Annus horribilis?

In a speech marking the 40th anniversary of her accession to the throne, the late Queen Elizabeth II said:

1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure… it has turned out to be an ‘Annus Horribilis’.

This came to mind in recent months. It seems that 2023 has been a tough year for most of us, individually and more generally. For me, there were two main challenges:

  • a sequence of respiratory tract infections (five in five months) from which I didn’t seem to fully recover, each new one taking hold before I’d seen off the previous one; and
  • applying myself to offering workshops again, which had been off-menu for quite a while because everything I do has an embodied element and involves touch.

To host a workshop, I must make people aware of it and encourage them to sign up. Whilst I love the work that ensues, I find this quite testing – and am also stretched by the uncertainty around whether or not an event will actually happen. Returning to this kind of work has been a somewhat stuttery process, requiring more than a smidgeon of humility.   

As I caught myself thinking that 2023 has been a personal annus horribilis, I paused: my struggles have been at the less significant end of any spectrum of adversity. Many people are experiencing real hardship: poverty, life-threatening or life-limiting illness, war and significant loss, to name but a few. I’ve just found the year arduous because I prefer life without the inconvenience of illness and am reluctant to engage in anything that feels remotely like selling or marketing.  

Noticing that I was referencing on difficulties rather than considering the whole year, I began to reassess. I started with the reality that, despite my ill-health and lack of enthusiasm for plugging events, I did deliver several workshops – and each one was a joy. It’s energising and inspiring to be with a group of people exploring embodied experiences and learning together. I’m privileged in the work I do.

As I referenced on the positive, I noted that I’d walked in the Feshie Hills in early February and into the corrie below Creag Meagaidh very recently. This means I’ve made good use of living in the Cairngorms National Park, accessing the wild for much of the year. And whilst much of my walking is more mundane, I truly love the rhythm of it and have covered many miles. I’ve also had wonderful conversations, spent delightful time with friends, laughed until I cried and enjoyed my first stint of hen-sitting. I’ve planted a plum tree, made elderflower cordial and watched the flag irises in my ditch bloom for the first time.  

These reflections crystallised when talking to a friend this week. She canoes, and was recounting a story about looking at a tricky stretch of water with her coach, and listing all the obstacles and hazards to avoid. Her coach gently asked: what if you focus on the spaces and the route through? It was a light-bulb moment for my friend as this is an example of the Leadership Embodiment practice of placing our attention on space rather than ‘things’. The underlying principle is: what we reference on shapes our perspective and experience, which then influences what is possible.

One further factor made 2023 hard-going for me: this weekend marks a year since Wendy Palmer died. Wendy was the founder of Leadership Embodiment (LE) and was my teacher and mentor. I miss her immensely – I still have so many questions to ask! And… even with this, I can choose what I reference on – her physical absence or the gift of her legacy, which continues to resource and stretch me in equal measure. I feel her energetic presence when I share LE practices with others. And I’m heartened that her daughter, Tiphani, has taken on the leadership of the community of LE teachers and coaches who continue to make this work available.

And so, while I won’t remember 2023 with ‘undiluted pleasure’, it hasn’t been an annus horribilis. It might even be an annus mirabilis, the good stuff made more meaningful by difficult conditions.   


  • Do you tend to focus on obstacles or possibilities? How does this affect your experience and options?
  • How will you look back on the last twelve months?