Our brains are designed to think and to solve problems. However, we ignore other innate tools available to us at our peril; things like our access to wisdom and peace of mind.
Poet and coach Anne Gleeson went through an exceptionally difficult time in 2020, which included a cancer diagnosis. A lifelong explorer, she happened upon the Three Principles at that time and found that an understanding of how our thinking works helped her navigate these turbulent waters. Now she assists others who want to do the same.
Anne Gleeson is a poet, a certified Change coach, and is deeply interested in helping each of us create an experience of life that is joy-filled and open to possibility.
She has worked as a teacher and leader in schools and universities, Adult Learning Centres, and in Tonga, as an Australian Volunteer Abroad. She began her professional speaking career when she returned from teaching in the Pacific and started working with Freedom from Hunger. For the past 15 years, she has worked in the Funeral Industry providing grief support as a Celebrant and Funeral Director.
- Exploring grief and end-of-life with an open heart
- Experiencing a cancer diagnosis, a marriage breakdown, the loss of a business, and the pandemic – all at once
- Practicing not resisting experiences, even if they involve cancer
- Finding peace of mind in unexpected places
Resources mentioned in this episode
- The Little School of Big Change
- Barbara Patterson’s podcast, Real Business Real Lives
- Changeable podcast episode with Malene Colotla
Transcript of the episode
Alexandra: Anne Gleeson, welcome to Unbroken.
Anne: Thanks, Alexandra. Lovely to talk to you from the other side of the world.
Alexandra: I think you’re my first Australian guest. This is very exciting.
Anne: I feel honored.
Alexandra: Why don’t you tell us a little bit about your background and how you got interested in the principles?
Anne: I grew up in a very traditional farming family in some ways; it was all about the way that the world worked. And then, in 2017, my mother was dying, and I was caring for her. And then there was a creative workshop in the town I lived.
And that was so surprising to me because I didn’t think of things like that, like, generally it was agricultural meetings, and that thing. But anyway, I couldn’t do it then because of the circumstances. But a year later, I joined that group. And it was run by somebody called Robin Emerson, who was a really beautiful creator.
She also was so interested in these ways of operating in the world. And she loaned me lots of books. And I just ran with it, and then enrolled in the next time that the Little School of Big Change course, came up with Amy Johnson.
And it was very liberating for me. I think I realized how caught up in my thinking I was and how much of my own annoyance or sadness or whatever was to do with the way I was creating an experience. So that was how I got involved in the beginning. I joined and made connections with people. And that was really lovely.
Alexandra: Were the Three Principles involved in the books Robin loaned you?
Anne: Yes, they were. Amy Johnson’s books. But also other books like Michael Singer, and the person I cottoned on to it wasn’t actually a book, it was Barb Patterson’s podcast. Because I was in business, it was very interesting to me looking at it from that point of view. So it was a whole range of things. And I was hungry. So I gobbled up a whole lot of things.
Alexandra: Were you always interested in this exploration?
Anne: I think, like, a lot; I’ve had this experience a few times thinking, yup. And I already knew that when I was 15, or whatever, knowing and but, this, I suppose, was giving me a bit of a language. And that’s not to say that I went with that in any way; I didn’t. But even at uni, I went from this country kid going off to Monash uni and Melbourne.
And that was so exciting for me, and I’d race around and go to all different courses and talks at anything that was my mind, was just being expanded in so many ways or my heart or whatever. So, yes, I think I was a seeker always.
Alexandra: Okay. Interesting. And so then one of the things that mention on your website is that you’re a funeral celebrant, as well as part of your work.
Do you think that work has been influenced at all by the principles?
Anne: Has the funeral work been influenced? Yes, every single part of my life has. And I’ve worked in the area of bereavement care and, more, the whole funeral industry for probably 15 years or so. Now, I’m not formally part of the funeral industry, but I work still as a celebrant making the ceremonies.
But I work two days a week with aged care people, people at the end stage of life, and in palliative care. So people who are very close to the end of their life here. So most definitely.
