Not Everyone Who Wanders is Lost – My Sacred Journey

INTRODUCTION

“We all experience the constant drama of the new and the constant sorrow of what we’ve left behind” – Mohsin Hamid

I want to live the change that something deep inside, the secret longing of my being, prompts me to become. The message from that part of me speaks to how I can operate from love not fear. To expand my being rather than constrict it. To Iive from the heart that knows rather than the mind that thinks it knows. To experience the Source within myself and in everyone and everywhere else. 

What does one have to leave behind in order to embark on such a journey? How can I find my way home to my inner self when I left home (my country, my religious tribe) long ago? And how can I live out my original goodness, the imprint of the Source on my life? That is the ongoing quest of this sacred memoir.

I am grateful that you have chosen join me on this bumpy adventure of faith. This memoir is my quest to describe the arc of my sacred journey. In so doing I hope to get into your head and heart (hopefully not under your skin) after you first get into my thoughts and feelings.

The journey begins way back in Africa.

My relationship to Africa runs deep.. Not only is this continent the cradle of civilization but also the beginnings of my spiritual journey. This at times forgotten and suppressed relationship with the land of my birth provides rich context to this sacred memoir.

If you would like to travel with me on this sacred journey please email me at cedricj35@yahoo.com and I will send you the link to the blog

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Quirks and Consequences

We all have our quirks or idiosyncrasies. They are endearing to some and infuriating to others. 

This morning I asked Kris what she thought mine were. In a snap she laughingly responded, “You drop stuff on the floor like scrambled egg when you are cooking breakfast and don’t pick it up!” But this “habit” is not aways a laughing matter When she is stressed and in a hurry that stuff drives her crazy.

We all have an explanation for our pet quirk. Kris tells me  that it is because I grew up with home help in Africa so I expect people to pick up after me. That may be true in part but I have a more benign explanation (excuse?). I have attention deficit disorder. I’m just distracted so I go on to the next thing. But that’s not entirely true. When I am a houseguest and accidentally drop eggs on the floor I clean it up in a snap. Why am I mindful in that context and at times mindless at home? Maybe I need to get my head out of the clouds. 

The strange thing about quirkiness is that we have fond memories of those things after a person dies. Why then can’t we have pleasant feelings when they do it while they are alive? You tell me.

I have decided to turn more to humor in my blogs for a while. Hope you enjoy the ride and not scratch me from your mailing list.

Tell me what you think!

What are your quirks? How do folks respond to them?

Quirk #1 – Being on Time

Let me introduce you to “Big Ben”. Yes, that’s me. Not the clock in London but the one in my head. Always watching the clock. Always been that way and it seems to get worse the older I get. With fewer years ahead one would think that the incessant “tick tock” in my head would begin to fade. But no, always the same preoccupation with time. Always imagining my appointment twirling his pen nervously and uttering, “Where the hell is Cedric. He’s wasting my time?”

In Mexico several years ago I was standing in a bank line that took forever to move. As my blood pressure soared I muttered under my breath “What the hell is going on here. Is everyone taking out mortgages?”A Mexican woman behind me in line gave me the “look”, like my mother chastising me, “Sir you need to calm down!” If high blood pressure and pulmonary hypertension won’t slow me down nor will a stranger in Mexico.  

Stop this hamster wheel I want to get off.

Why is it so important for me to be on time? That story goes way back. My father was Big Ben #1. Clients who came 5 minutes late for an appointment would find his office door closed for their business. For him tardiness was a sign of disrespect. He perceived himself as very important and his time so valuable. They should know that and make a point of being on time. Forget the fact that the world does not always operate by those rules.

Life is what happens to you while you make other plans.

So when I die what happens to all the time that was  wasted? What will I care? I will blend in with the cosmic consciousness or flutter from cloud to cloud. Maybe heaven is like Las Vegas? No clocks. No schedule to keep. Or is it eternal rest? Back on mother earth the worms will be eating up my human remains one slow bite at a time. They have all day and night and more to complete the job. No five-year plan. No dreams to hurry up to fulfill. They don’t punch the clock. There is just a slow meditative munching of my human frame. Lucky buggers. But when their time is up who eats them? Chances are they are on the end of a fishhook snagging a trout that someone else will eat. And probably he gets indigestion because he has to rush off to the next appointment. 

Times up!

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Why Community Is So Difficult to Find

I have searched the world over for community and come to the conclusion that it cannot be fully found in one place or group. The contentment we search for is a spiritual quest found on a journey inward to the home where the heart is. 

