Enabling the Acorn to Flourish (Part 2)

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We cannot truly prosper if we are lying to ourselves about who we essentially are. Wearing this false facade, our divine purpose will be prevented from rising to the surface of our being. With this purpose being trapped in the realm of the heart, we will experience great tension and uncertainty, until we find the courage to reconcile the fractured aspects of our being with that source of wholeness that is otherwise known as spirit.

This I know from personal experience. It wasn’t until I gave up my career practicing law that my love and talent for writing and teaching was able to shine through. Holding onto my inauthentic identity, I deprived myself of the opportunity to reveal to the world the essence of who I am. With the tension of my incongruity becoming too much to bear, I effected the shift from a career to a calling within myself. Travelling down the unique path that is mine to walk, I now enjoy a quality of life that far surpasses the drudgery that my previous life represented.

Doing what I love and loving what I do, I sometimes can’t believe the journey that I have been on, and the transitions that with the benefit of hindsight, were not made soon enough. This, I don’t regret however, for I have come to learn that every shift is made in perfect time. Not having previously been ready to bring forth my greatest gifts, I was really no different than the many people who let fear get in the way of the love that they have for what they really want to do.

Everyone has something that they genuinely love to do. Whether it is dancing, cooking, mentoring, caring for animals or raising children, your vocation is the cherished endeavour that you could easily spend your time doing, even if you weren’t getting paid for it. Capturing your attention and awakening your passion, your calling is what brings meaning to your efforts and fulfilment to your heart. Making you feel alive, it is what provokes the state of flow which allows you to perform to the best of your present moment ability. Stimulating wildly your curiosity and imagination, this call to actualise the best version of yourself, powerfully motivates you to evolve and pursue a vision that makes a positive impact on the course of human history.

When I contemplate this aspect of a vocation, my mind turns to the remarkable legacies left by Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa and Václav Havel. Prophetic figures who wholeheartedly gave themselves to a vision and brought it about, they fulfilled in life their highest potential, and died without experiencing the regrets of the half-lived life. Doing what they knew they were put on earth to do, the impact that they had was vast, and the commitment that they had for their cause still resonates powerfully in the world today.

With this I ask you, how intense is the love that you have for that which you spend the majority of your time doing? If you have no love for, or derive no meaning from, what you do for work, then I can guarantee you that you are not living in alignment with your calling. If you wake up every day dreading what is ahead, then I would recommend doing something different that allows you to express the light that you have within. If this can’t be done now for legitimate reasons, then I would suggest taking small steps towards your calling, so that the stage can be set for more intimately engaging with it in the future. It is not always realistic or wise to dramatically change course, especially when others are dependent on us to provide for them, but we should not let this of itself, deter us from doing what we know in our heart is the right thing to do.

What is right for us at the spiritual level, will always be right for those whom we love. In this, we must not harbour the fear that living our vocation will negatively impact our loved ones. Harmoniously pursued and balanced with other responsibilities, their reasonable concerns should be allayed, and their support won by our willingness to include them on the journey. So much of the resistance that is encountered in this respect, stems from our ego based tendency to single-mindedly pursue one thing to the exclusion of all else.

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Enabling the Acorn to Flourish (Part 1)

The greatest achievement was at first and for a time a dream. The oak sleeps in the acorn, the bird waits in the egg, and in the highest vision of the soul, a waking angel stirs. Dreams are the seedlings of realities ~ James Allen.

An acorn is truly an amazing component of nature. The seed that an oak tree starts out as, it carries in it such power and potentiality for realisation. Fitting comfortably in the palm of a human hand, it takes on a life of its own when planted, and in time sprouts to a size that is much greater than the person who once held it. Growing into the world through this process, the form that the oak takes above the surface is beautiful and awe-inspiring.

I mention the acorn here because very recently I was reviewing one of my favourite books, The Soul’s Code by James Hillman, in which he explores the metaphor of the acorn. Mythologically, the acorn represents the seed of our vocation that was planted in us before we entered the physical world. Holding our highest potentiality and the gifts that will facilitate our self-actualisation, it is both our task, and the responsibility of the world, to honour and nurture these seeds (in ourselves and in others). As we do this by participating in the collective dance of evolution, we enable each other to flourish as oaks do, and stand out in the landscape of life to indicate something that is profound and meaningful.

