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Mindfulness is Not Enough

mindfulness-istock-prvSorry,  my friends, but mindfulness is not enough.

Why you ask? There’s so much evidence for the benefits – hardcore scientific evidence.

True, I say and I’m a proponent – don’t get me wrong.

I’m not saying mindfulness practices aren’t important – of course they are – essential even. I’m saying that alone, they aren’t enough. Here’s why.

Long before you were able to take up a mindfulness practice, you developed a personality.

And that personality, in the first let’s say 7 years of your life, was deeply impressed by what your caretakers, felt, thought, modeled, liked and disliked.

Did they approve of risk taking? Did they frown on assertiveness preferring “good manners”?

Did they reward savings and question spending? How did they handle clinginess or expressions of anger or desire or sibling rivalry?

Because as a very young person, you needed ( not just wanted, but needed) to feel safe and loved,  and you were so vulnerable, you developed traits and behaviors that were approved of. You  shunted other parts of yourself into “the shadow”. It was intelligent. It made you feel secure.

These disowned parts could be either “good” or “bad” – didn’t matter. Some got splintered off because having them triggered survival issues – fear of abandonment, fear of losing nourishment, support, safety, approval.

For example, if your parents got upset when you showed generosity and said something like, “You’ll be taken advantage of. You have to watch out for other people. Be very careful.” The quality of generosity in yourself may have gone underground only to live on in your shadow.

Maybe your parents  really approved of self-sufficiency and so you tried to be strong, responsible, take the initiative. You may have sent the part of you that needed support,  undercover.  And when it surfaces in your adult life now, like your generosity, you start feeling really uncomfortable, unsafe- as though your survival depends on staying strong though you know all people need support at one time or another.

The problem is your mind can’t make sense of the discomfort, anxiety, fear because they don’t live in the mind. They live in your body.

It makes sense to your mind that of course, everyone has needs, why not you?  Yet your body still connects to the young person’s sense of insecurity when you step away from the approval and love of your Mommy (or whoever cared for you).

And as you grow up, your culture adds to your shadow material. It too approves of some traits and behaviors and represses others. More suffering in twisting to “fit in” and ‘succeed” by the culture’s definition.

And because this shadow operates unconsciously, mindfulness isn’t enough. Mindfulness alone won’t surface your shadow material. You have to set out on the hero’s journey to uncovered and reclaim those parts of you that you lost along the way. The hero’s journey, after facing great obstacles is always a coming home to yourself…the true you, the whole you..

I call it a hero’s journey because as Robert Johnson said, “The process of civilization involves suppressing into our shadow side those traits and patterns that are not culturally acceptable. This sorting process is quite arbitrary. Individualism, for instance, is a great virtue in some societies and the greatest sin in others. But this sorting process is two-edged — some of the pure gold of our personalities is relegated to the shadow because it can find no place in the great leveling process that is culture. Curiously, people resist the noble aspects of their shadow more strenuously than they hide the dark sides.

It takes  a concerted effort, true courage  to live into your wholeness, fulfillment and authenticity and you can’t do it alone.

Come join with like-minded others in Transforming Your Shadow – a 3 week virtual event where thought leaders and masters provide wisdom, tools and support for this journey home to yourself.

At no charge, you can join in the conversation at www.transformingyourshadow.com

Conflicted Over Conflict? Stay Tuned In

You have a story about “conflict”, oh yes, you do. If you give me your definition of the word and some examples, your narrative about conflict  emerges.

Your story may include statements  like “She always battles my ideas!” or “He has to have things  his way or no way!” or “Our boss isn’t forward thinking -resting on past successes.” or hundreds of other reasons conflict arises in your life.

Your examples are unique. Yet, they share something with most people on the planet. Whatever examples you give, one of the chief causes of pain (call it anxiety, discomfort, anger, or other tough emotions to sit with) is caused by conflict as you currently define it.

And critical to note, your idea of conflict while conscious, is informed by your early experiences of conflict – emotional and physical experiences that have gone underground and may not be available to your consciousness.

For example, if as a toddler conflict (perhaps between parents or siblings) felt life threatening, you might have constricted your breathing, or tensed your small rib cage in panic. Perhaps you hid behind a large chair or under the bed until calm reigned again.

