Making Your String of Pearls – Step 2 & 3

We live our lives from moment to moment, each moment an experience added to our personal story. Each moment is potentially a learning moment, if we only we would take the time to find out what it was trying to teach us. The art of living a self-directed, self-authoring life lies not just in living your life to the fullest – that’s just being busy. The real art is to stop from time to time to check each experience against the wisdom and direction of our authentic core. If it resonates with our core, we aim for more of those experiences. If it feels wrong, empty, or somehow not quite what we were supposed to do, we aim to avoid them in the future. And then we adjust our direction, recalibrate our speed, and try again, each time a little bit more on course and a little truer to the journey we came on Earth to travel.

Step 2: Finding Our Moments of Flow

Looking more closely at our collection of the shiny pearls we separated from the dark and dull ones, it will be clear that though all these pearls are bright and shiny moments from our past, they are not necessarily all of a similar nature. In fact, at first they may all look like separate, disconnected events, with little in common. Some may simply be happy memories of something we saw or witnessed, others may be moments we spent with loved ones. What we are looking for to build our narrative on is a particular group of pearls: those bright and happy moments when we were actively doing something and were fully engaged, more or less ‘in the flow’, and which we associate with a feeling of fulfilment and of being in the right place at the right time at the right place. We can call those our ‘active moments of flow’ as those moments are most closely linking our own actions with our emotional system’s sense of optimal state, suggesting that we were in those moments doing things that closely match our temperament, our personal preferences, and – more significantly – our intuitive sense of purpose and fulfilment.


I always loved going to school. There was just so much to learn there, to find out about this mysterious world that was said to exist beyond the few streets of the town I grew up in. My earliest memories of moments of flow are writing essays in class, or solving some problem we were given. Once I started working it was as if time ceased to exist. All that existed was the topic or problem and me exploring it, solving the riddles it posed and looking for the right words to put the answers in. Quite often, once the task was finished, I read back what I had written and would be surprised at the result. I could not remember writing it, and could often barely believe I was the one that wrote it. I often wondered where these writings really came from; they felt so much better than what I though myself capable of.

I used to play field hockey in my sporting days. We played mostly for fun and for the social activities around it, not really to win. I was an OK player and a slightly better than average goalkeeper, but my performance was never very consistent. Often, especially when the game was a bit slow, my mind would start wandering and I would get so distracted by thoughts and ideas I would fail to be of much use to my team. But sometimes things were different. I loved being goalie in tournaments, for instance, when we would play against teams that were much better than us. I would be so busy defending the goal that I would stop thinking about what I was doing. The moment my thoughts stopped, my body seemed to take over. As I discovered, my body was a much better goalie than my mind ever would be. Unfortunately, I never discovered how to make that particular kind of flow happen. Maybe I could have become a star goalie if I had.

Playing field hockey - (c) Bard 1982
Playing field hockey – (c) Bard 1982

Step 3: Sorting Our Pearls

Having separated our active moments of flow from our general collection of pearls we can now begin to group together the pearls that seem somehow related to each other. They may be linked by the place or situation, by the actions we were engaged in, or by the kind of satisfaction we got from them. While it may take some reflection and thinking to find a satisfactory grouping, we should not agonise too much over getting this 100% right. This is actually a great opportunity to learn to trust our intuition and to listen what our feelings are telling us, rather than what our mind comes up with. So, if we do get confused, we just relax, breathe, and simply imagine grouping our pearls purely by feeling. That should be good enough for our purpose.


When I first starting collecting my pearls I did not at first see any similarity between my schooltime moments and those playing hockey. They didn’t seem to have anything in common. The school moments were purely cerebral, had nothing to do with physical activity, and were never about winning or losing, but purely about the joy of solving problems and putting the answers into words. The hockey moments were almost the opposite: it was physical, the purpose was to win (or in my case, prevent the other team from winning by defending our goal), it was non-verbal, and often too fast to even have time to think. On further reflection, however, I did find similarities. Similarities that later turned out to be important op pointers for my personal development and the direction my personal narrative would take.

Both at school and on the field, the ‘triggers’ – the circumstances that would help me get into the state of flow – were similar. Both involved time pressure: in school there was a limited time in which to produce the results, on the field time was dictated by the speed of the opponent and the ball that was coming at me. Both posed an immediate problem that had to be solved right there and then. In school I found that if the task was too broad, or the problem not difficult enough, nothing much would happen. I would do the work but did not experience a sense of flow. On the field it was the same: the higher the pressure, the more intense the action, the easier it was for me to go into the zone and stay there. Apparently pressure – of the right kind – helped me focus. Another similarity was that I never did either activity for the points or the glory, but purely because I enjoyed the feeling of getting it right. Both in school and on the field the joy of solving the problem was more satisfying than getting an A or winning the match.

