A luminous garment

We’ve allowed ourselves to become obsessed by youth.

The way this has shaped our public lives is quite easy to see, from the relentless focus on youthful beauty in our media to the cruelty of causal ageism in the workplace.

What’s harder to see is how it is affecting the narratives we have about ourselves.

We see all the ways that growing old is a falling apart, an endless series of losses, a disintegration. And so we try to stave it off, denying what is happening to us. As we grow older and as the time remaining to us diminishes, we become diminished in our own eyes. In this way we rob ourselves and others of our dignity.

But here is an account of ageing from the Jewish mystical work, the Zohar, which points to a different possibility:

All the days of a person’s life are laid out above,
one by one they come soaring into this world…
If a person leaving the world merits,
he comes into those days of his life,
they become a luminous garment.

Such a different way of looking, this – our inevitable, inescapable ageing as a gathering and weaving of the days of our lives into a single luminous garment. We wear the sum of all we have been and done in our bodies, on our faces, in our entire way of being in the world.

This gives us growing older as an integration, a chance to unify ourselves, turning towards the shadow parts that we pushed away when we were younger.

And it invites us to give up our dependence upon looking good or being liked, so that we can have our ageing usher us into the fullness of our humanity.

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Scattered

Could it be that we’re so harried, so unhappy, so stressed because we’ve forgotten the simple pleasure and discipline of being up to one thing at a time?

When we’re committed to being always on, always connected, always responsive – and to reacting to every email, phone call, tweet, facebook posting, news report – how can we expect to lose ourselves, completely, in something that’s both fulfilling and of value?

Everything is interrupting everything else, all the time. And we keep it this way because we think we like it. It makes us feel important.

And perhaps most significantly, it saves us from having to feel, really feel, anything in particular – numbing both our anxiety and our joy.

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Tight spirals

We discover early in life what the people around us expect from us. And we find ways of doing just that. Even if we’ve completely misunderstood what was being asked.

Meeting these expectations becomes, before long, central to our identity. We know ourselves as this or that kind of person, and then actively work to keep the identity we’ve established going. It feels familiar and comfortable to keep having people around us respond to us in the way to which we’ve become accustomed.

I learned early on to be the peacekeeper: the pursuer of harmony, making sure I and everyone around me remained undisturbed and untroubled; listening, supporting, staying quiet, defusing conflict, avoiding anger (my own and other people’s).

All these ways of being seemed, unquestionably, to be me.

And of course they affected and shaped what was possible in any kind of relationship with me. Peacekeeping can be a great gift to the world, but also stifling and frustrating for others when anything genuine and troubling and sharp needs to be said.

Other people around me took on other kinds of identity – the helper, making sure everyone is cared for and nobody is left out; the achiever, getting ahead and making things happen, knowing themselves through the outward signs of success; the challenger, being sure to be in control, using assertiveness and power to have things happen.

We have powerful inner forces that keep us inside the bounds we’ve established – among them the inner critic, and shame. For years, if I would be ashamed – mortified – if I said anything that I thought might hurt or upset another. And I’d be eaten up by my inner critic if anyone dared express anger towards me.

This is such an important topic because most of the time we can’t tell that this is what we’re doing – manipulating the world so it’s just so – not too hot, not too cold, but just as we expect it to be.

We lead this way. We relate this way.

This is why we all need people around us who can see through our strategies and habits, who can see who we are beyond the tight spiral these identities produce in us – a spiral which keeps the horizons of the world smaller than we imagine, and smaller than we need.

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We don’t do introspection

“We don’t do introspection”, they said to me. “None of this fluffy, self-indulgent, navel-gazing here”, they continued. “We do action.”

Of course. If you’re going to lead as they were, in a global organisation, then right action is critical. But what they meant by “we don’t do introspection” was “we aren’t prepared to look at ourselves”.

If they had an inkling, and most of us do not, of how much their actions were being shaped, out of their view, by

their personal preferences,
by their fears,
by years of habit,
by their avoidance of reminders of childhood experiences (mostly shame),
by the expectations their parents handed them,
by their inner critic,
by their longing to be appreciated, liked, respected, feared, in control

then they would perhaps have taken introspection or some rigorous self-observation more seriously. They would have been brave enough not just to look at their actions, but to look upstream at what was giving rise to them.

But they didn’t.

They had asked for help because they’d been amazingly effective in taking action – action that had landed them and their organisation in deep trouble.

And now they were trying to get out, with the same excuses, and by doing more of what had got them into difficulty in the first place.