Today, when you encounter conflict, you “know” you life isn’t in danger, but your body resorts to the old pattern and you may want to run away or hide still.

Or perhaps you came out screaming at the adults in conflict, red faced, tear stained and furious.

That “puffing up” way of dealing is still there, only to be taken out when triggered.

Conflict still causes you pain – only more so because you worry about your reaction to it on top of worrying about the conflict itself.  Make sense?

And what do we humans generally do with pain? Avoid it –  at all costs. Avoidance comes in many flavors yet the result is that you never grow past an outworn way of dealing with conflict.

For leaders the cost of avoidance is higher than for most.

Awesome leaders, unlike the run of the mill type, don’t avoid conflict. They tune in to it because they have a definition that extends beyond  “pain”. They hold conflict as generative!

So, (take a deep breath here) what does that mean? And how does it work? And why should you care?

I’ll start with the last question first and work backwards.

Whether you lead a team, a non-profit, an entire corporation or a head a small business, you can be powerful and clear when the inevitable conflict arises and use it to move forward. That’s right, use conflict to move ahead with your vision. Conflict can be the impetus for great things – finely honed ideas, better strategic, streamlined  functionality, more inclusion, improved processes, better ways to serve your clients….

In the wind tunnel of your own mind, your ideas seem sound…and the fact that they are the only ones in there, supports that notion. Only when marched out into the light of other eyes and ears, can you evaluate your ideas –  and either modify, if that’s what’s called for, or stand tall behind them in the face of criticism or abandon them altogether and start over.

And when “The Idea” is being presented by some member of your organization, listening to the responses of others can often make a “good” idea – great!  The key is to get those others past reactivity – often the first impulse – to responsiveness.

Here’s how that works: You Must Model. Yes, you have to model a way of being with conflict that expands on your current definition! Model it again and again and people will notice. At first, in awe, then in curiosity and finally seeing the value. And you can incorporate this as a plank in the culture of your organization.

If you can find the value in conflict – what it offers – and stay out of your history with it – you can appreciate it and finally, welcome it. That process begins with unhooking the personal from the idea. They are not the same!

You, me and everyone we know are much more than the ideas we offer up. Holding conflict as generative means being able to separate the person from what they are saying, in the moment they are saying it. It sounds simple but it isn’t easy. It requires a shift – emotionally (staying out of the angry red zone) , intellectually (asking yurself ? what is the value of the what is being stated) and physically (how can you relax your nervous system and stay open). More to come on the specifics of this in the next blog.

Leaders make decisions. One way or another.

Great leaders have developed the capacity to handle opposing views, weigh the merits respectfully and then mobilize their forces behind a direction without excluding anyone. When a leader can do all this graciously, you can be sure she has learned to hold conflict as generative rather than as a problem. She has the ability to stay tuned in and grounded, open and curious and decisive.  Isn’t that the kind of leader you want to be?

If so,  return to your definition of conflict and expand upon it. Here’s how. Extract your painful history with conflict  from this moment. Look at only what is on the operating table now. Ask yourself:

  • What do I need to stay open and curious?
  • What can I gain from hearing all points of view?
  • How can I appreciate different perspectives?
  • Once I’ve determined the path, how can I mobilize everyone to action?

Armed with these questions, your relationship to conflict can soften, open and expand. And while you may have relapses, holding the intention (somatically, emotionally and cognitively) to see conflict as generative will ultimately make you a stronger, wiser person and leader.

THE GAINS IN LETTING GO

All our lives may be charted as a series of “letting go” experiences.  Sometimes we choose and let go graciously, often we are forced to let go and most often of all, we let go by “making them wrong”.  To be born into this chaotic, inspiring frightening, beautiful,  painful rich life, we ‘let go” of the womb. Soon after, we “let go” of mother’s breast. We let go of our childish stuffed animals and move onto more sophisticated toys… and so it goes.

People, experiences, ways of viewing the world – as we mature and grow we “let go”of what is outdated, too narrow, too small for our larger selves. And in this “letting go” we gain new experiences, new work, new friends, lovers,  a broader world view.

Some people make these moves with grace while others struggle and chafe as they make their way through life. What is the secret to this grace?  Is it a gift for a special few or are we all equally capable of bringing it into our daily lives?

