The Talks

Entertaining and articulate, Melanie talks about life and how to live it to festivals, retreats, groups, leaders, dreamers, learners and parents; inspirational and passionate, she encourages us to dare to unwrap and be present – because when that happens, nothing is ever quite the same again.

Melanie Gow tells the story of walking for 33 exceptional days with her two sons, aged 12 and 16, over the Pyrenees and across Spain for 800km to Santiago de Compostela.

A walk that didn’t so much change them as gently unwrap them.

“Highly recommended – in fact it should come with a warning; it is very likely to be inspiring and life-changing” 

Angela Johnson

 

Entertaining and articulate about her unassuming stroll, Melanie has become an inspiration to many by sharing her story of parenting daringly, and personal transformation. 

Combining the truth with metaphor, wisdom, and deep appreciation of the moment, Melanie takes the audience on a inspirational journey.

 She engages, uplifts and moves her audience with storytelling, beautiful photography, and words of wisdom in a memorable performance.

She tours the country stoking the fire of dreams and inspiring people to “Walk the Talk” – because when that happens, nothing is ever quite the same again.

“Went to the third night of the Hungerford Book Shop’s four day Literary festival tonight and it was amazing. Melanie Gow tonight and Sir Max Hastings last night. I was so so impressed by Melanie’s passion and enthusiasm and her beautiful book I bought one for myself and one each for the children. How lucky we are in Hungerford.” Bruce Mayhew.

Melanie has given a TEDx Talk
“Imagine what could change if you just back yourself and walk the talk”

Speaking Engagements

Melanie gives talks for

  • Festivals, Retreats, Conferences, and Groups
  • Inspiration and After Dinner events
  • Leadership and Motivational events
  • Parents and Schools, for children aged 12yrs and above

The Most Popular are:

For Festival, Retreats, Groups and Events

“Walking With Angels – A Photographic Journey”

The classic unfolding of the inspirational, true story, illustrated comprehensively with narrative photographs and nuanced delivery.

“This has the emotion of a film, the excitement of a live performance and the impact of igniting a dream” Ian James, Norden Farm Centre for the Arts

For Leaders and Dreamers

The Earth Whispers, Listen Carefully - taken by Melanie Gow, on her exceptional 33 day walk with her two sons over the Pyrenees and across Spain for 800km to Santiago de Compostela“Create The Way By Walking It”

Imagine what could change if we just back ourselves and create the way as we walk it; what leading your children for 33 days walking 800km across a country can teach you about how to achieve your goals, and transform yourself through leadership.

“Highly recommended – in fact it should come with a warning; it is very likely to be inspiring and life-changing” Angela Johnson

For Learners and Believers

A Closed Door Lets Nothing In, 1/14 in the Walking With Angels Collection, by Melanie Gow. Limited Edition Photographic Art Print“A Closed Door Lets Nothing In”

What walking for 33 days across a country can teach you about life, everything you need to know to live it and how to do anything.

“This is a brilliant and inspiring account of a journey we all should make at least once in our lifetime. A journey in more than one sense of the word.” Dave Wright, Gallery at Ice

 For Parents

Face the Sun, 1/14 in the Walking With Angels Collection, by Melanie Gow. Limited Edition Photographic Art Print

“Parent Daringly”

Imagine what could change if we give our children the space to decide what kind of adults they want to be, and what leading your children for 33 days walking 800km across a country can teach you.

“Melanie gave her incredible talk to over 100 of our parents and went down an absolute storm!” Ms Nicola Huggett, The Head, Blundell’s School, Devon

Walking With Angels, by Melanie Gow, at Stand AppArt

 

For Children – I give an age appropriate version of the ‘leaders and dreamers’ talk “A Closed Door Lets Nothing In”

“Melanie inspires our children to go beyond expectations, not with a sermon but by letting her sons set the example” Mary Feyerham, mother

“Quite brilliant talk Melanie, I’m still thinking about it now. You have a beautiful mix of accessible messages.” Polly Wood

Melanie will adapt the talk for your event

Melanie Gow Speaker One Sheet PDF : click to download

To contact Melanie about speaking at your event please let us know the following:

 
 

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Our Fear Will Not Protect Us – Make Connections

We are not in search of a solution we are in search of a conscience; if we are able to find a conscience we will find a solution.