I’ve described the place I work, even though it’s a happy place in many ways, as a reservoir of grief because so many people carry such heavy loads. And certainly, I’m not formally a coach in that setting, but that’s why I was employed because of my coaching work.
Anne: I think it’s a little bit of the politics around counseling, coaching, that thing. But I was lucky to have the combination of the funeral work, the bereavement work, and the celebrant work. I just love the work, sitting there with people who have lived a lot longer than me.
Alexandra: And you mentioned the reservoir of grief there too. Do you think this understanding has helped you personally with feelings of grief? Or how?
How do you understand grief now?
Anne: Well, I understand it as being, we are really, in when we’re in real grief struck, we’re really caught up in that moment of the horror, the worst of it. And I suppose two things.
One is, that I’ve learned, not just with grief, but with other things, to really lean into that experience, rather than resisting it.
So that’s something that I will bring to people, not just in that coaching, but in general coaching as well. And I suppose, too it’s the fluctuating, the old cloud analogy, that sometimes it’s terrible, and it can’t bear to go on living another day without that person.
And then, another time you’re out in the garden, being reminded of their joyful presence, and I think, too, that lots of us have questions about how life works. I’ve become really interested in lots of the discussions lately on non-duality and thinking about the world differently, environmentally, because of that.
Alexandra: So, like you said, it’s really affected every area of your life.
Anne: Most definitely, yes. My other coaching is very practical kinds of things. People have come because I had quite an academic background. So sometimes it’s people doing academic studies and not being unsure about that or not confident. And other times it’s people exploring their creativity or more, hesitation about taking on a new position, or all different things like that. So I like the mix that I’m doing at the moment.
Alexandra: One thing your website mentioned, too, was you experienced a cancer diagnosis in 2020.
Could you talk about that and how that affected your understanding of thought, if at all?
Anne: I find this so interesting because I’m not a person who goes around saying thanks like ‘the gift of cancer’. But it was a horrible time. But it wasn’t what I just said about grief, it actually was a really special time.
My cancer diagnosis coincided with a complete breakdown of a fairly awful marriage and the loss of a business.
Some other things that were going on that were hard to deal with. So it was really, on the surface, but it wasn’t in another way. I just felt so drawn into nature; it was just me. I knew that’s what my body needed to be healed. And so I would go out, and just walk and, leaning against the trees and that thing.
So, just felt very in touch with being just a little part of the world. And then, I went through the treatment in 2020. And, of course, the state I live in had the most severe restrictions in the world in terms of COVID. So the experience of being in that meant that I was by myself a lot of the time. And that was okay.
I had actually thought before COVID or before cancer, I’m going to have 2020 as a dwelling year, just being I didn’t know quite how, but I’d be dwelling. But anyway, that was what happened. But then I think the most interesting thing of all was, towards the end, I received an invitation, as did many people asking if I would like to be a Change Coach. And this was with Dr. Amy Johnson. I spoke to her on Zoom.
And we talked about it, and I said, Look, I’m not really wanting to be a coach. I just want more understanding. And she said, Well, that’s fine, people do the coaching and don’t do more. But I think when you get the cancer diagnosis, it sounds so dramatic, and you don’t know if you’re going to be alive in three months’ time or three years’ time, or 33 years’ time.
And I just had this hunger again; I was thinking, well, if I have only a shorter time to live, then I really want to know more about this because just living in the moment and not resisting cancer and the treatment, and, some of the harder bits had been so helpful to me.
And so I thought, well, if I have just a little bit of time, I want to be really living fully, with this, not resisting anything and just going with dying early. Well, that didn’t happen, who I am. But anyway, I started the change coach training. And I think I was only like, the two lessons in or something. And of course, it’s a practical component.
We’re all coaching. And even the first person I coached, I just loved it and felt it felt very natural to me. So although I’d said to Amy I’m not remotely interested in coaching, I pretty quickly was very interested.
Alexandra: Can you pinpoint what it was about it that you really loved?