While it often appears that the world is not complicit in our efforts to actualise the best version of ourselves, we cannot abdicate our responsibility to give a voice to our calling. The Latin interpretation of the word ‘vocation’ is vocare, that when translated means ‘voice’. Extensions of the divine creator that many call God, we have within us this same source of being, that is continually prompting us to fulfil our function/s and manifest the qualities of spirit in everything that we do. With these qualities of love, creativity and authenticity (among others) representing our highest potential, they are what we are called to express through our thoughts, words and actions, at home, in the workplace and in the other spheres of our lives.

I think that when most people hear the word ‘vocation’, their mind turns to the formalities of religion, where priests and nuns are held up to be favoured by God because of the devoted service that they are rendering to the church. A mistakenly narrow perception, it doesn’t accord with the spiritual wisdom which teaches that we all have a purpose/s in our hearts that we have been given life to relate with and fulfil. Even Martin Luther and John Calvin, in challenging the edicts of the church, came to the conclusion that a vocation is so expansive in its substance that it cannot be reserved for members of the church, or any other religious instrumentality.

Finding its foundation within us, a vocation is something that is inescapable. What this means is that we cannot not have one, even if in our unconsciousness we may think that we have been created without it. Many people believe that they don’t have a vocation, simply because they haven’t found it yet. What they don’t understand however is that just because they can’t see something doesn’t mean that it is not there. In these cases that I have encountered personally and through my research work, I have identified a variety of fears and other barriers that in one way or another prevents these individuals from looking deeply into themselves and discovering what their vocation is.

Thinking that this revelation should present itself at their whim, they are naive in their expectations because that which delivers the richest rewards, must be given to and worked hard for. When I say worked hard for, I am not referring to frenetic activity in the outside world, but rather the process of engaging in spiritual exploration, and the price that it asks us to pay for internal freedom and clarity.

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Quitters Can Prosper

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It has been said that quitters never prosper, but with this I heartily disagree. Quitters can prosper, when what is left behind is that which is not aligned with the call of one’s heart. So much of the modern success literature teaches us that if we are to succeed, we need to do whatever it takes to break down the doors that stand between where we are and the destination that we want to reach.

Don’t get me wrong. Persistence and dedication are wonderful things to exhibit when a dream is being pursued. With dreams being those things that we desire with the deepest fiber of our being, it is the movement towards these things that allows us to experience joy, excitement and passion, as we go about creating a legacy that is unique and fulfilling.

But where this ‘never give in’ mentality becomes harmful, is when it is applied by those who know not who they are and what they want in life. Inevitably, when we do not know intrinsically who we are and what we want along the journey, we will become vulnerable to being taught of these things by external forces, such as society at large or by cultural conditioning. With the values of the tribe that animate those external forces not resonating with us at the deepest level, we are left to feel empty and unfulfilled, as we march to a drumbeat that is not our own. Driven by the ego to complete what we have started, we often find ourselves in a race that we don’t want to run. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

A number of years ago when I was living in London, I worked at a direct marketing company for a period of time. Participating in their Management Training Program, I was told in specific terms what I needed to do to reach the highest level of management. No problem, I thought. Starting the program, I was very excited with what I was doing and the results that I was achieving. Surrounded by very ambitious and similarly motivated people, I felt like a part of the family, and I enjoyed being in that environment very much.

But as time went on, and I learned what I needed to take out of the experience of being there and doing that, I felt a strong compulsion to move on. Having always been quite an introspective and intuitive person, this is what I allowed to guide me when there were important decisions to be made in my life. But this is what many within the company could not understand when I communicated my decision. Steeped in the view that only losers quit, and that I shouldn’t give up, the people who rebuked me could not move beyond the boundaries of their conditioning to understand where I was coming from. While it would have been easy to be hurt by this, ultimately I realised that it would have been impossible for them to discern my internal call to move into something else, which gave me a level of compassion towards their position.

Knowing what I must do, I moved on despite the good opinion of others, and while it was difficult to leave behind those who I considered to be friends, I never doubted the wisdom of my decision. Unfulfilled and restless within myself towards the end of my tenure, I understood that change was called for and, honouring this need, I moved closer to where my heart was calling me to be. Wanting me to engage in a writing sabbatical, it was this that I gave myself to, and while I had forgone some monetary benefits and relationships, it was nothing that I lost sleep over.

Given the choice, we should always honour the voice of our heart over the voice of the world. Calling us to be authentic and courageous, so does it call us to be alert and adaptable as we walk down the path of life. This journey we are on is not linear, but one with twists and turns, and opportunities that do not always present themselves conspicuously. To make the most of these opportunities, we must know ourselves to trust ourselves, and move in the direction that feels true and right for us. If others call this quitting, it should not detract from our mission to be all that we can be, and contributing to the world as only we can.

