What might you discover by exploring your inner pinkness?!
We had quite a difficult Christmas with my Mum-in-Law being taken very poorly and being hospitalised for a few days. No surprise that the focus of our attention was on her, rather than festive celebrations. Happily, she recovered and returned home just before New Year and we found ourselves travelling back home with the opportunity to go to a New Year’s Eve party we thought we would not be available for, and in all honesty perhaps not particularly in the mood for. A mood which was deepened when we heard that our lovely hosts had asked that everyone coming wore something pink. It was almost the excuse I was looking for not to go until it was ‘suggested’, quite rightly, that I might not be such a miserable git and would it not be great to be in the company of friends after having quite a challenging time!
As a result, while racing around the supermarket to provision us for the start of 2024, I found myself in front of a nail varnish collection. The impulse to buy a lurid pink pot overcame me as I thought that this might be the first of my ‘small experiences’ on which I might focus my attention. What might it be like to paint my nails and to see how that tiny change in appearance might change the relationship that I had with the world around me? Later on I realised there was a deeper enquiry which was ‘what might it feel like to draw attention to myself when the way I see myself is as the observer, not the observed?’
Derryn had her own solution to the pink challenge and was interested in mine. After all, 39 years together and she had never experienced me with nail varnish either! She gave me some guidance on the technicalities of applying nail varnish but otherwise left me to my own devices.
With only the minimum of hesitation, the experiment began! Three brush strokes from the cuticle to the nail end starting in the middle before doing each side. Don’t fuss or fiddle at it, just let it flow! There’s some everyday philosophy right there!
Never had my hands in a close up before! Photo by Derryn Hinks
My first sensation was a strong one that caught me by surprise. As the varnish dried I could feel something tightening over each nail. There was a sense of my nail stopping breathing and a feeling of being constrained that I really did not like at all. The solvent smell took me back to my years as a research chemist and that logical part of my being chipped in with the thought that it was bit bonkers to paint yourself in something that is not particularly good for you!
I persisted and finished my left hand. The decision to paint those fingers first was entirely pragmatic in that I am right-handed, so I had the best chance of doing a reasonable job by using my more practical hand. I couldn’t help but think that there was something symbolic in doing something different to my left hand though, connecting with the historical view of left handedness being something unusual, different, even evil (sinister coming from the Latin for left sided).
I was about to start on my right hand when I realised the experiment felt more meaningful if I was to have one hand painted, and the other one not. Having noticed the strong commitment for this ‘one pink hand’ approach I tapped into what it was about me that prompted the choice. I concluded that it was my usual contrary, counter intuitive way of being coming into play. I certainly wasn’t about lacking confidence to paint both hands. It was more about having one of each, emphasising the sense of difference, at least for me.
I sat getting on with some one-handed typing as my nail varnish dried on the other. The fingers of my ‘pink hand’ were splayed out in a completely atypical manner but one that seemed both practical and a somehow appropriate pose. I found my gaze being drawn to my hand. The difference I noticed was not just confined to the bright pink nails. The whole hand looked different. It felt different too. I was much more aware of each separate finger and the magic of independent and sophisticated movement as they presented these newly painted nails for inspection at all sorts of different angles and perspectives. The sense of not being able to breathe through this pink shell was still there but it was being normalised and was no longer unpleasant. Instead there was a realisation that the five splashes of colour were happy and fun. I really rather liked my ‘new’ fingers, and I certainly liked having the splashes of colour. They surprised me each time I saw them come into my field of vision; most particularly when I was not deliberately looking for them.
Off we went to the party which was not really part of my experiment as everyone was part of the pink manifestation! Pink clothes, jewellery, and make up of all styles were on show but the most important part was being surrounded by friends and neighbours, and sharing challenges and delights with them, infused with a presence of pink. Actually, I did notice one thing about myself when I discovered that Peter had also gone down the pink nail varnish route, same shade too. He had painted the nails on both his hands, and I realised what was behind my decision to do only one of my hands. A wish to be different even in being different!!