Anne: I think I actually felt useful. I could see things that were hold-ups for people or whatever. I’ve always loved listening to people and loved people’s stories. I think it was that real connection with people on a deeper level that I really liked. But feeling useful is good, too.
Alexandra: I agree, it’s a good feeling to feel useful.
Anne: Was I resisted the fearful approach to the whole medical thing and just went with it? And really gotten such a strong connection with nature. I mean, I think I’ve always had that. But it was intensified immensely.
Alexandra: During your cancer treatments and that time, you talked about how you didn’t try to resist what was happening.
Can you share a little bit about what that lack of resistance like?
Anne: So just thinking that death could be part of my experience, and not even really planning too much about it, just taking that on, that, Oh, well, maybe I do just have a short time to live. And then other things would be, well, some of the treatment is quite painful, physically painful.
I’ve joked about this with the group that I’m on the other side of Australia, and I remember Amy talking about pain as being pressure or heat. But when you’re actually here, on the other side of the world, with all the people in their white coats, trying to remember that it doesn’t ring quite as true.
But in a way, that was it, that I wasn’t just thinking, Well, it is just pain. I had quite a reaction to some of the treatments. And well, that’s what’s happening, but also a little bit still connected with the nature thinking, well, in this organism, that’s what’s going on. And like looking at the different formations of trees and how the lichen grows on some trees and not on others.
So, and just, again, taking opportunities, like, as I said, it was during COVID. And now, just, for example, the radiation was one of the things that I had this extraordinary reaction to, and rather than focusing on the pain and the burn and whatnot, focusing on these delightful young women who were there, the radiologists and just trying to enjoy this story a little bit, because, of course, everyone was eager for a chat, given the circumstances that we weren’t allowed to be together.
Alexandra: I imagine there is a lot of thinking and emotions that go along with that cancer diagnosis you touched on. It gave you a bit of a perspective about your life in that larger way.
In smaller ways, I imagine it must have helped you with the thinking that went on, day to day, moment to moment. Is that true?
Anne: Yes. I just became lighter, which is quite bizarre. And I also came out with a very clear resolution, and you’ll think I’m the biggest hypocrite on earth if I tell you because I thought if I only can achieve one thing now, it’s to write the story of my sister. My sister lives with multiple disabilities. And I have to say, well, that’s still my resolution. It’s it hasn’t been accomplished.
Alexandra: Well, you’ve got time now, though. I guess that’s the nice thing. And it must have been such a, well, I was going to say isolating experience to be going through COVID and to be going through cancer at the same time.
It sounds like it didn’t really strike you that way.
Anne: That’s correct. And the more isolating experience was, the more personal things were the end of the marriage and business and everything., that was awful. But no, I couldn’t say that, I can’t say I had the same experience as many people who speak of the lockdowns here.
Because it wasn’t like that for me, it was okay to be on my own and do what I needed to. I wasn’t completely on my own. I had all these medical stuff companies. And my children got permission to come and be with me for a bit of help after the surgery and whatnot.
Alexandra: Good. That’s very good.
When we had our little email exchange, we talked a bit about overeating habits. And so, I tend to focus on talking about overeating. But we can really use that word ‘overing’ to talk about any unwanted habit.
Do you work with clients on ‘overing’?
Anne: Yes. So some of those things I mentioned, for example, people starting in a new position are very anxious about it, so the thinking, and me, I had that experience this year, where I was starting something new, and I could pick myself up on that overthinking, or, I, making up stories in my head about things I was, making as might be problems, for example. And so, so those kinds of things.
And sometimes, just getting listening to people. And, hearing where their hold-ups are, I suppose, one of the things, and I think almost everybody that I’ve worked with, the overthinking is a problem for all of us, we have a project we create all sorts of scenarios. So, yes.
Alexandra: If someone’s not familiar with the Inside-Out understanding, where would you begin with them if they overthink things?
Anne: If they weren’t calm and said, I’m overthinking. They’ll come and say, I’ve got this project that I want to start, and I can’t make myself start. So, then I have been here and, try and get them to see what’s actually stopping them.
