apple seed

growing great ideas!

Category: Chaplaincy

Don’t look back…

So it’s January 1st today and I suppose a lot of people will be writing New Year’s Resolutions: making plans to lose weight, get a new job, keep on top of the laundry etc etc

I’ve never been a fan of NYRs, mostly because I think we accidentally set ourselves up to fail: we announce big goals, but without a plan of small steps on how we’re going to get there. As a result, if we then fail to reach our goals, we end up giving up or feeling disappointed with ourselves, which is a shame because that failure is most likely down to bad planning rather than an inability to achieve the goal.

Anyway, I digress…

It was raining when I took the dog for a walk this morning, and I was wearing a baseball cap and had the hood of my coat up, to keep the rain off my face.  As I was walking along the beach I was aware that I couldn’t easily look behind me because the cap and hood got in the way. And I felt like God said to me: “you can’t look behind you”. At first, I was a bit confused because of course, I could see behind me, if I just twisted my shoulders or turned at the waist. But then I began to think more about the phrase – something about it resonated with me? As I walked along I began to think about it in terms of the past in the future.

We look behind us all the time: we look behind us to judge the future. We look at past events and use that as a way to assess or guess what the future outcome of something might be. It’s how we’re wired, our brains are wired in this way intentionally: we learn from the past in order to make decisions about the future. As children, we learn about how high we can swing before we fall off. This is because we have fallen off once before and therefore we learn how high we can go before we’re likely to fall off again. We learn how to run, how to write, how to read – we learn how to judge social situations by making mistakes. It’s the key component and factor in how we learn things and how we progress, how we grow and how we mature.

Emotionally this is a particularly strong dynamic and Daniel Goleman explains it well in his books on emotional intelligence: essentially what he points out is that when an event occurs our brains record not only factual information, but also emotional and sensory information as well. Thus when we encounter a similar event in the future, our brains access any and all relevant information and use that in order to tackle the situation we’re currently facing.

For example: let’s say a child encounters a dog for the first time. The dog happens to be a large breed and it barks excitedly. However, the child was frightened. The next time this child meets a dog, their brain informs them: Dogs are large. They make a loud noise. They are frightening. Even though the new dog they’re encountering hasn’t barked and isn’t loud, the child is still afraid. The child is afraid because they were scared by a different dog on a previous occasion. It takes the calm presence of an adult to help the child understand that not all dogs are large or scary, in order to help the child overcome their fears.

Our perception of the past shapes our view of the future.

This dynamic of drawing on the past to assess the present and the future is an ordinary, familiar and expected mechanism. It happens all the time, every day in our lives, in big and small ways. It’s entirely understandable that we use the past to anticipate the future.

However, on that walk, I began to wonder if God wasn’t challenging me and perhaps others as well, to think differently about the future? I wondered if God was saying: “Don’t look at the past to assess what the future is because the past has gone, I’m not re-doing the old things. The future is a clean, clear, sheet which you can’t read, but if you were to superimpose the past on to the future then you only see what you expect to see. ”

And that perhaps is the crucial element here: our expectations can sometimes define our outcomes.

If we always use the past as the lens through which we see the present and the future, then there is a very real danger that we will only see what we expect to see. We begin to anticipate others responses, attitudes and behaviour and we pre-empt their behaviour by responding to what we think they’re going to do – not what they’ve actually done.

Now it’s true that there is wisdom in learning from our mistakes and learning from past and Einstein wisely pointed out that only a fool repeats the same actions and expects a different result.

BUT – I’m not sure that we can simply apply a binary ‘yes’ or ‘no’ approach to the past and the future. I’m not sure that we can be so complacent, or even as lazy as to say: “Well, I know he’s always like this, so I won’t bother,” or “I know that always happens, so there’s no point in changing anything.” We have to be wiser, more sophisticated, more discerning. The general rule of learning from mistakes is a good one on the whole. But when it becomes an excuse for not challenging ourselves or changing our behaviour…that’s just apathy. No-one else does that to you. No-one else imposes that on you or makes you a victim of that outcome. That’s just you.