Last evening in a group of friends, all in our seventies, we talked of our common longing for connection with others. There was a time in all of our lives when we could recall deep bonds of friendship. That ‘gold standard’ seemed long gone and not replicable. But we searched for it anyway. Paradise lost never quite became paradise regained. Those days were often way back in our college years.

My deepest friendship bonds were in my twenties and thirties where factors like parenting, graduate school, sporting activities, and my then religious involvement bound my life with that of others. But all this fell apart when I graduated, got divorced, and migrated to the USA.. Being disconnected with our country of origin is a common challenge for most immigrants. And while assimilation to the USA way of life comes quite easily we are always strangers in a foreign land.

A few weeks ago one of wife’s friends asked me “Do you have friends in whom you can confide? “I had to confess that this is not fully found in one person.

What happened? We now live in a small village where everyone seems to know everyone else’s business. We also attend more social gatherings than ever before. Even with those contacts the social bonds consistently fall short of my somewhat idealized expectations.. All in all, even after four years in this location we feel somewhat disconnected. I suspect that is true for most people no matter where they live.

Many studies indicate that personal happiness is correlated with a person having strong community bonds. But why does this happen less often than we think? Why are the suburbs some of the loneliest places on earth? Why do people describe their workplace as their family? I realize that there are factors that interfere with community formation like our frequent home relocation, differing personal and cultural interests, extremely busy lives, and varying expectations of what we want from community.

Maybe it is impossible to experience true community whatever that is. This dilemma reminds me of the ditty

To live above with those we love

Oh that will be glory.

But to live below with those we know

That’s a different story.

But I do not want to end on a pessimistic note.

What I’ve come to realize is that we are searching in the wrong place. The solution is by us going inward before we venture outward. 

Finding the right group of people is not the solution to my inner restlessness. Why do I say this? Well the evidence is very clear. People, including myself, are pulling up roots all the time for one reason or another. They then move on the the village or town de jour where all the ‘cool’ folks are migrating and report that it is a great place to live. We’ve done that several times with the same result.

So after a long downer prompted by the”no close friends” and “you are an outsider” or “what’s wrong with me?” tale of woe (unadulterated self-pity and ego preoccupation on my part of course), there was a more obvious solution.

Go inward. Experience my inner essence and that of others.

The key to real community in in my pocket not that of others. It occurs when I make the choice to see a person’e inner essence, appreciate our oneness, and love what I see, it is then that I experience the oneness that is the ground of community.

I guess that is what “loving your neighbor as yourself” is all about. That is the place of rapproachment, genuine human connection, and the building block of community.

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Is Work/Life Balance Really Possible?

I have yet to meet a person who has achieved work/life balance. This is due to daily changes in the landscape of our lives (life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans), there is always more piling up on our plates than we can handle, and that the metrics for balance are usually imprecise. 

Stop wasting your time on this quest because it is often a vague guilt-ridden aspiration set with the best intentions. The quest for balance is based on,

A false dichotomy between work and the rest of life

We bring the same person to work that we take home, to a house of worship, to the movies, and to the kids’ soccer games. Our needs and experience of our humanity does not change across venues. Rather than balance the quest would be better served if we asked, “How can I show up as my best self no matter where I am?”

An artificial view of time

W/L balance is based on a very Western view of time that views it as a scarce entity. As a result we fear that time will be “wasted”. In the David Lynch movie “The Straight Story” he presents his protagonist Alvin Straight as a contrast to the frenzied life. Alvin travels everywhere on a lawnmower. In so doing he experienced real human encounters. Contrast our lives hell-bent on speed with the Italian saying, “Who goes slowly goes safely; who goes safely goes far”. In this instance time is seen as plentiful. A high value in such cultures is not to rush from one appointment to another but to savour our time with each individual. 

A misplaced sense of priorities

If one places a higher priority on time at the office than one does on reading, socializing, family night, meditating, and exercise then, in Steven Covey’s terms, one is not “sharpening the saw” or replenishing one’s limited resources. One friend of mind thinks this way about being a slave to the clock, “Busy day today? Spend extra time in meditation”. All of life is sacred including sitting and doing nothing.

The fallacy that one can do everything

This unnecessary burden is especially true of women in the workforce, especially those with young children or  special needs family members. Society and especially some males take less responsibility for what is prejudicially labeled as “women’s work” The reality is that one can only juggle so many balls before they start dropping. The question then could be “How can we better share the juggling?”

Question

What are your best practices in living your priorities?

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So You Want to be a Visionary Leader

You can learn the ways of a visionary leader. In essence such a person can see around a corner into the future and inspire others to see and execute on that vision,

Now test yourself against common behaviors of such a leader.

