Enabling the Acorn to Flourish (Part 7)

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Many of us are not curious enough, or willing to challenge the status quo, in this respect. Taught by society to accept our lot without complaint, I detect a passive reluctance to question whether the lives that we lead are the ones that we really want. Fearing the honest answer to this question, it is easier to deny the thoughts and feelings that we have about doing what we love. While this may bring us solemn comfort in the moment, our soul will suffer with the passing of time by not being able to freely express itself in service.

To be liberated spiritually and vocationally, we must listen for the clues that are communicated by our emotions. While the mind can and often does lie, our heart is honest in how it moves us emotionally. Free to express the feeling of love, this will naturally arise when we are performing those tasks or activities that are aligned with our spiritual intention to serve and create as only we can. Signalling to the mind that we are at one with our purpose, we do not have to indulge the ego identity and its fear inducing messages.

The ego mind, desiring the absence of purpose and integrity in our life, will often contaminate the thoughts that we have about doing that which we love. Using negative and disempowering words to break the bond that we have with the spirit of love, we will be tempted to believe in the impossibility of living our calling to a ‘successful’ level, or of being fulfilled by taking that journey. Listening to this cynical voice in our head, we allow fear and doubt to permeate the substance of the questions that we ask, and the statements that we make. Take for example the following:

‘What will my family and friends think of me doing this? They will probably think I am crazy and ridicule me.’

‘Moving in that new direction will be too challenging, and I doubt that I will ever succeed. I am better off sticking to what I already know how to do. Who cares if I don’t have any passion for it? I am competent at it and that will get me by.’

‘I need the money right now so I can’t pursue my passion. When I have enough money, then I will think about it.’

I think that most of us have said something similar to these statements at one point or another in our life. Staring at a fork in the road, the ego mind creates obstacles and perceived dangers, while the heart relishes the opportunity to take a new direction and flourish. Feeling our body come alive with excitement and positive expectation at the prospect of living our calling, we allow the ego mind to crash the party by interpreting these inspired responses in a negative way. Conditioned to be suspicious of that which is unfamiliar and untested, we choose not to risk what we have for fear of losing it, and being left without.

The flaw with this reasoning is based in the belief that what we now have is better than what we could have if we lived a life that gave a voice to our vocation. The ego mind is enamoured with those things that bring it comfort and security, despite those things not being conducive to our flourishing. Clinging to that which is trifling in its substance prevents anything that is more meaningful from coming into our lives. This is why we must take a step back to contemplate whether the ‘treasure’ that we have is really treasure at all. Dressed up that way by the ego, it more likely to resemble fool’s gold, when subjected to the pure light of spirit.

What we have already accumulated on our travels along a false path, has a shorter lifespan than those things that we can purchase with spiritual currency. With the spirit as the source of life, its abundance is latent in all that which is born of love. Taking the path that allows us to express our vocational gifts, what we give and receive in union with spirit is infinitely more valuable than what the ego would have us cling to for the purpose of preserving our worldly identity. While the physical world and the people in it may be fooled by our act, the universe is not. Knowing and embracing who we essentially are, its intention is that the world come to know and embrace us in this totality. This is why it is imperative that we stop hiding from ourselves and start living authentically.

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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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The Relationship Wake

What is your relationship wake? Concerning the people that you share time with, do you leave them in a better position than you found them, or worse off for having encountered you? Do you lift others up by your contribution to their life, or do you tear them down? Do you make them the focus of your attention when you interact with them, or do you make yourself the focus of these interactions? Each of these are potent questions, when you consider that the quality of one’s life is determined largely by the quality of their relationships.

A wake is a trail that is left behind. The mark that we have made on the world, it illustrates the path that we have taken from one moment to the next. The by-product of our being, it attests to the maturity of our character, and our willingness to grow as we were created to. Embodying the thoughts, attitudes and behaviours that have shaped our interactions with others, this wake is what they will remember us by, even after we have long forgotten the dynamics of those interactions.