I am afraid too. I am not naive, and I am afraid. But I know fear is a bad decision maker and I don’t shy away.

If we think our fear will protect us we are wrong.

Yes, I have read the stories of New Year’s eve 2015 in Cologne, yes I saw what you saw in Paris too, and yes I have watched as aggression has flared up across an incendiary world. I am more afraid that our uneasiness will create exactly the problem we’re afraid of.

We are not in search of a solution we are in search of a conscience; if we are able to find a conscience we will find a solution.

This incredible outpouring of human despair, the refugee crisis, is happening whether we want it to or not. It threatens Europe precisely because we are catastrophically failing in our responsibility to respond to the urgent humanitarian needs of assistance, and the protection of hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people.

It threatens Europe precisely because our policies of deterrence, border control and security have abjectly failed, resulting in cultural clashes and fuelling fear and hate on both sides. Our policies give space to a violence that deliberately exploits the underlying tensions.

A part of me wants to tell you I have more reason to be afraid than many people. I have travelled all over parts of the Middle East, I have lived in the nexus of unrest, as a young woman, alone. Do you think I didn’t encounter the dark underbelly of the culture?

I have personally been the casualty of sexual violence, physical threat, verbal abuse, and harassment. I have had stones thrown at me in hatred, I know that I have more direct reason to fear than most.

But, I didn’t blame a religion. I didn’t blame a nation. I didn’t blame a gender. Most importantly, I didn’t blame me. I stood back up, and watched the sunrise on another day, and here I am.

I learnt to look for the similarities; it is possible to have similar bad experiences almost anywhere in the world, from the ivy league campuses of America through to the river banks of India. It is also possible to find hard working, respectful, peaceful, generous, kind, compassionate, simple human similarities everywhere. It is, in fact, far more possible to find these similarities; these individuals of any religion, nation, gender or colour are the norm.

We need to seek the connections between people, to seek connections between beliefs. If we don’t it is so much more dangerous.

I am also a migrant, and we live in a pluralistic world and this is not going to change; we need to look for the similarities and accept our differences. Whatever our belief systems there are connections between us all, because underneath it all we are human beings – and that is where we are the same.

We most certainly have more in common with the people our governments are bombing than the people we’re bombing them for.

People think the smart thing is to change how you behave, or remove yourself. People think you protect yourself by building a wall, but it’s not true. All that happens is that you shrink to fit behind walls that keep you in, rather than keep others out.

The crowd rages on outside while you sit behind your defences, and one day it turns and swarms towards you because you did nothing to find the connections, to build on similarities; you did nothing to discover what you had in common or what everyone had to bring to the table. You chose to protect and not to grow.

What we are facing today is a policy led humanitarian crisis. Politically we have to listen when those we appoint to advice us, MSF and UNHCR and many other respected bodies, say we have to move away from a fortress mentality to a reception approach; proper processing centres at the point of departure, legal, safe passage, intra-EU relocation schemes and constructive integration and facilities into the host culture.

Morally we have to ask one simple question; “do we believe it is right to leave hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing from war and terror to die. To drown, to freeze, to starve, to wander stateless, shelterless, useless, worthless and hopeless?” My answer is no. So I have no choice but to walk the talk.

That’s how Akbar Waseem and I found ourselves in a carpark outside the gym where he is a trainer, in Birmingham. Akbar answered the call of a stranger, and reached across the divide to fill my car with 500 books in arabic for Words of Hope, the refugee book drive for the Calais Jungle SineadJon and I started. Adding to the several efforts of other individuals who have collected educational books and stationary from their cupboards and communities, and brought them to add to the collection. Each and every one is following their conscience, reaching out, finding the connection, and being part of a solution.

