At the beginning of last year when I started going out for my long morning walks, I listened to a lot of music and podcasts as I wandered through the countryside. Eventually I fancied a change, and was persuaded to consider audiobooks. I downloaded the Audible app and signed up for a subscription but, in truth, I never really got along with the format. There's something about the passivity of an audio book, compared to the activity of a conversation or debate on a podcast, that made it difficult for me to maintain my concentration, and I found myself zoning out and missing big chunks of content. I tried non-fiction, which makes up the vast majority of my reading, and I tried fiction, but nothing seemed to stick.
As such, I went back to podcasts and music and hadn't given audiobooks much more thought, until I realised a month or two back that I was still paying for my subscription and had built up a bank of credits! At that point, I decided to give them another go, and began looking for something interesting to get me started. I stumbled across a book called Love's Executioner and Other Tales of Psychotherapy by an American psychotherapist called Irvin D. Yalom. The blurb explained that it was quite literally stories (edited to protect the identity of the individuals) from his many years of practice and it piqued my interest!
The book absolutely blew me away and started one of my super-obsessive deep-dives into the works of an author or artist. His stories are absolutely fascinating and hearing about how he asks questions and builds rapport has a lot of value to my work as a coach. I've subsequently listened to Momma and The Meaning of Life (similar in style to Love's Executioner), Becoming Myself (his autobiography) and am currently devouring a slightly different book, called Staring at the Sun.
This current listen is all about a topic which Yalom has supported hundreds of patients with, and which he was wrestling with himself as he wrote the book in his twilight years - death anxiety, or the dear of dying. As a relatively young man, not yet forty, death anxiety isn't something that's ever been especially close to mind for me, but hearing Yalom talk about the ways in which this manifests itself in his patients has been incredibly eye opening. What's been even more eye-opening, however, has been the discussion of some of the ways in which he supports patients to face this. He has a few approaches, some based on literature, some based on philosophy (which took me right back to my undergraduate days where I did some elective courses in Philosophy and became engrossed!) and one that really stuck out to me - the concept of rippling.
Yalom describes rippling as the idea that as we go through our lives, each of us influences those around us and that this influence moves out through the world, like ripples in a pond. In this way, our deeds, our influence and our impact reverberate throughout the world. The influence we have had may well be conscious, but it is also true that we are not aware of all the ways we have rippled. In our ripples, we leave a part of ourselves that endures after we have gone. This, Yalom argues in Staring at the Sun, can be a source of deep comfort.
While I've not spent a great deal of time thinking or worrying about death (thankfully!), I have spent a lot of time considering this concept, even before I had a name for it. The impact and power of rippling is poignantly described by Yalom as he writes about the joy that comes from knowing that you have had an impact on another person. We want to matter to others. We want to leave a footprint.
A lot of my joy and focus in life comes from this place. Coaching leaders inside work and coaching sportspeople - particularly young people - outside of work, makes up a huge proportion of my life. And these are things that I do, because they bring me joy. That joy comes from seeing the difference that I'm able to make, even in tiny ways, to the lives of others. Hosting events, building bird boxes for the community (that's a story I'll have to tell!), even just mowing my neighbour's lawn. I get a deep feeling of joy and contentedness from doing even the smallest thing for someone else.
Sometimes, however, it's not about the deed or the act. It can just be about being nice. Showing interest. Caring. Making others feel special or valued. A kind word or a smile can brighten up someone's day and even these small acts ripple through the lives of others in tiny, almost imperceptible ways.
I've been lucky enough to be asked to speak to a men's support group a couple of times this year, and most recently, I took them through the wheel of life, which I've spoken about before in this blog. One of the main areas of focus and conversation, was that of service. Doing things for others. Being a servant to people beyond yourself. It never ceases to amaze me how much fulfilment and joy and how much of a sense of purpose and value I get from doing things for other people. At times, bizarrely, it almost feels selfish - because I get so much from doing these things, that I wonder whether I'm getting more from the experience than the person I'm serving! It reminds me of this episode of friends where Pheobe and Joey argue about whether it's possible to do a selfless good deed! Does it diminish the value of the giving when I'm getting so much fulfilment from doing it? I hope not.
Thinking about dying is a morbid way to spend your time, and that's definitely not something I'm advocating committing too much time to, but considering your impact on others can be really powerful. In your work life, your home life, your hobbies, your community, your relationships. What ripples are you leaving behind?