With this, picture yourself standing on a cliff and looking out into the ocean. Spotting a small boat in the distance in front of you, what is observable to the eye is not only where the boat is, but also where it has been. Moving atop the water by the power of its engine, what it leaves behind is a wash of white water that tells a story of its own. The wake of the boat, it contextualises the picture that otherwise would have remained obscure to an observer with a more limited perspective.

Now extend this metaphor to your relationships. Have the boat represent who you are to those who you interact with, whether they are loved ones, business colleagues or acquaintances. What wake have you left behind? Is yours one that has seen you give to others what they needed from you in those interactions? Has that path been consciously created and expressive of who you truly are, or does it provide evidence that you have not shown up in the world authentically as yourself?

Rarely do we give thought to the kind of relationships that we would like to create as we are participating in them. Most often we shape them unconsciously, and then look back at what we have effected. This is not something to regret if what we have created has been positive and fulfilling from both our perspective and the perspective of others. The real problem comes when we look back and have the realisation dawn on us that we have left a path of destruction in our wake.

Seldom is the case that we intend to cause others to suffer in relating with us, but this is what we nevertheless create when we do not direct ourselves consciously, and make others a part of our focus. Leaving them on the periphery of our concern, what we create is unsatisfying and incapable of nurturing the best of what is both given and received in these interactions.

The beauty of relationships is that they hold great potential for individual and collective growth, but we will struggle to see this beauty and facilitate this growth when we are so focused on ourselves and where we are going that we forget to take the time to look behind at our wake, and the story that it tells not only about the quality of our relationships, but ultimately the quality of our life.

In your awareness, stay on that cliff looking over the vastness of your life, even after you have stopped reading this, so that your perspective is one that adds depth to your ability to relate to others in the here and now, and into the future. We can’t do much about the wake that has already been created, but we can create a new wake from this day forward. Your power, joy and wisdom are that which you give to others as you relate to them from the depths of your spirit. Be sure to integrate this lesson into your wake, so that others can learn from your example when they look upon your boat from the precipice where they now stand.

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Wilber’s World

Ken-Wilber

The other day, I learned a very interesting lesson about the process of evolution. Watching an educational video, the presenters got to discussing Ken Wilber, who is widely regarded as one of the greatest thinkers of modern time. Being the man behind integral philosophy which blends body, mind, soul, culture, nature, and the spirit with self, he believes that if we are to evolve, we must take a holistic approach that does not deny any aspect of life. The author of such titles as The Spectrum of Consciousness and A Theory of Everything, Wilber’s work has changed the lives of many around the world, teaching us much about where we have been, who we are now, and where we are going on our collective journey.

A strong proponent of individual and collective evolution, Wilber posits that to grow into someone new, we must disconnect from our previous selves that we have identified with in the past. Being different people at different stages of our life, we hold ourselves back when we cling to who we were in the past, in the present moment. Like wearing a pair of shoes that we have outgrown, we inflict upon ourselves discomfort at best and suffering at worst, when we move against the natural tide of life by keeping alive remnants of the past that once served us, but now only hinders our progress towards wholeness.

Like the cocoon that allows the caterpillar to elegantly transform into a butterfly, so must we cultivate a space within ourselves that is at peace with the death of the old and the birth of the new. Giving ourselves this psychological, emotional and spiritual freedom, we can evolve more consciously and rapidly than those who are willing to remain comfortable constituents of the herd. So often we are reluctant to let die the parts of ourselves that keep us bonded to the past because they are the familiar pillars on which we have built our identity. Wanting to feel like we are in control of our world, we make the mistake of staying the same persons today that we were yesterday. While on the surface this appears to present a solid foundation, it is in reality the most fragile of footings because it does not cater to the fact that the world in which we live is in a constant state of change, never staying the same from one moment to the next.

Honouring the call of nature to growth, it is a potent lesson that we can learn from the world when we choose to move as it does. Creating different identities for himself as he has evolved with his work, it is Wilber who understands better than anyone that we die as we stand still in unconsciousness. Ignorant to the evolutionary pull towards the realisation of potential, we are asphyxiated in an environment that is unmotivated by progress and cursed by apathy.

