When the Heat is On (Part 2)

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When I first got out of law school, I went to work for a man who had a less than glowing reputation in the legal field. A very competent lawyer, he was however extremely poor with people, especially those who happened to work for him. Not capable of dealing with them effectively while under pressure, he sought to lead by aggressiveness and intimidation, but this never succeeded in bringing forth their best effort or inspiring any form of loyalty. For sure, people got their work done because they wanted to be paid, but they didn’t stay around for long because the cons of working there far outweighed the pros.

Of all the places that I have worked at in my life, I have never seen a turnover of staff like I saw in that office, and that speaks volumes about the type of work environment that this man fostered. Having to finish my articled clerkship to get admitted as a lawyer, this was the foremost reason for staying there as long as I did. Spending some sixteen months there, I found myself having to fight very hard against the temptation to leave. Seeing others come and go on a regular basis, I desired to follow them out the door, but I knew at a deep level that I would sorely regret leaving without having achieved the goal of admission.

As much as I wanted to respect this man and hold him up as a professional role model, I just couldn’t do it once I got to know him because there was no consistency to his character. Who he appeared to be to clients was quite a different person to who he was behind the scenes, and who he was with a lighter workload was far removed from the person he became when the heat was on. Very egotistical and self-serving with his demands, he was a leader in title only, who nobody really wanted to follow because he was hypocritical and disrespectful. In it for the money and prestige, he was motivated by all the wrong reasons that ultimately undercut his ability to be effective as a leader.

While my time at his firm was not enjoyable, having to endure these adverse circumstances did however bear fruit in a serendipitous way. Bringing me into contact with the man who was the inspiration for this entry, it allowed me to understand what a true leader in the legal context looks like. While working on one of the firm’s bigger cases, I served as junior counsel under one of the most respected barristers in the state. As attuned with people as he was with the goings on in the courtroom, he was not a man who egotistically demanded respect, but commanded it through considered action.

Everything this barrister did exuded class. From the way he held himself, to the way he treated others with importance, demonstrated to me that he understood what I am writing about here. I had seen this individual in both social settings and in very tense and chaotic work situations, and his calm and composed demeanour did not change. Who he was to me was the same person that he was to his colleagues and his personal assistant. Recently running into a friend who works closely with this gentleman, she also spoke volumes about his personal and professional qualities that she sought to emulate as a young lawyer. How wonderful to be able to have that impact on people, and inspire them by your presence and very example. This to me is leadership at the most essential level.

While we may be tempted to flee the kitchen if we are struggling to deal with the heat, acting on that impulse will not serve us if our intention is to evolve on our leadership journey. Just as the strongest steel is forged in the hottest fire, so does our character prosper when we are willing to endure the challenges of life to learn its lessons. Character is being dedicated to the process of manifesting spirit in form, which is not always easy, but this is our task. Heavy lies the crown of those who were born to create and experience an ever evolving world.


When the Heat is On (Part 1)

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Who are you when the heat is on, and how do you show up in the world during those challenging times? Do you accept responsibility and stay centered in your spiritual source of strength, or do you come apart and start to blame or attack those who you encounter? By contemplating the answers to these questions, we can learn much about the base from which we operate, and whether we are truly open and receptive to the full spectrum of life’s lessons.

It was once said that, “who we are is ultimately revealed, not in times of comfort, but in times of great adversity”. Often, we like to think that we have it all together, when we really don’t. Wanting to present our best self to the world, we distort our self-image to serve our own ego needs, not necessarily because we are bad people, but because we are confused about who we are, and afraid of what others will think of us if we cease to hold the mask of togetherness to our face.

Holding ourselves together is easy when we are comfortable in a situation, but it is much harder to maintain that composure and sense of self-control when the situation challenges us in a big way and calls for courage in action. Adversity has a pointed way of melting the mask that we think we are. Getting at the very core of who we are at our particular stage of evolution, it brings to the surface those shadow elements that we would rather hide from. Revealing both our shortcomings and the dormant seeds of our giftedness, these forms of resistance bring us into contact with our highest potential that is intimately connected to our deepest pain. Placing them in front of our eyes for our earnest reconciliation, we are forced to stand naked before the world, and the mirror of self-reflection.