“Making them wrong” is the way many of us “let go”. We qualify our decisions by finding fault in the people or places we are leaving, the organizations we no longer support, the teachers we no longer go to. By finding fault, the responsibility rests elsewhere. We are absolved. Furthermore, any movement away is seen as a wise move.

Yet, if we closely observe those we admire, we see that they too “let go” only they do so without blaming. Instead, they are able to appreciate what they received, honor the gifts, the lessons learned and experience true gratitude while moving on. The energy of gratitude is very different from that of blame.  Gratitude invites us in, asks us to come near the campfire to warm ourselves. Gratitiude is expansive, creating space for wonder and awe – for feelings of blessing.

Blame is stiff, hard and cold. Blame is strident and points a crooked finger. Blame makes our eyes squint, thus limiting our vision. It is contracted, thus limiting our movement. Rather than possibility, blame subtracts from what is possible, keeping our attention on  staying hurt or anger and being a victim.

The choice is yours. Will you choose the gains in letting go or blame?

Presence: An Invitation to Courage

We speak lightly of Presence so often – in working with ourselves, in working with our clients. Yet, we don’t often think of it as the key to developing courage!

This morning as this quote came across my screen, I began to ponder it more deeply.
First the quote:

There were times when I could not afford to sacrifice the bloom of the present moment to any work, whether of the head or hand. ~Thoreau

When our strongest intuitions arise in technicolor, they come from dropping deeply into the moment. And what does “the moment” provide when entered into fully?

The Truth – yes with a capital “T”.

If we are able to be with the Truth of whatever is arising – no deflection, no avoidance, no belittling, no judging – no resistance of any kind something profound occurs. We begin to become more permeable, less stiff, less rigid, allowing more spaciousness. And in that space, courage blossoms as we notice that we’re actually okay!

A little known aspect of being Present – not planning or manipulating or dreaming or wistfully longing is that our Presence ultimately transcends our anxieties and fear. By entering into what is up for us – pleasant or unpleasant and exploring it fully, it begins to move, to breathe in and out… and with practice, staying tuned in rather than tuning out – we transcend our fears, our anxieties by noticing that we’re actually okay – the roof isn’t collapsing, the arresting officer isn’t at the door. We have clothes to wear, food to eat, shelter from the storm. More than most people on the planet can say!

And what is most amazing? When we are Present with this moment and the next and the one after that, our capacity to stay Present grows. And moreover, our Presence invites others to courageously move into Presence as well.

So not only we developing more courage to meet Life as it arrives, but we also invites others into this action. As we stay grounded in Presence, they too, find ground beneath their feet to be with Life – and their experience of it. As so much of wisdom, this is simple but not easy. Yet, what precious quality is easily developed? Most require commitment. As we commit ourselves, we begin to engage more fully with others, ourselves and Life unfolding.

So, let’s pause in the endless cycle of “Next,” and not sacrifice the bloom of the present moment!

ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE: EMBRACING THE OTHER

Lennon and McCartney said it.  Rumi, Kabir, Hafiz (and other Sufis) wrote about it. Religion and culture chime in loudly about the importance of it. The  total mass of songs, poems and movies that implore us to find it, keep it and renew it could create another planet. The lectures, articles and books on love and compassion for the human race, a specific “other”  and the self fill the airwaves, bookshelves and ezines of our lives. So what is the fuss all about? Is it about romance or sex, connection or intimacy?

Ask yourself, “What if love were the single greatest tool for personal development”?  How might that change the way you view your intimate relationship?  If we look at the relationship we have with the beloved,  can we connect with the Beloved? Beyond the romantic elements, the physical delights,  the pain and misunderstanding, the frustration and the joy, lurks a path to awakening that accelerates the process of maturation a thousand fold.

“Shelf-help” as Wendy Palmer likes to call it, can advise us about meeting, wooing and  bedding perhaps wedding  the attractive candidate. Only being in a relationship that names “coming home to oneself” as the greatest goal, brings us Love, with the capital L.

Stephen and Ondrea Levine say “Few recognize the enormous power of a relationship as a vehicle for physical. spiritual, and emotional healing.”  Why is this true?

We are enculturated into a view of  intimate relationship as romantic.  And the definition for romantic is fairly narrow at that. Rarely do we encounter role models for partnering as a path to awakening to our true nature.