So how and when do we tell the difference? When do we acknowledge and benefit from the lessons of the past and when do we take off those lenses and lay them down and look at things with fresh eyes again? It certainly feels risky sometimes, to dare to imagine something different on the horizon – to dare to consider that something new might arise from the circumstances or context before us? There is a risk of being hurt, of being disappointed.  A risk of being frustrated and let down again. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have outcomes and expectations; it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be hopeful or look forward or indeed learn from our mistakes. But when that begins to falsely shape and warp our perception and our behaviour, that’s when it creates a problem.

There is a very real risk I think, that we ourselves might perpetuate the very problems we anticipate, simply because we’ve made assumptions….simply because we’ve used the past to measure the future.

So what now should we do? Well, I hope I’ve been able to explain clearly enough that there isn’t a simple answer – if you were looking for a ‘light-and-fluffy’ ‘Happy-New-Year-Happy-Thoughts!’ piece, I’m afraid this isn’t it! But what I can offer is hope: if we can begin to recognise where our ‘past lenses’ are obscuring our ‘future perceptions’, then there’s a good opportunity for things to change: for us to take responsibility for our own reactions and expectations and allow ourselves to open to new ideas and different behaviour from those around us.

Do not cling to events of the past
    or dwell on what happened long ago.
 Watch for the new thing I am going to do.
    It is happening already—you can see it now!
I will make a road through the wilderness
    and give you streams of water there…” Isaiah 43:18

The Road Well Travelled

Image: Sharon Court ©

I’m a fan of Doctor Who. Have I mentioned that before?

I re-connected with the Whoniverse at the tail end of Christopher Eccleston’s incarnation, when David Tennant took the reins (and boy did he!). I loved the way each episode was full of humour and insight, frustration and compassion – and of course a generous helping of mild peril and running around a lot! I was shopping for new trainers at some point during this re-connection and settled on a pair of red converse style shoes, as my nod to Doctor Who.

They’re a bit worn out now. You can see from the photo, the scuffs and dirt and the cracks along the edges. Not entirely waterproof either (though they were never meant to be I guess, being mostly canvas).

There’s a parallel at the moment, between my old, worn out trainers and some of the people I’ve been connecting with. Part of my role as in the Youth Chaplaincy project is to come alongside people; to travel with them on their journey of life. To offer companionship, a listening ear and empathy, even though, as a Chaplain, I can’t personally change anything.

Thing is, this journeying business has been happening, not at work, but at home.

I’ve been travelling with a young Mum whose husband died of cancer (he was 35 years old).

I’ve been journeying with a young woman who is struggling with a restrictive medical condition (she’s in her early 20s).

And now my journey extends to include this young woman’s mother, whose own mother is gravely ill, as well as another woman whose older husband is seriously ill.

Each of these situations are distinct and disconnected from each other (apart from the family link between the young woman and her grandmother). Each of the people involved is feeling a wealth of emotions at different times, and weighed down by a burden of love and anxiety which is hard at times to put into words.

And I can’t change any of them.

So what does it mean then, to take ‘the road well travelled’? Most of us have heard of the phrase ‘the road less travelled’ but it seems to me that lots of people are on this well-travelled road of pain, suffering and uncertainty.  We’re all of us familiar with the stress, anxiety and even powerlessness that comes in certain seasons of our lives.

And yet, despite all the people on this road, having these periods of struggle in your life often seems to be a very isolating experience – we don’t talk about it, we share our pain with only a few people and we hide away our vulnerability from others saying “Oh it’s ok.” “We’ll get by.” “It’s been worse!” or the classic “I shouldn’t complain!”

Shouldn’t you?

Why not then?

Who said that how you’re feeling isn’t worth complaining about, or sharing with others? Who declared that suffering is somehow a gradable thing, and that some types of suffering are more worthy than others? By keeping things in, our feelings can intensify. They can become concentrated and begin to manifest themselves through our moods, behaviour and even as physical symptoms such as headaches, muscle pain and indigestion. Sharing our pain and burdens is how we heal each other, and how we help to form a community. But I’m digressing a bit…

The thing that struck me about all this is not whether or not I can change anything (which I can’t) but actually the importance and value of being on the journey with someone. Mostly I’m cheering from the sidelines – praying, texting, popping in to visit sometimes and listening – giving time to listen and care about what’s being said. Offering my time, my empathy and at times even my tears, for the situations we find ourselves in.