Without confronting ourselves in this real way, we cannot become leaders in our own life. When I think of the quote mentioned above, it speaks to me of the virtue of integrity, which is being who you know yourself to be, and showing up in the same way, regardless of what you are being faced with in your external environment. These elements of authenticity and calm consistency are the markers of truly great leaders. Who these individuals are in the backstage portions of their lives, is the same as who they are in the public eye. Not duplicitous in nature, the people who follow them know what to expect in their presence and this engenders trust, respect and loyalty. Guided by consciousness, these individuals promise a refuge from the storm those most fear will overcome them.

While no one can deliver this entirely due to the many facets of the environment that are unpredictable and beyond our control, the best chance lay in the man or woman who has learned as much from their intuition and innate wisdom as they have from education and practical experience in the physical world. To live with this inspired congruity, we must do the inner work before the outer rewards will come to fruition. Not flowing to the Dr Jekyll and Mr Hydes of this world, it is our inner conflicts that we need to resolve before we can hope to settle the outer conflicts that divide us on so many levels.

When we attempt to resolve conflict in the world without having first resolved our own inner conflict, we make matters worse rather than better. Having the best intentions to do good, they are no match for those shadow elements of our character that lead us to say one thing and do another. True it is that the road to ruin is paved with good intentions. To move collectively towards enlightenment in the world, we must grow to become responsive to the promptings of our spirit, even when life is not visibly testing us. This is the work of the leader, which we are all capable of undertaking, if we would only let go of the illusion that we are trying so hard to maintain in the company of our creature comforts.


The Positive Side of Stress (Part 3)

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Eventually coming into contact with my potential as a writer, the confidence that I gained through my diligent practice of the art started to override the fear and doubt that until then had been sabotaging my efforts in a variety of ways. Becoming more integrated in this respect, my passion and creative juices began to flow more freely, which allowed me to experience writing as joyful. Feeling that positive energy and trusting in the wisdom that it inspired, the quality of my work improved dramatically because the walls of resistance had been broken down by my spirit that had grown tired of being supressed by the onerous weight of my distress.

While an experience of eustress can acquaint us with the infinite nature of life, and by so doing inspire a deeper level of engagement with all that it encompasses, distress has the contrary effect of separating us from our spiritual nature. Closing us off mentally, emotionally and physically, our ability to meaningfully connect with the experiences of our life is diminished to an extent that we forget what it truly means to be alive.

Think of a time when you felt distress at work. Having, for example, an unreasonable deadline to meet or an uncooperative boss to deal with, these challenging circumstances that were likely perceived as unsettling, would have interfered with your focus and ability to execute, and as a result your best efforts were compromised. Subdued by the waves of negative thoughts and emotions that filled your mind and body in response to these happenings, your creative and intuitive spark would not have ignited to contribute to the work, in the way that it otherwise would have if you had been in a more centred state of peace and clarity.

Our relationships are also negatively impacted by the distress that we feel. Consumed by the source of our perceived problems, we give less freely to those who we love, and what little we manage to offer them is tainted by the negativity that we project onto them. Taking away from the quality of the relationship, they will be less inclined to be present and supportive of us, not understanding the true source of our discontent.

This is why it is important to be vulnerable and open when we are burdened by distress. Sharing our struggle with others who are willing to be there for us unconditionally, our load is lightened to the point that we become capable of effectively dealing with those testing circumstances. Receiving the benefit not only of their loving and accepting energy, but also their broader perspective, solutions are given the space to emerge and ease our distress.

Appearing also in prayer, meditation and contemplative solitude, these breakthroughs come to us through the process of surrender that sees us turn our problems over to the presence of God within. Giving us the strength, insight and wisdom to deal with these challenges gracefully, we will return to a state of balance from which we can experience more positive and uplifting forms of stress.

By saying yes to eustress, we can move to a higher realm of being and functioning that make the moments of our lives more enjoyable and fulfilling. While life is fraught with challenges, we need not let them overcome us. Ultimately, we have the power to choose our responses to the events and circumstances of our lives, so it is with courage that we must give ourselves to the happenings of life that prompt us to growth. I achieved a great result for Advanced Quantitative Research Methods and have since moved further along in my academic journey. Understanding and embracing the positive side of stress made that possible, and without it I would have remained stuck, which would have been a failure far greater than not getting the required marks to pass the unit.