So, interestingly, these seemingly very different moments were actually very similar in a very specific way. Those similarities told me a lot about myself and some of the choices I made in my life.

– To be continued –

Making Your String of Pearls

Wouldn’t it be great if we could all live up to our full potential and become that person we know deep down we could have been? If only we had not been shaped and moulded by so many external voices telling us what we should and could do, what we shouldn’t do, what to fear and what to obey. If only we had managed to keep hold of the innocent curiosity and imagination of our early childhood, when everything was an adventure, everything was new, and learning was as natural as breathing. If only we had been allowed to make our own story, instead of living one made up of a thousand borrowed pieces. Making Your String of Pearls is a way of finding our way back to that original story – the one we never got to finish but still, somewhere deep down, long to live.

The Origins of This Approach

The idea behind the ‘string of pearls’ approach was taught to me by my late wife Michal. She was an extraordinary person, healer, psychologist and wise woman. Her life’s work was helping people realise their full potential. She believed that most people get stuck in a narrative that is not their own, but is an amalgamation of everything we pick up from other people as we grow up: fears, worries, hopes, expectations, beliefs, assumptions … All these ‘borrowed’ bits of story end up hiding our own, authentic story – the story we would have chosen for ourselves if we had not lost touch with what we were really meant to become.

Michal’s work focused on two processes people needed to follow to get back to their own narrative. One is the process of ‘unwrapping’ the layers of acquired narrative – discarding the emotional and mental baggage others have put on our shoulders but we no longer want to carry with us. The more of this material we can let go of, the more we will be able to tune into our true self – our authentic core – that little voice inside that still holds the innocence and promise of how we entered this world. I will write much more about this process later in this series, under the header Emotional and Spiritual Intelligence.

The other process is the work of constructing our desired story – the one we want to live by. It’s a narrative about what we love doing, what gets us in the flow and what gives us a sense of purpose and fulfilment. It’s a process of finding glimpses of it in our past – moments that we were close to living it, or felt that we were on the right path – and using those moments to extract the underlying story and project that forward into the future. That 7-step process is what the next instalments of this series will be about.

Michal’s teachings have had a huge impact on my life. From the time I met her, during all the years we were married, and ever since she passed away, I have been working on her two-pronged approach to finding my own potential and realising it as fully as I possibly can. It has led me into strange and wonderful discoveries and adventures. It took me halfway across the world, from The Netherlands to Australia. It helped me discard a lot of unnecessary baggage. It made me realise that most of what I now do and practice I have always felt I wanted to do, but kept it hidden underneath the layers of acquired narrative that told me I should forget about ever following my dreams. While discovering more of myself, my passion and my purpose, I tried a range of jobs, from the very technical – designing IT systems – to the purely human – teaching people how to improve their personal and interpersonal skills. I have been a teacher, researcher, software developer, consultant, manager, trainer/coach and public speaker. All that time I also was a father, a husband, a friend and even – not deliberately, but simply because life is never without conflicts – occasionally an adversary.

I now see all those different experiences as part of the process of finding out what my true path should be. Each experience was also an experiment; a test to see what that particular situation would feel like, bring me and cost me, and what it would teach me about myself. Seen like that, none of those experiences was ever a failure or a waste of time. They were all a necessary part of the learning process. Even (or should I say especially) the jobs I hated, the people I fell out with and the places I did not feel at home in, gave me insight about my own authentic core and helped me refine my future path.

I would love for everyone to see life like this. Like an adventure in which every new experience is a learning experience. An adventure in which we are the main protagonist and the author at the same time. A journey that is both the path itself and the way to find a better path. That is the essence of the string of pearls.

Now, let me take you through the steps.

Step 1: Collecting the Pearls

Sit comfortably, relax, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths.

Let’s imagine our life as a collection of experiences, stretching from the present moment back to our earliest memories. Each remembered experiences is a tiny time-capsule, in which information is stored about the location, the situation, what happened, what we did, what we said, and – most importantly – how we felt at that moment. In fact, for most of our remembered moments we will find that what we felt is recorded much clearer than many of the factual details. Especially when we have attained a reasonable level of emotional awareness (and I promise I will come back to how to attain this in later instalments), the feeling of the moment may actually be the key to locate the memory, and then unlock the capsule to find hidden there information we thought we had completely forgotten.


