The Impaired Motorist

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While driving home from work last week, I experienced a humorous situation which presented me with a learning that is worth repeating here. Taking my normal route home on this afternoon, I came upon a silvery grey vehicle that was travelling towards me in the opposite direction. Blending into the shadowy gravel of the road, I found myself struggling to see it clearly as it approached from a distance. Immediately noticing that the driver did not have their headlights on, I thought it best to flash them with my high beams to alert them of their oversight.

Feeling like I had performed a civic duty of sorts, I came to a stop at a set of lights that had moments before turned red. Looking to my dashboard as an afterthought, I observed that my own headlights were not activated. Confused by this occurrence, I moved to turn them on and they readily worked. Wondering why they had not turned themselves on automatically as they were designed to do, it hit me like a ton of bricks that my headlights were not the problem.

Forgetful of the fact that I had on my dark tinted sunglasses, I laughed to myself at the joke being on me. Wryly taking them off my face, everything appeared as normal for that time in the afternoon. With my surroundings lightened by the receding sun’s rays, I looked around at all of the other cars on the road with their headlights turned off, and felt like a fool for acting so self-righteously.

Now attuned to my error, I came to appreciate its inherent value. Teaching of the virtues of awareness and humility, I learned a lesson that I needed to be taught at that time. Paying only the small price of private embarrassment, I was very grateful for having escaped the situation with my dignity largely intact. Still laughing about the episode when I pulled into the driveway at home, I knew that I had to write about it to unpack the broader meaning that I took from this happening.

So often in life, we react impulsively without thinking deeply about what we are faced with. Observing something that we perceive as disagreeable, we don’t even question the judgment that we have made. Blindly convinced of our own correctness, we readily move to assert our self-ordained superiority. Making ourselves heard in that process, the world knows where we stand. But what of the instances when we stand in the wrong spot? Here, it is crucial to create the space to self-access and regain a foothold in reality.

Like the tenuous position that I found myself in, we do not always get it right, despite our best attempts to make sense of the world. Being only human, we inevitably must admit to having blind spots that contribute to the mistakes that we make in the world. Presenting an opportunity for reflective growth, these fertile grounds of learning are rendered barren when we have not the humility to admit to our shortcomings, and correct our limited perceptions. Being able to admit to these shortcomings is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of personal strength. Only the strong can look honestly at their perceptions, and not have them tainted by the ego’s artificial light.

In a more natural light, we can see that so much of the world’s dysfunction is perpetuated by our stubborn insistence on asserting our righteous positions, irrespective of their effects on our immediate surroundings. Lacking in this fundamental awareness, we act as impaired motorists who have obscured the path forward through our own misunderstanding.

Hypocrisy is a curse that can be broken by integrated awareness. Allowing the light within to teach us about a deeper reality, our responsiveness to its movements become the gift that we bring to the world. There is no shame in having to fall back when the situation demands it. The hollow victory is one that entrenches us in our own ignorance, whereas the genuine triumph liberates the truth in us. When was the last time that you confessed, ‘I am wrong’. A selfless statement of humility, it is in the same breath a pathway to peace and freedom that the wise heart is never reluctant to travel down.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The Long and Lazy Road (Part 1)

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Assumptions provide me with a good cause to pause. Reflecting what we think we know about a person or situation, their foundations are often flimsy and unworkable. Not really corresponding with the reality of what we are faced with, their fictitious leanings make them risky propositions to adopt. Born of a self-serving combination of laziness, righteousness and in many instances the convenient denial of truth, these assumptions can carry an air of commonly accepted knowledge or experiential meaning that make it very easy to adopt them in the often busy grind of our daily existence.

Starting in the recesses of our mind, these assumptions most often take the form of malnourished utterances. Reminded of this recently in one of my classes, I paid a rather embarrassing price. Using some rather obscure terminology in my morning law lecture that I had not thought to define for the class members, I was greeted by a sea of confused faces that had clearly not grasped what I had taken as a given. Being familiar with what these words meant through the years of experience I had with the topic, I had inconsiderately overlooked that their burgeoning knowledge didn’t yet match mine in the area.

Feeling a temporary sense of despair over my failed attempt at teaching, I let it pass soon enough, after I renewed my commitment to meet my students where they were. Not having the luxury of taking for granted what they knew, I would go to greater lengths to introduce concepts before eventually reinforcing them. Doing this, I would strengthen their base of learning and better equip them to deal with the intricacies of the course material.

Allowing my ignorance to make the whole interaction more complex than it had to be, I had clearly allowed the assumption temptation to take effect. This effect, while promising a short cut, more often than not has us travelling a longer distance to our desired destination. Better would it have been to do the preliminary work of acquainting myself with the reality of the situation.