The Positive Side of Stress (Part 2)

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Each of us are called to grow and evolve as human beings, and eustressful experiences assist in this process. Awakening us to the wealth of potential that is inherent in our being, these experiences allow us to more fully access and express our innate wisdom, natural talents, and spiritual virtues, such as courage, resilience and engagement.

What these eustressful experiences look like will ultimately be determined by the essence of the person experiencing them, their level of consciousness and the associated beliefs which shape how they see themselves and the world. With this, the individual experiencing eustress will likely have a positive perception of the ‘stressor’, or at least be open to its presence in the context of their life.

Having a negative perception of a person, thing or event generates internal resistance which leads to a state of distress. Someone who doesn’t like skydiving, for example, because they fear that it will cause them to die, will not enjoy the experience of thinking about skydiving, let alone doing it. Compare this to the experience of the person whose passion is skydiving. Loving the process of jumping from a plane and free falling before activating their parachute and floating back down to terra firma, their response to the same stimulus will be characterised by intense pleasure and exhilaration.

With the former person who has negative associations with the activity of skydiving, they would experience significant distress if they were made to jump out of a plane. The latter individual, on the other hand, will not have this barrier between their being and the activity, which will allow them to truly engage with the process and experience eustress as they embark on their aerial joy ride.

Now, it might be possible for the former person to experience eustress when skydiving, if under the fear of the activity, they have an undiscovered liking for it, but until they move past that fear through repeated exposure, they will continue to experience distress as a response to the stimulus of skydiving. Sometimes it is the case that our greatest fears are centred in the area of our true spiritual giftedness. Not being ready to honour our integrity and embrace our innate potential for greatness, we will experience many of the facets of our authentic purpose as pain producing sources of distress.

For so many years I absolutely despised reading, and would not pick up a book if you paid me to. Having a very negative view of education because of my repressive early high school experience and the pain that I had endured through the death of my father during that time, I wasn’t open to any form of learning, and I actively rebelled against the process. It was only after I grew a little older and matured that I realised the importance of education, and when the penny finally dropped, a shift occurred in me that revealed a great love of books.

Consuming them voraciously for almost twenty years now, the lessons from these books have changed my life in so many ways, and I enjoy nothing more than the time that I spend in solitude reading about things that expand my horizons. Nourishing my being while challenging my base of knowledge, I experience a high level of eustress whenever I engage in this activity. What once caused me distress now has the opposite effect, but to get to that point, I had to do a lot of inner work and clear up some negative misperceptions that I had towards learning that were holding me back in life.

Another massive shift in my life took place when I finally allowed myself to fully embrace writing. Until that time I had resisted it heavily because I thought that it required a level of talent and skill that I didn’t have, or ever think that I would have. Being a substantial intrinsic barrier that caused me much distress when I first put pen to paper, it was a feeling that persisted while I remained detached from my calling, even though I was taking steps to explore it more deeply.


The Positive Side of Stress (Part 1)

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The impact of stress on our lives cannot be understated. Whether it is encountered at work, in the home or in our personal relationships, the effect that it has on our ability to function is significant and far-ranging. Predictable in some respects, it is equally unpredictable in others. Influencing the thought and behaviour patterns, and the emotional states of individuals, in a predominantly negative way, stress can also, and often does, play a positive role in stimulating personal and professional growth, and an elevated level of human performance.

This, I experienced firsthand a number of years ago when I was studying Advanced Quantitative Research Methods at university. A statistics and formula based unit, the content of which I neither liked nor really understood for that matter, it presented me with numerous challenges that led me to experience a fair amount of apprehension and doubt concerning my ability to meet its requirements. Needing to complete the unit to be eligible to undertake a higher degree by research, my doctoral ambitions hinged on me passing the unit with a distinction or higher.

Having two major assignments to complete before the semester ended, I would dedicate one of them to the topic of stress, which I learned a lot about in my preparations, and more intimately by observing my psychological and physiological responses to the demands imposed by this foreign language that I was expected to dissect, comprehend and intelligibly discuss with my classmates.