I have known quite a number of remarkable futurists in my decades of consulting practice. Each took their organization to new levels of excellence and profitability. However, one stands out above all the others. I recently asked him “Do You See Blue Sky or Dark Clouds in your industry?” His business was going through a bit of a slump but he had an irrepressible sense for greater opportunities in the future. He saw blue sky.

o What made this leader stand out from his peers in the same organization/industry?

o Why was he like the optimistic child who viewed a pile of manure and started digging for the pony?

The thing about this leader is that he saw both the obstacles as well as new possibilities for the future.

What six behaviors made him such a remarkable visionary? 

He had a

1.  Global Business Perspective

The problem with many a successful business is that the leadership can become internally focused. What worked in the past is assumed to be the predictor for future success. However, this leader was able to appreciate and integrate multiple sociopolitical and global factors like the growing scarcity of water, nutrition needs of a greatly expanding and mobile world population, advances in technology like that of artificial , and the changing nature of the workforce that included millennials. He truly saw the bigger picture.

2.  Realist/Optimist Disposition

Futurists are not clueless or careless dreamers. They can look at the facts about their organization, good and bad, and press on to new business frontiers. That makes them courageous realists. However, what makes them stand out from the pack is that they see viable business opportunities where others see obstacles. They ask questions like, “How can we the downturn in the industry to our advantage?” Furthermore,their native optimism spurs them on in the face of opposition.

The motto of this leader was “They thought we were buried, but they did not know we were seeds”

3.  Openness to Change 

Most of us have a love/hate relationship with change. We may hear the drum beat “change or die”. We resist the imperative to alter our ways for a multitude of reasons. Ours may be conscious or unconscious, based on a fear of going out of our comfort zone, spurred by a tendency to rest on the laurels of our success, or a deep longing for the “good old days”. But in the end, the visionary leader has a compelling reason to lead change. And come hell or high water, change happens.

4.  Wide Network With External Thought-Leaders

Many senior leaders confine their network to their own organization. However visionaries have the opportunity to meet with thought-leaders beyond their own company and discipline. In so doing they enjoy the fruits of cross-fertilization. All this exposure to a wider circle enriches their capacity to innovate and expose their organization to new ideas. They also read widely. I saw that Gates reads an average of 50 books per year. An executive friend of has studied successful . Two factors makes these folks successful. A passion for what they do and a network of giving colleagues.

5.  Deep in the Arts and History

 I once taught a Humanities course in a Business Management degree program. One course assignment was for the students to visit a museum, art galley, cultural event from their ethnic , or read a biography of some important historical figure (other than in business). The assignment was then to relate this experience to their business context. The revelation was that many of them had confined their whole life experience to the business world.

Great visionary leaders not only read widely but they travel extensively, have broad experience in the arts, and are insatiably curious about everything around them. They then import this experience to their business context that becomes richer as a result. All work and no play truly makes “Jack/Jill dull-”. The leader I work with has all this intellectual and cultural breadth and it continually informs his work experience.

6. A Finger on the Pulse of the Customers

Every visionary leader has a research-based perspective on the present and future needs of the customer. In addition, both the leader and customer are in agreement as to this growth need. One stand out reason for the buy-in is that the cause being espoused is far bigger that any narrow perspective they may have. The cause also serves the common good. That data may be derived from voice of the customer surveys, trends in the industry, best practices of competitors, or break through technology emerging from R&D. In some instances it comes from the instinct of one leader. One IT Executive told me recently, “I can imagine a day when we no longer need apps .”

I realize that this article is based the anecdotal evidence of one leader who embodied all these behaviors. However,

My Question

What behavioral markers have you observed in true visionaries?

Please share your perspective.

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A Letter to my Younger Self

My dear younger self,

You are at the beginning of your career and first marriage and life is brimming with hope. You are deeply optimistic and have great plans for yourself and your new family. You believe that you made a career based on an inner calling and then set the course of your life based on this compass direction. The result is certain: things will turn out the way you planned. You work hard, stay focused, and good things will happen. Everyone roots for you and is deeply in your future plans.

Now listen up. Things are going to change.

In mid-life your whole universe may collapse. Most dreams you ever had will crumble. Instead of universal support you will run into a firestorm of opposition even from some of your closest friends. 

There are times when you will bomb terribly with mistakes that will embarrass you for years to come. Your family will not turn out the way you planned. Your career will be in in tatters. Death, divorce, and may stare you in the face. And everything in your deep-seated faith (It calls, you answer, and it happens) will be up for grabs. When it comes to your health you will have been through all manner of physical challenges. With your sense of despair sometimes at an all time low, you will sit there asking “What happened and what now?”

