Episode #37  Hearing our Calling – exploring the world of our soul’s true calling with Gill Coombs

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Gill Coombs is a writer, facilitator, coach and activist. In 2011/12 Gill studied Holistic Science at Schumacher College, and then wrote her first book Hearing our Calling.

In 2015 she stood as a Parliamentary Candidate for the Green Party, and the following year published The Game: Life vs the Dark Powers. Gill was arrested twice during 2019 with Extinction Rebellion, and as a member of the Visioning Circle, helped to establish XR’s Eldership Circle.

She has written three life changing books – today we are exploring Hearing your Calling – and how we can bring that into the world.

In Conversation

Manda: [00:01:59.36] So Gill Coombs, on our second attempt, welcome to Accidental Gods podcast. All our sounds sound much better this time. And I gather in your amazing and inspiring, peripatetic lifestyle, you’re somewhere else. Where are you in the world just now?

Gill: [00:02:13.97] So I’m now in the Cotswolds in a little hamlet called Betty’s Grave and I’m looking out on a very beautiful oak tree, which is just starting to look autumnal and watching 10 chickens scratching about.

Manda: [00:02:27.12] It is autumnal. And we’re recording in August. It’s been a very, very strange year. It definitely feels like autumn out there. And Betty’s grave. Does Betty have a grave there?

Gill: [00:02:39.02] Well, as much as I can find out is Betty was indeed a woman who lived here and died and is buried here. But the rumours range from all sorts of things, from being a cuckold to a witch to a gossip to who knows what.

Manda: [00:02:58.91] She was probably an entirely wonderful human being who just fell out with the wrong people. So it’s going to be our life’s task to find out about Betty and rehabilitate her at some point. But in the meantime, thank you for taking a second bite. And what I would really like to do to introduce people who didn’t hear all of our first podcast is a little bit of an exploration of your intriguing and unique childhood leading up to you going to Schumacher College, which is going to be our main leaping off point. But tell us about the village in Norfolk and your early experiences.

Gill: [00:03:36.05] Yeah, well, the village in Norfolk, Felthorpe, which is just north of Norwich, is where I lived with my parents and my brother for the first six years of my life. And for the first four and a half of those years, I didn’t meet other children. So I was with my family, but also spent a lot of time out in the garden and the woods, out across the field, really developing a relationship with all the other living beings around me. And then when I met children, when I was four and a half, nearly five, it was quite a shock. I didn’t really know what to do with them, how to be with them. So life has felt like a bit of a catch up in some ways.

Manda: [00:04:12.41] And have we ever established what your parents thought was a good idea for you never to know that other children existed for the first four and a half years of your life?

Gill: [00:04:20.60] I think there’s something.. Bill Plotkin writes about the nest and the importance of having the nest as a kind of a safe place to grow innocence and wonder. So I think they may have been doing that but in overdrive I imagine it was something quite instinctive, you know, seeing some things that were happening in the world and wanting to keep their children just preserved from that as long as they possibly could.

Manda: [00:04:47.04] That sounds quite sensible in some ways.

Gill: [00:04:50.99] Yes. It means there’s some catching up to do. And as I’ve worked with people for a lot of my adult life, it meant I had to do quite a lot of catching up. Sometimes I feel like I’m still doing it.

Manda: [00:05:00.89] But sometimes in the circles that we run, we ask people to hold their hands up if they don’t feel like they don’t quite fit. And no hands go up. Everybody feels like they don’t quite fit. I’m sure not many of us had quite that childhood beginning, but we managed to make ourselves not fit in new ways. And then you went off and you worked with horses. And I have to say this is my dream job and I’m amazed that you’re not still working with horses. But you did that for a while and then you began what sounds like quite a journey. So if you could kind of precis for us your journey from leaving school to getting to Schumacher.

Gill:  [00:05:44.33] Okay. So it’s a journey that spans quite a few years, so I’ll see if I can get it into a bit of a nutshell. After working with horses for several years, which was just bliss in many ways, I saw my friends going out, meeting boys, driving cars, going to the pub and having clothes and things. And there was a part of me that wanted to be part of that peer group and just start living what I saw as really a normal life. So I got a job in admin. I was actually a purchase ledger clerk with an electrical wholesalers. And on the first few days I remember asking my new colleagues, are there any fields around here where I can go for a walk at lunchtime? And they all looked at me as if I was absolutely crazy, as if I just suggested the oddest thing. Whereas for me it was the most natural and grounding thing to do, especially in this new environment. And that really carried on being the case, I suppose, for quite some time. Well, it took me into all sorts of roles and I tried all sorts of things, really not knowing what I could do, what work I could do that would be fulfilling, that would stretch me, that I would enjoy: all of those things, trying all sorts of different things, like one day, steel fixing on a sewage works near Swindon.

Manda: [00:07:10.19] Yes, I still find that because you go and look at Gill’s picture on the website because steel fixing actually involved carrying iron bars around. And I’m still intrigued that somebody gave you that job because you don’t look huge and well muscled in the way that I would imagine you’d need to be to be carrying things.

