Bribery of the Mind (Part 2)

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Each of us have blind spots that keep hidden those sabotaging elements, which can take a variety of forms. What to my friend was the release that nicotine and alcohol provided, may to you be the anonymity that comes with conformity. Wanting at the deepest level to live your calling, you may engage in defeating behaviours that prevent you from stepping up and standing out. Perhaps you feel undeserving of the success which would come from that journey, which leads you to settle for much less than you know in your heart you are worthy of receiving.

Another prominent payoff that I have observed in my own life and the lives of others, is doing too much for other people, or saying things that we don’t mean in order to gain their approval. Wanting to just be ourselves and have the world like us for who we are, we are reluctant however to show our true face, for fear that this vulnerability will bring about rejection. Learning early that a numbing comfort can be found in not risking ourselves, we play it small in our relationships that never really move beyond the superficial stages.

I have written before on intimacy and how it requires vulnerability to develop. If we are scared of being hurt in our relationships, we may try to remove ourselves from them, even though at a spiritual level we are receptive to the fruits of those connections, and willing to nourish them with our authentic gifts. Allowing this fear to get the best of us, we may find ourselves taking more from these other people than we give because this is easier work, and more rewarding for the ego. Causing an imbalance in these relationships, its effect will be harmful, and before long what we say that we didn’t want to happen will come to pass.

Unfortunately, a lot of relationships end this way. With love still being present in the moment of parting, what is lacking is the awareness of the sabotaging elements in our character, and the personal responsibility to reconcile these conflicts. Leaving the friction between the spirit and the segregated mind unaddressed, dysfunction will continue to manifest in various ways that will not always be palpable to us.

When we can learn to see these payoffs at work in our life and the lives of others, we cease to be as frustrated and hostile as we otherwise would have been when somebody doesn’t act as we would have expected them to. In reminiscing about my friend’s situation, I can remember that my first thought was that the behaviour he was engaging in was completely idiotic. Becoming acquainted with his payoff system in hindsight, that judgment and negative labelling subsided because I could see past the behaviour to the motivation behind it, and respond with empathy to the struggle that he was experiencing.

Yearning for something more meaningful in his life, he was just temporarily stuck, which is something that I could relate to from previous experience. Engaging in this destructive behaviour didn’t make him a bad or weak person. Having a light inside of him that yearned to overcome the limitations imposed by his dependence on these external substances, he had to surrender his chosen suffering before a breakthrough could be achieved. While he was bearing his own cross and defending his addiction, nothing could or would change for him.

It was only when he took the brave step of admitting to himself that he was navigating the terrain of his life with the wrong map that a more integral intention was revealed to guide him down an authentic path. Whether we say that this movement was inspired by grace or God, it doesn’t detract from the fact that intrinsically each of us has the ability to break free of our burdens and live a life that is aligned with love.

The essence of love is integrity that inspires a wholehearted movement towards joy, peace and fulfilment. Rather than bribe the mind with the temptations of ego, we must heal it of all the things that do not support and align with our life’s purpose. Shedding this dead psychological skin is challenging work, but such is the evolutionary process of life. True freedom exacts a cost, and that is the disillusionment of mind, and the payoffs that keep our spiritual light obscured from the world.


Bribery of the Mind (Part 1)

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Looking into our behavioural payoff system is some of the most interesting inner work that we will ever undertake. A payoff is an intrinsic or extrinsic motivating factor that guides our behaviour. Powerfully influencing our actions in ways that we may not always be conscious of, these payoffs serve both a protective function and more aspirational purposes, in having us move to further the objectives of the self that we believe ourselves to be. Being often in conflict with the truest desires of our heart, these payoffs can reveal the tension between the authentic journey towards fulfilment and the psychological conditioning that has us travel down paths which do not nurture our being. Frequently undermining our attempts to evolve towards our spiritual fullness, these payoff mechanisms are important teachers that we need to face up to, so that we may better understand who we essentially are, and know what integrity looks like in the context of our life.