Here are some pointers that you will probably not believe and may completely disregard.

However, before you reject these views out-of-hand, consider this.

Right now in later life things have never been better. You may be living in the most exciting and fulfilling period of life. You learned that even bad things get better. You have come to embrace impermanence. As a result you embrace all you have today and you make the most of and are grateful for the good times

But for what’s its worth, here is my spin on the wisdom that I have discovered and the lessons learned through momentous loss, grievous disappointment, and the complete unpredictability of life. This concrete advice I offer to you my younger self.

Life is messy. It never turns out the way you plannedBut it could even get better.

In the end it is better to be a realist and not a dreamy idealist. Naïve idealism can lead to you becoming disappointed, depressed, and disillusioned. It can also keep you trying to control the uncontrollable, depend on people (as well as yourself) always behaving in rational and adult ways, and create fantasies of how you want things to turn out. In a strange way, this realization of the messiness of life normalizes things when you go through hurtful relationships, jobs that are disappointing, and broken dreams. It also helps us let go of the illusion that we are in control in life.

Success, as people define itis not everything that it is cracked up to be

We often define success as getting to the top, receiving , being financially secure, and having the model marriage and family. There are two reasons to avoid this trap. First, life does not work that way. And second, the success of being is more important than the success of doingFurthermore, the fact that there have been failures does not make you a failure. The one success you can control is by being a giving person.

Look for the many faces of grace that appear out of the blue in the hard times

Grace is the one constant in the face of ever changing circumstances . Grace is also bundled into unpredictable and seemingly hidden events despite heartbreaking and confusing losses. Through the gift of grace, (grace always finds me. I don’t find it), we experience those painful experiences to be our most transforming moments and instructional teachers. As the writer Adyashanti writes of his difficult times,

“The immensity of unconditional love was just washing over me in waves”

Grace opens the door of my heart to another way of living. The result is gratitude and a capacity to see the beauty inherent in everything. Who would have known that life could bring one to such a place?

Pay attention.

People will tell you to be mindful and stay in the moment. That advice is largely a cliche. It is more important to pay attention to everything around you. See things and people with this fresh set of eyes. Above all, get out of your head and into your heart. Keep yourself from being derailed by your emotions (I can control everything, understand everything, and predict my future accurately) . In so doing you will walk the path to discovering the magic of living. Just think of the wonderful moments you miss when you are living solely in terms of future hopes or past regrets?

Forgive yourself and others

The letting go of past “failures” is one key to finding yourself fully in the present. I find the mercy and permission to give myself absolution for the past. For those past indiscretions and foolish choices I declare myself to have been temporarily crazy (mindless instead of mindful). It also helps to be able to move to a new community where nobody knows and cares about my past and I have the opportunity to reinvent myself. Why beat up on myself when that act does nothing to change the past? Why reminisce about my flawed humanness when one real problem is the lack of acceptance of others? They may remain stuck in their desire to control or judge me, but I choose to move on.

To my middle aged self I leave you with the words of Adyashanti,

“In those moments when we know that we don’t know, when we take the backward step, heart wide open, we fall into grace.”

So my dear younger self, brimful with dreams and plans, I trust that you will learn these lessons sooner rather than later. They will not prevent the tragedies and disappointments of life from occurring. Your middle age may still be a time when the “stuff hits the fan”. However, these beliefs will empower you to see other paradigms of living. The bitter pill life will ask you to swallow will not be as bitter. It may even be the cure from yourself.

Above all, remember that it may seem that your ship is sinking but in reality it is only changing course. So you don’t have to descend into despair and hopelessness. You can then grab the opportunity to live more fully before you die. In fact you will be preparing for a better way to die.

Best wishes

The older man you never dreamed you would become

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Giving – The Path to Success

All of us to some degree or another look out for #1, our own interests. However we reach our higher self and the peak of leadership effectiveness when we serve others. We have to find ways to transition from “What’s in it for me” to “What’s in me for it”. 

Adam Grant in his book “Give and Take” points to a survey that found that most countries in the world rate “giving as their most important value”. However even givers cover up for this generous spirit for fear of being judged as weak at work. But in the end, even though they may be exploited and burn out, givers achieve extraordinary success across a wide range of industries and cultures.