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Domestic Factors which Impact a Lived Calling

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There are many different factors associated with a person’s family situation which can impact upon their ability to live their calling. My intention with this piece is to highlight and address these factors, which emerged from my research findings. The role of the family plays a significant part in our daily lives, and if we can better understand how our family life intersects with our lived calling journey, we can take more effective steps towards harmonising these two integral aspects of our being.

Perhaps not surprisingly, one of the most frequently cited enablers to a lived calling was receiving support in the home. Many a respondent glowed when they talked about their spouse or partner understanding the calling that they felt, and being willing to assist in realising it more fully. The making of sacrifices for the good of the person responding to a call was a common feature of these people’s stories, as was the willingness of the person living their calling to reciprocate this support at other points in time. As some of the respondents communicated, they felt that they couldn’t have done what they did without their significant other walking with them along the journey.

The presence of children also appeared to have a strong motivating effect on these individuals who were living their calling. At least in part, what they did in pursuing that path was for their children, and to ensure that the life they were leading, was better than what they as parents experienced growing up. This is not to imply that the family environments that these respondents grew up in were bad. Despite some respondents enduring some early challenges such as poverty or disadvantageous social conditions, the vast majority talked about the blessings of being raised in a nurturing and supportive household, where their parents believed in them and cultivated the qualities of character, which served them well along the journey to living their calling. Many of the respondents who were raised this way, cited it as a powerful influence that shaped how they raised their own kids, and the supportive position they would adopt in enabling their children to pursue their own callings.

So far, I have covered the more positive impacts of the family on a lived calling, but there are also some ways in which our family situation can hold us back in living our calling. Being raised in a neglectful, ignorant or abusive household, where parents haven’t nurtured a calling or the inner qualities of confidence, determination and resilience in their children, can present a considerable barrier to a person being able to get on the path to living their calling. Other less obvious barriers to a lived calling that respondents identified in relation to family were having children, less available time to pursue a work-related calling, and the pressures of having to provide for a family.

While these respondents no doubt loved their children, and were willing to trade time in their work for time with their families, it was acknowledged that with all of the time that one invests in raising children, that time could have otherwise been invested in the pursuit of a calling that was expressed outside the home. On the point of experiencing additional pressures to provide for a family, it was appreciated that with a family come responsibilities, and therefore, one cannot just put their family to the side to selfishly pursue a calling for themselves. Instead of resisting against the reality of these familial responsibilities, numerous respondents chose to embrace the challenge of balancing and integrating these two aspects of their lives, so that they could nourish and complement each other.

It is enticing to envision the living of one’s calling as a solo venture, however these findings point to a different reality in which the family plays a pivotal role in facilitating our vocational success. While their influence is determinative, I still don’t believe that it is absolute to living our calling because there are many other innate factors within our ability to control and spiritual resources to draw upon, which can move us in the direction of our higher purpose. If we didn’t have supportive parents growing up, or they didn’t have a sense of vocation for us to emulate, that may have made our path to living our calling more challenging, but that path still exists for us to take that journey. Ultimately, we have the greatest say in whether that path will be taken, and where there is a will to live with meaning and purpose, there is a way to live our calling.

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What Integrity in Leadership Really Means

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Of all the qualities that are crucial for leaders to possess, integrity is near or at the top of the list. But what is integrity, and how is it manifested? In recent times, integrity has almost become a subjectively determined buzzword for business that is thrown around to build trust and credibility with potential customers. In the process of this happening, the real meaning of integrity has become obscured, which is quite a concern given that integrity in leadership has never been more important than it is now. The scandals within the Catholic Church and banking sector, and with high ranking politicians who promise one thing but deliver another, testify to this truth.

One of the more common definitions of integrity that I hear bandied about is when a person’s behaviour reflects a deeply held set of values. I would certainly agree that this is a valid aspect of how integrity in leadership can be manifested, but as an encompassing definition, I think that it is largely inadequate. My research into the role of a lived calling in driving leadership behaviour has presented me with very strong evidence to suggest that integrity in leadership comprises so much more. On the basis of my findings, I would define integrity in the leadership context as, a person’s ability to create and maintain a state of internal and external wholeness.