Gill: [00:07:29.84] I was reasonably strong because I’d been working with horses and been chucking bales of hay around and mucking out and that kind of thing. So I was reasonably strong, but certainly one day was all I could cope with. And it wasn’t just the weight of them, but the abrasions on my shoulders as well, where I was carrying them, the ripped open skin. And skin on my fingers, broken open from twisting wire around and the ends of them and to fix them in. So I got home and I could have slept for a week, but I didn’t go back. And I think we all knew that was a good idea.

Manda: [00:08:07.01] And some other poor person ended up doing that. That’s the interesting thing. And it might not have been terribly fulfilling for them either.

Gill: [00:08:13.94] And it may have been somebody’s ideal work. But a lot of the jobs I did, they certainly weren’t my ideal work and I wasn’t terribly good at them and I didn’t particularly enjoy them. But for other people, of course, that’s great. That’s exactly right for them.

Manda: [00:08:29.39] Although I’m aware that David Graeber wrote a brilliant book on bullshit jobs, which are the jobs that basically are never going to be fulfilling for anybody. I have to say purchase ledger clerks are pretty close to that to me. I’m in awe that you went from moving bales of hay and working with horses to something that I wouldn’t last ten minutes because I get the numbers wrong.

So the key to this is searching for a life of meaning and purpose and fulfilment. And I’m really very impressed with your ability to keep searching for that when a lot of people, I think, do settle for the bullshit jobs because they give them enough money to have the car and the holidays and the right clothes. And you didn’t, you kept searching.

Gill: [00:09:23.18] Yes, although I was seduced and intrigued by those things for a while, they’ve never been what’s at the bottom of my life, which has been a deep love for the natural world and also a sense of meaning and purpose has always been very important to me. So I did have some fun in my early 20s, but it was far from fulfilling. And I’d had a feeling that there was something that I should be good at and should want to do, and I just couldn’t find it. I tried all sorts of things.

And then eventually when my marriage broke up, I went to have a few sessions with the counsellor and rather arrogantly actually with hindsight, I noticed what she was doing and how she was working. And I thought, ‘You know, I think I could do that and I think I could probably do it better than you can’. And so I looked up the brochures that you used to get from the local college and found a counselling skills course, and that was it.

I went on a fundamental skills course for 13 weeks and then committed to three years of studying, having realized quite quickly that I would need to do an awful lot of work to get anywhere near as skilful as my counsellor was, But then committed to training for three years, whereas previously, while committing to something for three weeks would have been unusual.

Manda: [00:10:46.28] And so it spoke to something that gave you that sense of meaning and purpose, I guess.

Gill: [00:10:53.93] Absolutely. Meaning, purpose and that juicy emotional bit which would probably be missing for me in the family where I grew up, a lovely family, nurturing family in many other ways. But doing that really kind of getting into the juicy emotional stuff is something that I hadn’t experienced and didn’t really know was possible. And also discovering that I could be responsible for my own life and outcomes in a way that I hadn’t really thought possible before, which was really empowering. So I think a combination of both of those.

Manda: [00:11:29.75] I don’t know many families, certainly of our era that did go in for the juicy emotional bits.  I see more now where there are younger people who have been brought up by people who’ve done the therapy and their children now are being brought up very emotionally literate. But I don’t think our parents’ generation would have known how to do that. Most of them.

Gill: [00:11:58.37] I remember my really lovely therapy tutor Jan Mojsa, and I remember her saying that that was the silent generation.

Manda: [00:12:06.35] More so than their parents, do you think? my feeling -and I don’t know where this arises and it could easily be wrong – is that the silence, the not speaking our pain goes back many, many, many generations. Because men were burdened with having to protect and provide even if you hate what you’re doing. And women were left with the rest. And I don’t think either side of that contract was fun for quite a long way back.

Gill: [00:12:40.68] And as you’re saying that, I’m thinking about how we’ve as a species kind of split off from soul and intuition and emotion and how the rational mind sort of took over and all of that territory was really kind of splintered off, wasn’t it? We were told that we don’t talk about that. We kind of acknowledge that it might go on somewhere in a dark corner, but we don’t really name it and we certainly don’t do it in public.

Manda: [00:13:08.27] And we can go back to the Romans and see that pattern and the Greeks and their writing. There wasn’t a great deal of ‘Let’s sit down and explore how we feel about what we’re doing to our slaves or our women or our children.’ I was reading one of your books last night, and it felt to me that you were edging towards an understanding of that piece of the puzzle that shows us how far back our wounding goes and therefore the depths of the healing that we need to do in our generation in order that we can all find the life that is flourishing and healed and regenerative and feeds us in the ways that you were hunting for.

Gill: [00:13:46.59] Yes. Absolutely. And I’m blown away by what I see with young people, now. You’re talking about this next generation who have grown up in with more emotional self-awareness and articulate as well. Articulate, aware and able to kind of cut through the bullshit or the kind of stupor that’s hung around with all of that – what the violence has oppressed is just shooting up again. It’s almost like a rewilding patch of ground where as soon as that oppression or violence, if you like, is removed from it, up come all these beautiful things that were just waiting to emerge.