Over the last few decades the idea of servant leadership has come to the forefront in leadership practice. It is seen as a more desirable way to lead. In fact Carol Walker writes in the Harvard Business Review that the leader as a servant has

The potential to deliver far more of what most of us are really after: influence.  The reason is simple. When you have a servant mentality, it’s not about you. Removing self-interest and personal glory from your motivation on the job is the single most important thing you can do to inspire trust.

The more I move towards retirement and the degree to which I migrate from the corporate to the non-profit world, I begin to experience new dimensions in the joy of service. Not that I did not serve in my consulting business. I was helping leaders and organizations realize their potential. However, working pro bono has a whole different feel to it. My experience is replicated again and again as seen in the high levels of volunteerism in the United States. When we lived in Mexico I clearly remember the three pages of volunteer organizations published in our newspaper in our Central Mexican town.

In the end givers are great networkers, don’t expect anything in return for their generosity, and have an open door policy to their hearts.

Think of some of your greatest mentors and those who placed your success and well-being above their own-

What delights have you experienced in giving?

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Live to Work or Work to Live?

I once had a long conversation with a highly educated Mexican tour guide. We were on a seven-mile hike through a national forest in Mexico. We were discussing the meaning of work in our respective cultures, and he remarked,

“People in the USA live to work. Here in Mexico we work to live. Sometimes I think people north of the border have gone crazy about their work. Everyone seems so stressed out.”

It made me wonder: Have we as a society become gone absolutely crazy in regards to work? Why are we one of the most stressed-out societies as seen in part by the huge increase in mental health problems amongst our college students?

On the plus side, work still promises to bring Americans personal satisfaction, a sense of contribution, increasing affluence, status in the community, and a deep personal identity. This all sounds like a formula for living a good life, right?

What then is the down side of our work life in the USA?

For a start consider the experience of Marie who recently commented on one of my blog postings: 

When I stopped practicing law and I became a full time homemaker I was increasingly annoyed by the question “What do you do?” The one instance that stands out in my mind was the time I was wrapping up my cases. I had made a final appearance in the family law courtroom and was asked what are you doing these days? I told her (the other lawyer) that I was a stay-at- home mom. She said aloud in the open courtroom, “It must be nice to sit on your ass all day.” I was speechless. What a put down!

It is bad enough when others insult us, in public no less! But the lawyer’s crass comment to her colleague says a lot about her personal attitudes toward work. It also reflects the underlying attitudes of our society toward work. Let’s look at a few of these attitudes:

  1. Homemaking is not a job.  Homemaking has a negative value, and is a situation to be avoided.
  • Our society ranks professions in terms of value and importance and rewards them, accordingly: lawyers are more important than homemakers caring for children; business executives, movie stars, and sports figures are more important than educators, social workers, and nurses.
  • We are judged on (and our value pegged to) the particular profession in which we choose to engage and our rung on the organizational ladder; by how much we earn; how many hours we spend working; our ability to pay others to do less-valued work (e.g., paying a nanny, an eldercare provider, a carpenter).

When work is viewed in such a narrow, biased way; that is, as the vehicle through which we achieve status and acceptance in our society, there are consequences. If our life is totally consumed by what we do, how hard we work at it, and how much we are compensated, there’s a price we pay in our quality of life.

For example, we can:

a)  Lose focus on what really provides profound satisfaction at work. 

b)  Have very little or no time for a life outside of work and consequently, neglect other aspects of ourselves that could be developed (e.g. developing other aptitudes, discovering spiritual aspects of ourselves) 

c)  Allow ourselves to be exploited by employers who constantly strive to do more with less and require that we, for example, do the work of two people while our salary remains the same.

 d)  Endure high, even dangerous, amounts of negative stress because we believe that our identity, significance, and value are determined exclusively by what we do (our “Work”).

Consequently, we are willing to devote our entire lives to “work”. 

How then do we release ourselves from this noose around our necks and make the changes we need to live a well-rounded life of purpose and meaning? 

Without retiring from the workforce altogether, how can we achieve a focus on other priorities and a higher quality of life?

One question you might first ask yourself is how much discomfort or pain are you experiencing at work?

For some, a major negative life event is the catalyst for change, e.g., a heart attack or a relationship breakdown. Though painful, these events can serve as a wake-up call, causing us to reevaluate the way we view our lives and our work.

For others, it may be the realization that life is becoming highly unbalanced, crazy, or meaningless.

If you are ready to make significant changes in your orientation to work, how do you begin? Let’s look at some possible first steps:

Face the fact that the way you are working is not working for you. You cannot change your culture’s work orientation but you can change yours. Examine the personal price you are paying in the way you work and ask yourself:  “Is there not more to life than this?” “Could there be a better way?

