The Mentor Chapter Twenty – The pause

June 4, 2023

One of the reasons for inviting you into this exhibition was to create a pause.

Mentoring is all about creating a pause.

If we want to change something, or understand something better, the best way for this to happen is to enter a space where we have slowed things down enough to be able to notice and then reflect on what we have noticed. Noticing and reflection are the prelude for change and understanding; and the space for noticing and reflection is created when we pause.

Mentoring is all about creating a pause.

There is a poem I sometimes ask people to read a day or two ahead of a workshop, and this poem is the next exhibit I would like to share with you.

When I ask people to read it, I provide no explanation as to why I would like them to read it, but I don’t suggest there is anything profound about it either. I just ask people to read it. The poem is this one, by Robert Frost:

 

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

 

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

 

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves, no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

 

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

 

The sentiment described by Frost will be familiar even if the poem has only a distant memory from school days.

When my workshop begins, I ask people how they felt reading the poem.

I often have to ask the group the same question three or four times, because they will typically start to describe what the words mean, and not how the words made them feel. However, I want them to connect with a feeling rather than to describe what the words mean. When we eventually make the breakthrough and someone describes how they feel, we get to a much more interesting place for conversation. It is the start of noticing and the beginning of reflection.

I think most people attend a training workshop with low expectations of learning anything new, or helpful. I think many of us just hope that it will not be a total waste of time when we have so many other priorities and tasks to manage. I think at best we hope for a few moments to confirm or validate our own expectations, before we rush back to our priorities and tasks. It is a very low bar, but it is one that is still easy to bump into.

I do not run workshops however to teach people anything. How could I?

I do not live your life; I do not have your boss. I do not have your knowledge, expertise, experience, cares or ambitions. I am not looking at the world through your eyes and I do not have to walk in your shoes. What could I possibly teach you in sixty minutes that would be useful? I suspect almost nothing.

I am not a teacher. I do not know more than you, and you will always know more about your world than me. People sometimes say about me that I seem humble and modest, but I have a lot to be humble and modest about. When I stand in front of you, I know before we begin that I can teach you nothing. All I can offer is to help you pause.

As I have said to you already in this exhibition, the answers to everything are all around us; they are not even hidden in plain sight, but they are with us and in reach – if only we could notice them, if only we could learn to pause.

So, please do not read Frost’s poem and tell me it is about options and life choices; and please don’t spend time wondering if the meaning is about taking the path that is less familiar. Who knows what Frost meant – maybe he was teasing us, maybe not; but anyway, it is not a draft contract that you have to renegotiate, or a set of rules to interpret. There isn’t a right answer.

However, I do invite you to tell me how reading the poem makes you feel?

Do you notice needing to read it more than once?

Do you notice that you cannot read it quickly?

Do you hear your mind working a little harder to make sense of how it is written and wondering why?

Does the poem irritate you a little when it makes you slightly stumble around its construction? Or do you enjoy the search for something that might be hidden?

Does it let you think about your circumstances without pressing you to be happy or sad about them?

Does it make you wish you had a little more time to sit with beautiful words and relish their colours and rhythms, their landscapes and their portraits?

Whatever you notice, the poem is making you pause. It is slowing you down momentarily and letting your feelings quietly fill a space that you had previously left only for analysis, lists, jobs and pressure. It isn’t giving you an answer, it isn’t an algorithm, and it isn’t a short-cut to help you go faster.

It is just a pause, and mentoring is all about creating a pause.

Take care. Paul xx

To be continued…

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