Meditation and Creating Thinking Spaces with Jackee Holder
Our creativity starts early in the morning. Creating thinking spaces through walking in the neighbourhood makes us more connected and real.
Novel ideas and profound perspectives don’t need to get lost in the hustle and bustle of today’s London. Meditate through walking and start creating thinking spaces of your own. Discover why Interfaith minister Jackee Holder calls her early morning walks a magical experience that captures an energy field of creative intelligence. If we have time to reach for our mobile phones and computers in the morning, then we have time to absorb a world that is just waking up with many great possibilities.
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Our guest is Jackee Holder. Jackee is a marathon journal writer and an early morning walking enthusiast, who’s an author, coach, coach supervisor and reflective practitioner. Jackee teaches reflective and therapeutic writing for personal and professional development. In 2002, Jackee was ordained as an Interfaith minister. She incorporates the work of her ministry into her writing and creative projects, retreats and workshops. Jackee, welcome to the show.
It’s great to be here, Clare. I’m so excited.
Let’s get started with the city that you live in, how does it influence the work that you do today?
I find London a city that I feel very inspired by. That goes right back to the roots of my childhood. I grew up in these suburbs of south London in a place called West Norwood. Right behind where we live, we could squeeze through a wall in our garden, run through the printers yards and then back onto our house. Then there were small woods and huge playing fields. It belonged to a building that was once a Jewish orphanage. They had moved out I think in the 1930s. This land was just left so we just had all this space to play as kids. I have very strong memories of getting up on the summer holidays, doing my chores as quickly as possible and at the first opportunity just dashing out and just spending all this time just roaming and just playing all day long. I just have a lot of memories about London. The smell of the Tube, when the Tube carriages were red and inside were wooden slats. I just remember the strong smell that I imagine that they were quite new when my uncle used to take me on the Underground. Just so many different things about the city driving around with my dad. My dad was a very, very confident driver so he would take us to all different parts of London to visit friends: west London, Ealing, Perivale. It has really, really stayed and resonated with me.
One of those practices that I mentioned in the introduction is that you’re an early morning walking enthusiast. Do you like walking in a park or is it along the streets or a mixture?
I do them all, Clare. Walking for me is a meditation. I think some people are very good at sitting in a chair, in their bed or in their home or in a place. I walk and walking is my meditation. I walk the streets of my local neighbourhood. I particularly love Chelsea, Battersea, King’s Road. I love the three bridges: Battersea Bridge, Albert Bridge and Chelsea Bridge. I think that part of London has something very, very special. I think the light there is very different. I don’t know if it’s because the River Thames runs through the centre of the city but I find it very magical. The thing about walking, my best walks are around 5:30 in the morning. There is something very magical about London that happens. It’s almost like it’s a different city before 7:00 where the rest of the world wakes up to the city. I think there’s a pre-London day life that happens between 5 AM and 7 AM. There are early morning city workers who are on the buses, on the trains, on the Tubes or walking. When you’re in London, I think you capture something different in most areas when the streets are quieter that you don’t do when there’s a lot more hustle and bustle around. I love an early morning walk. I try and walk at least three to four times a week. It is my meditation. I really see that so much happens when I walk. I find that I can shift my mood. I can walk and take a question with me and by the end of my walk, I find that the question has been answered and often in unexpected ways. Not in a way that I cognitively thought it would be sorted out in my mind. Lots of new novel ideas, different ideas, different perspectives, they all seems to unravel themselves and present themselves as I’m walking.
Do you think that’s because you’re allowing space for both solitude and for your mind to wander so that you’re able to make these connections and have these creative insights?
I think it’s all of those things. I think that I’m giving myself space. I think it really wires up the creative neurons because I do it regularly. That thing neurons that wire together, fire together. That whole idea is you’re giving yourself this white space. Even the way I walk and the way I look at things and observe things. What I notice when I’m walking is that the senses are heightened and sensitised and attuned so I see more, I feel more, I sense more. It’s like my whole energy field. If you think about that in terms of is it widens, it stretches, it gets deeper. All of these things impact on the creative intelligence. We’ve got this creative intelligence but when we just sit in front of a computer, when the first thing that we reach for is our mobile phone and we just dive straight into that energetic force field, which is of the digital technology, we actually cut off from all of that creative juice that is there waiting to rise above from underneath the surface, come up and it’s then much more accessible to us. I think walking is one of my best ways of thinking to be honest.