To find greater meaning and success in every area of life, we must become more fully integrated people. With authentic power flowing from the conscious integration of our being, it is the development of our inner life that holds the potential for flourishing in our external world. By sharpening our own saw, we can cut through the limitations that held us back yesterday, and create a world today which puts into practice the wisdom that has emerged from our growth journey. With the individual being a part of the collective whole of humanity, it is the realisation of our own promise that fulfils the vision that the world has for itself. Being for fear and lack to be overcome by love and abundance, it is what we work towards in each moment that we allow ourselves to express new life.

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Bad Leaders and other Dubious Role Models

bad-leader

When it comes to leadership, I am an avid student who tries to learn more about it in whatever form those lessons present themselves. While books are a valuable source of learning on the subject, observing real life examples of leadership presents a great series of lessons about its art. Leadership as an art has to do with the effective practice of leadership principles, which as we know is much more challenging than the mere digestion of theoretical knowledge about what good leadership entails. The best leaders I have encountered are the ones who may or may not have a theoretical underpinning to their leadership, but they understand it at an intrinsic level, and know how to deal with people, motivate others to achieve a common purpose, and do the other things that are recognised as being hallmarks of great leadership.

Whether they have come to embody that artfulness through instinct, their own learning or lived experience, I must admit that sometimes I find it difficult to get at the heart of what these great leaders do so effectively and effortlessly, and learn from their example. Elegance in leadership is much like beauty, in that it is hard to define, let alone dissect, and when we try to pull it apart for our own purposes, the risk is that we distort, and even devalue, the source of that learning. Perhaps this in part explains why I often seek to gain clarity around what effective leadership entails by observing the examples of bad leaders and other dubious role models.

Unfortunately, we don’t have to venture far to find examples of bad leadership, and I am sure that many of you reading this can easily bring to mind a person who somehow occupied a leadership position, without really having a clue about what is involved in effective leadership. Perhaps they mistreated people, cultivated an adversarial or political environment in the workplace, or took credit for work that others did. Undoubtedly, at the core of bad leadership is suspect character, but in many of these examples, I don’t see people who intentionally set out to make enemies, or tear at the fabric of the organisations that they control. In many ways this happens by default, either because these people are lazy in not having taken active steps to learn about leadership, or they have a fixed mindset that doesn’t lend itself to personal growth and self-awareness that are crucial ingredients for effective leadership.

Perhaps the most significant finding from my PhD study was that the enemy of effective leadership is EGO. At some level, bad leaders have ego problems that manifest in a variety of ways, whether it is the ivory tower syndrome (I am better than those I lead), not being open to the input of their people (I know more than the people I lead) or practicing an authoritative management style (you will do what I say because I am your superior). These are just some examples of how a leader’s unchecked ego can wreak havoc on an organisation, and the lives of the people who work within it. There are many others that I intend to address in a book about Conscious Leadership, which in essence is a mode of leadership where the ego is transcended, or at the very least closely guarded so that it doesn’t impede on a leader’s ability to manifest the qualities of spirit for the common good.

In saying all of this, I don’t want to entirely disparage bad leaders, and I do give credence to Ella Wheeler Wilcox’s assertion that the good are half bad, and the bad are half good. Recently, I read a great book titled ‘Winners: And how they succeed’ by Alastair Campbell, who was the chief aide to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. In this book, he describes the phenomenal leadership focus that Bill Clinton maintained in the wake of the Monica Lewinsky affair. Despite the self-imposed nature of this indiscretion (which not coincidently was a manifestation of the insatiable ego), Clinton’s lesson on leadership focus in the midst of adversity is a valuable one that we could learn from, as of course is the lesson about maintaining appropriate relationships in the workplace!

While it is tempting for our ego to write someone like Bill Clinton off as a person who we can’t learn from because of their flawed behaviour, I think that we should be more judicious in looking for things that we can learn from others, particularly bad leaders, and others like Ben Cousins, who have fallen from grace. When we hear of their stories, or in the case of bad leaders, are directly and negatively impacted by their incompetence, we feel that experience powerfully and it stays with us for some time. Perhaps it does so to teach us something that we can integrate into our own life and take with us into the future to make things better than they were before.

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