  • Ask yourself what it is about work that is working against you. Is it working long hours that you believe may be negatively affecting your health or relationships? Is it that your work no longer gives your life meaning?
  • Are you over-investing in your work at the expense of other aspects of your life such as pursuing a life passion, balancing your life with healthy pursuits such as exercise or meditation, taking adventurous or restorative vacations, or spending more time with your children or an aging parent?
  • If work has lost  meaning, identify the factors that make for positive work motivation and begin to think of ways to build them into your life. According to Daniel Pink, in his book Drive, these include: a sense of contribution, autonomy, and mastery. What powerful and positive motivational forces drive you?
  • Begin to visualize how your life will be in a work situation where you have both passion and life balance.
  • Act intentionally. This is one of the most important initial action steps you can take. For instance, you may start by devoting one hour a week to developing the artistic talent you have been neglecting. This breaks inertia and opens the door to new possibilities and ways of being.
  • Realize that personal change comes slowly. You will need courage, focus, and the support of key people. In some cases, you may need to change careers or physically move to a different area in order to transform your life.
  • Make changes and don’t quit your job. Perhaps staying in your job is the right move; however, you may need to change how you approach your work. Write down your most important life priorities, decide which ones you can implement now, and then set firm boundaries so that work does not compromise them. To do this, you may need to think of ways to reorganize your work.

It doesn’t have to take a crisis to make changes in the way you do your work. You can begin right now. In the comments section, please share your personal story of how you transformed (or want to transform) your approach to work.

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Hit the Brakes or Hit the Road

Joe was a self-described slob who wanted to please. Everything around him was chaos — his house, his thoughts, and his relationships. However, this tendency to create a muddle out of everything perplexed him greatly since what he desired most was to please the same people that he constantly irritated with his inability to organize himself or his life.

Joe can be viewed as a classic illustration of the divided self.

All of us have competing personality and behavioral tendencies that produce varying degrees of internal and/or external conflict. Let’s consider some familiar examples:

Perfectionists who procrastinate on tasks they so want to complete for fear that nothing they do is ever good enough.

Highly empathic people who want to take care of themselves and others but, instead, they over-care for others and neglect themselves.

Oppositional personalities who repel those they want most to connect with and, consequently suffer when others avoid them.

All these people experience conflict between their aspirations and their actual behaviors. These examples may ring true because, to some degree or another, we all have conflicting aspects of ourselves that play out in similar ways.

How then can we live without the different aspects of ourselves bumping into each other and creating suffering? How can the slob start to clean up his act?

The answer can be found in Self-Regulation.

Making changes involves three consciously choreographed steps, which can be captured by three simple words: stop, think, act.

Stop

We all need a good set of brakes. Stopping before we act is an essential aspect of self-regulation, which Daniel Goleman, among others, has argued is a key component of emotional intelligence and effective leadership.

To hit the brakes:

o  Learn what situations, people, or comments tend to trigger noxious and/or unproductive behaviors.

o  Learn to flag these triggers and stop before you act.

o  While tabling your emotions, give yourself a breather to think of a more productive, less reactive response.

o  Remember that the price is too high for not controlling one’s emotions.

Think

Our unproductive emotional responses are more often than not based on faulty thinking. As Shakespeare once wrote, “The fault… is not in the stars, but in ourselves.” Learning not to always believe one’s thoughts or to be a prisoner of one’s perceptions is important. To do this:

o  Challenge your beliefs. Ask yourself, “Does this situation really warrant such an intense response? What is causing my negative emotion? For example, is it simply a sour look on the boss’ face or is it my interpretation that her sour look is directed toward me?

o  Put your negative response on hold until you have more evidence. Is the boss’ sour look triggering a past unresolved conflict with someone else or is it really something between the two of you?

o  Do not judge yourself for aspects of your personality that are unacceptable to you. The word “slob” is a harsh self-judgment.  Many of us are inclined to be tough on ourselves and then on others. Backing off judgmental responses and learning self-compassion is key to thinking about ourselves in new, more highly functional ways.

Act

The final step is to consciously change our behavior from emotionally reactive to rationally deliberative. To do this we act our way into a new way of thinking (incidentally this is a more powerful agent of change than thinking our way into a new way of behaving).

o Emulate best practices of those who have overcome similar tendencies; for example, the employee who adopts the practice of refraining from blurting out, “What’s wrong?” to his boss and, instead, asks others for the causes of the boss’ perceived foul mood while taking direction from the boss and completing his assignment.

o  Practice the behavior until it becomes habitual. In this way, we “act” our way into a new way of thinking that is automatic and consistent.

