.

During this downtime, I had the staggering thought that this particular programme had possibly been the best teaching and learning experience of my fifty-year teaching career. I was delighted to get some confirmation of this when I opened my email account at the start of the new year and found this gift: Chris Breen - We Thank You.

I wrote the above on my return to work on the morning of 6 January (here in Cape Town) in the middle of a second wave of infections and a new set of lockdown restrictions. I had a feeling that I needed to complete my inner 2020 story with a description of the subsequent outer action, but found myself writing hesitantly, and by the time I finished for the day, I was still not thoroughly committed to the writing.

Everything changed when I awoke this morning to the news of the storming of the US Capitol by dissatisfied voters during which, tragically, five people died. I remembered my italicised intentions for future teaching that I requoted at the start of this writing. They suddenly seemed to grow an importance of their own in which I knew that I had to complete this blog.

I've decided to highlight some of the core aspects that I think formed the cornerstone of the success of the programme, especially those that emerged from my inner COV-19 processes and struggles with coming to terms with the online format. My hope is that those who read this blog are able to resonate with my intentions and consequently find possible seeds for their own practices.

CLIENT SUPPORT. This particular programme was such a unique experience. Eugene had completed the EMBA a decade earlier and had tried to get me involved in doing some work in his previous workplaces on at least two occasions over the past decade. He was able to articulate the high level strategic outcomes that he was looking for in the programme, but was very happy to leave the design to me. I met with the coordinating team of three to present the proposed programme for approval and was met with enthusiasm. All three stayed in generous feedback contact with me throughout the programme and created a space of trust where I was encouraged and supported in continually tweaking the design and methodology in accordance with the feedback from each session. We met on ZOOM at the end of the first module to share views and plot the path ahead. The in-site company member signed up for some additional coaching sessions to make sure that he could make optimal use of each session in the daily running of the company. Finally, Eugene was always available to give feedback and advice, and was always supportive of my suggestions. I think that this trust in the process and in my skill and experience was a crucial element in the programme's success.

DESIGN. The design I proposed was initially based on the basic format of the Executive Personal Leadership programmes I had done inhouse for several companies in the past. However, my initial somewhat fraught COV-19 experiences (described in an earlier blog) had drawn me to David Whyte's work on The Three Marriages and, in particular, to the foundational importance of attending to our Marriage to Self. I incorporated these ideas into the basic design below, which was to be delivered in twelve three-hour sessions over three modules of four sessions each.

Module 1: Marriage to Self. Disrupting Certainty; Subjective Bias; Introducing Complexity; Marriage to Self; I am Good Enough; Reclaiming Self; Starting Habits to ensure Self-Care and Well-being.

Module 2: Marriage to Other. Vulnerability; Words Create Worlds; Shadow Projection Work; Hinge Moments; Archetypes.

Module 3: Marriage to Work. Diversity Conversations; Trust; Inter-personal Appreciation and Growth feedback; The Way Ahead.

PRESENCE. As described in the second blog in this series , I have spent the better part of over 30 years developing an interactive, perturbatory teaching style that is strongly located in Varela and Maturana's Santiago Theory of Cognition and enactivism. I had developed confidence in my ability to read my audience and select the appropriate amount of challenge, disruption or support for each occasion as it arose. However, this ZOOM platform created a whole new world where I was suddenly deprived of body language as a source of information. I had already muddled my way through my first ZOOM teaching session with an EMBA class of 60+, but I wanted to speed up my learning of the medium.

I decided to take the plunge and sign up for a six-week Improv Train the Trainer course run by Michelle Clarke, who runs the Coaching via Technology FaceBook group. I was already familiar with the enormous insights provided by Improv (see, for example, the Ten Commandments of Improv), and had both done workshops as a participant and included it as a core part of a previous UCT GSB Executive Leadership course (LEP). I wanted to be thrown out of my comfort zone as the teacher, and take on the role of an Improv participant on an online platform who had to risk and move out of my introvert safety. I wanted to be able to observe myself and others in action, and take note of my ZOOM presence.