I once walked into a candy store and was immediately overcome by a sense of fear and nausea, as if something dreadful was about to happen to me. I made my way out of there as soon as I could. Outside, in the fresh air, I calmed down enough to ask myself what on Earth had happened in there? What was it that brought about this violent reaction? I had to find out, so I braced myself, took a few deep breaths to calm my still somewhat agitated nervous system and stepped back inside. The moment I opened the door I noticed a particular smell, something sweet and salty with an undertone of aniseed. As I focused on that smell I could feel the panic rising deep inside me. But because I was expecting it, I managed to stop it from overwhelming me. Instead I mentally went towards it, focusing on what it was that made this smell so threatening to me. And all of a sudden a scene from my childhood – something I had completely forgotten, or so I thought – came rushing back to me.

I was 6 or 7 years old and about to undergo tonsil surgery – something that was rather too routinely done to children in those days. The anaesthetic that was used was a kind of sleeping gas, administered through a cap that was placed over my nose and mouth. I remember the nurse telling me that it was OK, nothing to worry about. I would soon be asleep and would feel nothing at all. And when I woke up it would all be over. But what I experienced was this strong and strange smell rushing into my nose and mouth. I could feel it spread into my lungs and as it did so I saw black rotating figures – like propellors – speeding towards me, as if they were about to chop me up. And I felt myself falling through the chair and accelerating downwards. I tried to hold on to something, but there was nothing to hold on to. As I fell, my vision narrowed till there was only a small tunnel of light left, through which the black shapes were still chasing me. Just before I lost consciousness – and I still clearly remember that feeling – it all of a sudden dawned on me that I was about to die and would never wake up. Then everything turned black.

The light at the end of the tunnel - ©Bard 2017
The light at the end of the tunnel – ©Bard 2017

Once I remembered it, it all made sense. Not only was the smell in the candy shop similar to what the sleeping gas smelled like, walking into the long, dark and narrow shop must have felt like entering that tunnel I saw just before I lost consciousness. What I found fascinating was how the smell had not just triggered the emotion, but had also unlocked a hitherto completely forgotten traumatic experience from my childhood in great detail. And not just the moment itself, but also the story of what led up to it, and the rather painful and equally traumatic recovery period that followed. It was as if the smell had been the key to a vault I had carefully locked and hidden away.

Rediscovering the memories themselves was interesting. But far more interesting was what I could learn from now having access to those lost moments. It made me realise why I distrust people wearing lab coats, for instance. Or why I don’t like those long, dimly lit hallways in many office buildings. But more importantly, it helped me reconnect to a much larger period of my childhood I had almost completely forgotten. Revisiting those moments through an adult’s perspective has taught me a lot about myself and helped me to adjust some long-held beliefs and assumptions about myself and my place in the world.


Now look at this collection of remembered experiences and imagine them as tiny balls, not much bigger than an average bead. When looking at the whole collection, some of the balls will be dark, others will be dull, but there will be some that appear to shine and sparkle, like highly polished pearls. The dark and dull balls are memories of negative or uninspiring moments, experiences where we were not inspired or engaged, possibly even suffering, stressed, afraid or hurt. Ignoring the dark and dull moments, we should be able to pick out the shiny pearl-like ones instead; those are our best experiences: the times when we were full of energy, in the flow, inspired and happy. Some may be small, fleeting even, others may be a big as marbles and full of details clearly remembered; some may be so long ago we had almost forgotten them, others recent and still fresh in our minds. Those details don’t matter now. What matters is that we should be able to collect our pearls from between the dark and dull beads and put them aside for further study and reflection.

– to be continued –

The State of Flow

If there is one thing that makes us human it is our need to find meaning in our lives. No matter what we are doing, at some point the question of purpose will come up. Why are we here? What’s the meaning of our lives? How can we make our lives more fulfilling and meaningful? Rather than trying to answer this question solely by using our rational mind, I believe this is where our emotions are a great source of information, once we learn how to listen to them.

The more aware we become of our emotions and feelings, the more we will notice how they change over time: how they sometimes peak with feelings of happiness and fulfilment and at other times slump towards a sense of dread, stress and emptiness. Our emotional system is our mind-body’s monitoring and regulating system. It keeps track of everything that goes on around and inside us and evaluates that in terms of its relevance to us. Even without us paying attention, our emotions are working 24/7 to help us find the optimum state possible for our system, striving for what some people call “optimum homeostasis” or the best stable state achievable at that moment in time.