Having provided this definition, what I want to do now is provide some examples of how integrity in leadership was practiced by members of my sample group. Fundamentally, at the core level of their being, these people lived in alignment with their calling which led them to demonstrate tangible leadership behaviours. As they did this, they maintained a state of wholeness where what they did was reflective of who they were. Contrast this with someone who by their actions is not giving expression to their calling. Effecting a divide between who they are and what they are doing, this person would be incapable of demonstrating integrity in leadership as I have defined it, because they do not exist in a state of wholeness. This leadability is fluid of course, but this person who is living out of alignment with their calling cannot move into this space until they first create a state of wholeness within themselves.

Other ways that members of my sample group created wholeness in their lives was by engaging in practices such as meditation, solitude and contemplative reflection, which allowed their true spiritual selves to come forth and guide their paths in life. Living their lives in a balanced way was also a high priority for these people, which diminished the risk of areas of their lives being neglected, and the potential which that had to tear at the fabric of the integrity that they had cultivated.

This next part I find particularly interesting. When I explored the behaviours that these people living their calling demonstrated in their physical environment, the integrative nature of their movements became very clear. In the workplace for example, these people talked about bringing people together to create synergy in their organisations (to promote holistic functioning); practicing collaborative, open and inclusive working styles (to foster an esprit de corps of oneness); establishing links and networks with stakeholders (bringing other elements of their environment together for mutual support and gain); prioritising the growth of their people, and bringing them into alignment with their own sense of calling (assisting others to realise a state of wholeness).

If you look at the opposite of what I am describing above, ‘leaders’ who are not integrated, you can observe in their behaviour, a pervasive theme of creating separation or division, which undermines their ability to achieve wholeness. Donald Trump, who wants to build a wall between America and one of its closest neighbours, and Rodney Adler, who tore apart one of Australia’s largest insurance companies for personal gain, are prominent examples of this truth. I have stated before that ego is the biggest enemy of effective leadership, and not surprisingly, it is just as toxic to our integrity as well. The relationship between integrity and leadership is clear, and it turns out that the person who can create and maintain a state of wholeness, both within themselves and in their environment, is best equipped to consciously lead others.

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Debunking the Charisma Myth

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Charisma can be quite a difficult thing to define with words, and often it is one of those things in life where we feel that we know it when we see it. We look at movie stars, professional athletes, leaders and even some politicians, and say that they are charismatic, perhaps because this is the closest word in our vocabulary to describe what we believe we are looking at in that person. The problem, at least in part, in our labelling someone as charismatic, is that we are only basing our perception on what that individual presents to us. Not really knowing what they are like behind closed doors, or whether their public words or behaviour are in accord with their back stage life, we are susceptible to being fooled or charmed by an act which doesn’t reflect that person’s true character. Lance Armstrong and Rolf Harris are examples of this point, who during the height of their fame were labelled by many others as having charismatic auras. Knowing what we do now about these two individuals, I doubt that charisma is a word that would be used to describe them. So was their charisma ever real in the first place? This is a question that is well worth asking.

If you look at etymological origins of the word ‘charisma’, many meanings centre around the notion of a spiritual gift, or an expression of the divine force or grace within. In essence, what these definitions point to is charisma being demonstrated when we live in alignment with our spirit through the manifestation of our calling. As I stated in my piece on effortless engagement, when we live in alignment with our spirit and manifest our calling, we demonstrate a natural ability to draw others to us, which interestingly is how leadership expert John C. Maxwell defines charisma.

The unfortunate reality of the human condition is that as time has passed, we have minimised and neglected the spiritual foundation of our existence. One of the outcomes of this is that our understandings about life, and the modes of defining what we encounter as we live it, have become distorted. This goes a long way towards explaining our lack of clarity around what charisma is, and when it is being demonstrated by others.

In my experience, we have a propensity to get very confused between charisma and charm. We encounter people who present really well and say all the right things. Perhaps they flatter us or communicate something else to us that we want to hear, and because this makes us feel good we label them as charismatic. Many times we do this ignorantly, without an appreciation of the fact that what is motivating these people’s actions is the prospect of gain or advancement at our expense. This may sound cynical, but I am sure that many of you can appreciate the truth of this from your own experiences.

We live in a dog eat dog world that has been strongly shaped by ego consciousness, and in this environment charmers abound. The good news is that we as a collective are evolving (though you might not believe this if you watch the news on a daily basis), and as we continue to grow in spiritual consciousness, the presence of true charismatics will become more pronounced. I don’t want to make it sound like true charismatics are an endangered species. There are many of them manifesting their callings in the world, often with very little fanfare. This, they don’t mind because living in alignment with their spirit, they implicitly understand that what really matters is the service they render to others, not the attention that they receive from others.