In the company of around twelve wonderful companions, these weekly sessions helped me find a way to 'read' the room on ZOOM and gave me the opportunity to 'see' myself in action (as you will see below).

METHODOLOGY. My first amateurish EMBA session brought me an enormous methodology gift. My normal face-to-face teaching in the later stages of a programme usually involve me taking more of a back seat through the use of video talks. In that infamous first online EMBA session, it soon became apparent that my internet link was not powerful enough for me to play the scheduled video TED talk, and I eventually had to send out the link so that the 60+ participants could each watch the talk on their own before coming back to the ZOOM meeting room to discuss it. This forced me to rethink my sessions and I returned to the ideas of an early mathematics education mentor, Dick Tahta. In the example of teaching a Geometry lesson, Dick would ask what the core concept was that I was wanting to address in the lesson. Once I had identified this, the next question asked me to identify the canonical image that would encapsulate this concept and the activity that would imprint this image on the learner.

My sessions in this ON programme consequently centred around the selection of the most appropriate activities to meet these criteria and the ways in which they could be introduced and held to maximise their impact.

TECHNOLOGY. The Improv course paid enormous dividends in improving my use of the ZOOM medium. I increased my versatility through the use of both Chat and Poll functionality (where appropriate) as well as improving sound quality through the use of advanced Share Screen options, Background Screens and Name editing. However, the most exciting tool was the 'hide non-video participants' feature. I could immediately see the purpose of this as many of my old activities involved the use of volunteers coming forward to demonstrate a concept or role-play something. Now I had a means to do this online and I soon got the chance to try this out in the course when I facilitated an activity!

(This extract highlights the many opportunities for learning. My presence might well be strong, but clearly the positioning of my face on the screen could be improved! One also needs to let go of control and be prepared for a participant taking a quick break ... And finally, it's always a good idea to try the activity out before using it in class; I belatedly notice that the medium has changed the dynamics of the activity and my partner is actually standing beside me and not in front of me ...! 

INTIMACY. I've come to believe that the crucial aspect of my work lies in the challenge to create a field of Intimacy in the programme where the focus is on heart and body engagement as well as the mind. The development of Trust between participants will depend on the levels of Intimacy established during the course and the skills learned will need to have an ongoing life after the course is finished. My second blog in this series had been deeply influenced by what turned out to be a prescient Charles Eisenstein Commune course on Political Hope in which he drew attention to the dangers of our focus on war-like othering without compassion for the variety of stories that underpin our lives as well as the crucial importance of a different focus on our interbeingness in the world. I have tried to highlight some of the ways in which I attempted to pay attention to this aspect as I developed my skills and the programme.

Movement. My training as a Biodanza facilitator and the impactful and insightful journey that this took me on over several years, showed me the importance of introducing more embodied learning through movement. I began setting up safe spaces for the introduction of exercises such as Mirror Movement as well as a more challenging 90-minute vivencial set of fifteen activities carried out in silence.

The final part of our Improv training invited each of us to facilitate an activity. I took the plunge and decided to explore the possibility of setting up a Mirroring activity. The group members were wonderful in accepting the challenge. I arranged them randomly in pairs using breakout rooms, and then I took them through a preparatory process where they first grounded and appreciated themselves with their eyes closed. They then opened their eyes and looked deeply into the eyes of their partner so that they could see their shared interbeingness. When the music began, they started to co-create the shared movement so that there was no leader or follower.

The feedback afterwards strongly suggested that this activity created a high level of shared Intimacy. The results encouraged me to introduce the activity into my next session with the 60+ EMBAs.

Music. One of the ways I prepare to teach is to spend the time immediately before the session listening (and sometimes moving) to music. The music usually starts out quite energetically and moves towards a peaceful and centred conclusion by the time we start. For this programme, I decided to be upfront about this and invited participants to join me in this fifteen minutes. (We had already established a rule of arriving in silence five minutes before the starting time). This became a wonderful process as I now had responsibility for putting together a playlist and I started linking the music to the theme for the session. Participants also gave feedback on the music they liked and even started sending me their own favourites for consideration for inclusion.

