Transformational Listening; Turning Base Interaction Into Precious Golden Insight

Transformational listening is far from being a passive reception of what’s being said, waiting for a turn to speak; it is an active, engaged, and present state. It turns base interaction into precious golden insight into ourselves.

Transformational listening is far from being a passive reception of what’s being said, waiting for a turn to speak; it is an active, engaged, and present state. It turns base interaction into precious golden insight into ourselves.

One Sunday afternoon recently I found myself in a converted stable behind the back of a pub, giving a talk. After all the questions were asked and answered I was privileged to be signing books, and I asked the next person in front of me, a woman my age, if she wanted the book dedicated to anyone?

She stood in silence, looking at me.

The funny thing about silence is that if you hold that space it creates a safe bubble for someone to unfurl. A silence between two people is so much more than a conversation, it is a commitment. A promise of confidentiality. Any conversation that follows is given the same space to be honest.

She said she really wanted the book for her son, who had agreed to walk 100km with her.

“That’s a beautiful thing.” I said, and I meant it.

“The thing is he’s said he would, but I have to choose where we go …” and she talked around her frustration with what she felt to be a lack of commitment from her son, and so it went.

The thing about transformational listening is that it is far from being a passive reception of what’s being said, waiting for a turn to speak; it is an active, engaged, and present state.

Really listening to someone and their intonation, the rhythm of hesitation and fluency, the far from random choices of words, and gestures and inflection is like being gifted a lucid map to their very core.

Any act of speaking is an invitation to someone else, to someone listening, to glimpse the startling, fractal perfection of that person’s raw complexity.

Actually listening is to slowly, gently, form a connection; one that shapes the journey, a journey that can travel deeply in the inner landscapes of another human being.

Until the rhythmic pulse of listening and talking become the same thing; that constant, delicate, intricate throbbing becomes a profound and expanding exposure of life itself.

Transformational Listening becomes an intimate bubble, the most significantly human space, for a magical alchemy; it turns the base interaction into precious golden insight into ourselves.

The woman paused for a minute, looking to me for understanding.

However, I have found, any time we honestly search for answers from within a conversation, simple listening holds a space in which those answers inside ourselves can be heard; in being heard we risk exposure but, in asking we uncover revelation.

This beautiful woman, who made herself vulnerable, realised that actually the answer lay with her.

“My son is waiting for me!”

She said; “He is ready, HE is waiting for ME.”

That was it. She realised, if someone could do 800km, she could do 100km. More importantly she was going to, no excuses.

Schooled By A Dragon – The Story of Awakenings

The last few days have been spent being schooled by a dragon. With a very big surprise at the end of it.
Illuminated Found Poetry piece that combines my photographs with drawing, painting and text from Brave New World, to tell stories of the inner landscapes of human experience.

Awakenings, a Found Poem Níðhöggr

The last few days have been spent being schooled by a dragon. With a very big surprise at the end of it.

CJXusS1W8AAFC47Earlier this week I woke up and turned over to find this dragon sitting on my bedside table, and he told me he has been glimpsed in Viking longboats sometimes.

And, I thought, “who am I to argue?”

This piece started weeks ago, I have known the name of it as “Awakenings”, but that is all I knew about it. I had no idea what it looked like, or how it felt, just its name; but, slowly bits of it pierced through.

An unusual obsession with the History Channel show, Vikings, became a thread that, when cast into the fascination with medieval illumination, caused the gilt to froth and surge like a molten wave; and a dragon rose on the crest. I just caught it by its tail as it surged overhead, and let it drag me out of the eruption of energy; as we rose I saw the “Tree of Life”, rising above the clouds that had formed from the steam.

As we flew higher I could feel the flank of the dragon’s form under my hand, and I just had to lean in and listen to its story.

I was so energised, inspired, and holding something that was wanting to be told, yet I was not ready to hear it just then. “Awakenings” had to settle back down under the Tree of Life to wait for me to understand.

I was distracted by the elections in the UK – or so I thought – by the feeling that they were looking at us from the Dark Ages and telling us that a simple mark on a paper would reveal us to ourselves. As a nation whose grubby indifference to the collective well-being, our health, education, water, food chain, pay scales, and our planet, was in search of a moral justification for selfishness. Revealed as influenced by profit for the few, corporate dominance over government law, infinite consumption in a finite world and, ultimately, predictable in our fear.

In that mood, I instinctively picked up my eldest son’s A-Level copy of Brave New World that was lying around, and there it was – the Found Poem for the dragon’s piece, on page 93 of the Vintage Huxley paperback…

“Pulsing with the indefatigable movement
The drums
Quickened their pace
The pulsing of the drums
Seemed to be beating
Stronger and stronger
With every step they took”

From within this the dragon was unleashed and, far from taming him, he trained me.