As with many things, the ego is what blocks us from expressing the power of our charismatic true self. Teaching that charisma is externally imparted through the worldly achievement of status or authority, the ego obscures the truth that charisma is not to be found in striving, but in surrender. As Marianne Williamson so beautifully writes:

“Charisma is about letting God’s light shine through us. It’s about a sparkle in people that money can’t buy. It’s an invisible energy with visible effects. To let go, to just love, is not to fade into the wallpaper. Quite the contrary, it’s when we truly become bright. We’re letting our own light shine.”

Each of us is therefore inherently charismatic. I find the potentiality of this statement to be astounding. Just as darkness is eliminated by the presence of light, so is the healing of the world facilitated by our charisma shining forth. We have it within us, so why not make the decision to give each other what we want, and in these troubled times, what we desperately need.

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The Crisis of Confidence

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One of the unfortunate things that I see when I look out into the world is people who either don’t know what their calling is, or if they do know what it is, they have made the conscious choice to live out of alignment with it. The first type of scenario I have a good understanding of because of my own lived calling journey. The second scenario was more of a mystery to me, until I collected my research data which shed much light on why people would undermine the opportunity that they have to live their best life.

The process of discovering your calling is a journey that can take time to unfold, so there will be moments where we are in the dark about what our next move should be. I have been there, and only with the benefit of hindsight can I see moments of clarity that allowed me to better understand my calling. The greater tragedy though is when people have achieved a level of clarity around their calling, and yet have chosen to betray it by living an inauthentic life.

The reasons why people choose to neglect their calling are many, and I will deal with many of these reasons in future entries. The one that I want to focus on here is self-doubt or the lack of confidence in our ability to manifest our calling. Among the respondents to my study who were living their calling, many of them reported moments when they had a crisis of confidence that impaired their ability to move forward and more fully engage with their calling. For some, their experience of this barrier was temporary, for others it lasted a while longer. The part of the story that inspires hope though, is that in the end, they found it within themselves to believe in who they are and what they were given life to accomplish.

If these people can do it, then the good news is that we can too. As I analysed the stories of these people’s lives, along with my personal story, what emerged was the significance of being grounded in our true identity as we travel along the path to living our calling. French Philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin once said that “we are not human beings having a spiritual experience of life. We are spiritual beings having a human experience of life”. What he is bringing our attention to here is that our true identity is rooted in our spirit from which our calling emerges, not in the ego and its false beliefs about who we are. This might be shocking for us to hear because we have been so heavily conditioned to see ourselves as limited to the physical form and the ego-based beliefs that guide our physical existence on this planet, but if we are to learn what true confidence is about we need to move past that shock to connect to a deeper truth.

When we are grounded in our spirit and living in alignment with our calling, we become acutely aware of not only what our mission is, but also the gifts that we have been given to allow us to traverse that path successfully. Here, I am reminded of the marvellous saying that the spirit of God endows us with both a purpose and the means of its accomplishment. Blessed in abundance by this package deal, our embodiment of the highest form of spiritual confidence is dependent on our faith in the spiritual life. If we don’t believe in our calling or the fundamental relationship that we have with spirit, then no genuine confidence will exist to sustain a journey to the fulfilment of our calling. The best we can hope for in a life that is lived in concert with the ego is self-confidence, which on the surface may appear robust, but in its substance can be quite weak. If my identity is built around what I do and what I have, then when I cease to do what I do or lose what I have, then my self-confidence is going to take a big hit and render me ineffective.

We see this all the time with people who have suffered various forms of adversity and have not found the strength or confidence to recover. Perhaps a relationship that a person was invested in ended, and in the absence of their partner, they forgot who they are or what other purpose they have to serve. Another scenario is when someone who was once rich loses their fortune and because what they allowed to define them is no longer present, they slip into depression and helplessness. Whether we encounter this adversity or not, things need not be this way, and we can make the decision to connect with our core identity and live with the confidence that whatever comes our way, we can successfully deal with it because the basis of our spiritual existence is permanent, while these physical conditions or challenges are fleeting.

There is that wise wisdom which teaches us to build our house on the rock and not on the sand. What is built on the sand is vulnerable to destruction by forces that are stronger than it. This is our ego identity that cannot stand up to the truth of the spiritual life. What is built on the rock is indestructible and cannot be overcome by inferior forces. This is our spirit and the source of our abiding confidence that we can do what we are called to do.

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