And then, a bit of an explanation of how the mind might be busy protecting them from starting something new and an adventurer, that, might have a bit of risk, and whatever, I’m trying to keep them in the safe territory of not doing what they want to do. So that might be where I go with something like that.
Alexandra: Do you find people catch on quite quickly?
Anne: I think sometimes it’s surprising. So I do a coaching session, and then I send out an email to them, maybe a week later or so. And, although I feel that I’ve said what I’ve said in the email, sometimes they’ll come back to me and say, that was so amazing to read that, so it might be the second time, or might be that then we have another follow-up session.
And they’ll catch on to something that’s been said the first time. So, that can often happen. And I suppose too, like, I’m not overtly starting off with the three principles, although I’m operating from that understanding. I’m not coming in heavy with that. And I think I mean, I am immediately bringing it in. But I’m not using those terms.
Alexandra: Right. that’s such a good way to say it.
Anne: I don’t have a lot of people. So I have the two days where I’m working with older people. There were the people in care. And then some of those are in palliative care, so they’re very close to the end of their life. And then the other people I’m working with, I try and have five ongoing seeing clients, and, over time you build up such an extraordinary relationship.
So I can’t see how people do so many. But people do it very well. I mean, obviously, I’ve been the recipient of people who have a lot more and have coached me and been very successful. So I’m not at all making judgments. I’m just saying, for me, this works, having five ongoing clients, and then that allows other people to come in, just for, a single or package of three or whatever.
But I think, in that time, when you have an ongoing relationship, and you’re operating at this depth, and you’re exploring together, you do become so close. It’s just really special.
Alexandra: There’s that soul connection that happens.
Anne: And I think, for me, Alexandra, I don’t know if it’s the same for you, I am a bit isolated in that there are far fewer people down this end of the world talking about this, but I have maintained connections with some of the people in America that I studied with initially. And that’s been very special. And then last year, I went over to the conference in the middle of the year.
And that was, like, I think, me just wanting to be in the environment with people. It wasn’t thinking I’m going to learn a huge amount or anything like that. But it was really wanting to have that connection at that level. And interesting. Robin, the person who introduced me in the very first place, now lives in the States. We live a long way away apart from each other.
But every phone call we have, which is not often, but every few months or so. That’s inevitably what we talked about.
Alexandra: I was in Portland a few weeks ago with Michael Neill and Barbara Patterson. They had a little weekend workshop. I never know what to call it. Was it a retreat? Was it a workshop? I don’t know. Anyway, it was the first ever three principles thing I had gone to in person.
It was extraordinary to meet other people and have those conversations in person. It was really lovely. So I can see the attraction of doing that for sure.
Now, you mentioned your sister and her disabilities. It occurred to me that, that it’s one thing to be dealing with are the all our own challenges in our lives, like you talked about your cancer diagnosis, and the breakdown of your marriage and the end of the business, those are things that are happening to us personally.
With someone in your life who is experiencing struggles, what’s it been like for you, being with her? And has that changed since you’ve come across this understanding?
Anne: Yes, so hugely; I’ve probably always been the one who’s been her big sister, like, as kids, we shared a room. And interestingly, one of the things that got me to actually sign up on the Little School of Big Change, or one of the issues that I had when I came, was to do with her. She had overdosed, and she lives in a care-supported accommodation.
And she had been given someone else’s drugs on top of her own. And so arrested, and a staff member and I did CPR, and she lived, but for a whole weekend, she stopped breathing. And that was on and off. So a very critical situation.
I was consumed with anger, not because of the mistake, I make mistakes, but I was consumed anger because I perceived the carelessness of the organization in having this happen, the circumstances are not so relevant, but there were circumstances that should not have been the case, that I was just, I couldn’t get out of this.
I was traumatized. Obviously, that was a physical reaction, and from the time, I couldn’t let it go. Whereas over time, I came to think quite compassionately about these people who are in jobs that were aspects beyond them and who haven’t been in a job where aspects are beyond me. And also, I thought, they just don’t have local how ridiculous like expecting them to do what they can’t do.