Relationships are the stage upon which we play out our very young understanding of love in its many guises. What we  were told (and taught) about love by our caretakers  when we were little shows up in our adult relationships. What we experienced in our very impressionable early years of development, before we could speak,  also shows up. How our parents treated one another is often a more indelible experience than their words about “being loving.” The same is true for  the injunctions of priests, rabbis, teachers, scout leaders, etc. How lovingly we were treated effects us long past the exit of many players from the stage of our lives.  What we needed and desired as vulnerable children (and didn’t get) we attempt to redress through our partners. This puts enormous pressure on our lovers – impossible pressure, as they too seek solace for  early unmet  needs.

In psychology, we learn of “object relations”  which deeply affect our loving connections.  These ways to relating to others basically casts them in a role of an important early caretaker unconsciously – so we don’t see the person – we are “back with” the important mother or father or granny. When we unconsciously stop seeing our beloved by replacing him or her with a parent  (with whom we  all have unresolved issues) we attempt to heal the past. By its very nature, the past cannot be undone, but we try again and again to have a “do over” which never works.  What works instead?

Recognizing that a relationship is the perfect place to practice transparency, commitment (especially when times are challenging),  generosity,  healthy boundaries (caring for the other without merging) deep listening, compassion are steps along the path. The method is being Present, both to arises within and to the real other before you,

And when things go awry,  and they always do, looking at the situation from an undefended position, begs us hold the question of “where am I in this?”  What is my contribution? Seeking out the truth of old pain and unresolved suffering  that arises and allowing our partner to be in it with us, rather than suppressing or denying  it allows us to begin the healing. When we can enter into our partners pain without trying to make it go away, hold space for her suffering and be a witness, we continue the healing process. These acts of loving  often are called forth when we are triggered into the old feelings…  yet being with the experience, sharing our feelings of shame, guild, abandonment, loss or grief  creates the intimacy that ultimately heals, that accelerates our maturation.

Rather than leaning on the beloved to hold us up, we become two upright entities that evolve beside one another without creating a hindering shadow. So yes, all you need is love, real love which transcends romance.

Working with Resistance: A More Perfect Teacher

Many coaches talk to me about the resistance they experience with their clients.  This is a fascinating topic because it opens a rich vein of inquiry. Working here leads into deep developmental work. Yet, coaches often view the resistance as negative – hence triggering their own resistance to “resistance” and rather than moving with it, deal by avoiding, diverting or bowing in the face of its force.

For a coach willing to work with her own resistance there are useful questions and actions to take. (These also assist the client to find out what underlies their “stuckness”.)

First, acknowledge the resistance.  This is important. Too often the stepping around the resistance leads to superficial work. Call it by its true name. Some measure of liberation occurs here.

Inquiry can include questions like:  What fears are coming up for me? (for example, “my coaching can’t be very good’ or “the client doesn’t really like me” or “I’m not good at enrollment”.  There thoughts and their variations we visit (and re-visit) often.  A way in is to ask, “what’s happening somatically as I explore?” (Checking in with our sensations isn’t only for our clients. It is our way to work with ourselves as we become more skillful with clients.) What emotions are arising? Once you discover your pattern, you’ll know where your edge is and you can begin to work with it.

Making the invisible visible creates space around the suffering – which resistance always signals. This space expands when we are willing to hang out in it. Staying there requires working with the breath and the body – grounding ourselves.

What in your environment supports the resistance? Notice the conversations you are in wondering if the support or challenge your current understanding. (Hint, if these are very comfortable, you might wonder what they keep you from exploring.)

What do you do to return to center? Use whatever method you employ. Depending on the extent of what surfaces, you may take this “hanging out in the suffering” in small doses., grounding, then returning to underlying experience that Resistance reveals, and grounding  again.  With clients watch their breathing, their shoulders, etc. carefully to modulate how much is enough for one sitting.

Once grounded yourself (breath work, qigong, conscious embodiment, etc.), allow the field, universe, God (rather than your body) to hold the resistance while you can explore like an archeologist (structures, environment) and an anthropologist (culture, language). You work with a client in much the same way.

If you can hold resistance as a teacher opening a door to deep understanding much becomes possible in your work.

Are you willing to step through the door?
(to be continued)