Karyn Prentice uses the cycle of nature’s seasons to evoke enquiry and discovery through coaching. Outdoor supervision is just one way that Prentice and colleague Elaine Patterson tease out fresh perspectives from their clients
Imagine a scene outdoors that appeals to you the most. It might be looking at the burgundy and gold leaves in a tree canopy framed in dappled light as you walk through a park on a crisp autumn afternoon. Or perhaps hearing the tinkle of glass as a favourite tipple is poured for you on a warm summer evening in the garden with friends. Or what might be more evocative is the zingy tingle of cold on your face during a winter stroll over crunchy snow under foot.
Seasons evoke a wide range of responses. Each one represents a particular energy, essence or a zest of its own. At the same time, they can be experienced as a metaphor; a mirror for our own seasonal energy shifts, enticing us to use all our senses and find connections between what we notice.
One season might appeal more than the others or we may feel the absence of it when it departs. Many times I have heard clients say the reason they moved home was because they missed having the regular change of seasons around them as the year unfolded.
For more than five years I have delighted in drawing on the language of the cycle of the seasons with clients, inviting the essence and qualities of each season and their relationship to each other to illuminate enquiry and discovery. My colleague Elaine Patterson and I capitalise on the power of the seasons as the backdrop for our outdoors supervision group, Sacred Landscape, now in its second year. We meet once a season in a park or garden in Greater London. Even on wet days it has teased out fresh perspectives and relevant connections to case work and to exploring professional practice.
A Universal language
The five seasons (including the fifth season of ‘Late Summer’) can be viewed as a cycle of birth, growth, ripeness, harvest, gratitude, pruning and letting go, reflecting and germinating for new birth and possibilities. Although they have their allotted spot in the calendar we can also experience the five stages of the cycle in the parts of a day, in the course of a week, the phases of team development or in a project lifespan. They offer another lens into creative reflection on who we are, our practice and what is needed to balance energy.
The seasons call us to heed our own inner ecology as well as how we, and our clients, show up in the world. We can gain a greater appreciation of the elements that both subtly and dynamically inform our ebb and flow. We attune to where we may need to address imbalances with a bit more compassion, whether it is adding a bit more ‘winter’ of slowing down and reflecting, or bringing more ‘late summer’ savouring of the sufficiency we have right now, or topping up on spring energy zip to boost team vitality.
We can draw on these flavours to pepper exciting and meaningful conversations and shape our questions: ‘how can you incorporate stillness as part of your resilience arsenal?’ Or ‘how can you look after the tender shoots of new thinking in the team?’
The cycle of work life
By considering the whole cycle of seasons we frame the importance of both the thrust outwards of ‘doing’ and the equally critical core aspects of ‘being’ as intrinsic to flourishing. The sap of spring rises to feed new growth right out to the very tips of the trees. To truly thrive the sap must also return to the roots to support the whole to be resilient now and sustainable in the future. Organisations, too, require both the dynamic push of performance and close tending of the deep roots of capacity and competency to stay strong yet flexible in the winds of change.
Like crops, we often need more time for harvesting and savouring wisely, not just in products and services, but in the most valuable resource: people. Without judicious pruning, overwhelm and clutter impede both ‘doing’ and ‘being’ when weighted down with what no longer serves.
Appreciation and gratitude build generosity and goodwill – a priceless commodity. It is balanced with finding the grit to face difficult, but necessary choices.
Change can be felt as loss. Letting go to let come makes space for what needs to emerge. And without reflective practice as an intrinsic part of the cycle, we risk burnout, and deep wisdom can be lost from sight.
As professionals supporting others, we too benefit by taking time to harvest our strengths and gifts as people professionals. Find a place to walk that gives you joy and ask these questions:
- What really needs savouring and appreciating by you in your practice?
- What needs honouring and acknowledging in you as the fruits of your labours in the past 12 months?
- If pruning was a necessary activity what would it mean for you?
- What truths need to be said or remembered that are defining of your work?
Working with the energy and imagery of the five seasons adds exponentially and richly to creative conversations about the questions that matter most to us and our clients. When you also take the conversation out into nature this experience partners the exploration further. Discoveries are closer than we think. We need only look out the window or slip on a coat and take a walk on the wild side to benefit.
The writer Laurence Durrell captures this for me: “…you do not need a sixth sense for it. It is there if you just close your eyes and breathe softly through your nose; you will hear the whispered message, for all landscapes ask the same question in the same whisper. ‘I am watching you – are you watching yourself in me?’ ”
About the author
- Karyn Prentice is a global coaching supervisor, coach, psychotherapist and senior faculty member at the Coaching Supervision Academy. Her book, How Does Your Garden Grow, will be published in 2018
- See also ‘Flower Power’, Coaching at Work issue 12.4: http://bit.ly/2yvCIch
Take a time-out
Miranda’s company grew like wildfire from the moment they opened their doors. Their design work was lauded and contracts flew in. After nearly three years of non-stop work the team, utterly committed to their work together, were struggling, despite their success.
They were great at initiating new ideas and creative solutions. When they viewed the company through the seasons lens however, they realised they took no time to step back and reflect. They rarely got a balcony view on what they learned from their successes and the way they worked most effectively. Some ways of working that suited them at the start-up phase they had since outgrown, but had no process for stopping long enough to dig deep into their shared, wisdom because they had all been too busy.
They resolved to book more individual time-outs, close the office once a month for a day together to refresh their thinking and work on their strategy going forward.
The essence of the five seasons
- seeding new ideas
- planting and initiating projects
- energy directed upwards and outwards
- creativity, dynamism and verve
- full ripening to maturity
- big and flourishing, joyful and playful
- community and partnership of heartfelt energy
- red hot and full-on activity
- harvesting, gathering and storing the abundance of the crops
- savouring what you and others have achieved
- actively appreciating oneself and others
- recognising abundance
- deep gratitude and honouring what has been
- refining, defining with precision what is essential
- letting go of habits, assumptions or what no longer serve us
- wise pruning as a life-affirming activity
- slowing down being intrinsic to high performance
- seeking inspiration and building deep-rooted resilience
- connecting to our own gold beneath the surface
- building a reflective practice as a route to insight and wisdom