And then one thing, this was actually something that Amy talked about that really resonated, and I know a lot of us found it quite jarring because we were thinking of very confronting situations. But she was saying if you were that person, you would do the same.
That’s very confronting when you think of some of the things that people do to other people. And so, I softened and thought, Well, it would be pretty awful working in a job where you don’t actually have the capacity to do all the things that are required.
And they just accepted well that they were doing their best. But of course, there’s another heart level where my sister almost died because of the way things were being done. That’s an example of where I’ve changed. And I think, too, I grew up super protective of her. We all did in our family, and we were very protective.
I remember back to when people use pretty ordinary terms to describe someone like Denise and we were defensive, her siblings. But I think in more recent years, I was able to step have been able to step back a little bit, in that I knew I needed to move out of that situation, we were living in the same town.
I knew that for my health, I needed to not be in the situation with the previous marriage, their business, etc., that I was now not a part of. But that meant leaving my sister, and it was agonizing. I felt very torn about that. But, so a bit of trust, I suppose. I’m not the only one other. People don’t have a system. Not everyone has this. So, I’ve moved in that way, too. But I’m not pretending I find it easy.
Alexandra: No. And then, in terms of her suffering, which I don’t know if she experienced his suffering, but has the way you see that, if it exists, changed?
I’m asking because that’s something I struggle with; seeing other people suffering and really getting a lot of thinking about it.
Anne: I’m not so sure. I think the understanding has certainly made me more compassionate about a lot of things that I might not have had a connection with. But I think I’ve always had that very strong connection with Denise, my sister, and work pretty hard in with the organization that’s often very difficult and challenging in a whole lot of ways.
Because I want things to be better for her, but I guess I’ve expanded a bit because I, it’s not just her. I want things to be better for all people with intellectual disabilities. I listened to a very powerful interview. It was Changeable. So again, it was Amy Johnson’s podcast with a woman called Malene [Colotla].
And I can’t remember her surname, but it was on the interconnectedness of all species. And it just had such a powerful effect on me, when something there’s just a standout one, sometimes that will really trigger me, and that did have such an effect on me.
Even in the way I treat my dogs, I was suddenly thinking, Well, why should I have a more comfortable situation than them and that think that, she’s made more dramatic changes in her life than I have? But, it was something that really affected me in the way she spoke about the interconnectedness of species.
Alexandra: Oh, cool. Well, thank you for mentioning that. I will find that episode and put it in the show notes for sure. So people can see it.
So as we’re coming to the end of our time here, I wanted to ask:
Is there anything else that you would like to share that we haven’t touched on yet today?
Anne: Well, probably one of the most important things in my life is my writing. So, I’ve written three books of poetry. And it’s interesting to me. It comes back to your first question; I think there are things that I’ve written about that based on the three principles, like a concept in a poem that I wasn’t aware of. I know too in my writing that I have changed, that it’s a different lens as everything has changed.
My poetry is such a joy and satisfaction to me, and it connects me with a whole other community. So I think that’s something where I can see the change. But I can also think, Oh, that’s interesting that I could write that back then when I didn’t have that understanding in a formal way.
Alexandra: Oh, fascinating. To me, that points to the truthfulness of these principles and this understanding or the universality.
Anne: And also our own connection with it. That it’s part of us, it’s not out there. It’s us.
Alexandra: Oh, really well said.
Where can we find out more about you and your work? And?
Anne: I have two websites. stormtosky.com. Okay, I have a business to do with coaching and funeral work.
And eagleason.com.au is my writing website.
Alexandra: All right. I’ll put links to both of those as well in the show notes at unbrokenpodcast.com.
Anne: Thanks, Alexandra. I love hearing from people, so it’s alright if people just want to send through an email or whatever.
Alexandra: Okay, great. Fantastic. Well, this has been a real treat. Thank you so much for being here with me today.
Anne: Thanks for having me. I’d love to do it.
Alexandra: Oh, good. I’m glad. Take care. Bye.