At the end of the day, there is hope for the person with conflicting personality tendencies if he or she raises self-awareness and applies self-regulation. When people try to change, others often notice and give credit for their efforts. Small behavioral and attitudinal changes really stand out. While old habits may die hard, die they do with repeated practice and good outcomes.

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When the Soul Wrestles with the Ego

There are two very different and competing voices—that of the ego and that of the soul—that live in constant conflict within us. We are socialized in our culture to be ego-driven; that is, to operate from a position of exclusive self-reference, as expressed in popular expressions such as “What’s in it for me” or “It’s my way or the highway.” The problem with this approach is that it is very narcissistic and myopic and can threaten, or even destroy, the potential of a productive and inspirational connection with others.

We have all struggled with our egos to some degree or another and have experienced its divisive and disruptive results. In this chapter, we contrast specific ego- versus soul-driven behaviors in three key areas of life: work, love, and play. Readers will readily recognize their own and other’s behaviors in these commonplace illustrations. These illustrations help to clarify the distinction between a soul-centered and an ego-centered life. They also function in providing leaders with concrete ways to change their own behaviors and make a positive shift from an ego- to a soul-centered orientation.

We concede that an oversized ego can play a critical role in organizational efforts. For example, an oversized ego, as reflected in the familiar commanding leadership style, can be useful in times of a major transition.  In most business situations, however, an oversized ego threatens to be counterproductive and interpersonally destructive. In contrast, soul-based leadership inspires because of the deep positive connection leaders make with their employees.

We provide real-life illustrations of how soul-based leaders inspire others and lay out concrete and explicit strategies on how to shift from an ego-based to a soul-based leadership style in order to inspire others more effectively at work.

The Two Voices- Soul and Ego

In the world of the everyday, there are voices that disconnect us from others and compete and threaten to silence the voice of the soul. Consequently, our first task is to learn to be aware of the other voices that threaten to dominate us in making personal and leadership decisions. Two very different and competing voices—that of the ego and that of the soul—live in constant conflict within us. We are socialized in our culture to be ego-driven; that is, to operate from a position of exclusive self-reference, as expressed in popular expressions such as “What’s in it for me” or “It’s my way or the highway.” The problem with this approach is that it is very narcissistic and myopic and can threaten, or even destroy, the potential of a productive and inspirational connection with others.

An example of leading with the ego-driven voice is expressed in the statement of a devotee of an Eastern religion in Asia:

“One teaching is, you make money Monday to Friday, then on Saturday and Sunday you come to the temple and meditate and your mind will be more supple and clear so that on Monday you can make more money.”

Contrast this with a more soul-driven statement from the Dalai Lama:

“If we begin with the simple act of regularly helping others, for instance, even if we don’t feel particularly kind or caring, we may discover an inner transformation is taking place, as we gradually develop feelings of compassion [and, we would add, a commitment to the needs of the world-at-large].

Each of the statements above reflects clear goals and highly focused action. But they are qualitatively different in their primary motivation as well as the feelings that are experienced by individuals who lie by the one perspective or the other. While the motivation behind the first statement is obviously solely economic, the second one is about the type of (compassionate) people we can become through our individual or group contribution to causes greater than the self. In regards to the feeling states of living from the ego or the soul imagine the two following scenarios.

A person has just heard that they had received a highly contested and sometimes contentious promotion at their place of work. The announcement is made and the person feels a mixture of happiness and threat. Happiness at the achievement but ambivalence about being able to live up to the demands of the position or the fear that they may have reached a plateau in their career.

In the second scenario a person has just spent an evening with work colleagues at a dinner at their favorite restaurant. They had known each other of years, trusted each other deeply, and shared common interests and values. The conversation was convivial, explored deep issues, displayed personal and intellectual honesty, and reinforced the strong bond between the colleagues. This person left the event with a deep feel of happiness and contentment that let her sleep in peace that night.

The thesis of this chapter is that two very different and competing voices—that of the ego and that of the soul—are in a push-pull struggle within us.

Our task, in regards to these competing voices, is to take the time and imagination to listen to the voice of the soul and honor its directives. (We also need to recognize the voice of the ego for what it is and make the decision to attend to the soul instead)

The Voice of the Ego

The voice of the ego is used here in the popular sense, as in “He has a big ego” or “Her ego got in the way of team communication.” Intuitively, from this perspective, we are saying that the ego-driven person is being self-preoccupied, and (psychologically speaking), trying to hide a sagging self-esteem.