That presumably is really important and impactful on the work that you do, right?
It is so impactful. Like at the moment, I’m doing another piece of work next week for a big retail company. They want me to do the session and I’m thinking, “We’ve only got a short amount of time for the piece of work that I’m going to do.” I have to hit the mark and there was no amount of sitting at my computer. I spent four hours one day in front of my computer researching the topic. I wrote about ten pages of notes and I still did not capture what I wanted. The moment I hit out on my walk, it’s almost like left field ideas start to come in that started to change the dynamic in the way I was thinking about this session. That’s jolted it and brought it alive and gave me this whole different way of playing with the material and playing with my ideas, which is taking it in a whole new direction. I think on so many levels from my delivery as a facilitator and a trainer, for the content of creative projects or writing projects that I’m working for, even for the shape and the nature of the books that I’m currently working on, walking does so much to the quality of my thinking that impacts on the kind of content that then gets produced.
When you return from a walk, do you have any particular practice or ritual around capturing more or exploring more some of those insights and creative sparks that occur to you? Do you come back home and immediately get cracking with your journal or not?
That depends on what my schedule is like. Some mornings I’ll have gotten up and have my shower and gone out for my walk but I’ve actually got a day where I’m working from home. That means I can then go land myself in a café, have some breakfast, have a cup of fresh mint tea and I’ll sit there with my journal. What I do is I get a new page, so I have a journal with that. It’s not my journal that is my personal reflections but it’s a journal that is my creative projects. In there, I’ve got books that I’m writing, current articles that I’m working on and some eCourses that I’m currently working on that I want to go live in the next couple of months. What I do is I designate about four pages at a time and I just put down any ideas or themes that have come to me through the walk.
The key thing for me when those ideas are generated is that if I don’t capture them, it’s almost like I lose fresh material and data that is actually sometimes very difficult to recapture. I’m not going to give my age away on the podcast. Let’s just say my years are expanding now so my memory is not as good as it used to be. I actually see the ideas that come to me or the connections that are made, they are such precious pieces of content that I see them as valuable and I don’t want to lose them. I see it as my responsibility to make sure that those are written down. That is the key for me. Once I’ve got it written down, that is the gold. That’s the marker for me. That means I’ve got it somewhere that I know I can go back and I can retrieve that information. It’s the same like if I’m surfing on the net and I come across a good piece of information or I’m listening to someone’s podcast. If I do not write down where that source comes from, it means that I could have lost contact with something that was so informative but I’ve got no idea how I came across it.
For me, it’s not even so much just as I get older. I think it’s more a case of as the world gets busier and as there is more information and data available often at our fingertips with our smartphones, it becomes paramount, as you do, to capture these gems as they occur to us because there’s nothing more exasperating than knowing that you had a brilliant brainwave or you came up with a solution to something that had been bothering you for days and then later in the day thinking, “I didn’t write it down and I can’t really remember it clearly.”
I think you’re right, Clare. I think that’s one of the ways we also give ourselves a hard time. You’ve taken yourself out for walk. You’ve given yourself some space. You’ve got into a cafe. You’ve ordered a cup of tea. You’re not rushing to get to where you need to get to. You’ve sat there and then you’ve started to have all these ideas germinate and then for some reason you think, “I’m going to remember it.” Then a day or two later you think, “What was that thought that I had?” You then start to have a different conversation with yourself, which I think really moves us into a space where we don’t value our thinking time and our thinking space. You start to maybe give yourself a hard time in things that you say to yourself. I think we need confidence; our confidence in ourselves, in our ability to create things that are coming from the source of our own thinking mind, our own feeling mind, our own creative mind. I think that’s what helps you feel original and gives you that juice, gives you that excitement and that motivation to craft things that are part of your signature, part of your identity. Most themes, most subjects, most topics that are on the internet have been talked about. They’ve been written about. They’ve been made into movies or made into films or different programs. It’s all about what you personally bring to it. I think you can never get enough which is why I can listen to your podcast and think it’s fantastic and think that the people that you connect with in your network, that you bring to this space are bringing something that even though it’s topics that I’m very familiar with, they always bring something new or something different. I think those things are not to be underestimated really.
