Small seasons of change

September always feels like the start of a new year – more so than January, in some ways. My birthday falls at the end of August, and despite having been out of mainstream education for almost as long as I was in it, I always get that ‘new term’ feeling at this time of year. I’m just emerging from a fortnight of summer holiday, and am grateful for having had this time to rest, walk, read, draw, and prepare for a season of change.

This month I am excited to be starting the Executive Coaching Programme at the Tavistock Institute – a year-long course which will enable me to apply a systems-psychodynamic approach to my coaching practice and to working with individuals in organisations. It draws on psychoanalysis, theories of group relations, and different perspectives on open systems. 

Five years after the beginning of my foundational training, I’m looking forward to deepening and developing my understanding of what it is to coach, and be a coach. But I’m a little daunted, too. It will involve learning new ideas and ways of working, finding coachees to work with in new and potentially unfamiliar sectors, and forming a new group and set of relationships with my fellow students and faculty at the Tavistock. I’m sure it will be an experience that will stretch, challenge and change me.

This September feels more ‘back to school’ than most for me, which has raised the question: how can we prepare for changes which bring up a range of emotions? Recently I came across the notion of ‘small seasons’, which helped me to think this through. 

Before the Gregorian calendar came to dominate the way we think about the year – as twelve months divided into four seasons – farmers in China and Japan broke each year into 24 ‘sekki’, or ‘small seasons’. These blocks of approximately two weeks were characterised in relation to what was happening in the natural world, and the phenomena you could expect to see at different times of year. 

Right now, at least in the northern hemisphere, we are in the time of lessening heat (“rice has ripened, the heat of summer, forgotten”). Although it doesn’t map onto strict calendar dates, this coming week we are due to transition into the period of white dew, when drops of dew will cover the grass. 

This concept reminds me of two things. First, that change feels less overwhelming when it is broken down from something big into a series of smaller and more manageable steps. In my case, taking a ‘small seasons’ perspective suggests that when it comes to preparing for my course, I can start by just focusing on what will happen in the next fortnight – the introductory meeting with my cohort. Thinking about how to get the most out of that feels much easier than trying to anticipate what will happen over a year-long programme. Similarly, taking the year a few weeks at a time makes me feel less anxious about moving into the colder and darker months of winter, and more able to appreciate the seasonal shifts as they happen.

Second, the idea of small seasons emphasises the fact that change is always happening, even in those moments when it feels elusive or frustratingly incremental. In the two weeks that I have been on holiday, I’ve started a more regular drawing practice (inspired by a birthday gift of this book) and have been learning about Indigenous Canada through this course, in an effort to understand more about the history of where I was born and spent some of my formative years. Both of these things have revealed new ways of seeing the world, even in the short space of a fortnight. It is a valuable reminder of how important it is to regularly pause, reflect on, and identify the changes that are constantly happening – in ourselves and in those around us. 

I’m curious about what taking a small seasons approach might feel like for me, and whether this idea resonates with others.

What would change for you if you took the world two weeks at a time, at least in moments when looking into the far distance feels like too much?

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