Manda: [00:14:25.84] And if we can just hold the world together for that generation to be able to step forward and take over. And I don’t wish to pass all responsibility to them, but I do want us to be able to have held the space well enough that there was a world there to do it. Yeah, so in your search for this, for the juicy, emotional bit and for the sense of being responsible for our own life and outcomes, you did your counselling and I think you did therapeutic counselling. What’s the difference between therapy, counselling and therapeutic counselling?

Gill: [00:15:03.09] Therapy goes deeper and further back, I guess, into trauma, addiction, and on the verge of what we might call clinical mental illness, whereas counselling is tends to be more kind of emotional problem-solving, if you like. And therapeutic counselling is somewhere between the two. So there is an ability to hold some powerful emotion and emotional process and be able to accompany somebody through that territory. And there is a need to be able to do that work and clearly to have some self-knowledge and to have met our own demons as well.

Manda: [00:15:44.79] But you can also do the kind of Bandaid let’s just fix this crisis in the moment as a world without demanding that we go back and talk about your mother for the next six months. Sounds great. So where did that lead you to?

Gill: [00:16:00.12] Well, I finished my training and immediately didn’t practise, because I was working for Nestlé at the time and I was so unaware, when I think back. I had very, very little awareness of much at all really, outside my own sphere. I’d read a lot, but nothing that had let me in the direction of recognising the damage that big corporations inflict, both on people, physically and the soul, and on the land. They’re not all entirely bad, there are caveats, but they do a lot of harm.

So I was working for Nestlé at the time, doing one of my admin roles, and I got into an Investors in People process, which led me into learning and development. And I found myself working with groups on communication skills and presentation skills and things like that. Having worked with horses, you know, kind of taken groups out on lessons and hacks meant that I had already discovered that I could work with groups. And so I found myself doing this. But almost like in a reinvention.

So not with horses anymore, but with this juicy material, which in an organisational setting is different, of course, than in the therapeutic space, but draws on a lot of the same stuff. And I just fell in love with it. So I did the work that I loved for several years, Nestlé for three years, and then Cheltenham and Gloucester, the big Building Society that’s now part of Lloyds TSB. And it wasn’t really until I got to Cranfield University, I was working on the campus where weapons are developed and driving into work every day, past a man – or a woman, some days – holding a submachine gun, and calling me ma’am as I came in. And this was about the time that something huge started shifting for me, and I became aware of all sorts of possibilities. And one of those was that I don’t want to dedicate my work anymore to stuff that I don’t actually care about, and end goals that I’m not invested in. Rather, I want to be doing it in service of what I love.

Manda: [00:18:15.66] Right. Which is the natural world and also the juiciness. And is that what took you to Schumacher?

Gill: [00:18:25.97] Well, yes, in that I remember living in a lovely little place called Appletree Cottage and watching a Natural World documentary, as I often did. I enjoyed watching the wildlife, but then along came this guy called Satish Kumar, who I’d never heard of before, doing this wonderful documentary on Dartmoor called Earth Pilgrim.

I was so struck by the not just the phrases he was using, but the way in which he was using language to show that he really honoured what Dart means, and what Moor means, and the word ‘oak’. He was speaking about things as if they were alive and connected and with respect in a way that I’d never really heard before. And like many other people, I heard this and saw this and thought that this was something I really want to dive into.

So I found Schumacher College, went on three short courses, and spoke to some of the Holistic Science students while I was there about what they were studying. I’d been cooking an idea for quite some time about purpose and work. And I think that often some of our greatest work comes from our deepest original or early wounds. And so having had a whole long journey of frustration and despair, of not being able to find my skill or my purpose, it became quite a thing for me to understand that more fully, about who and what we are in the world in terms of our work. And I wanted to write a book about it. So I did The MSc.

Manda: [00:20:03.05] For people who are listening around the world and don’t know Schumacher colleges on the Dartington estate in Devon, it’s in a very beautiful old building called the Old Postern that goes back many centuries. And the students on the longer courses: Holistic Science, Regenerative Economics, things like that, come and live there for nine months, maybe a year. It runs like an Ashram. We get up in the morning and there’s meditation space and then we have breakfast together in the huge dining room. And then some people will tidy up breakfast. Other people are making lunch (under direction, I hasten to add). Others are out in the garden with the Growers because it tries to grow everything as much as possible that we eat. And other people will be cleaning or preparing. And then we have class and then we come back and eat lunch and clear up again. And then we have more class and then we come back and eat dinner together.

So MSc in Holistic Science. Schumacher because you wanted to write a book. And the book that arose out of it. Tell us about that.

Gill: [00:21:06.41] So the book is ‘Hearing our Calling’, which is roughly in three parts. The first part looks at work and what work is, starting from the premise that for hundreds of thousands of years, work would have been whatever was needed to keep the community healthy, whether that’s pulling the thorn out of somebody’s foot or preparing the next meal or finding shelter, the work would just be what needed to be done. And whoever was best suited or best skilled for the work, whether it was tracking, or preparing food or water, would just be stepping forward and doing it. People would carry stuff together.