My trainers are tatty and old. Worn and marked by the journeys I’ve taken in them over many years. But I think that’s good thing. Those marks and scuffs are the signs of the journey I’ve made and am making. The holes and tears in the seams are the marks of the things I’ve gone through: the grief, loneliness and burning frustration that I’ve felt at different times in my life.

And in some ways, those scruffy old trainers might be more valuable, more useful, more flexible and responsive to the unexpected puddles and grit of life, than a pair of shiny new ones? With shiny new trainers, we might be wary of getting involved; worried about splashes of mud, or sharp stones. But scruffy trainers have seen it all and they don’t mind a bit! They’re not bothered by grass stains or mud splatters or anything else for that matter. They’ve done a few rounds in the washing machine and they’ll no doubt do it all again.

Because you see, we need each other.

We need community, relationship, friendship and honesty – to hold us up, and root us to the ground. To lift our heads, but also to offer a place to hide.

We need each other – not in our perfection, but in our weakness.

We need each other in  our battered, worn through, holeyness, rather than our shiny, new, untouchable ‘successful and got it sorted’ apparel.

We need each other.

I hope that you may learn to value your battered, worn out holeyness as something worth sharing with others. I hope that you slowly gain the courage to be vulnerable enough to share the truth of your journey with others. And I hope that you and I might find some joy in amidst the difficulties, on this well-travelled road.

Just two or three degrees…

Just a quick thought on this frosty January morning.

I’ve been offering mindfulness sessions as part of the Youth Chaplaincy project during January. Each week I’ve gone into local colleges and staff and students have been invited to use natural materials as a part of their mindfulness – focusing on a small thing for a short while, as a means of ‘turning down the volume on life’ for a while…

This morning it was my turn, as I walked along the beach with the dog. It was probably only just two or three degrees above freezing, but I tried to take some time to notice and pay attention to the things around me.

I noticed things with frost on like this black pebble, seaweed and even a feather, which for some reason I’d never considered as being vulnerable to frost – probably because I’m more used to seeing leaves with frost on, than seaweed or feathers.

I noticed the sand beneath the pebbles – which is always there, but I forget because I don’t see it as often (very pebbley beaches around Portsmouth).

But the thing which struck me most on this occasion was the difference between being in the shade and being in the sun. I’d been walking along the beach with the dog with the sun on my back. When we turned round to come home, I climbed back up onto the path which runs alongside the foreshore and I suddenly noticed how much cooler I felt. I realised the path was in the shade, and even though it was probably a difference of only two or three degrees, it was really noticeable!

I purposefully walked back onto the pebbles on the beach and in a few moments felt slightly better as the winter sun, pale though it was, began to warm me up again.

Just two or three degrees different, but somehow it made all the difference in the world.

So here’s my thought: what small change in thought patterns, habits or behaviour could you make, which might make all the difference in the world? Sometimes it’s not the big things, but the small changes, which make the biggest impact…

The Potting Shed – how and why?

cropped-thepottingshed.pngSomeone sent me a note recently saying how much they liked the sound of what I’m doing in The Potting Shed* and wondered how I got into it.

*The Potting Shed is the page on Facebook where the exploits of my freelance work are shared more frequently. It’s only a virtual shed at the moment, but it seemed logical: if you’re going to grow things you need tools and resources and a place to nurture them!

It was lovely to be asked 🙂 I had a little ponder and this was my reply. Perhaps you might find it interesting too?

Megan: Sharon, I completely love the sound of everything The Potting Shed does. How did you get into doing that? What is your background? (if you don’t mind me asking!!) xx

Hi Megan!
Thank you very much! I don’t mind you asking at all!
I’d like to say that it’s part of some kind of carefully planned career path…but that would be a complete lie! The reality is entirely more haphazard and accidental. My background is in youth & children’s work. I’m a qualified teacher and youthworker, but I have a real passion for heritage, arts, communities and storytelling.