Feedback. The Chat function (set to only be for me as host) opened up a wonderful possibility of getting instant private feedback at the end of each session. While it was not compulsory, I did follow up by sending emails to those who kept silent and, in this way, opened up a different form of conversation. This feedback gave me the chance to adjust my next session to cater for any suggestions, address concerns expressed or write personally to open up conversation on what I felt to be private issues. On a few occasions, this led to separate coaching sessions, which were fully supported by the client.

Trust. Only in the last few sessions did we actually start explicitly focusing on Trust, but we had been developing it throughout the course. I firmly believe that I cannot ask participants to be vulnerable about their own lives and failings if I am not willing to do the same. At the start of each session, I would describe my main learning from the previous week and how I had been able to learn from my mistakes, or at last make progress in remedying a persistent issue. Trust was built up through the many breakout-room conversations that they shared. I introduced Nancy Kline's Thinking Pair quite early in the programme as a means to start sharing without getting comment or judgment. This moved on to giving specific focused vulnerable questions to discuss in pairs or groups in the breakout rooms. I made sure the breakout-room setting kept the group together until I chose to bring them back - no early avoidance exits!

One of the most rewarding comments during the programme came from a senior leader in the organisation when he said that, while it was hard to give specifics or identify any cause-result product, the team was working a whole lot better together. Members were talking far more respectfully, so he believed that the impact of the course had been amazing,

The above picture is just one of many taken from yesterday's invasion of the Capitol. Eisenstein's plea for Political Hope fell on deaf ears and the divide has widened, with drastic consequences.

I end this blog and my 2020 COV-19 journey recommitting myself to the core sentiments with which I started it:

I commit my teaching to serve humanity in attempting to find a way to end our separatist views of the world. I will encourage participants to join me in taking personal as well as collective and organisational responsibility for adding positively to the human and non-human spirit in the world and planet. I will endeavour to support leadership that shares this vision. 

My teaching journey in 2021 starts in a fortnight's time so it feels important to carry these commitments with me as I meet and interact with the new group of participants. In light of this, it seems highly appropriate that this new group consists of academics/activists who have dedicated themselves to working to improve society.

Francisco Varela (1946 - 2001) was Chilean theoretical biologist who, together with his mentor, Humberto Maturana, is best known for introducing the concept of autopoiesis to biology, and for co-founding the Mind and Life Institute to promote dialogue between science and Buddhism.

Both Maturana and Varela became very important to me when, way back in the late 1980's, I was researching my own practice as a mathematics education searching for an appropriate teaching methodology for transformation. I was working from a grounded theory perspective so it was really important that I found a theoretical framework of cognition which could embrace both what I was trying to do and what I was observing in my classrooms. I finally found my pot of gold in Maturana and Varela's Santiago Theory of Cognition and the concept of enactivism.

The Santiago Theory of Cognition identifies the process of knowing as the activity that allowed the self-generation of living systems – cognition is the process of life. In the case of humans, this includes language and conceptual thought. The physicist Fritjof Capra believes that the Santiago theory of cognition is the first scientific theory that really overcomes the Cartesian division of mind and matter and unifies mind, matter, and life.

In 1992 Varela gave a set of three lectures to an audience at the University of Bologna on the topic of ethical thought. These lectures were later published by Stanford University Press with the title: Ethical Know-How: Action, Wisdom and Cognition. The lectures cover a wonderful range of theory from contemporary scientific thought to philosophical reflection that includes non-Western traditions.

In the first lecture, Varela introduces the topic of micro-worlds and micro-identities.

His starting point is that we each inhabit a whole range of micro-worlds in our lives (as parent, child, employee, direct report, spouse, friend, lover, …), and for each of these we have a specific distinct and well-developed micro-identity that we bring to each of these micro-worlds. These micro-identities are not so much masks that we put on to hide our true selves but rather behaviours, skills or characteristics that we successfully foreground in spaces as we navigate this micro-world's specificities.