Manda: [00:21:48.17] Yes. And they would be honored for being the best person and for doing it. I think that’s quite important.

Gill: [00:21:52.58] Yeah, exactly. And when I think what’s been lost _ and there’s a part of me that thinks we’ve done it to ourselves as a species and there’s another part of me that thinks that this has been stolen from us without us even noticing – the ability to just do our best work, and to offer it to our community, and to be seen and recognized for that, not compared with the anything from frustration to fear to despair to boredom, depending on what jobs people are in – that can feel like paid slavery to put to either put money in somebody else’s pocket or to keep this huge bureaucratic set of cogs.

Manda: [00:22:35.93] And the paid slavery I think does feel like an inherent part of the nature of the sea in which we currently swim, in that it only takes over because the system is what it is, because it does drag us away from the things that matter to us. And then tells us they don’t really matter. And that what matters is the money and the status and the cars and the clothes and the holidays.

But I’m thinking that what I saw in lock down – and it hasn’t completely been lost. We’re in the UK lockdown is kind of dribbled to sort of an end – was people beginning to realize that the paid slavery was exactly that, and finding more meaning. We interviewed a lovely young man called Abel Pearson who runs Regenerative Farm in West Wales, and he said loads of people were volunteering and towards the end of lockdown, realised they did not want to go back to their office jobs. That growing actual food on the actual land in a way that was actually regenerative was far, far more inspiring at every level than whatever paper they had been pushing at work. And I wonder, are you seeing that in the work that you’re doing now?

Gill: [00:23:53.81] Yes. Since 2010, when I left my corporate career, went and travelled around the country on foot and borrowed bike and public transport…

Manda: [00:24:07.70] So we can shelve that question. I’ll ask you again later. Tell us about your travelling around the country on foot and bike.

Gill: [00:24:17.30] Like lots of people, I was inspired by Satish Kumar and his walk, and I wanted to do my pilgrimage. I wanted to do my walk.

Manda: [00:24:24.17] You better tell us about Satish, his walk, because not everybody will know.

Gill: [00:24:27.15] He walked from India to the four nuclear capitals of the world with a friend of his when he was 22, to speak to the four leaders and to ask them basically not to blow the world up.

Manda: [00:24:41.12] And he was a Jain monk, wasn’t he? So he did it in a mendicant fashion in which he took no money.

Gill: [00:24:47.07] They took no money at all, took nothing, and just found food and shelter as they went. It was an extraordinary story. And this inspired so many people I know. And by then I had this burning passion, knowing I can work with groups and by then I’d trained as a coach as well. So I know I can work one to one with people, to help them problem solve. But I don’t want to do this for mortgage sales, or breakfast cereals.

I want to do it as we said earlier for what I love and feel passionate about. So my starting point was to speak to Resurgence magazine and tell them that I would like to go around the country just offering workshops for people and living in harmony with the living world and with themselves and each other. And so people read about this in Resurgence and got in touch with me and invited me. And I went to some really lovely places, met some extraordinary people and actually learned quite a lot.

Manda: [00:25:52.64] I assume you started in the South. Did you did you go the kind of length and breadth of the land up to John O’Groats, to Land’s End and side to side, or was it not as organised?

Gill: [00:26:01.27] It did work out pretty much that way. I went up the West and I went to Wales, lovely place near Llanidloes and then up through Cumbria and then on up to Scotland and then to the West Highlands. I went to Glasgow. Alistair Macintosh is very involved with a community called GalGael in Glasgow, where a lot of shipbuilders who lost their jobs have been retraining and building wooden craft and doing all kinds of other crafts, and food growing and things. So I had an extraordinary experience of being there. The whole thing was a bit of a bit of an extraordinary experience, really, with its highs and lows – very high and very low. And then came back down the East Coast through Lincoln.

Manda: [00:26:50.27] What a way to meet people. It sounds great.

Gill: [00:26:54.02] Sometimes there were 30 or 40 people and sometimes they were just two or three.  So that was, that was quite an experience. And then from that, you know, I kind of had found myself having one to one conversations with people about their lives and what they might want to do next. So I thought, I don’t want to go back to a corporate career now. So I carried on doing freelance work for a group of housing associations, running workshops and doing all the things I did, which supported me and just going completely self-employed.

And since then, I’ve had my own kind of private coach-counselling practice because it draws on both. It’s around solutions and moving forward and taking positive steps. But it also draws on emotional content as well. But what’s probably the most unusual thing is that it has been since 2010 with the central focus of doing work that’s good for the soul and good for the world.

Manda: [00:27:56.69] Right. And at what point in all of this did you write the book?

Gill: [00:28:02.71] The dissertation I wrote in 2012 and the book I, I wrote probably through 2013, and it was published in May 2014.