Crazy, and sadly all too common.

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The peril of having one story

The problem with being sure of your story – the one you have that explains to you who you are, who other people are, and what’s happening – is what is inevitably left out.

Your confusion, longing, terrified waking in the quiet hours of the night, your disorientation –

A sign that it’s all over, and that you’re lost?

An inevitable part of the human condition (experienced by many more of us than will ever let on)?

The birth-pangs of something new? Some new way of living, thinking and relating that is emerging into life?

Each story about what you’re experiencing leads to a different place, to different possibilities.

Each story calls on a different way of relating to yourself and others.

Each story is sustained by different practices (what you’re doing repeatedly in your actions, your thinking that keeps it going).

And none of them is ever the whole story.

Part of the practice of a life fully lived – and leadership well done – is the practice of finding new ways of telling what we’re sure we’ve already understood.

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When trust happens

Trust, in the end, is not built by waiting until the conditions are right – “I’ll be able to trust them when I feel confident and secure… when they’ve given me sufficient evidence that they are trustworthy”

Instead, trust is always engendered most by our first extending our trust to others – which requires us to be open enough and vulnerable enough to let others in.

And trust is deepened by exactly what we do when we experience breakdowns in trust. Closing down or backing off, declaring the relationship over or under threat, does nothing to build our capacity to trust others, nor they us, in the future.

No, trust is built precisely by turning towards one another when it breaks down and talking about what is now possible and required. We invite trust precisely by how we respond when our capacity to trust seems most under threat.

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Unfolding

We spend the first part of our lives folding ourselves into the shape made available for us by our culture, our family and, later, our work.

How else could it be?

We are born with so many forms available to us, yet we must find ways of being understood and met by those around us so that we can survive and hopefully thrive. Even our rebellions are mostly a means of finding some way, some place where we can belong.

But if we live long enough, we might gradually start to feel the constraints of our own folding-up. We catch a glimpse of a bigger freedom that’s been there all along but which, so far, has been necessarily denied to us. And we begin so see how much of ourselves is unknown.

We’re mostly not taught what an opportunity is there, in the longing and uncertainty, the doubt and confusion, in the sense of being lost.

Feeling that something is wrong, we turn away into distractions – a new job, a new relationship, possessions. But if we’re lucky enough at this threshold to find people who can help us and be alongside us – friends, family, teachers – or circumstances that invite it, at last we can begin to unfold again.

At last, an opportunity to give up on all you’re sure about and discover a new way of being in life.

Who knows what or who, even now, you might become?

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What next?

What’s your relationship to the unknown?

Fear, avoidance? Getting busy?

Doing all you can to be in control?

Desperately thinking through of all the possibilities you can imagine, and all their outcomes?

Curiosity?

Delight?

Acceptance?

A question worth asking seriously. Because, despite all our protestations to the contrary, every coming moment is essentially unknowable.

So much that could be about to happen.

Including events that undo all the stories about yourself, others and life – the stories that you are sure are true.

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Accepting our ordinariness

There’s a certain harshness in wanting change, transformation, improvement all the time.

Does it arise from feeling ashamed at how things are? At ourselves?

A response to the gnawing of the inner critic – its demand that we do better every day?

Today, can you allow yourself to know your glorious ordinariness? To feel the simple weight of the dishes as you wash them? To marvel that you can breathe, move, experience? To gaze into the eyes of your glorious, ordinary loved ones?

There’s much to be said for turning our attention away, some of the time, from what we imagine needs to happen and into the exquisite texture of what is here already.

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I have my fear, so it does not have me

So often our experience of an emotion or mood is of its totality.

I’m scared – so the world is scary. I’m bored – so this situation is boring. I’m angry with you – so you’re making me angry.

We forget, when we account for ourselves in this way, how partial our story is.

There’s so much of ourselves, and of the world, that we’re not paying attention to in our explanation. For instance – everything that’s not boring, all the parts of me that are not caught up in anger but in love, all the parts of you that I know still care.

And we forget also that emotions don’t simply happen to us: we have a hand in their appearance and many, many choices in what meaning we ascribe to them.

Here’s Peter Gabriel’s song Darkness, a song about our relationship with fear, which beautifully takes up all these questions.

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On art and seeing

Art does not reproduce the visible;
rather, it makes visible.

– Paul Klee, 1920 –

Surely this, too, is the responsibility of good leadership: making visible that which we had no way of seeing before.