I would love to hear you speak a little bit about your work in ministry and also about your thoughts on the importance of community in a world where many people are weary of other people in our towns and cities who may look different, speak in a different accent, pray differently. It seems to me that it’s all the more important that we cultivate empathy and compassion for each other in this fast-paced world but one where there’s a lot of fear and suspicion. I’d just love to hear your thoughts on that and how that also influences the work that you do in your ministry and with your facilitation.
I’ll start first with the question around the ministry. I was ordained in 2002 with the Interfaith Seminary. I did a two-year part-time programme, which was amazing and very transformative. I went on to the course because I needed it. It wasn’t necessarily because I felt I had this big calling to be a minister although I really appreciated and valued the place of sacred and ritual and ceremony in my own life. I could see it has real value in community. I could see in terms of my family. My parents originate from the Caribbean Island of Barbados. One of the things I appreciated about growing up with a family, who obviously my mum and dad migrated to the UK in the early 1960s. It was very much some of the customs and the traditions and the rituals from their own upbringing, which we have inherited as part of our upbringing that really give me such a strong sense and love of family. Family is both difficult and it is both a place of belonging and a home for many people. I oscillate between the two. There were parts of growing up that were difficult but there were parts of growing up that I just love to this day and I appreciate it so much.
What happened for me was I was ordained. I can call myself Reverend Jackee Holder, but the thing is I cannot go around telling people that I’m a reverend because I just don’t feel that holy. What it does is having had that experience it means that if somebody wants to bless their baby or they want to have a part of their marriage ceremony that feels much more spiritual or much more sacred than maybe a traditional wedding is, they can come to people like myself who had been through that training and had been ordained. Together, we can create a ritual or a ceremony or a service that is personal and is meaningful for them drawing on who they are, what their journey has been, what they’re interested in, what they’re passionate about. Then I bring to the table lots of ceremonies and rituals and traditions that I am aware of and together we create something. For me, that is the key. It’s not me coming in as somebody who is holier than thou or somebody who’s elevated into particular role. This is what we were taught in our training. That we’re going out into community and we are being of service with other people.
We are contributing to how people want their lives to unfold and present them to be in life. That’s what I loved about being ordained as an Interfaith minister. I see that that seeps into the way I run my writing workshops whether they’re in-person workshops. I will always have a candle. There will always be flowers in the room. There will always be some kind of fragrance because I want to create spaces where when people walk in, they can take a deep breath and say, “It feels good to be here.” For me, that’s the first step in saying, “It’s good to be here and it’s good to be here in my body. The body is a temple and somehow we’re going deeper into ourselves.” There is nothing I can be afraid of with somebody if they can touch those places in themselves. We are so much kinder to other people, so much more compassionate, so much more engaged. We’re better listeners when we make those connections inside ourselves, so why would we not want to create more opportunities to do that?
I often say that I learned so much more when I do those things for myself. In the times that we live in, so much more is needed for those connections to be made in the communities we live in, when we’re going about our day-to-day travels, that we’re breaking down the walls, that it can exist particular in light of the messages and the very strong messages that we’re getting through the media about differences between ethnicities, between different communities, between different groups. Even about the differences between the areas that you come from, the job that you do, the language that you speak.