When we know what is going on in a given situation, we can deal with it more easily. Having a complete picture to work with, we don’t have to guess, speculate or waste our time deciphering people and circumstances. Ultimately, this makes us less reactionary and much more effective at dealing with problems, and while it may take us a bit longer to get the full picture, the extra work is worth it because it allows us to deal with concrete realities rather than vague possibilities.

Obviously, there are going to be times when some of the information that we want to consider, can’t be accessed in a time frame that is workable. In situations like this, we must be smart about our process of decision making. Smart, in this context, means integrating the available information with our lived experience, education and intuitive ability. What it doesn’t mean is telling ourselves or others something that we want to be true, but which the aforementioned pillars of decision making don’t support.

Often, when we have a particular outcome that we would like to see achieved, the assumptions that we make concerning that outcome are contaminated by bias. Blinded by our self-interested attachment, we will seek to impose our desires on the situation at hand. Doing this in subtle and more obvious ways, we are vulnerable at these times to being betrayed by our optimistic or naive ideals. Being all that we want to see and believe in, we will ignore or not seek out information that does not correspond with our desired outcome. The point at which the picture we are looking at becomes distorted, it is not coincidently the same point at which we invite suffering into our lives.

At a deeper level, when the substance of our thoughts are divorced from our internal and external reality, we become separated from our essential nature, and this leads us down a path where it becomes next to impossible to actualise our intentions. Why this is also hazardous is because of the potential consequences of this thinking which remain hidden to us. If for example, a person has falsely convinced themself that they are in fantastic health, when they are suffering symptoms of a serious illness, this may lead them to a premature death if what is present remains untreated. Only by dealing with the present moment reality of disease (or dis-ease) is healing and wellness a future possibility. The same goes for the manifestation of meaningful outcomes in our lives.

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What Great Leaders Do First (Part 6)

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Here, a distinction must be made between holistic and performance leadership. Holistic leadership focuses on people and the journey to be taken together, in addition to the outcomes to be achieved. Placing a premium on the relationships that make true success possible, it holds a tension that the ego is incapable of balancing through its practice of performance leadership.

Performance leadership is underscored by bottom line thinking. Focused on the end result, it tends to wreak havoc on the people side of the equation to stand out on the performance side. Measuring success superficially, in terms of victories gained and profits earned, the motivations which underpin this form of leadership are not expressive of our spiritual virtues, which is why the effects produced by performance leadership often come at a great personal and organisational cost.

Can a leader really be deemed a success if they have met their performance goals while alienating every member of their team? I think not, but in terms of how the ego defines success, this question can be answered in the affirmative. To the ego, people are just a means to a self-serving end, and it is not just others who get burned by its sinister motives. When we allow the ego to dictate the course of our lives, our mental, physical and spiritual well-being suffers. Used in destructive ways to indulge the ego, and evoke a perceived sense of significance and enrichment, our worldly identity can be battered to the point that we begin to doubt whether it is worth pursuing those things that promise happiness and fulfilment, but deliver something that is much less wholesome.

To protect ourselves and others from this ego exploitation, we must practice a spirit centred holistic leadership. A core component of this is putting to work that which we have learned on our growth journey. We cannot effectively lead ourselves or others if we do not have the will and discipline to implement those lessons that are pregnant with wisdom, promising positive change in our life and the lives of others.

Knowing what we should do, but failing to put it into practice, we undermine the influence that is rooted in our integrity. Saying one thing, but doing another, kills all leadership credibility, especially when our actions run contra to the human response that could be expected in a particular situation. George W. Bush found this out in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Preaching of the US government’s commitment to swiftly help the victims of this natural disaster, Bush’s actions did not match his words by a long way. Reacting slowly to the urgent needs of the New Orleans people, he came across as insensitive and indifferent to their plight, particularly by his decision to fly over the affected area in Air Force One, without landing to show his support and provide much needed encouragement.

Credited by many to be the event that signalled the beginning of the end of his presidency, it laid to rest the trust that had gotten Bush elected in the first place. Whether the actions that we take are in public or in private, we must be careful not to make the same mistake. In leadership as in relationships, trust makes all the difference to its quality. Just as a relationship without trust can be difficult to maintain, so can leadership without trust be fraught with resistance and tension.

To avoid this perilous state of affairs, honestly assess the basis of your leadership identity. This will make it infinitely easier to be honest with others who you lead. We cannot be honest with others in the same moment that we are lying to ourselves. Thinking that, we feed the ego’s illusion of separateness that poisons leadership and robs it of its transcendent and unifying potential.

Keep others in the same spiritual space that you dwell, and don’t allow the ego to affect this separation in your mind. Where you walk is hallowed ground. The realm where followers become leaders, it is the spirit that effects this transformation in the world. Lead yourself so that others may do the same, and remember that your mission is not to create better followers, but liberating others to leadership, being the peak of the development journey that you can play a pivotal role in.

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