Manda: [00:28:12.68] We started talking a little bit about that and the fact that it’s in three parts and what came out for me: you have your series of questions, which you talked about in our podcast that didn’t quite make it. And they seemed to me incredibly useful questions because I think a lot of the people that I talk to, a lot of the Accidental Gods students, a lot of my dreaming students, a lot of the people that I meet in other contexts – this is the soul of what they’re seeking. It’s finding what we might call their life’s true path, or their Calling, something that makes their soul come alive and that if we were able to open the doors so that everybody throughout the world could find their souls true calling our entire world would be a different place.

Manda: [00:29:09.32] And that probably the most important thing that any of us can do is to find our own true calling and then to help other people to find theirs. So can you tell us the three questions possibly and then we can dive into them a little bit more deeply?

The first one is, ‘What are you doing when you’re in flow and time seems to disappear?’ So let’s unpick that a little bit to begin with, because that’s going back to ideas of flow and what it is. So do you want to speak a little bit to that?

Gill: [00:29:51.14] We all know days when we’re clock-watching, especially if we’ve done jobs which are drudgery, which feel like, to us, like wading in treacle because they’re so far from our natural preference. And we know what it’s like to kind of look at the clock and think, ‘Oh, God, is that all the time is. How can it only be, I don’t know, half past eleven or something?’ And how different that is from when we’re engaged, absorbed and there’s a good level of quality contact between us and whoever or whatever we’re working with, performing our own unique kind of alchemy, where we get to a point in the day and think ‘Is it that time already?’  Because time just shifts and time just does something different. And so that alone doesn’t provide the answer, of course, but that often gives the clue to what kinds of things it is for us, where time kind of takes on that different quality.

Manda: [00:30:43.04] And in your workshops, do you have strategies for people to recall these times or do you find that everybody just goes, ‘Oh, yeah, it’s when I’m woodworking.’ Or ‘Yes, it’s when I’m gardening.’ Or playing with the ponies, whatever it is.

Gill: [00:30:55.94] Yeah. And in one to one sessions, I might just invite somebody to close their eyes and take themselves to a time when that was happening and people access it very readily and easily. Because this is rich. It’s one of those rich moments that sit very accessibly within us. But we’re not always aware of it sitting there.

Manda: [00:31:19.13] That’s the thing. It has to be brought out. So for people listening to take the time to sit, perhaps with a pen and paper or a pad to write on or something and just free associate on the times when you just lost track of time and being completely absorbed. And I’m guessing there’s a component of come out of it and felt good about what was happening because I can be totally absorbed and lose time when I’m grieving deeply. But it’s not necessarily something I want to do for the rest of my life. So we need the coda of come out of it feeling inspired, I guess.

Gill: [00:31:58.46] I’m thinking that sometimes our calling isn’t the most joyful thing that we would necessarily be doing. I’m remembering, I don’t know if you’ve read about my friend Glenn in the book, who when he realized he had a real gift for public speaking and could really move and inspire people for his beloved ocean, there was a part of him that did that very reluctantly because he would much rather be somewhere wild and in the ocean, than in a room with a projector and a bunch of people. Yet he knew that he was good at it and he did enjoy it. But it was it was tough for him to have to do it. And sometimes it was a struggle.

Manda: [00:32:37.10] This is exactly what I wanted to get to, was that there’s a distinction to be had, and I’m guessing that Glenn or somebody like that ends up with the balance of being on the Ocean and that being utterly glorious, and also making the space and the time to do the public speaking, even if that’s slightly harder, but that it yields a different sense of fulfilment.

Gill: [00:33:08.36] I think so too. And one’s just pure joy. And Glenn might lose himself kind of diving in the ocean or whatever, watching fish or something, that’s just a kind of a rapturous losing of time. Whereas the other is coming back to that a gestalt notion of the quality of contact. Where there’s a contact between him and the audience that’s feeding him and drawing the best of the group.

I write quite a bit about this notion of evoking. So although he might not like the idea of talking in front of a room of people, once he starts to do it, the people evoke from him his best speaking self, which he quite enjoys being. And then he evokes from them all sorts of imagination and ideas and curiosity, where they go off then and we hope engage with the Ocean in a slightly different way.

Manda: [00:34:02.28] So it’s about finding that place within ourselves where we then reach out to others singly or in groups. And between us we create a third thing that is greater than the sum of its parts. There’s that sense of being part of something that is so synergistic.

Gill: [00:34:22.82] Yeah, that’s a lovely way of describing it. That’s exactly it.

Manda: [00:34:25.65] And I suppose I have one of my students that’s coming to mind at the moment who also absolutely loves the ocean. And she teaches schoolchildren to dinghy sail and kayak on the West Coast of Wales and absolutely loves it and is definitely thriving in that moment. But again, it’s that sense of connectivity with other people or with the living world. But having this sense of creating something that is greater than we create on our own, I think is quite important.

Gill: [00:35:00.41] And that could be the living world too. There’s a difference between more extroverted personalities – thinking about it in Jungian terms, the natural extrovert will be at their best and buzziest when they’re engaging with others. And introverts can potentially do that, too, but will just be more depleted by it and will recharge and feel most restored, and perhaps have the most profound experiences, connecting with nature or aspects of themselves, or something much more solitary, and deeper.