Before introducing this topic of micro-worlds and micro-identities in my Personal Leadership programmes, I use David Whyte's concept of Three Marriages and ask each participant to allocate the percentage that they on average give to each of the three marriages - to Self, to Other(s) and to Work.

The most common response by far finds participants acknowledging that they spend at least 80% of their time on their marriage to Work. (The most neglected marriage is the marriage to Self which scores between 0% and 10%. This is particularly alarming when Whyte claims that it is impossible it is impossible to have a good marriage to either Work or Other if one does not have a good marriage to Self!! I may follow this thread some time in another blog)

Discussing the implications of this over-commitment to the marriage to Work, I include a question about the ways in which this marriage to Work impacts on the lives of and interactions with their family when the come home at the end of the day. The most common responses include greeting the family while on the cell as they arrive home; immediate disappearance or collapsing in front of the TV on the grounds that they have had a hard day; continual cell phone use even at the dinner table and in the bedroom; an abruptness with the children with a heavily transactional mode of engagement (have you done your homework, tidied your room, time for bed, etc.); and a downloading of the worst experiences of the day with their spouse when at last they have some 'quiet time' together.

These responses are often given both with a degree of guilt but also a shrug of the shoulders that suggests that such behaviour is what is expected of them - so what can they do? However, they do look sheepish when I comment that their partners and children must SO look forward to them coming home each evening with their daily dose of misery and the intrusion into the home of their work. They also nod in agreement when I jokingly say that it must be such a pity for them that the people at home do not respond to instructions as quickly and as easily as their subordinates do at work!

It's important to pause and say that these are just ordinary men and women at all levels in the corporate world who are doing their best to survive (in many cases) or get ahead. The reader will no doubt have recognised some of their own behaviour in the above description and can easily add a few more similar examples!

I find Varela's concepts extremely helpful in both naming the behaviour and in finding ways to change these practices.

In essence the source of the disjuncture lies in the fact that the returning worker has entered the new micro-world of the home without letting go of their work micro-identity.

This is clearly a problem and inappropriate so I invite participants in my course to start working consciously working with the shift between micro-worlds.

The first challenge I give them is to start practicing with a challenge that should be simple. When we next go on tea- or lunch-break they will be shifting micro-worlds from classroom learning to social interaction. The task I set them is to be aware of their return to the classroom and the need to change to an appropriate micro-identity.

The specifics of the exercise are that I ask them to treat the doorway that separates the classroom from the outside tea space as the portal them that takes one from one micro-world to another.

I challenge them to see if they can stop at the doorway and become aware that they are about to cross the threshold. Once they stop they should take a deep breath and ground themselves and then say aloud 'I'm in!' as an indication of their readiness to change micro-worlds, leave the concerns of work and break conversation behind, and commit themselves to the learning that lies ahead.

This is far more difficult than it sounds and I, for one, really struggle to catch the moment of crossing the threshold.

There are some rules that are aimed at supporting this change of microworlds such as the chairs being in a circle, silence and no technology allowed in the circle,  gentle music playing, and an expectation that everyone is seated two minutes before the designated starting time of the session so that they have this time to close their eyes and do a mindfulness practice that brings their mind, body and heart into the learning space.

The process within the room is much easier to manage as all it needs is some self-regulation in the context of a shared objective. It is an amazing experience when we get this right and everyone is grounded and present as the timer goes for the start of the lesson. The increased quality of attention and contribution is amazing.

Participants are then asked to extend this practice in an appropriate form to the transition between work and home micro-worlds as a homework assignment between teaching modules. Each participant is encouraged to find their own appropriate ritual but I offer the following as a suggested exemplar for those who travel to work by car.

"Keep a stone in your car’s cubby hole. When you get into your car to go to work, take the stone out of the cubbyhole and put it in your pocket. Use the drive to work to think about the day that lies ahead of you and prioritise activities. Try not to be put off track by the unexpected crises of the day. When it reaches time for you to go home, try to make all necessary calls before you leave for home. On the journey home, your thoughts will almost inevitably stay at work and you will remember other calls you should have made. When you get near to home, consciously choose to park a block away (preferably where there is some greenery) and make those last calls. When you are finished with them, turn your phone off. Then take the stone out of your pocket and put it back in your car’s cubby hole. Ground yourself and think of all the reasons you have to be grateful for your home and the people there. When you are ready, drive home and enter the house with gratefulness ready to engage with an open heart with your loved ones as you navigate all the complexity that this entails'.