Just one excellent reason to engage seriously with art in its many forms – painting, sculpture, music, poetry, writing – so that we have eyes to see beyond our habits, and beyond our own horizons.

And so that we develop the capacity to discover and disclose new worlds of possibility for one another.

Want to see more Klee? There’s a wonderful exhibition of his work at Tate Modern in London until March 2014.

Music to return us to ourselves

Finding practices that recall us to ourselves – so that even the humdrum and ordinary can be imbued with some sense of wonder and aliveness – is something of an art that we each have to discover for ourselves.

I wrote a little about this yesterday.

Have you considered how music could be part of this for you?

Let’s distinguish for a moment between music that’s designed to distract – music for the ‘background’, jingles and muzak and much that’s still heard on commercial radio stations – and music that is courageous enough to express the heart of human experience in a true and honest way.

This second category includes music of all types and genres, of course. But, for today, perhaps you’ll consider listening to just one piece: the first section (on a CD or download, the first track) of Brahms’ Deutsche Requiema ‘humanist’ requiem written in response to the death of Brahms’ mother and of a close friend. It’s widely available to download and a first listen will take no more than ten minutes of your time.

Even if you’re not familiar with choral music, you might hear within the sound and texture of Brahms’ work a passionate commitment to living. He’s beautifully captured the sense of awe and amazement that comes from understanding our unlikely place in this most unlikely of worlds, and from knowing that our time in it is finite. This is music, written from a deep understanding of death, that can bring us searingly and beautifully into engagement with life.

And when you’ve finished with Brahms himself, give yourself half an hour to listen to the amazing episode of BBC Radio’s Soul Music (free on iTunes here, or from the BBC website here) filled with stories of how Brahms’ Requiem has played a pivotal role in people’s lives.

Of course, you’ll need to find your own music or other art form that can wake you up to your life when you forget. Today I wanted to share with you one of mine, in the hope it might be strong enough to be of some use.

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Remembering ourselves

Sometimes, in the midst of our busyness and our fixation on having things work out just the way we want them, we forget that we’re alive.

This forgetfulness, it seems to me, is an inevitable part of our human condition. I like very much Martin Heidegger’s phrase for this – that we get ‘scattered into everydayness’. In our everyday coping with all that comes our way, we go to sleep to ourselves and what we’re really up to in our lives.

When our forgetfulness goes on for too long, and if we don’t take steps to remember our aliveness, it starts to colour everything we’re doing. Workplaces in which people have forgotten they’re alive become places that pursue profit or targets with no sense of what they’re for. Families who have forgotten they’re alive lose sight of the preciousness and sacredness of the relationships between their members. There is always the washing-up to do, of course, but it can be a humdrum task to be endured or, when we’re awake to what being in a family is for, an expression of a much bigger commitment to the care of one another and the life that we share.

All of this is why it is vital that we have practices for remembering ourselves – practices that connect us to one another, to our aliveness, and to our relationship with all of life. Many of us have no such practices and those that we do have to deal with our scatteredness serve to numb us rather than bring us more fully to life.

One of the reasons this is difficult for many of us is that as we’ve pursued individualism we’ve abandoned so many of the shared rituals that come from being part of community: singing together; retelling shared stories, especially the founding myths of our families or culture; eating together; turning towards one another in appreciation and recognition. And we’ve been sold the line that entertainment will do all of this for us, but it mostly can’t reach deeply enough into our lives or into the lives of the people around us to wake us up to ourselves.

Writing is, for me, a powerful experience of self-remembering – a way in which I catch on to my aliveness. And that you are reading is part of it – though we may never have met we’re bound, you and I, for a moment. Reading – novels, poetry, philosophy, science. Walking too. Music. Meditation. Art. But nothing is as powerful a force for my own self-remembering as the web of Jewish practice that is woven through my life and which binds me in time, in place, and in a community. It has very little if anything to do with belief, and very much to do with what I’ve been talking about here – practices that remind me again and again of the feeling of being alive and connected to others in a vast universe of which I am, we are, a part.

Please understand that I’m not making an argument here for anyone to take up the forms of self-remembering that I’ve found so life-giving. But I am arguing for taking self-remembering seriously – that discovering and taking up practices that bring us to life again and again is foundational to a life well lived and good work well done.

Otherwise we’re just sleep-walking through.

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When we do the running for others

If you’re avoiding fear, shame or anxiety – as many of us are without realising it – you may also be avoiding, unbidden, on behalf of others.