Manda: [00:35:32.93] Yes. And designing a rewilded garden or something that has sense of connectedness, but doesn’t require you to talk to large numbers of people.

Gill: [00:35:41.12] And this is the one of the ideas at the bottom of ‘Hearing our Calling’ is that all of these approaches, different ways of being, different ways of engaging and interacting are needed. We’ve all got something to contribute. I find it heartbreaking when within various environmental or social justice campaign groups, people start arguing amongst themselves: ‘It’s all about this!’. And then someone else says ‘No, it’s all about that!’ And so much energy goes into each of them really wanting to be heard, really wanting the others to tell them they’re right. Whereas actually, of course, they’re both right. It’s all true. So we mentioned earlier the idea of honouring somebody’s work. Even within the progressive movement already, if we can imagine the energy that might be liberated and nourished, if people were to really honour each other’s work, even if the approach is very different than their own, you know, what that might kind of support and bring forward.

Manda: [00:36:40.32] And what the honouring looks like is important. For me, this the concept that is getting a lot of traction of universal basic income and it has a great many difficulties that we don’t need to go into now. But if we were to uncouple money from what we do with our time in a way that lockdown managed to do for quite a lot of people because there was no way of earning income in the old way and some people found generative outlets for their time and their energy. Because at the moment, the amount of money that we earn so often equates to our sense of self-worth and how we are valued by others.

And then we end up in this bizarre situation where somebody who spends their life basically conning people out of money earns bonuses in the multiples of millions. And someone who spends their life nurturing people while they die in a hospice is on 10 pounds, 26 an hour. And that’s not how the world should be. And we need somehow to uncouple these. I saw a beautiful picture on my social media the other day of the students, I think, who were protesting the exam grades. But somebody was holding up a placard going, ‘How about we have a maximum wage?’ But you could feel the ripples going around of everybody. ‘Oh no, you can’t do that!’ But imagine if we did, you know, it would be very interesting and then we could begin to value everything for its inherent value and not for the slightly strange monetary values that we’ve put on it.

Gill: [00:38:19.91] I wrote in Hearing our Calling about how you have the Heart work and the Hands work and the Head work. And because the Head Work calls all the shots, it’s managed to make itself the highest paid. But in the abstract world that we’ve constructed for ourselves of moving money and data around, you know, the fundamental jobs – and this is something that came clearly out of lockdown – the fundamental jobs are feeding people, tending people’s health, growing food, building shelter. These fundamental needs are the most important work that there is and tending people’s souls, all of those things. They are the most important work and yet they’re the lowest paid. It’s completely upside down.

Manda: [00:38:59.33] It’s only a system and systems are open to change, so I’m working on it.

Gill: [00:39:06.83] Margaret Wheatley, you said ‘Never doubt that a small, committed group of citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.’

Manda: [00:39:14.81] It’s Mary Reynolds in the last podcast said we only needed a threshold of 3.14 Percent of the population really committed to something to begin to change. I thought that’s the first three digits of pi. That’s so exciting. I don’t know where that number comes from, but it really I find that very inspiring. And that’s not huge, that’s doable.

Gill: [00:39:40.67] And there’s currently a movement: #3.5%. So I’m not sure where it’s going to go yet, it’s in its early stages, but it’s got a lot of energy. So people might like to just check out that hashtag?

Manda: [00:39:53.76] I’ll see if I can find it and link to it in the show notes. Because it seems to me that in this past year and I don’t know whether it’s Extinction Rebellion or Greta Thunberg, or lockdown, but there are so many more people now utterly committed to changing the way things are, which has got to be a good thing.

So the second of your three questions was ‘What do people tend to come to you for, and seek you out for (whether you want it or not)? And that, again, seems to be one of those things that with a bit of reflection is going to yield a huge amount. So can you speak a little bit to how people might work with that?

Gill: [00:40:33.50] When I ask people to notice that, ‘What do people tend to come to you for’, it’s something that although it’s not their paid work, or they might never have considered it as paid work, they might say, ‘Ah, well, people are always asking me for advice about their animals’ or ‘People are often asking me, ‘You’ve got a good sense of clothes and style, does this look good? Or ‘Might I do this in my home?’ And people just tend to know and be drawn ‘Ah, that’s a good person to ask about this’. People don’t necessarily think of it as something that they could be doing for their work because again, in this Western world that we’ve created for ourselves, like we haven’t got the qualification or we didn’t do the right exams or whatever, which is absolutely nothing to do with whether that’s just an innate gift that people in the world are kind of asking us for, you know, asking us to bring forward.

Manda: [00:41:24.17] Yes. I’m remembering a lecture I listened to recently by an extraordinary homeopath. And he said that often he would ask people, ‘What’s your dream job?’ And it seems to me this is this is heading in roughly the same direction. He was describing a client he’d had who every time he would ask this. And the answer was always, ‘Well, on one hand, this are on the other hand, that are. If we came at it from another angle, this…’ And he was in despair because nothing was pinning down. But then he said, ‘What’s your dream job?’ And this person said, ‘Oh, it’s easy. I would be a chair of a committee. Because I can see all of the angles and I can bring them all together and I can balance the more evenly. And when I go around and say, “OK, so we’ve got this, this, this, this and this and this are all the options. And these are the advantages and these are the disadvantages.” Everybody listens to me.’ And it opened up the case for the homeopath. And I thought that’s such a brilliant way of somebody understanding what their own gifts are. And then the question is ‘In what way can we bring this to the world?’