The source of inspiration for this entry was a conversation that I had some time ago with a friend who works as a doctor in the emergency ward of a hospital. Asking him how his work was going at the time, he responded by telling me that it was very hectic and stressful because of the long shifts and the urgent nature of the procedures that he was required to perform on patients. Conveying this information with a tense and anxious look on his face, it was hard not to feel the burden of expectation that he carried. Weighing heavily on his shoulders, it was what he sought to mitigate through his habits of smoking and drinking.

Engaging in these habits daily, his dependence on nicotine and alcohol had become for him a crutch that temporarily calmed his nerves and comforted his anguished mind. Compromising his well-being and his personal and professional values, his abuse of these substances had brought him to a crossroads. Knowing since he started the behaviour that it could lead to a perilous destination, he nevertheless persisted to indulge in these habits because they allowed him to disassociate from the stress, and survive in a world that had taken him over. Despite his extensive education that had taught of the dangers of abusing these two hazardous substances, he had refused to correct his behaviour because in his mind the need to perform in his work was greater than the need to take care of himself.

Subscribing to the false belief that if he was to stop using these substances his work life would suffer, as would his ability to function in the other areas of his life, this was the barrier that until now had prevented him from evolving in his life. Admitting to himself the lie that had kept him locked in that destructive pattern, his balance of power began to shift in the direction of self-love and spiritual nurturing. No longer was he willing to sacrifice his well-being for his work. Coming to see this as counter-productive and not worth the risk of future illness or death, he vowed to take much better care of himself so that he could provide much better care to others.

Having adopted a new and more integrated belief around his well-being and work, he started to see positive change that not coincidently extended beyond these spheres into other areas of his life. Only after the pain of the old place became too much to bear, was he open to travelling down a different path. It often takes something drastic for people to want to make change in their lives. For the most part we live by the maxim that says, ‘if it isn’t broken then don’t fix it’. The problem comes when the foundational elements of our life are broken, and we fail to see that they are broken. For this reason, we must be attuned to the conditions of our life, and the thoughts and behaviours that we have contributed to bringing them about.

This same awareness we must direct towards examining our payoffs. What are you doing that is leading you down a path that you do not want to travel along? What hidden emotions are driving that behaviour, and preventing you from taking conscious control of your life? What distortions are you allowing to take root in your mind, which your experience of life does not validate? Considering these questions can start the process of reconciling our identity with the spiritual light of truth.


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 Noblest Aim

‘True nobility is not about being better than anybody else. It is about being better than you used to be.’ ~ Dr. Wayne Dyer

Today, I was reminiscing on a conversation that I had with a relative a number of years ago, during which she was trying to cajole me into watching the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. Being what she described enthusiastically as an unmissable event for the ages, I found myself not sharing the sentiment behind her assessment of the event, despite being very happy for this young couple, who were undertaking the next stage of their journey together. Not placing the members of the monarchy on a pedestal as she did, I didn’t have the urge to stop my life for this occasion. Seeing the pomp and ceremonial show for what it truly was, I thought my time would be better spent reading a book that expanded my mind and nourished my soul.

For me, nobility is what we demonstrate when we courageously commit to a worthwhile purpose, and open ourselves to participate in the process of our individual and collective evolution. Led by the spirit to integrate our daily movements with our essential nature, our primary concern is restoring the balance that has been lost since we gave our power away to the ego. By healing the divide between who we were created to be and how we see ourselves and each other, we will collectively come to learn that no hierarchy is legitimate to the extent that it attempts to delineate the worth of people. Having the understanding that nothing separates one person from another in spiritual terms, the cracks in the ego’s characterisation of nobility start to reveal themselves.

To the ego, nobility is centred in titles, their trimmings, and having exclusive access to the material things that it values. Extremely conscious of status and reputation, it labels as noble, the royalty and celebrities of the world, who have the worldly means to exert power and influence over a ‘lesser’ group of people. Invested in the pursuit of hierarchical ‘success’ that has us fixate our attention on the Prince Williams and Kate Middletons who we idolise, the ego pushes us to forever look skyward and exhaust ourselves to move further up its pyramid of life. Promising happiness and fulfilment as the reward for striving to reach the peak, it does not deliver these precious jewels, but only the stress and dissatisfaction that inevitably come when we make our life about who we are better than, and having more to be more in the eyes of others.