Your insistence that others participate in your

perfectionism
rushing
detachment
being super laid-back
harmony
conflict-avoidance
being in control
never stopping
knowing about everything
being right
making sure everybody is cared for
winning
avoiding all risk
keeping your options open

might just turn out to be your way of ensuring your colleagues, your team or your family don’t have to experience what it is that you never want to experience.

I’m bringing this up because I think it’s a topic we could all do with observing in ourselves.

Running away, and denying that we’re running, constrains us enormously. And our unknowing projection of it onto others profoundly constrains their freedom too. Whole organisations have been constructed on meeting the avoidance needs of their founders and leaders, at huge cost to everyone.

As we gradually free ourselves from this compulsion, we each earn a much better chance of doing what it is that we actually came here to do.

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Walking

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I have spent the last two days walking, alone, in silence. Among ancient trees, by water, away from interruptions, and moving, I am tethering myself to my life.

Everything is different for me when I walk. My thoughts, my moods, my experience of myself and my body. I’m reminded of my place in a living world that is much bigger than I am.

Too often, I forget this.

It struck me as I walked how few of us take restorative practices like this seriously. “I’m too busy” we say. “People need me.” “I couldn’t possibly stop.” In the world of many organisations we have turned this orientation into an unquestionable truth for everyone, pushing ourselves and others harder and harder, convinced that if we never stop we will eventually get what we long for.

In our endless quest for productivity, for efficiency, and for more stuff we’ve convinced ourselves that we are machines for doing and machines for consuming.

And because of this, we’re asking ourselves the wrong question. We’ve lost sight of what it is that is the source of all of our actions, hopes and possibilities. And of our productivity.

Instead of “how can I go faster?” we ought to be responding to “how can I be more alive?”. And understanding that everything we care about – everything – will flow from that.

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Following through

My friend and colleague Lizzie Prior cycled in October from Lands End to John O’Groats – one end of this island to the other. A thousand miles in twelve days. Along the way, when she was able, she kept a diary of her insights and experiences.

I have been thinking often, in recent weeks, about what it takes to commit to something over the long term, particularly if it’s a project that is important but will entail hardship or discomfort as well as joy and fulfilment. Lizzie has written wonderfully about what she learned on this subject from her cycling.

I’m reproducing her whole post below.

Take your place – you’re more likely to succeed if everyone knows where you stand. They know where they stand too.

Follow for as long as you need to – and lead when the wind takes you. The humility of following is a quality you need as a leader. Take advantage of those who lead. Benefit from the slipstream.

Always assume everyone is doing their best.

Faith is real, it’s the perfect match for fear.

Run with the pack you want to be part of even if you don’t feel ready and you’ll be enveloped. It’s how humans work. Physically behaving like what you want to become before you’ve made it is a great experiment.

When it feels uncomfortable, get over yourself. Don’t let the super ego take you out of what you want to be in.

Know that who you really are is far more capable and resourceful than you can understand.

Let your environment become you somehow – join with the landscape, be the path, embody the journey. And keep pedalling in the direction you know you want to go. There may be walls to pass through but if you keep going they will surely pass.

The ups and downs you can see in the distance are never the same as what you have perceived them to be. When you get there they look totally different. And something else is required than what you thought.

The stuff you have and use has a huge impact on you, as does what you put in your body.

When you’re in for the long haul, be generous to yourself and resist being a slave to comparison and competition. Self compassion and kindness are enduring and necessary for your well being.

Find a mantra, a saying, a practise to remind you of your intention to carry you through the difficulties. At times you won’t be able to feel the point, so you’ll need to have a powerful way of reminding yourself of your point, the meaning and the path you’re on.

Never underestimate the power of being connected to others on the path who get you, who make up your community and who laugh with you through the challenges. The true meaning of camaraderie.

You can read more of Lizzie’s work on her Sacred Rebellion blog.

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Running away

How many of your decisions and plans are attempts to avoid one of three primal emotions – fear, anger or shame?

How much of your way of relating to others is part of the same strategy?

And perhaps even what you call your ‘leadership style’?

We often kid ourselves that we’re exercising rational, conscious choice in each of these, when in fact we’re running as hard as we can from experiences we never wish to have again.

And how different is a life lived or work done on the run, from a life lived or work done out of love?

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Changing habits

Changing a habit, even if it’s something that really matters to you, is not as easy as some people would have us believe.

I’m sure you’ll have found this out already.

One reason is that our bodies have momentum. We settle into repeated patterns of action because of the way they make us feel. We’re so used to being numbed or enlivened by our habits that the simple declaration “This habit and I are done with one another” is rarely sufficient.