Keeping our system in an optimum state of balance is no easy job. In fact, given the complexity of both our system and the world we live in, and the many, often contradictory, demands and forces we are subjected to, there will never be a truly optimum state, nor will it be stable for very long. All we can hope for is an approximation of that optimum and a relative stability that doesn’t wildly swing back and forth at the merest change in conditions.

If we accept the fact that our emotional system is there to find the best possible state for us under the given conditions, we can learn a lot from working out what our changing moods and feelings are trying to tell us about us and the situations we find ourselves in. Some states feel better than others. Some states energise us and help us achieve great things, other states drag us down and stop us from doing anything much. Some states we feel as stressful and uncomfortable, other states are pleasant and relaxed. Sometimes we feel focused and ‘in the zone’, at other times we can barely articulate coherent thoughts or keep our attention on a single thing for more than a few seconds. Our emotions are not just regulating our body-mind system, they are communicating to us as well. They are telling us, through the way they make us feel, what is beneficial and healthy for us, and what is detrimental and damaging.

There is one state in particular that is important for us finding our purpose and fulfilment in life. That is what is often called the state of ‘flow’ or ‘being in the zone’. It’s a state in which we get so absorbed in what we are doing that we seem to stop thinking about it and just go with what is happening in and around us. It’s as if we are being led by a different intelligence: a mode of thinking and acting that doesn’t require our self-aware and conscious mind to interpret, classify, explain and decide before we can act. This state allows our body-mind to just act, with ease and spontaneity, in harmony with our situation. When we’re in the flow we often achieve our best performance and produce our best work, but it almost feels as if it gets performed through us, rather than us consciously and laboriously producing it.

When Things Just Flow - © Bard 2018
When Things Just Flow – © Bard 2018

There’s a lot that could be said about this state of flow and, indeed, whole books have been written about it. For now, all I want to point out is this: the state of flow, or states that are similar in feel and effect on us, are our best tool to discover our purpose and fulfilment in life. Our emotional system produces the state of flow when we are closest to our optimal state of being, where our situation, actions, mindset and intentions are all aligned and work harmoniously together; where we are not struggling with ourselves or with the world; where we are not ignoring or suppressing our true feelings; where we can just be in the moment and run with it, not against it. By identifying the moments we were in the flow in the past and recognising the unifying patterns and similarities between them, we can use that information to start shaping the foundations for our own personal narrative. This is what I call “Making Your Personal String of Pearls”. In the next instalments of this blog I will tell you exactly how to do this.

The River

12 – Dissolving

Dissolving - © Bard 2018
Dissolving – © Bard 2018

Even with its shores now out of sight the river keeps its form for a while, the fresh river waters clinging together amidst the endless span of the dark salty ocean, as if afraid to let go. But like a memory slowly fading, where the fresh meets the brine the edges of the old river lose their definition, become blurry and vague, until it has become impossible to tell where the river ends and the ocean begins. The more time passes, the more the remnants of the river dissolve, until the river lets go completely and with final abandon releases all hold of its waters and lets them reunite with the water they once came from. The circle complete, the ocean absorbs the new arrivals effortlessly, remaining undisturbed and endless, source and destination, eternal.

The River

11 – Arriving

Arriving – © Bard 2018

Waiting for the river, past the last barriers of dunes and estuaries, lies the ocean, its vastness masked by the gentle curve of the horizon and the hazy air in the distance. Longing for the sweetness of the river, the salty water calls out to it with a low continuous rumbling, as to a long-lost lover finally returning. The river’s water, its force and drive mostly spent by now, does not resist but lets itself be drawn into the ocean’s slow dance of tides coming and going. As if mesmerised by the ocean’s rhythm the water lets go of the safety of the river’s banks and dreamily floats away from the coast, to mingle with the cold, dark ocean water.

The Downside of Our Personal Powers

Part 3: The Dangers of Choice

When we exercise our power of choice we turn from passive objects thrown about by the forces of the outside world into active agents shaping those forces as much as being shaped by them. Making deliberate choices can give us a sense of empowerment and control but it can also be daunting. In the complex, unpredictable and ever-shifting world we live in it is easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices we must make and the impossibility of getting all of them right.

It seems that the more aware we are and consciously consider every interaction we have with the world, the more our choices multiply. Even the simplest of things, like what to have for breakfast or when to go bed in the evening, could, if we’re not careful, be the source of endless deliberation and hesitation. From a rational perspective there are very few choices that have one clear best option. In most cases the number of variables involved quickly make a detailed comparison between the available choices impossible. Even if we could compare them one by one it’s more than likely that we would find that the pros and cons between options balance each other out, each option having a different mix of plusses and minuses, but no clear advantage to make them stand out as our preferred choice.