True nobility is not concerned with any of these externally oriented ambitions and distractions. Focused instead on cultivating a higher quality of life for all, the highest qualities of the human spirit are given the freedom to grow and synergise with other agents of our collective flourishing. Evolving in union to create an egalitarian world where people are honoured for the essence of who they are, class distinctions would dissolve, and the sense of separation that fuels competition and unjust behaviour would be supplanted by genuine solidarity and collaborative engagement.

In what ways are you now better than you used to be, and how can you prosper the world by the authentic expression of your spiritual nature, irrespective of how others in the world might perceive your contribution? These questions I ask myself when I am tempted by the fruits of worldly power that are so frequently on display. Shifting my attention to the spiritual aspect of my being, I know that the noblest contribution that I can make, will come from that place.

Each and every one of us is born royalty. Thus, we don’t need a coronation, as we have already been given life and our fullness to grow into. Having the opportunity to partake in this evolutionary process, there is nothing more attractive to those spirited souls who are intent on actualising themselves and liberating the world with the love and wisdom that they unearth in fulfilling the noble aim that is their calling.


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.


What Great Leaders Do First (Part 5)

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Having the need to exercise power over others in the world, will throw any attempt of leadership radically off balance. Motivated by a spiritual deficiency and a selfish desire to control, it cannot compensate for the powerlessness that an individual may feel inside. No leadership title or accompanying status can fill our psychological and spiritual gaps. Having to address them through conscious awareness and development, we must lead ourselves through that process without relying on the people who follow us.

In terms of servant leadership, our inner work is not their responsibility. Why so many of the traditional leadership structures are fragile is because followers are made to do the real work of their leaders. Eroding the foundation of trust, respect and goodwill that supports any organisational endeavour, this over-reliance on its core group leads to resentment and disengagement that is destructive and unwarranted. Compromising the integrity of the organisational entity, this physical dissonance is the result that the ego centred leader has first effected by compromising their inner integrity.

Taking more than they are willing to give, the ego centred leader abuses their power and loses influence at a rapid rate. Leaning on followers rather than lifting them up, they do not practice the principles of authentic servant leadership which has humility, empathy and generosity at its heart. John C. Maxwell was right when he said that, “we must listen to the heart of another before we ask for their hand”. Taking this a step further, we must make it a priority to respond to their needs consciously, with due respect for their spiritual upliftment. An investment in the long term good of these relationships, this willingness to vulnerably bear our soul leads to powerful cooperation and a host of other mutually beneficial rewards.

When we give to others in the absence of ego, we inspire them and this builds loyalty. When we take from others without giving anything in return, we reduce the quality of their life by diminishing the flow of goodness that the spirit intends to bring their way. Fostering a desire for separation that may manifest itself in overt opposition or covert passive aggressive behaviour, in more extreme instances, reciprocity may be sought through revenge, if action is not initiated by the offending party to restore balance to the relationship.

A powerful illustration of this was the despotic rule of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya which ended brutally for him in 2011. Why his empire crumbled was because he didn’t have the strength as a leader to put the needs of his people first. Clinging to his position of worldly power because of a fragile ego, he caused a revolt in his country that attracted the ire of the entire world. Leaving a wake of death and devastation, the real tragedy in that situation was the needless suffering endured by so many people.

Had Gaddafi woven the presence of spirit into the fabric of his leadership, he would have been able to meet the needs of his people while in power. The likely effect of this would have been a longer life and leadership reign. Even if in this hypothetical narrative, the Libyan people decided that they wanted a change in leadership, Gaddafi would have had the humility and aware understanding to accept their decision and relinquish power. Having the authentic power to discern his spiritual authority as independent of his official leadership role, he would have felt the freedom to move on and serve the Libyan people in another capacity.

Setting aside my earnest attempt at rewriting history, it must be understood that we are not liberated to serve others in the way that they need, when we cling to a leadership position because of our vain and exorbitant needs. When we are focused on closing this superficial deficit, we will deny the spirit its role in bridging the real deficit for others. Repelling them like two of the same magnetic poles coming together, the ego’s intrusion into the spiritual domain will make effective leadership impracticable.