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Long John Silver and a parrot we all need

Several times in my teaching career I attempted to be a Rugby Union coach. The key word in that sentence was ‘attempted’. In two schools I was the 6th XV or the 7th XV coach. Now, I need to say that we 7th XV coaches are a rare breed. There are not many of us ‘out there’. I would hazard a guess that most of you have never met a 7th XV coach. You see, the 7ths are the team below the 6ths which is the team below the 5ths which is the team below the 4ths which is the team below the 3rds which is the team below the 2nds which is the team below the exalted and highly esteemed First XV!

My players knew I knew very little about rugby. They knew I had picked up a series of terms like “third phase play” or “jumping at 2” or “going the blind” or “cut out pass!” They knew that I was quite uncertain how to actually effectively use these terms in a correct context or more importantly coach my players to implement them.

But the players also knew I was passionate, could create a team atmosphere and sense of belonging and that ultimately we had a lot of fun. I would purchase a case of el cheapo drinks at a supermarket and place them into an esky full of ice for the fulltime chat (after we had run the 6th XV on). At the end of every season I would purchase a small trophy for each player – of a player running ball in hand – and had it engraved with the students’ name: Darren Jones, St Laurence’s College, 7th XV 1996! Over the years I have had several former players – now lawyers, plumbers, fathers and good blokes and more come up to me and say, “Hey, Sir, you know that was the only sporting trophy I ever got!”

All of this leads me to my nickname. In one school for a short period of time I discovered my nickname (at least among the Rugby players) was “Pirate”! Why pirate? Well, since I knew little about rugby my one tactic and strongly held belief was that at the 7th XV level if you ran hard – really hard – you would often score a try. So Brother Damien would be found running along the side line yelling out “hard, hard, hard!” Just like a pirate might have done!

Long John Silver some of you will recall was a fictional character and the main antagonist in the novel Treasure Island (1883) by Robert Louis Stevenson. Long John Silver was famous for his wooden leg and his parrot perched upon his shoulder.

In my life one of my most treasured aspects of my character is the ‘parrot’ perched upon my shoulder – my ego. Like Long John – I have this invisible parrot that perches itself on my shoulder continually whispering in my ear, “Say this and you’ll be popular”, “make sure you are the centre of attention”, “focus on winning and make sure ‘they’ lose”, “look good, look calm”, “this person is a loser – you know more than they do” etc. My ego perched on my shoulder parrot is constant. Constantly comparing, constantly finding fault in the other, constantly looking for battles to fight and win, constantly seeing threats and enemies, constantly working overtime to ensure my image is right, good and convincing.

There have been times when that ego perched on my shoulder parrot has run my life. It never gives up. It is never satisfied. It is insatiable in its need for attention. Occasionally like a cat (I’m beginning to mix up images now) it does pause to purr purr purr with satisfaction when it has got me like a puppet on a string.

Walking around with that ego perched on my shoulder parrot can be exhausting. We spend so much time and energy keeping the ego happy that there is no energy left over just to be me – the real me. Defending, avoiding, fighting, comparing – how many more exhausting ‘ing’ words can I think of. This parrot for Damien is so real. Often when I am facilitating and the parrot notices the one person in the room who yawns and immediately I am under threat, am a failure, have to work harder, have to engage them and please them – I have to be popular and successful and more. Sometimes I am like an ever-ready battery bunny running everywhere attempting to march and run to a thousand different drums like an Edinburgh Military Tattoo on speed!

Where do I find peace? Where do I find freedom and meaning? Where do I find life? Simply – and it really is relatively simple – simply become aware of the parrot and their constant whispering. Become aware – know it is NOT the real you nor is it of life – give it a rude sign if you have to – and then get on with life – parrot free! But know, he will return and return and return – the ego never gives up. Each time you simply become aware of the ego’s presence, its whisper – and calmly give it the flick and choose to be ever more deeply present to the other – or more true to your truest self you become stronger, more free and more the real you.

Just to confuse my images one last time – the ego (the parrot) is also like a chameleon – this little reptile is famous for changing colour to blend into the environment around it. Well, the ego once you have named it, faced it becoming aware of it – will slither off and return when you least expect it: in a guise you least expect. But that is the adventure – to know it will return, to be on the look out for it – and then to experience the personal power and freedom of once more flicking it away knowing it is NOT you, never was, never will be – and that you are far more than a puppet to be manipulated or some weak pirate forced to walk the plank by a feathered friend perched on a fictional pirates’ shoulders!

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