Not knowing what I was doing until I did the groundwork to get up to speed, I experienced much distress, which is the negative form of stress that brings about acute mental or physical suffering, anxiety or sorrow. Being what we frequently experience when we lose a loved one, get diagnosed with a serious illness, or face the prospect of bankruptcy, the stressor doesn’t have to be so significant for the distress response to be triggered. Being stuck in traffic when we have an important meeting to get to, having to sit an exam, or being verbally abused by an angry person, can all cause us milder levels of distress that reduce our cognitive ability to constructively deal with the event or circumstance that confronts us.

For me in this situation, the cause of distress was the divide that existed between what I had to learn and what I could understand. Not having a background in statistics, I didn’t have the context to confidently deal with the subject matter. Add to this the time pressure of having to meet impending deadlines with the submission of these assessments, and you can appreciate why I had my fair share of anxious moments in the lead up to them being due.

Being a tangible burden that frequently consumed my thoughts, the combination of these factors also served as a powerful motivator to get the work done well, and move a step closer to the commencement of my doctorate. Knowing that I had a limited time to complete the assignments, I diligently went to work in preparing them. Enjoying the growthful process of stretching myself through new learning and meeting the demands of the task, I would come to embody and bear witness to the positive side of stress.

Eustress is a term that was first used by endocrinologist Hans Selye. The man who founded the theory of stress, he used it to describe a positive state of mental, physical or spiritual tension. Otherwise described as a process of exploring potential gains, eustress is what we experience when we push beyond our perceived limits in the direction, not of our superficial desires, but of our highest intentions.


The Simple Smile (Part 2)

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I find it to be pretty amazing that something so powerful has been freely given to us by our creator. For so many of us, we have been strongly conditioned to believe that only the things that money can buy have value. Clearly, this is not true. While money allows us to access different things that serve to enrich our experience of life, it cannot buy the joy, peace and contentment, which communicate to the world through our smile that we are harmoniously integrated with the spiritual substance of our being.

Why so many people find it hard to smile is because they are stuck in their own head. Consumed with the past aspects of their lived experience, or focused on the events of the future, they are absent of mind and closed of heart, with the consequence that they cannot perceive the abundance richness that the spirit has infused life with. Everything that surrounds us is a potential source of joyful and conscious awakening, but before we can appreciate this reality, we have to learn to take ourselves and the events of our life less seriously. By this, I am not saying that we should stop caring about the things that mean the most to us, but that we should favour a gentle and light-hearted approach to life that allows us to appreciate its journey as we go along.

The overarching tension that poisons our daily experience of life largely arises from the belief that who we are and what we have in this moment is lacking, and that to be more, we must be continually striving to get more. Subscribing to this distorted paradigm, it is very hard to smile through the stress and strain that have us perpetually resisting against life.

I have encountered many people who are so anxious and uptight because of their ego-centred desire to get ahead in the world. Chasing after those things that money can buy, they take for granted the things in their life that money can’t buy. While there is nothing inherently wrong with achievement and the pursuit of excellence, when these things come at the expense of our ability to appreciate and engage with life, then we have a real problem. Being on the journey of growing into our potential, it is natural that we would enjoy the process.

Why then do people find it hard to express joy during the course of their days? Because they are not being in balance, and are functioning from the disempowered self that is the ego. Habitually forcing the issue, their life energy becomes scattered, as does the joy that is starved of the opportunity to express itself when we live this way. Fleeting in its coming, we experience a greater sense of suffering and loss upon its going.

For the better part of my twenties I knew this too well. Frequently asking myself the question, how can I get more of the things that I want?, I seldom if ever genuinely smiled because I was looking at my life from an impoverished perspective. It was only when I really started to evolve spiritually and mature in my worldview that I developed the capacity to smile for no other reason than I had life, and the opportunity each day to continually become more, just by being who I was created to be. This wisdom is so easy to lose sight of, and we resist against it so mightily.

In one of my previous works, I wrote about small things that make a big difference. Smiling is one of those things when it is an authentic expression of who we are, and the joy that we have to share. Not everyone has the alluring smile of a Jennifer Lawrence or George Clooney, but this doesn’t matter at all. When we heartily smile, we convey a beauty and warmth that is not visible when our face is contorted by vain worries and discontent. This beauty and warmth comes from the soul, the source of our very being that is always open and receptive to life because it is the embodiment of the life force within us.