Thank you today to you Akbar, and your community, for donating so much but, more importantly, for building the connection. Evidence in the comments sections of most articles and posts on the internet aside, my daily experience is that there are more Good People – on both sides – willing to find our similarities.

We may not have much control over the world but sometimes it’s simply about us, which side of history do we stand? How we respond defines us…

Meet Akbar, everyday modern hero!

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.

Mindful Photography Case Study : Andrew

He fell silent as the simple beauty of that sank in and he slowly nodded, as he saw he was accepted he fought back tears.

Mindful Photography Workshop, with Melanie Gow, Norden Farm, September 2015

Mindful photography is all about opening up to the experience of seeing more than focussing on what you’re looking at, and finding yourself in a moment; realising why you notice a particular moment and what it means to you.

By coming to understand the essence of the landscape consciously, and your personal relationship with it, you begin to master your inner landscape.

*Andrew opened the introductions by telling us he and his wife used to do everything together, they rode motorbikes and took a trip all down the west coast of America, and another around Vietnam.

They have been married forever and had two daughters, but she contracted Alzheimers, and then breast cancer. She beat the breast cancer, but of course she’s left with a degenerative memory and diminishing ability to function. Although he fulfils his duty to her care, Andrew described it as a living death with someone who doesn’t know who he is, and “There is nothing left of my wife.”

It was a very powerful outburst. Andrew apologised, and qualified it by saying that if he didn’t say it all then nothing would come out. He was here because he was trying to find a life again, his daughters had told him he had to be more mindful. He had tried to write down what he was grateful for at the end of every day but, he lost interest after three days as he felt; “I have nothing to be grateful for.”

Here was a man who was so closely enmeshed in relationship to someone else, someone he had built his entire adult life around, that he had no clear idea of who he was on his own.

Yet, he had a battle fury in his eyes, and a passion to his frustration that was desperately seeking a way through his darkness. He wanted to get out and feel alive again, find out who he was, but he was tethered by care and unfamiliar with the language of where he found himself.

He was in the class because he discovered his daughters would take over the supervision of their mother for something they approved of, in this case mindfulness, and he needed time for himself.

He still rode his bike, he was wearing his leather jacket covered with the emblems of adventure, the insignia of how far he had travelled with someone else. He carried his helmet, he was early and he reached out to greet me with a clear-eyed eagerness for life. All while he told me, “My old life has no worth now.”

Mixed Media and Printing Taster Day in the Barn at Norden Farm
The barn at Norden Farm taken by me at another time; when I took a multimedia art workshop with artist, Caroline Crawford.

The final exercise of the workshop was to go out and take a photograph that was meaningful right now, that spoke to you personally, and tell its story. Andrew chose a photograph of the exposed, vaulted timber ceiling structure in Norden Farm barn; and he talked of the craftsmanship of the old beam work. It was no surprise that he started out in life as an engineer, he also told us he had a shed full of useless stuff he couldn’t throw away, “but whenever my daughters need something fixing I love solving it with all the bits I’ve got lying around.”

His face burst with a real light as he went on to say he loved finding a purpose for things that seemed useless to others, or repurposing something that was no longer wanted. At this point I reflected back to him that was the same with his old life; it had worth then, and worth now in being repurposed. Just like the old beams that were now being used in the beautiful open roof structure of Norden Farm that he had just photographed.

He fell silent as the simple beauty of that sank in and he slowly nodded, as he saw he was accepted he fought back tears.

He stayed back at the end of class to tell me about a spiritual experience he and his wife had with the Navajo when they were touring America with 27 other Hells Angels. Now fancy that, a Hells Angel having the courage to gently opening himself up and be vulnerable in a teeny Mindful Photography class in Berkshire – and finding everything he was had worth, and what he had to look forward to was finding the new purpose.

* Identities have been changed to rightly protect the privacy of individuals

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
Resentfully
The pulsing of the drums
Seemed to be beating
Oppressively
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
“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