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Light and Shadow

Liz Nottingham
Doug Montgomery

Our reflection sessions use images of the seasons to encourage self-awareness, drawing on the metaphors of each season as a way of relating to and accessing participants’ inner worlds. 

Although we began by using images that represented the positive—warmth, opportunities, growth, energy, and emergence—we soon discovered that we were missing the shadow side of each season. During the Spring Reflection, one of our participants admitted that they couldn’t connect with the metaphors of new beginnings and growth. They found themselves rather in a colder, harsher space of survival. This was both courageous of them and extremely useful to us.  

Each season has multiple facets. Take Spring, for instance. When we think of Spring, we might think of energetic, yet slightly startled new lambs. The lush green grass, Easter eggs and smiling children. Daffodils and tulips and cherry blossom bursting forth. These all offer ripe metaphors for opportunity, as energy stored during winter is released into new potential. This new life may also be accompanied by forward planning and planting seeds for later harvest.  

However, Spring also has a ‘shadow’ side. Hard frosts nipping new buds, farmers spending long, back-breaking hours birthing new lambs, not all of whom will survive. Rain-drenched muddy fields and the slog through the mud; even late snow and sleet, or the famous April showers. In England, this past spring in England brought us a hard frost virtually every morning. Just surviving under these harsh and often unrelenting conditions can be difficult, especially for new buds. Similarly, although gardens begin to bloom in Spring, it is also a time when weeds run rampant. The garden can become quickly overrun and the grass overgrown without due care and attention and work. 

Photo by Olli Kilpi on Unsplash

Thinking about the seasons in terms of their ‘light’ and ‘shadow’ sides has helped us to develop our practice. We now make use of all the qualities of the season to meet people where they are and how they are. They still use images and metaphors to connect with their inner world; these sometimes simply enable them to acknowledge what is going on with them right now. But we are now connecting with the reality of what it is to be human: the bright and sunny and the darker shadows.  

Each season follows in order every year, but each season is uniquely different. Every year the seasons come slightly later, slightly earlier, slightly warmer, slightly wetter: they are different and unique, yet still harbour the essential qualities of that season. Similarly, for us human beings, each season of each year brings different situations and different relationships with ourselves and with others. Our reflections provide a safe space to pause and reflect on what your season is bringing you. 

To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven

Ecclesiastes 3:1 

Who can benefit from the power of seasonal reflections? 

The short answer? Everyone could benefit from some time to pause and reflect on what’s going on in that moment. It’s easy to get caught up in the bustle of each day, each week, each month, even each year without pausing to take stock. When we pause, we may discover that we still have the same old habits and are unconsciously following the same old patterns. This is certainly our personal experience. For too long I (Doug) just focused on getting through each day and doing my tasks. I paid no attention to how I was ‘being’ in the world and for myself. 

Our participants include coaches, leaders, HR professionals, mums, dads, gardeners, business folk, entrepreneurs, freelancers, small business owners–basically human beings who want a moment to connect with nature

The longer answer is that this is for people who are realising that they are busy, maybe too busy, and want time to pause, to breathe, and to be. People who realise that there is something missing or slightly off kilter—or a long way off kilter—and can’t put a finger on what it is. Although we work with the British seasons / calendar, we have participants from many parts of the world who are experiencing different climates locally, or whose experiences of the seasons are different due to their home countries. They bring a rich new perspective to the group by sharing the sights, sounds, and feelings of the season as they experience it. 

People who already have reflective practices also attend and enjoy our sessions. They tell us that our seasonally inspired images, metaphors, and questions bring them new perspectives and ideas. Metaphor is a powerful tool that allows unique personal meanings to be found in each image and offers an invitation to reflect. Our participants include coaches, leaders, HR professionals, mums, dads, gardeners, businessfolk, entrepreneurs, freelancers, small business owners—basically human beings who want a moment to connect with nature and all its glorious images and metaphors. 

Seasonal reflection for teams 

Remote working and the challenges of the pandemic have created an environment for organisations in which teams are dispersed and having to communicate online rather than in person. This has made it more difficult to share and to understand what’s going on for the team both on a personal level and on a collective level. Many team leaders are finding it difficult to judge where their team feeling well and resilient. There seems to be less time for the general conversations that unfold naturally over a coffee or by the water cooler. In this remote environment, each meeting seems to have an agenda based on what needs to be done, leaving less time to focus on how we are, where we are, and how we are being in the world. Working from home is challenging for many reasons, not least the blurring of the lines of our work-life balances. 

Using metaphors does much more than just activating the left brain hemisphere’s analytical mind. It also accesses the imaginative, creative right hemisphere, as well as the “heart brain” and the “gut brain centres”, providing access to the felt sense. This means we are accessing the body’s whole data set. Many organisations talk about wanting to work and engage people through “head heart and guts”, yet end up just creating environments that stimulate the left brain. Our reflective spaces truly access the whole embodied self in a safe and creative way. In doing so, individuals find they can better express themselves. This also benefits the team collectively: teams can then work out a collective metaphor that describes where they are and where they want to get to.

Encouraging the use of images and metaphors sometimes allows our participants to access unexpected useful information outside of our sessions. For example, one participant discovered that several shrubs and pots in their garden needed moving or discarding. Thinking about this metaphorically enabled them to identify a couple of significant changes they themselves needed to make in their attitude in order to get themselves unstuck. 

Our seasonal reflections create a safe environment in which teams can collectively and individually use seasonal metaphors and images to reflect on where they are personally, as well as where they are in relation to the team and in relation to the team’s way of working and its goals.

We run regular seasonal reflection sessions; check our events page to find out when the next one is.

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