This means that I tend to get drawn to projects which touch on those kinds of areas…Children and young people are part of communities and they interact with and affect each other (whether they know it or not!) Heritage is about the story of a place and the people who have, or are currently living in it, and the arts (such as storytelling) is how we can share and explore the locality and community where we live and begin to understand our place in it.

I think my core motivation is around valuing people: I believe everyone has inherent value, because each person is unique. Our DNA, our fingerprints, the combination of character, personality, skills and experience are not to be found anywhere else, or in anyone else.
That makes you uniquely valuable and irreplaceable.

The work I’m involved in – which has come along haphazardly and sometimes almost by accident, doesn’t bring value or worth to the people or places I work with…but perhaps some of what I bring helps to draw out the value of what’s already there?

Does that make sense?

I love what I’m doing, even though at times it feels very stressful (like now when I’ve got two chaplaincy visits this week and an exhibition opening on Friday!!) and I sometimes miss being part of a team with other people. Being freelance can feel lonely and isolated at times and I sometimes feel like I bear a heavier responsibility than if I were an employee in a bigger company. There are times when I feel like I’m dangling on a string above a rather cavernous ravine, and it wouldn’t take too much for the string to snap…

But on the other hand it’s a tremendous privilege to be able to work with people and make a big/small difference in their lives! Who can say that they get to do that? I love the variety, the creativity, the opportunity to direct and hold and shape things…And it means I can be very flexible around the needs of my family, which is the most important part.
So that’s kind of it really….!

Got any more questions…do send them my way

The expanding horizon…

After I got back from CUExpo in Canada (which I’ll write about in a separate post) I was straight back into the thick of it – ‘it’ being the end of one project and the launch of two new ones.

Students at Charter Academy. creating minature stained glass windows for a quiet area at the school.

Students at Charter Academy. creating minature stained glass windows for a quiet area at the school.

The FE Chaplaincy project packed up its’ stuff and moved in with the Deanery Youthwork project and in August 2015 I was appointed as the Creative Engagement practitioner for the newly merged Youth Chaplaincy project. Seeking to bring together the best of both worlds, Youth Chaplaincy works in local secondary schools and colleges and the aim is to ‘create a space for the bigger questions in life’.  More about that in another post!

Children weaving into the community tapestry, one of the activities which took place during LoLou Morris' residency.

Children weaving into the community tapestry, one of the activities which took place during LoLou Morris’ residency.

In addition, I’m delighted to say that the Liturgy Project was also finally brought to birth, but it’s now known as Viewpoint. Based at Portsmouth Cathedral, the project aims to explore faith and spirituality through the arts, and the Cathedral link takes you to all the blog listings, which take you through the journey the project and its artists’ have been on. More about that in another post too!

One of the noticeable changes in recent months, is my decision to give more time over to my own creative practice. This is hard as there’s always a list as long as my arm when it comes to ‘paid work’ and always something else ‘more important’ which I feel I ought to be doing…

But the truth of it is that making makes me happy, and when I’m making it helps with my sense of calm and peace and also enables me to have more ideas which feed into the projects I’m working on. You can find some of my making here on Instagram

So here’s to doing what you love, and being happy whilst doing it!

The Potting Shed – why and how?

Alas my potting shed is still a 'virtual' one, but maybe one day...

Alas my potting shed is still a ‘virtual’ one, but maybe one day…

I have a page on Facebook for my freelance work called The Potting Shed – Home of Apple Seed HQ. It’s not a real shed (although it ‘exists’ as a place on Facebook) but rather it’s a virtual shed. Given that my website is apple-seed and that I’m all abut growing great ideas then it seemed logical that a planting, nurturing, creative growing space should need a shed in which to house all these baby ideas!