When we live in harmony with the soul, we will meet life where it is. Flowing with the promptings of our spirit, we bring our best to the world and have a blast in the process. The most ‘successful’ people, in the truest sense of that word, are the most fulfilled people who have connected with the spiritual reservoir of abundance within themselves. Feeling their joy intensely with the intention to infuse the world with it, they give freely of their smiles.

Here, my mind turns to the spirited and adventurous entrepreneur, Richard Branson, who is perpetually smiling. Whenever I see him in the news, he is always sporting a grin that communicates to the world how much fun he is having with his life. While many may think that the smile came with the tremendous wealth that he has accumulated, the truth is that the smile and money both came because he was first engaged with his spirit, and committed to manifesting the calling that he was born with. True wealth comes to those who smile, laugh, love and serve with passion. Relax into a life that is aligned with spirit, and just as a smile is effortless in its expression, so will your contentment and flourishing be amidst the necessary doings of the physical world.


The Simple Smile (Part 1)

A smile is the universal welcome. ~ Max Eastman

Each smile is a gift that one person gives to another, and when they are authentically expressed, they have a way of breaking down the defences of the fearful, stressed and suspicious, by bringing them into conscious contact with their essential nature. The spirit is joyous, carefree and grateful for the opportunity to just be. Living in its light, we find it easy to smile and laugh, not because life is without difficulty, but because our heart is open to being amazed and entertained by the spectacle that life is.

Modern life is not easy going, but we can choose to be. By making the decision to go with the flow of the life force as we encounter it, we add depth to our lived experience and find ourselves capable of connecting with a richer meaning and sense of contentment that ego based thinking and status quo living do not resonate with. When we are resisting against life, we find it very hard to smile. Stuck in the belief that life should present itself in ways that we find agreeable, our efforts consist of vain attempts at control and subsequent relief, when our resistance inevitably bumps up against life’s reality. To this end, the expressions on our faces tell a story of exasperation and bewilderment.

Continually seeking to go somewhere other than where we find ourselves, and feeling the pressure of not getting there fast enough, we cannot bring ourselves to stillness, being the space from which we can delight in our blessings and the natural world that surrounds us. Incapable of being at one with the true source of joy in our life, we ask to be amused and distracted by artificial agents. Holding onto the hope that these dalliances can build the bridge to our integrity, we remain separated from our spirit which teaches that with the present moment comes the ability to express joy in infinite amounts.

Having distanced ourselves from this wisdom, we allow the ego to take us over to the detriment of our well-being and happiness. Conditioned to participate in the rat race, we lose ourselves in the maze, not only of the world but also of the unconscious mind, which under the ego’s tutelage teaches that we cannot enjoy the journey because we have some better place to get to. Oriented towards the future, we see not the vast potential for joy that the present moment holds. This, we had no difficulty appreciating once upon a time, not because we didn’t have the demands of the world on our shoulders, but because we were authentically attuned to the voice of the spirit, and the experience of joy that it was continually calling us into.

As children, we had no difficulty in smiling at random. Living in the moment, it was the expression that came most naturally to us. Finding joy in whatever we were doing, we didn’t need to be invested in anything outside of ourselves because we were fully present in experiencing life as a new adventure. Innately appreciating the novelty of every new day, we couldn’t help but smile at the prospect of learning and growing through our involvement with life. Expressing our silent gratitude through our enthusiastic engagement, we didn’t have to use words to communicate how beautiful we found life to be. Conveyed by the joyful expression on our faces, this was the gift that we gave to those who witnessed our bliss, and attested to our humble wisdom.

Given the choice whether to smile or meet the world with a stone face, what would the conscious individual do? Concerned with elevating the condition of the world through their state of being, they would choose to smile. Our experience shows us that smiling is highly contagious and transformative in its effect. Like yawning, it holds an energy that we pass onto others who we come into contact with. From the metaphysical heart comes the joyous energy that gives birth to a smile and then laughter. Embodying this energy and then transmitting it, we can change the course of others days. What may have begun as a testing day, can quickly turn around because of the simple exposure to a cheerful smile.