The ego is a cunning enemy that comes disguised as a friend. It tells that we are worth something because of our achievements, looks, possessions, social status, or intellectual abilities. It hints at a sense of entitlement and that makes us feel we deserve preferential treatment by life. It can prompt us to be sultry or angry when we are not the center of attention. So how then is the ego an enemy? We become so attached to the needs that it says it will fulfill in our lives we live in constant fear of losing things like prestige, status, or our youthfulness.

(We all struggle with our ego. But the tragedy is when we don’t see it for what it is. We judge that we a really living life to its fullest when really all we have is the illusion of the self. In fact, some call it the false self. This is the self is built on the lies we were told about what we were or should become. “You are the impression that you make” or “You are what you do ” or “You are your physical appearance.” And when we bought into such messages we lived inauthentic lives and missed what it meant to be a soul-inspired being).

In the end the ego is the illusion or poor imitation of the soul. It gives the mistaken impression that life is being lived to its fullest. After all is the person not “being of service in the community” and “making a difference for good in the world?” We may see philanthropic acts, selfless service, and bursts of imagination and energy and believe that we are viewing the soul at work. The trouble arises when the person’s chief driving force is self-aggrandizement, attachment to the fruit of the action, the desire to live up to the dictates of the false self. The public relations impact of the act is more important than the fact that people are helped. Motivation is the litmus test for our behavior to determine whether the origins are ego or soul-driven. But first we must understand the origins of the ego to know why we do what we do.

Its ways are learned but the origins often go back to early childhood. Ego-driven people often learn their ways by the manner in which their parents regarded them. The parents who sought to gain their worth through children may have emphasized the child’s looks or performance. The parents felt inadequate but the children made them look good. The children became the means for their own self-aggrandizement. Consequently, the children never really learn to be accepted for themselves and instead, came to believe that their value rested with how well they score on family measures of success or importance. Unfortunately, this situation is all too common in our culture that assigns value to an individual based on performance or appearance rather than character or contribution.

But the ego-driven life does not end with its focus on accomplishments. It is also toxic to relationships. It uses others for its own ends. In relationships and other aspects of life, the ego-driven person listens only insofar as he can find others useful to his cause. He’s thinking, “How do I benefit from this relationship?”,  “What’s in this deal for me?”; “How do you make me look good?” Using people in this manner makes genuine intimacy and reciprocal love impossible, leaving ego-driven individuals lonely and unsatisfied in their relationships.

Ways to get beyond the ego

1. Feel the pain that it causes

The pain of having one’s person eclipsed by measures of performance can be our teacher after we are left feeling empty and unsatisfied. Unfulfilled longings linger as we desire acceptance for what we are or the value of our contribution. The soul gets bored with the empty pursuit of image. But the ego is not easily dissuaded since rewards like praise and promotion are not to be sniffed at. It is also very cunning in its efforts to ‘con’ us into believing that it is really what life is all about. Both the advertisement and the ego tell us “Life does not get any better than this” or “the one who dies with the most toys wins”. The good news is that a creative tension is set up in the conflict between the soul and ego. It can force an examination of the rewards and consequences of attending to either voice. We read of a lawyer who leaves a high-powered job to teach inner city kids because she perceives that to be her passion and calling. She followed the call of the soul. Like her, we all suffer the pangs of a life lived apart from the soul seen in boredom, lack of imagination, and sterile relationships. We then search for a better way.

2. Reflect on the shallowness of relationships based on the ego.

3. Expose yourself to the transforming light of self-awareness. “What is the cost to me of living with an attachment to all my ego needs?” “Lack of meaningful and fulfilling connection to others?” “A sense that there must be more to life than this”?

There has to be a better way to lives our lives other than being a prisoner to the dictates of the ego.

The Voice of Soul

The soul speaks in subtle, indirect, and surprising ways. However, since our soul is primarily detectable in the quality of our relationships how do we know when it is speaking to us and we are living according to its dictates or prompting? We experience soul when we:

Feel connected to someone’s essence. (The person reports feeling understood and validated)

Respond to the person’s deepest needs and values (For example, that person’s need to make a contribution)

And that connection inspires them. (The person reports that we have connected with one of their five inspirational sources).

We are aware of and remain detached from the needs of the ego.

Any disruption in a relationship, whether it is through unresolved conflict, unwarranted assumptions, jealousy, envy, or hurtful events that may have occurred, leaves us with the choice. Gary Zukav is right when he writes: “What you intend is what you become.” In order to be soul-driven persons and therefore inspirational we need to choose to live from the soul and this involves understanding and starving the ego.

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