The next day dawned, and I was quite excited by the prospect of having my pink nails until erosion would inevitably do its work and return them to their natural state! I was interested to know how I would respond to the way that I experienced people responding to me. As a student of Lisa Feldman Barrett’s work I was interested what would happen when my pink nails where part of my ‘affective niche’ or, putting it another way, that I was aware of them all the time. It was particularly interesting as in the normal scheme of things I do not go out of my way to draw attention to myself. Quite the reverse in fact. This nail borne pinkness was quite exposing for me!
Of course being acutely aware of something makes it quite difficult to act naturally. Even so, I tried to be just that. I was aware of situations where my tendency was to hide my nails by making a fist or putting my hand in my pocket, just like during C19 when trying to avoid shaking hands. I was aware of situations where the nails did come onto someone else’s radar and were either ignored (in which case I wondered what they were thinking), or prompting a smile (are they laughing at me?!), or a comment like ‘that’s a nice pink’ (where I had to avoid wondering if they might be mocking me!?).
In all of these interactions I was aware that I had stepped away from ‘my normal’. I was being different and that was alright. I also noticed that being constantly aware of being different was exhausting. That reflection prompted an uncomfortable appreciation of how difficult hypervigilance must be when the society in which you live identifies you as different.
I had reason to be in hospital for appointments supporting my Mum in Laws recovery (she is better now, thanks for thinking about asking), seeing emergency medics and a rheumatology consultant. In this situation pinkness moved into the shadows as these were conversations that really mattered. Even so in the midst of an expressive dialogue with lots of hand gestures the mono-handed pinkness was unleashed! The consultant, observant by trade, noticed and there was a moment of interest but not judgement, followed by gentle amusement on both sides, giving rise to smiles and a lightening of the conversation despite its gravity. Looking back that subtle but tangible change was remarkable, prompting reflection on the power over even the smallest thing in interpersonal dynamics.
I was reasonably confident that pinkness would not feature in my coaching as my work during those weeks was exclusively virtual, and my camera position captures head and shoulders only. The fact that I had considered it might be an issue in my coaching partnerships tells you how conscious I was of the different me! What I did not allow for was the inevitable scratching of the chin or cheek during reflective moments during coaching, often when mirroring intentionally or subconsciously the body language of my coachee. At these moments flashes of pink on the screen were clearly noted by them, prompting varying responses, all of which had the common thread of curiosity. I did not seek to integrate pinkness into my coaching yet it did become part of it, and why not?! Coaching is so much about exploring the opportunities opened up by our sensory curiosity. Most times these rich opportunities originate from the coachee’s lived experience. Sometimes though they come from something prompted by the coach’s way of being. Again, why not? Provided that the ‘partnership in curiosity’ is tuned into the needs of the coachee, occasional unscheduled yet ultimately purposeful forays into the coach’s territory can add additional value!
There you go then. My first effort at paying attention to the smaller things. Looking back on it, what have I learned? Loads! I know that colour is something that lightens my spirits and I would benefit from having a bit more of it around me, particularly carried on my person. You might spot the occasional painted nail throughout 2024! I learned that constant awareness of being different is exhausting, given the additional energy consumed by any brain holding difference in its consciousness. I learned that 5 small pools of colour had the capacity to alter, however slightly, my concept of self. The fact that this altered concept of self influences my interactions with the world around me serves to reinforce just how complex interpersonal interactions are, and how they are influenced by the smallest thing.
My challenge to you then is…..Go on! Do something different. Notice what happens. Learn something more about yourself. Make use of that learning in support of yourself and others. The following enquiries might help focus your attention and intention:
What small thing might you do (or choose to notice) to change your perspective ever so slightly?
What possibilities might be opened up by taking a view from this slightly altered perspective?
What action might you take to create a new reality for yourself and others by turning a possibility into a new reality?