Gill: [00:42:35.35] And that’s just using the word ‘Dream’. Rather than ‘what job might you do’ or ‘what are you qualified for’ or ‘what you think you’re best at’, using the word ‘dream’. How powerful is that?  

Manda: [00:42:46.21] Yes. Actually, I hadn’t thought of that. Yeah. Yeah. How can we dream this into being?

Gill: [00:42:52.18] Yeah. So one of those things that I could never be possible, but if I could dream about it then this is what I’d say.

Manda: [00:42:58.81] And as we all know, human intent is one of the most powerful forces on the planet. And if you can dream it into being, it can happen.

And so your third question is, ‘What do you find yourself wondering why other people can’t or don’t do, because it comes so naturally to you?’ And again, I think that’s just such a powerful, powerful question for people to ask themselves.

Gill: [00:43:23.95] Absolutely. And this, again, is the thing that somebody might not think of as their natural gift, or even think about it as something they might do for work, because it’s just ‘who I am’ – which, of course, is exactly what we’re looking for. So they might ask, ‘Why don’t why don’t other people keep that space is clean and hygienic?’ Or, ‘Why don’t other people look at buildings in a way to see how things will fit together and kind of realize that this isn’t going to work?’ Or whatever the thing might be.

It’s an alchemical thing. Our context evokes from us an ability to see what’s needed. And obviously these skills will need honing and need developing. But I believe that at a fundamental level we’ve come into the world with an innate eye or a sense for a particular aspect, or maybe more than one, of our world that we can just see. We zoom in on the things that other people miss and we act. We’re evoked, or called forth if you like, to act and actually do something. A lot of people have lost that. They might feel themselves called forth, but they don’t respond because they won’t get paid for it, as you said earlier, they haven’t qualified in it. You know, they haven’t got the recognition of their community. Now, it could be all sorts of things.

Manda: [00:44:42.82] And I’m wondering also, with the creation of unemployment as a weapon by the neoliberal state and that label, then. I remember reading a paper, I think, when I was at Schumacher about the transformation in people when they ceased to be unemployed and instead became retired. And the income that they got from the state was very broadly similar. But the label that was put on it, one was a pension and one was unemployment benefit. And that made a structural change in how they felt about themselves.

And I thought the damage that has been done generation after generation of saying ‘You are not fit to do anything, we have no space for you in our world, therefore you are useless.’ It’s so damaging. And Rob Hopkins talks about this in his amazing book ‘From what is to what if’ of talking to people at a place in Dumfries in Scotland where they were being offered the space to develop skills that they didn’t know they had and discover what they could do. And I think so much of the healing that we need now in our world is to bring that into being. Get rid of the labels and as you say, help people to act and do things.

Gill: [00:45:58.10] There’s a lot of working out of it to do. There are many ways which involve all sorts of communication skills and emotional intelligence and self-awareness and self-restraint and tact. And all of this comes into being and comes into play. It’s the piece that we were talking about earlier, that young people seem to be really great at naturally in a way that we perhaps had to learn, because we didn’t get it from the generation above us.

Manda: [00:46:24.12] And I guess there’s also something about evolving into the new skills, because I’m thinking that in the generation I grew up in, there were a lot of young men who might have been quite displaced had computing not come along and their particular set of skills that led them to be absolutely genius programmers was suddenly incredibly valuable.

And I’m remembering listening to a podcast with Jamie Wheal, talking about his 12 year old daughter. He’s an entrepreneur, he’s set up numerous businesses. And he offered her an amount of money, I’m guessing quite a reasonable amount that would be valuable to her if she would like to bring seven of her friends together over the summer holidays and build something on Minecraft, which was her game of the time that no one had ever seen before.

And he said within a day she had seven friends from all around the world. She’d never met them, but they were all geared up to do this. And then he watched all summer and she just played Minecraft. And it got to the last week of the summer holidays and he went, ‘Were you thinking of doing this thing or is it just didn’t want to do it?’ And within that last week, he said he saw level of connectivity and cooperation that he has never experienced in even in the best coached, most emotionally literate, most self-aware groups that he’s had in his, I’m guessing, quite self-aware life – e runs whole courses on how to be a superstar so he has quite a lot of experience.

And one lass decided to write the manual and somebody else did the basic designs and somebody else made it happen and somebody else made it look beautiful. And he said by the end of five days, they had created something that not only had he never seen before, he could never have imagined existing. And in a way that he had never seen before. And he didn’t even want to put words to it because he said that would limit it by his capacity to create language and that they had achieved something that was beyond that.