On the other hand, even when we are being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of our trivial choices, it can at the same time appear as if we have no real choice at all where the big issues of our lives are concerned. We can’t change the facts of our genes, our family and ancestry, our country of birth, the time we live in, the systems we have to conform to if we want to participate in society, the laws of man and nature, … so many outside factors seem to define and constrain us that it would be easy to conclude we only really have choices where they matter least. A growing awareness of our expectations and increasing clarity of our narratives can lead us into feeling lost between having too many small things to choose between and lacking the power to choose a different path than destiny seems to have prepared for us. We could become like prisoners on our way to our execution, unable to change the inevitable end but all the while worrying whether our choice of shoes was appropriate for the occasion.

Even if we manage to steer safely between the rock of powerlessness and the hard place of being overwhelmed by choice, and manage to find the choices that matter and are clear enough to make, we still face that heaviest of downsides of choice: the burden of responsibility. When we make deliberate choices we assume responsibility for their outcomes as well as their consequences, even when some of those consequences were unintended or unexpected. When, by choosing, we change something, however small, in the course of the world, that change is our doing, and we cannot protest our innocence in bringing it about. We made that choice; we have to live with the consequences. That burden of responsibility is not something to take lightly and can become a major obstacle on our path towards living our best possible lives and consciously traveling the path of our own design.

Caught between powerlessness and an inability to choose, and burdened by responsibility, we could wonder whether trying to live a conscious and deliberate life is really such a great idea. Maybe the simple souls that unthinkingly follow the rules and dictates of their destiny are better off than we are, in our endless struggles? Maybe it is better to let the big choices be made by others, making the little choices without much thinking, not having to feel responsible for any of it as we are simply too small to matter at all?

How to choose? And does it matter? - © Bard 2018
How to choose? And does it matter? – © Bard 2018

Maybe not. After all, choosing not to choose is just as much a choice we make. we can’t actually escape responsibility by sitting still and letting things happen. If bad things happen, things we could have prevented had we taken action, those bad things are (at least for a part) on us. Inaction does not save us from the burden of responsibility, nor does it prevent us from making the wrong choices, as inaction itself can be just such a wrong choice.

Let us, therefore, accept that making choices is part of the human condition. Let us also accept that we can never expect to make perfect choices. There is no place for perfection in a messy, imperfect world. Each and every choice is always at best an approximation of the ideal that lives in our imagination only. The art of making choices lies in making them as deliberate and considerate as we can, observe their outcomes and consequences, and learn from that: adjust our beliefs and assumptions based on what we cause and see caused as we walk our path, so our future choices will be progressively more in tune with the journey we are on.

To end this section on a positive note, here are 4 things to use when doubting our ability to choose:

  1. When we are overwhelmed by the number of choices we have to make: rigorously prioritise them.If we could do only one thing at this moment, and nothing else, what would that be? By weighing each choice for the impact it has on our narrative and journey we can find the one that is most relevant right now and focus on that.
  2. When we feel we have no choices in what really matters: broaden our perspective.When it seems that the major obstacles in our lives are beyond our power to change, we may simply be looking too closely at those obstacles. A wider perspective – which also means removing ourselves emotionally and cultivating an attitude of detachment – will help us find choices that matter rather than getting stuck trying to force issues where we actually have little or no choice.
  3. When we know what we should do, but the prospect is too daunting, too big, too seemingly risky for us feel ready to make that choice: break it down into smaller steps.Remember that even the longest journeys start with one small step. Breaking down the big, daunting choice into smaller components and considering each sub-choice on its own merit may help to find a first step that both doable and desirable and sets us on our way.
  4. When we’re not sure the choice we’re about to make is the right one: imagine its consequences.Though we will never get guarantees our choices are right, we can reduce our uncertainty by imagining how each choice would work out over time. We can create scenarios of the near future and sketch out the consequences of the choices we’re facing and evaluate the likelihood and desirability of those consequences in each scenario.

The River

10 – Slowing

Slowing - © Bard 2018
Slowing – © Bard 2018

Majestic now as the water spreads out across wide stretches of the land it flows through, in an expanse too wide to see both sides of at the same time, the current seem to slow down as if realising that in fulfilling the goal of finding the lowest point it can get to it has also brought itself to the edge of its own demise. The end is inevitable, yet the water can’t stop now. There is too much momentum, too much energy still stored from the driven rush downwards. And so the water reluctantly continues on to meet the fate its own haste created.