I sat down to work on him that morning and lost the next three days as my ideas of what he looked like were swept up in a beguiling conversation with him. I understand that I am working with my imagination here, but he had ideas of what he looked like and, at first, he was just a whisper.

Always imagining him to be gold, a shimmering light gold against the older illumination gold of the background, I was doing some tests when I first heard him gently breathing a reminder that he’d been seen in Longboats.

I was a little startled and asked – out loud – if he was brown? As I listened, he asked me to look at where he lived. He whispered he was born deep in the pulse of the earth, and his kind rose through the soil and roots of trees to become one with the sap. That’s why their spirits could be glimpsed in the prow of Longboats that could cut through sea ice, and warded off evil.

My Níðhöggr's NoseSo he became the burnt sienna of wood, and soil, and sap.

In the middle of this a friend saw the work in progress on Facebook and told me I was drawing “Fafnir” from The Saga of the Volsungs. I was too involved in conversation and challenges with my dragon to think about this, and knowing nothing of Norse dragon tales, I accepted he was Fafnir and called him so.

He rounded on me and stared; then asked me to look closely at his nose and asked if I really thought it was what it should be? Of course, as you can see, it wasn’t. As I looked properly at him I saw his lineage back to velociraptors, and redrew what I saw.

Once he had my attention he became stronger and louder. He curled round behind me and, as he began to open up, he snaked his tail to lie across the table in front of me, and asked; “do you really think I’m a 15C French kind of dragon?”

TMy Níðhöggr's Tail Tiphe thing is I’d fallen in love with the ginkgo leaves and curls before I knew him, and so this is what I had given him as a tail tip.  He sent me off to dig in his Nordic past.

Suddenly I found myself in a world of symbols, where curves and marks have significant meaning, and then I came upon a Viking Age gold-plated silver pendant of the Hammer of Thor, with trefoil knots carved in the hilt. Found at Bredsätra in Öland, Sweden, it is called Mjölnir, which means “That which marks and pulverizes to dust”, and that was something my dragon could live with.

As I designed the trefoil in his tail tip, he asked me to look up Rune marks and he bears a few warrior tattoos on him, the main one means “Awakening” I am told. As I said, who am I to argue with a dragon?

I could not rest until all this was done. Just as I finally exhaled and turned to look at him, he looked me in the eye and asked one final question; “Do I really seem like Fafnir to you?”

I had no idea. I have no knowledge of Norse Lore, dragons or otherwise. I’ve only just found out that Viking is a verb; you go viking, like a pirate. All Vikings were Norse but not all Norse were Vikings, only those that took to the sea to raid and trade far from their Scandinavian homelands.

So imagine my surprise when I looked up Norse Dragons and found mine is indeed not Fafnir. There are only three. Fafnir’s story is of cursed gold, hoarding and greed. The very people that have roused my dragon’s anger. Fafnir was in fact a man called Fanfare, who was affected by the curse of Andvari’s ring and stolen gold which would destroy anyone who possessed it,  he became an avaricious dragon, Fafnir, and was slain by Sigurd.

On the other hand there is little known about the story of Níðhǫggr, Malice Striker, but tales tell he is the dragon who gnaws at a root of the world tree, Yggdrasil. In historical Viking society, níð was a term for a social stigma implying the loss of honor and the status of a villain. Níðhǫggr would come above ground and roam the land chewing on the corpses of the níð, those guilty of the worst possible crimes.

That was what I was looking at; I had just drawn Níðhǫggr under Yggdrasil, the Norse Tree of Life, without knowing the story at all.

Here is the Medieval imagining of him

“Nidhogg”. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

And then I read this poem: Völuspá

A hall I saw,
far from the sun,
On Nastrond it stands,
and the doors face north,
Venom drops
through the smoke-vent down,
For around the walls
do serpents wind.
I there saw wading
through rivers wild
treacherous men
and murderers too,
And workers of ill
with the wives of men;
There Nithhogg sucked
the blood of the slain,
And the wolf tore men;
would you know yet more?

The most prevalent opinion is that the arrival of Níðhöggr heralds Ragnarök and thus that the poem ends on a tone of ominous warning.

Just as an aside: here are the two Runes the dragon picked out, and their meanings.

dagaz_lDAGAZ “thaw-gauze” The letter D: Day or dawn. Breakthrough, awakening, awareness. Daylight clarity as opposed to nighttime uncertainty. A time to plan or embark upon an enterprise. The power of change directed by your own will, transformation. Hope/happiness, the ideal. Security and certainty. Growth and release. Balance point, the place where opposites meet.

algiz_lAlgiz ( the letter R: Elk, protection.) Protection, a shield. The protective urge to shelter oneself or others. Defense, warding off of evil, shield, guardian. Connection with the gods, awakening, higher life.



