In All Seriousness (Part 2)

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In the context of our relationships, creating this space from the substance of thought forms becomes a valuable means of improving their quality and depth. To illustrate this with an example, have you ever gotten into an argument with someone you cared about and they said something that hurt you deeply? Maybe they labelled you in an unfair way or called your integrity into question. I think that at some time or another in our lives, we have all been there, and found it to be an unpleasant experience. But how long did what that person had to say linger with you? That would be determined by the weight that you gave to their words at the time they were uttered. The greater the weight that you gave to their words, the stronger the connection that you have drawn between who they are and the thoughts that have animated their words. But what of the deeper reality that more meaningfully characterises their behaviour? No doubt they are responsible for what comes out of their mouth, but beyond their words, isn’t there some other dimension of their being that is yearning for your ear?

Appearing on the surface to act viciously towards you, their motivation may have been preservation of an ideal or position that they perceived to be under threat. Feeling vulnerable in how the interaction was unfolding, they acted as they did in an attempt to protect themselves from your judgement or disappointment. With their purest intention being to find the common ground of understanding, they settled for something far less constructive because retaliation in response to the feeling of being rebuked has become their way of relating in such situations. Being a conditioned pattern of behaviour that they are unconscious of, it is something that you can relate to, for in your most susceptible moments, you have acted in similar ways when you felt threatened by someone opposing you.

Looking at our loved one’s behaviour from this new perspective, it becomes abundantly clear why we care about them so deeply. Sharing our vulnerabilities and shadow elements, their shortfalls are what we can appreciate and empathise with. Allowing ourselves to be conscious of this fibre that connects us, their harsh words do not cut as deeply any more. Not being reflective of the spirit that we know to be their essential light, forgiveness and love pour out of us like rain.

Extending this scenario a tad further, what if the substance of this insult was internally directed and spouted by your mind in monologue form? Upon hearing these negative words take shape, you would not need to take them to heart because in consciousness you would have an acute awareness of the ego’s proclivity for such action as a means of asserting control over you. Being centred within yourself, you would not need to become distressed or defensive in response to this artificial power play. This is the true power that we exercise when we become the still observer of the storm that brews in the undisciplined mind. In the eye of this storm, there is a silent calm that we call spirit. Surrendering ourselves to that space of higher consciousness, we will experience a rejuvenating peace and perspective that to an independent observer appears unreal amidst the turmoil that they see swirling all around us.

To provide you with a simple example, some time ago I was moving house and I forgot to bring something important that I had planned to take with me. With this mistake requiring me to do another round trip that was going to take three quarters of an hour, I found myself stuck in traffic having negative thoughts which expressed how much of an idiot I was to forget something so simple and make more work for myself.

After letting the voice of my ego mind say its piece, I couldn’t help but laugh at its offering. Having prepared myself for its reaction to this inconvenience, I knew that this wasn’t the time to beat myself up over this happening that had come and gone. Out of this more conscious response to the thoughts I was having, I felt a strong sense of peace, despite my mind’s initial unwillingness to relent. By choosing this course, I subdued its attack to the point that I moved past any semblance of negative feelings by the time that I returned home.

When do you find yourself taking your thoughts too seriously? In what areas of life do your negative thought patterns play themselves out? The grief that you allow these unhelpful thought forms to cause you, does not have to be. Entanglement, in this respect, is an unconscious choice that we have made. If we are to get serious about anything, it should be the work of disassociating ourselves from the thought forms of the ego that would have us remain ignorant to our inherent godliness. Establishing that foundation, a meaningful life that enriches the world can take form from the realm of being that is the very definition of truth and reality.

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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.

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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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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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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.

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What Great Leaders Do First (Part 4)

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What others happen to think of us is largely insignificant. What really matters is the view that we take of ourselves, and the clarity of purpose that this contributes to. This, the leader keeps in mind, as they go about the task of initiating service oriented action. Desiring to deliver something of real substance and quality, they know that this requires vulnerability and a willingness to risk. Courage, in this respect, is putting ourselves at the heart of what we do, and accepting unconditionally that we may fail, be ridiculed or tuned out by some people.

Each of these things are possibilities, but they do not have to infect our mindset around that which we do. Failure is not a death sentence. Neither is the feedback that others offer us. Coming with the territory of bringing our calling to market, these challenging influences are the fertile soil on which we can grow our fellowship. Opportunities for refinement of our character and contribution, they are not to be squandered by the leader who has yet to realise their vision.

A chief imperative, despite these happenings, is not to compromise the integrity of our offering. One of the things that distinguishes followers from leaders is the former’s overriding desire to appease the populous. Wanting to be seen in a favourable light by as many people as possible, they compromise themselves by catering to the various, and frequently competing, needs and expectations of the tribe. Diminishing the power of their gifts, their utility is limited when compared to the novel contribution that is offered by the true leader.