And I thought that gives such hope for the world. That in the chaos of all that we’re doing, we have also created the capacity where that can happen. And helping people to realise that the gifts that they have are valuable. And If we can reach a place where we speak about money in a way that it really doesn’t matter anymore, where the abundance is enough and the not damaging the natural world is an inherent part of what we’re doing. And people can then find what it is that they want to do and what they’re built to do, what they here to do. The world would be such an amazing place.

Gill: [00:49:01.79] We’re living in extremely exciting times, you know, as well as terrifying times. It’s both, isn’t it? And it’s holding those in balance really is that we’re faced with some extraordinary crises. But my goodness, you could almost see it in a huge kind of holistic level of here’s now this big crisis and this really big threat. And look what humanity is doing in response.  Something really beautiful and amazing.

Manda: [00:49:30.32] And so coming forward from finding our calling and I think anyone out there who’s seeking ideas of how to be it’s an extraordinarily beautiful book and it’s full of the sorts of things we’ve been talking about. In terms of the work that you’re doing with people out in the world – so do read it. Are you finding that people are coming to you with different sets of ideas now of who they could be and what they could be doing? Is that shifting?

Gill: [00:49:57.41] Yes. In the last two years there’s been a huge shift that’s been going on. And I think in the last few years, so many people have woken up to what’s actually has been going on environmentally, politically, in society. And there’s a real thirst, there’s a real appetite for something new. In my coaching work just five or six years ago, I ran a coaching seminar at a conference which was about coaching in service of the greater good – asking who are we in service of, in service of the client or the organization they’re working for, or something beyond that?

And at that time, it was a totally alien concept and people kept coming back to what’s in the contract, and who’s paying you, and questions like that. And yet now, I think if I was to walk into that group – the same people six years on, I think they would absolutely resonate with where I was coming from and we’d do something very different with that. In fact, an organization that I’m engaged with called Recipicoach, is just doing a program at the moment where coaches have been invited to do free coaching for environmental activists. That certainly wouldn’t have happened even three years ago.

Manda: [00:51:28.03] Brilliant. That sounds amazing. And we can maybe put a link to that into the show notes as well. So we’re nearing the end of our hour. And as I’d hoped, we’ve explored a lot of Hearing our Calling and how people can do it. So I’m guessing that if we were leaving people with things they could do other than reading the book, then asking themselves the three questions would be obvious. And I’m wondering if there’s anything else as a final suggestion that you would like to put out into the world on this topic.

Gill: [00:52:02.38] So there’s something about being willing to take risks. There’s something about the illusion of stability and security that jobs and organizations seem to offer, that appears to be unravelling before our eyes. I’m thinking about the many questions or the many kinds of dilemmas that people come with. And very often they’re kind of on the brink and saying, ‘I feel really scared of doing this’ or ‘I don’t want to jump’ or ‘I don’t know if I can do it’. And while some caution is, of course, good, some sensible eyes-open caution is good, I find myself often reminding people that ‘And so did everybody, when they started any new venture or did something that was groundbreaking or different or a huge shift for them. With the gain that comes with change inevitably comes from loss as well.’

So there’s something about knowing what you’re willing to lose or risk and let go of. And there’s also something about having the courage when there are no guarantees that what you’re going to do is going to work out as you expect it to.

Manda: [00:53:16.71] Because in my experience is it never turns out I expect it to turn out well, largely because my expectations were always limited by my previous understanding.

Gill: [00:53:27.10] And there’s something about support, too. With its many pros and cons, something that the Internet has made possible, is to reach out to people and connect with people on a similar path in ways that it was never possible before. And whatever you’re doing, even if you’re wanting to bring your unique approach to it, there will be people doing something similar. There will be others walking a similar path. And to reach out and to share ideas, to get support, or even just to feel connected to people and just listen, depending on what people’s preferences are. That’s a huge thing, to get that encouragement and that kind of spark.

Manda: [00:54:04.08] Yes. And have a sense of community because community is what sustains us as human beings. We are communal beings. And that’s. Yes. And I’m surprised, again, in lockdown down at how much connection was possible over time. It wasn’t the same as being in the room, but it wasn’t so far different that it didn’t count.

Gill: [00:54:26.10] So, yeah, it’s extraordinary. I’ve been working via Skype and Zoom for some years now with clients in different parts of the world, we do some really profound and moving work over Skype, which ten years ago I’d have said no, it’s just not possible. You have to be with the person in the room. But clearly you don’t.

Manda: [00:54:47.55] And therefore, you don’t have to spend many tons of carbon dioxide moving from one side of the planet to the other.

Gill: [00:54:53.77] Exactly. We’ve been talking about what becomes possible in us coming out of lockdown. That’s another thing, isn’t it, the way we move around. Or whether we move around.

Manda: [00:55:02.37] Yes. Discovering we don’t need to move around as much. It’s great. Well, Gill Coombes, thank you so much. I think we’re at the end of our era. That has been fantastic. I would really love to talk to you again about ‘Trembling Warrior’ and ‘The Game’, your other two books, which if we can, we’ll book for some other part of season four of the podcast. But in the meantime, thank you so much. And everybody out there, I will put links to Gill’s website and to the book in the show notes so you can go and explore.


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