Travel is the Kintsugi Art of Life, It’s How The Gold Gets In

Travel does more than heal the wounds, it expands you, it’s kintsugi – it’s how the gold gets in.

I have long been fascinated by Kintsugi, meaning “golden joinery”, it is the Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with lacquer mixed with powdered gold and other precious metals. It’s a soothing philosophy of embracing damage and repair, and making something more beautiful for having been broken.

When I was asked to write a piece for Wanderlust about travelling with my children across America in response to my father dying, I thought of travel as the Kintsugi art of life.

People travel not so much to get away as to come home, to themselves. In the slipstream of the unknown you become aware of every detail, in the intense ferment of new stimulation you awaken, and in being flayed by the tumult of unfamiliar all that has made you who you have become is stripped away to reveal who you are, flaws, and defacement, and scars and all.

For us, from LA to New York over seven weeks, the gold dust added to the restorative sap of wandering, the flecks of pure ore, were the people we met; in a random, chance encounter you feel the touch of humanity, in the hand that is extended grows trust, in a stranger’s smile is acceptance.

I carried all the broken pieces of myself outside and held them out to America wordlessly, and the serendipity, generosity and kindness on the road taught us that nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect. And, we were still OK.

Travel does more than heal the wounds, it expands you, it’s kintsugi – it’s how the gold gets in.

Almost as if we need to break in order to expand. Then this gorgeous sculpture by British artist, Paige Bradley, whispered its message of expansion from the deep reaches of my memory. Paige Bradley broke a wax sculpture she spent 6 months making, cast the broken pieces in bronze, then reassembled them with a lighting engineer to produce this startling sculpture; with a hint of Kintsugi light shining through the cracks.

She says, “I want to advocate healing and empowerment for people around the world. I want my art to be a forceful voice to help those who suffer from illness, repression or exploitation. My sculptures express a depth and variety of the physical, emotional and spiritual that we search for as a human race. Simultaneously, I want to provoke us to feel painful truths we keep bottled up inside. I want us to remember we are all the same. And, it is this understanding that can heal us all.”

And so I wrote this month’s piece .. please go and read my article on Wanderlust here

Please see this work, Expansion, on Paige Bradley’s website

“From the moment we are born, the world tends to have a container already built for us to fit inside: A social security number, a gender, a race, a profession or an I.Q. I ponder if we are more defined by the container we are in, rather than what we are inside. Would we recognize ourselves if we could expand beyond our bodies? Would we still be able to exist if we were authentically ‘un-contained’?

“Art is not entertainment. Art is not luxury goods. Art is culture. It is you and me.”  – Paige Bradley

The Art

The Walking With Angels Art is a collection of signed Limited Edition Photographic Art Prints – moments – that tell the inspirational story of 33 exceptional days walking over the Pyrenees and across Spain for 800km to Santiago de Compostela.

14 signed Limited Edition Photographic Art Prints with a signed Certificate of Authentication, telling the inspirational story of one woman's walk with her sons, aged 16 and 12, for 33 exceptional days over the Pyrenees and across Spain for 800km to Santiago de Compostela
a collection of signed, Limited Edition Photographic Art Prints, by Melanie Gow

Click on The Collection for the SHOP

The Walking With Angels Art is a collection of signed Limited Edition Photographic Art Prints – moments – that tell the inspirational story of walking for 33 exceptional days over the Pyrenees and across Spain for 800km to Santiago de Compostela.

Each one is signed with a Certificate of Authentication, with a detailed description, verifying the authenticity of the accompanying Melanie Gow print, 1 of only 50 in the edition. 29x29cm on Photo Lustre paper 360gsm, care information included.

Interview With Shereen Nanjiani on BBC Radio Scotland

BBC Radio Scotland presenter Shereen’s Nanjiani’s guest is the mother, writer and photographer, Melanie Gow, known for her inspirational walks

Shereen Nanjiani hosts Melanie Gow as her guest on BBC Radio Scotland

BBC Radio Scotland presenter, Shereen Nanjiani, presents Shereen, a live topical news and current affairs programme broadcast on BBC Radio Scotland 10am on Saturday morning. I had the pleasure of being Shereen Nanjiani‘s guest, talking “childhood’ to “inspirational walk” – you can listen HERE

Before launching her radio career in 2006, Nanjiani was the chief news anchor at STV Central, having presented the news programme, Scotland Todaysince 1987. She is the first Asian-Scottish presenter in Scotland and the longest serving female news presenter at STV. I am extremely proud to be a guest on her show.