Here, I am not imploring you to be close-minded or inflexible. A genuine leader is always willing to listen to followers and receive their input. Rather, I am emphasising the importance of adding value by being real. I could try to be the next Anthony Robbins or Paulo Coelho, but that would only diminish the quality of my offering. Taking energy away from my unique talents and experiences, they would not be given the space to influence others hearts and minds, if I was trying to hide from my audience by being someone that I am not. In the wise words of Andre Gide, “It is better to be hated for who you are, than loved for who you are not”.

Leadership in its finest form should be disruptive, not just to effect change, but to stoke the fire of reality. All too often, we grow comfortable in knowing what to expect from our leaders, and this coupled with their lack of authenticity, robs them of the power to inspire their constituents, and bring through new leaders by their example. Not affecting any dissonance between where we are and where we want to be, an opportunity is wasted to forge a connection with the spirit within that yearns to evolve and be moved by a vision that it can trust.

Missing this element of connection, leadership will fail to serve its true function. The quality of someone’s leadership will always be determined by the quality of their relationship with spirit, and those people who have chosen to follow them. Endowed with free will, we are not forced into fellowship. The emphasis then falls on the leader to form constructive and rewarding relationships with followers. This takes time, effort and selfless humility. The most effective leader is the other oriented leader. A style of leadership that turns the tables on traditional leadership thinking, it sees the leader as a facilitator of their followers flourishing.

Requiring the leader to put the needs of their followers above their own, it is not a style of leadership that the ego can accept or find a voice in. Demanding an arrangement that sees followers exhaust themselves for its aggrandisement, the emphasis of the ego here is not on serving, but on being served. Practicing this self-centred form of leadership, we demonstrate to the world that we are not on good terms with ourselves.

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Tolerance is not Enough

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It has been said that the number one need that people have is for acceptance. This, I am not sure about. I tend to think that love is, and will always be, the primary need of every human being. But even as I write this, I do realise that the two are so closely intertwined that it is problematic to try and place one above the other.

The very nature of love is to accept another unconditionally. It is to know another as yourself, and to be willing to look beyond the perception that the ego has constructed to fragment the spiritual identity that we share with each other. With the heart being a vessel for the spirit, it is the meaning of acceptance that the mind cannot grasp alone. This is because acceptance is a function of being, and not something that can be merely understood with logic and conveyed with words.

Love is as love does. It may use words to express itself, but it is acutely aware of their shortcomings. Love is openness, truth and fearlessness in action. Therefore, we must move towards those whom we seek to embrace, if we would have them trust that our intentions are pure. Short of that, we will be viewed with suspicion by the same conditioned mind that doesn’t recognise its equal in us.

So often, we come across people who claim to be accepting of others, but when we really look at their behaviour, it becomes obvious that they are merely tolerating others rather than accepting them unconditionally. Tolerance is as flexible as the ego mind would have us be, but in its company we are still in bondage. To merely tolerate another is not to accept them wholeheartedly. It is being reluctantly willing to reach out to another on the ego’s terms, but this is no virtuous act. Genuine reaching out can only be done in the company of love, but the ego knows nothing about love.

Being the conduit of all that love is not, it is the ego which stands in the way of what love desires to accomplish. Extending its apprehensive arms, it does not intend to bring others closer, but to keep them at a safe distance from which they can be judged. Driven by the desire for superiority and righteousness, this is how the ego serves those ends. With this, do not doubt that the tolerant are fearful of having their conceptions of self and the world challenged by the light.

Separation only strengthens our ego identity, and holding onto the constructs of this identity becomes an impediment when they feed a reality which says that what I see in the world is not a part of me. I know myself only when I walk in union with spirit, and taking this path I have seen what I can no longer accept. Our world tells us to tolerate others. It says that walking under a different banner, they are entitled to the same rights as we are. But we do not need the world to tell us this.

I have allowed myself to be taught by the light, and I know that we are not different in any meaningful way. The banners that we hold up as representative of reality are but illusions that prevent the image of spirit from shining through the cracks of consciousness. White, Black, Muslim, Christian, Straight, Gay, are but some classifications that form this wall, to keep the ego in and the spirit out. Once an indomitable structure, it is now vulnerable to collapse in the minds of those who would have the heart rule their actions. What leads to division, isolation and conflict is bearable no longer. Having its day, it is not what love cares to tolerate. Calling us to heal in the light of truth, it is what the spirit would have us accept unconditionally as the next stage of our collective evolution.

 

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