I update the Facebook page regularly and its a quick way to link to the various projects I’m involved in, so if you want the latest news, its a good idea to look there: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Potting-Shed-Apple-Seed-HQ/544299518915162

Someone sent me a question via that page recently, and I wondered if some of you might also be interested in the question she asked and the answer I gave.

So here it is. It kinda sums up my raison d’etre – the reason why and how I do what I do.

If you’d like what you read and would like to find out if I can help you out, drop me a line: sharon.court@gmail.com

Sharon, I completely love the sound of everything The Potting Shed does. How did you get into doing that? What is your background? (if you don’t mind me asking!!) xx
Hi!
Thank you very much! I don’t mind you asking at all!
I’d like to say that it’s part of some kind of carefully planned career path…but that would be a complete lie! The reality is entirely more haphazard and accidental.

My background is in youth & children’s work. I’m a qualified teacher and youthworker, but I have a real passion for heritage, arts, communities and storytelling.

This means that I tend to get drawn to projects which touch on those kinds of areas…Children and young people are part of communities and they interact with and affect each other (whether they know it or not!) Heritage is about the story of a place and the people who have, or are currently living in it, and the arts (such as storytelling) is how we can share and explore the locality and community where we live and begin to understand our place in it.

I think my core motivation is around valuing people: I believe everyone has inherent value, because each person is unique. Our DNA, our fingerprints, the combination of character, personality, skills and experience are not to be found anywhere else, or in anyone else.
That makes you uniquely valuable and irreplaceable.

The work I’m involved in – which has come along haphazardly and sometimes almost by accident, doesn’t bring value or worth to the people or places I work with…but perhaps some of what I bring helps to draw out the value of what’s already there?

Does that make sense?

I love what I’m doing, even though at times it feels very stressful (like now when I’ve got two chaplaincy visits this week and an exhibition opening on Friday!!) and I miss being part of a team with other people. Being freelance can feel lonely and isolated at times and I sometimes feel like I bear a heavier responsibility than if I were an employee in a bigger company. There are times when I feel like I’m dangling on a string above a rather cavernous ravine, and it wouldn’t take too much for the string to snap…

But on the other hand it’s a tremendous privilege to be able to work with people and make a big/small difference in their lives! Who can say that they get to do that? I love the variety, the creativity, the opportunity to direct and hold and shape things…And it means I can be very flexible around the needs of my family, which is the most important part.
So that’s kind of it really….!
Got any more questions…do send ’em my way

Chillin’

hammock_relaxing-summer_living-etcThe latest newsletter and blog update has been released from the Portsmouth Deanery’s FE Chaplaincy project. Read it here: http://fechaplaincy.wordpress.com/2013/08/21/the-value-of-quiet/

One of my tasks over the summer was to do some research into how prayer rooms and quiet rooms are set up, used and managed. The use of quiet rooms and spaces (both indoors and outdoors) is a visible, tangible way in which a chaplaincy service can offer support to staff and students and acknowledge their inner ‘spiritual’ needs, as well as their external ones. People may explore and express their spirituality in a variety of ways, but everyone needs some peace and quiet from time to time!

Read more here: http://fechaplaincy.wordpress.com/2013/08/21/the-value-of-quiet/

Chaplaincy work gets carried away!

Well, not exactly carried away…but a group of us will be taking some time out on Monday 1st July, to take part at the Chaplaincy Away Day, hosted by Hopeweavers (you can see some photos of the venue below)

I’m really looking forward to this day and hopeful for some thoughtful and constructive discussion and debate about how the chaplaincy service could shape up. Find out more here:

http://fechaplaincy.wordpress.com/2013/06/24/getting-away-from-it-all/

FE Chaplaincy project steps up a gear!

A candle, a tub of bubbles and some Maltesers...classic tools in the field of chaplaincy (!)

A candle, a tub of bubbles and some Maltesers…classic tools in the field of chaplaincy (!)

I’m pleased to say that the FE Chaplaincy project is now building momentum, and later this morning I’ll be doing my first ‘pastoral’ visit there.

To find out more about that, and the project in general, why not toddle over to: http://fechaplaincy.wordpress.com/2013/06/05/and-breathe/

© 2018 apple seed

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