I recently moved from living in, you could consider it leafy East Dulwich. Now, I live on the borders of South Norwood and Thornton Heath. By walking the area, I have grown to see how wonderful the areas are. I love South Norwood. I love elements of Thornton Heath. The overall community in East Dulwich and the community in South Norwood and Thornton Heath are very different. What I have loved about South Norwood, I go into my local Aldi and honestly, it’s like going to a meeting, your local community neighbourhood meeting because everyone talks to you. I know all the cashiers on the till, all the people in the queue. You cannot stand in the queue in Aldi and not have a conversation with somebody about what you’re going to have for dinner, the flowers you bought. I just found such a big difference. I go into Sainsbury’s on Whitehorse Lane, everybody talks to you. What is that about? It’s telling me something about the energy and the spirit of the neighbourhood that feels a lot more open, a lot more connected, a lot more real. I think we can be conduits of that. East Dulwich felt a lot more standoff-ish. People kept a lot more within their groups and to themselves. I have come to really welcome this reconnection to place and community. I feel like Thornton Heath and South Norwood is like a melting pot of artist, of entrepreneurs, of people from different classes, different races, different backgrounds, different faiths and they see each other, and I like that.
That’s the powerful thing to see each other as human beings and to not get too distracted by the outer layers that we use to guide us when we are inclined to pigeonhole each other as certain types of person.
I do so much laughter in this area. It’s a really fun area to be in. The reason I’m stressing that is because I laugh with all kinds of different people. That’s the fabulous thing about it. Somebody wearing a hijab serving me on the counter at either Aldi or Saudi, we’re having the same conversation with the older person who’s also working on the till that I end up laughing with the next week. It doesn’t make a difference.
Jackee, it’s been such a treat to have you on the Urban Curiosity podcast. I’d love to know what you’re curious about right now.
The thing that I’m curious about right now is as I go about my day in London, one of the things that I would really, really love to work with other people on is to create a campaign for more quiet spaces in the city. It’s something I feel really, really passionate about. I’ve noticed over the last five years in particular, London has got noisier; really, really noisy. I get really keen so when I’m in a quiet carriage on a train, I really appreciate if it is quiet. I would love to see more quiet spaces on Tubes, even on buses. I just have this thing, “Would we ever come to a place or a time when there’s a quiet bus?” Where you could get the quiet 68 bus that takes you from Waterloo to Camberwell. It’s just like a quiet bus. I think that with the more that mobile phones are giving us access to either be just totally engrossed in the mobile phone with headphones on, with loud music and you don’t realise that loud music is not just audible for you; it’s actually audible for lots of other people around you. When people spend less time having conversations on their phone and speaking really, really loudly because they’re not aware of the volume of their voice because they’re not aware of where they are and their environment and who’s around. Very often people are disconnected. I think a lot of people don’t realise how the volume of their whole conversation and how that impacts on people who are close by.
I’d really like to set up a campaign so that we could just have a lot more quiet cafes, quiet trains, quiet Tubes. I love this idea that I’ve come across a group in the USA who’ve started up silent book reading clubs. Isn’t that a fantastic idea? Funny enough, I was in one of my local cafes in Crystal Palace. I watched these two guys across the road at another café, sit outside on the bench and they didn’t talk to each other. They read for about an hour, silently, sitting side by side. I thought, “How cool is that?” They were mates.
It’s a lovely thing I think to sit in real silence with someone you love or admire and either gaze at city state.
What about silent dates, Clare? That could be the way forward. It’s that whole thing. It’s like that Susan Cain Quiet Revolution. I’m thinking about how could we practically revolutionise that in our towns and cities and in our spaces? I’d love to do that.
I think it comes back to what we were talking about at the beginning of the interview, which is about making space in our busy city lives for reflection and for just checking into ourselves, what’s going on, what’s happening right now and go deeper.
I think it will make such a big difference to our thinking space, the quality of time that we spend just tuning back into ourselves. We’re going to be more satisfied. We’re going to feel better. It impacts productivity. It’s like restorative. You get more energy. It’s like, “I cannot exist in this life if I do not carve out white space in my week.” I have to have white space and quiet time is one of the ways that I get that white space.
Where can people find out more about your work?
You can find me at my website which is www.JackeeHolder.com.
Jackee, thank you very, very much for your time. Thank you for being a guest on the Urban Curiosity podcast.
Thanks so much, Clare. It’s been a real pleasure talking to you and your audience.