Avskalad. [prononced aaffskaalad]
I've been in Sweden now for two days and I have already heard this word countless times. It literally means peeled but would be better translated into English as "stripped back". As a concept it seems to permeate everything just now, even the trees outside the window where the last few remaining leaves flutter like little flags in their lovely shades of yellow and red . Snow is forecast for tomorrow, so it is the end of Autumn here and these last few leaves will most likely be peeled off before morning, leaving the bare trees exposed.
It is sunset on Halloween, All Hallows Eve, Samhain - and in the Nordic tradition the start of the Winternights festival. Traditionally tonight the veil between the worlds is stripped back and all kinds of sprites will come through to make merry and generally cause havoc across the land, and we normally powerful 21st century humans are reminded of how vulnerable, small and exposed our lives really are.
This may be a surprising start to a coaching blog perhaps, but it seems to me that this seasonal idea of "avskalad" is a timely one for all of us and invites us to consider what happens when we peel back some of the layers of finesse, sophistication and padding that cushion our daily lives. What do we stand for? What, ultimately, is non-negotiable?
This is about re-thinking the old, well worn, comfortable and largely useless "stuff" that we carry and drag about. Stuff that is no more than makeshift padding against an uncertain future .
The other day someone asked me how, towards the end of our careers, we should carry our stuff in an elegant way - especially when that stuff may have been a whole other career, or a whole other marriage. He pointed out that he wanted others to realise what he had done, what he had been capable of, what he knew - but that this was not with a view to showing off, but rather to feel that he had some skills that could be helpful to his new career and his new organisation. There was a sense for him too of respect, of others recognising and validating his lived experience of the world and life.
I suspect its a familiar situation to many. I feel for young soldiers for example, where at twenty four they may have served for six years and lead whole platoons of men and women though extremely challenging combat situations. How to integrate that experience into who they are now so that stripped back what they carry forward is meaningful and honours themselves, their comrades and their lived experience?
It's similar for all of us too- how do we honour our experience without becoming people who drone on boringly about what once was? How do we sift through the stories we carry so that the stories we keep, those stories we will tell about ourselves to others, are the ones we stand by- the ones that stripped back define who we are now and will be in the future while integrating who we were and what we once did.
Much of life is about the hero's quest- about daring to heed the call and set out into the unknown. It is about traveling through perils and dangers while growing in nerves and wit and understanding - and it is about going home and bringing your riches to share with all. But it is also about living life as the heroic quest of youth begins to recede, and about continuing to live as those last remnants also are lost to whole generations of young ones whose heroes are defined by newer greater quests: It is about keeping the faith deep within ourselves and keeping the riches we have accumulated alive and accessible in the world in and through us and our actions. Instead of doing, its about being, instead of going out and seeking; it is about returning, remaining and staying fast. Stripped back it is about living what we have already become: and to do that we don't need the clutter, the physical and spiritual and mental padding we keep holding on to because it's too scary to let go.
So perhaps this blog is about embracing "avskalad" , getting rid of the crud and clutter we drag with us for protection - and dare to go vulnerable and human into the dark unknown and uncertain future of All Hallows Eve.
Georgia O' Keiffe
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