Sometimes I offer this activity as homework at the end of the first day of a two day module. The report back responses next day are very touching and also, at times, quite funny.

The majority report how much they enjoyed being home for a change and how they were able to see and enjoy their spouse in a new way. They found time to play with their children and this was a new and pleasurable experience. The lighter notes included spouses looking suspiciously at them and asking them what they had done, why they were acting as if they were guilty of something, or just 'what do you want?' Once this obstacle had been overcome all went well. One of the funniest comments came from a man who was started at how quiet it was in the house this evening and how smoothly everything went. 'Even the dogs were much quieter than usual ', he said. 'I can't believe that I have been such a disturbing influence in the past!'.

This attention to changing micro-worlds can dramatically change all aspects of our lives and drastically reduce tension.

For example. My phone rings while I am talking to partner. This is an invitation from another micro-world. I have a choice whether to accept this invitation or not. If I choose to accept the invitation, I take responsibility for taking a moment  to let go of my conversation with my partner and change micro-identities appropriately so I am ready to answer the call. I do not have to answer it as it starts to ring. The chances that I will regret my responses during the call decrease proportionally to the length of time I take to answer the call.

My partner and I have added some variations to this scenario through co-operative engagement and creativity. We do not live together so enjoy a regular early morning Skype call. The trouble is that I am a (very) early riser while Louise prefers to take her time (but would still be regarded as an early riser by normal standards!). I wake ready to run while Louise believes she is only fit for conversation after her first cup of tea of the day. You can see the problem that might occur when Louise wakes and goes through her tea routine and then lovingly starts the Skype video call. It's my beloved calling so I answer, and because I have already been up and thinking and maybe working for two hours there is a total mismatch in our micro-worlds and micro-identities which does not lend itself at all to loving, safe conversation.

So we talked about the situation and together came up with a new ritual that works well for us. It involves Louise taking her time as part of her tea ritual to check in with herself and find what she needs to let go of before making the call. She then types 'Talk?'

I may be busy or (hopefully, when it is legal again) even out on my kayak. When I see 'Talk?', I take a moment or two to check in with myself, let go of my current micro-world and it's focus, and prepare myself to enter the new micro-world of loving relationship. It's a very different, slow and grounded  and open-hearted micro-identity and can sometimes take a few moments. When I am ready I start the call and every time we have the most amazing conversation.

It may sound like excessive control is being exercised but the rewards of the huge amount of freedom (and absence of tension and friction) that arises from this boundaried beginning are well worth it.

My final offering came from a Follow Up session I ran last week with a group of senior corporate leaders who had completed a 6 day 3 module Personal leadership programme with me the previous year. This Follow Up Day takes place six months after the completion of the programme. It is held with the explicit purpose of giving participants the opportunity to report back to their peers their successes in fulfilling the intentions that they had shared with us (and had televised on day 6 of the programme).

This Follow Up Day had to be held virtually on Zoom as we were well into the tended total lockdown in South Africa.

One participant had a lovely anecdote as t how he had made use of the micro-world learnings on lockdown.

Each morning I get up and have breakfast with the family. Then I get ready to go to work and before leaving I say goodbye to the children and then I kiss my wife goodbye. I then leave and go into the spare room, which has become my office, and I close the door. I reverse the process when I leave my 'office' for the day. I close the office door when I leave the spare room and go 'home' and greet my children and my wife. All work artefacts (cell phone, computer, diary, notes, etc.) remain housed in my office behind the shut door and are generally only available when I go off to work the next day. 

His comment on this process was that he has never spent so much fun and loving time with his wife and his children before. He also spends far more time than before on his marriage to Self!

Thank you, Francisco Varela.