If you want to change a habit, you’ll need to orient towards yourself with great kindness and great persistence.

You’ll need to practice, taking up new habits that orient the repeated patterns of your body in new directions.

You’ll need to commit to dusting yourself off each time you fall out of your cycle of practice, beginning again even if this happens many times.

And, mostly, you’ll need great patience.

I loved this, from Peter Pruyn, paraphrasing Mark Twain:

An old habit is a lot like a cow stuck on the second floor landing: you can’t throw it out the bedroom window; you have to coax it down the stairs and out the front door… one step at a time.

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Your troubles and you

Because you’re not your failures, nor are you your successes, remember this:

Being in trouble, no matter how deep, is not proof you are broken.

And being successful, no matter how so, is not proof that you are saved.

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What you’re not

It’s so easy to identify yourself with your circumstances, and to have your sense of your own possibility shaped by them.

But it’s important to remember that while you will always find yourself in, or subject to, particular circumstances, they are not you. They never were. They never will be.

You are not your failure or your difficulty, your pain or your illness, your frustration or your longing, your debt or your confusion, your hopelessness or your fear or your certainty that you are stuck.

And, equally, you are not your success. You are neither your status nor your privilege, your bank balance nor the string of letters after your name. You are not your fame, your salary, the size of your house, the number of ‘likes’ you have.

Every time you think you are your circumstances, whether ‘good’ or ‘bad’, you diminish yourself.

So who are you if you are not any of these?

Can we ever find the words that will do justice to this question?

For today, I think Khalil Gibran’s response, from The Prophet, is a very good place to start:

“You are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself”.

Nothing more. And, certainly, nothing less.

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Shadows and Wizards

I’ve been writing for a while about the necessity, for each of us, of turning towards our shadow – all those parts of ourselves we started to push away and deny from the first moment we encountered disapproval from others.

We each acquired a shadow for good reason. It’s part of the necessary development from the wild everythingness of a new-born towards social acceptability – surviving as part of a clan or tribe, a family or society. We acquire a shadow in the name of appropriateness, approval and acceptability.

Beyond a certain point, though, the shadow is troublesome because it blinds us to ourselves. Whole aspects of ourselves become invisible to us, and we deny they are part of us. Often we’ll see them in others who become the target of our scorn, derision and judgment. “I could never be that way”, we say when, more truthfully, we are precisely that way but cannot see it.

If we are going to create lives in which we can respond fully, compassionately and creatively – families, organisations, societies too – it seems to me that we have a responsibility to turn towards our own shadows and learn about them, so we can fully understand and draw from what’s there.

And, as I’ve been reminded today by the wonderful Hollie Holden, one of the very best books on this subject is, in fact, a beautiful novel from 1973, A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K Le Guin. How this book became labelled only as ‘children’s literature’ mystifies me – it’s deep, generous, rich in narrative and characterisation, and spot on about what it takes to meet our own shadow and grow up through the experience. I couldn’t recommend it more highly.

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Learn with me

So much of what I’ve been writing about here over these past nine months has arisen from the work I do supporting people in their development in both their professional and personal lives.

If you’d like to come and learn with me and my colleagues, and can be in London on Monday 3rd and Tuesday 4th February, we will be running our next session of Coaching to Excellence, a two-day introduction to coaching others in a pragmatic, compassionate and profoundly developmental way.

It’s also the foundation for a bigger programme that’s a work of enormous love for us, our year-long Professional Coaching Course.

You can find all the details here.

We’d love for you to join us.

Speak to me from the darkness

Compassion is knowing our own darkness well enough that we can sit in the darkness with others.

And it is a relationship between equals, never a relationship between the wounded and the healed.

— Pema Chödrön

When I’m feeling ashamed at what I’ve done – an ordinary, human course of events in which I’ve made a choice I regret – the last thing I need you to do is to tell me what I could have done differently.

The judgement inherent in your advice prolongs my shame, and increases the distance between us.

Speak to me instead from that part of you that knows you could find yourself in a similar situation.

And, please, show me you see my humanity, and that you share it too.

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Sympathy and Empathy

When someone is in difficulty, in a dark hole in their lives:

Sympathy:

standing on the edge, calling “I’m so sorry for you” down into the darkness
and quietly thinking “How awful, I’d never get myself in that situation”

Empathy:

climbing down into the darkness with them, to let them know you’re there
knowing that the other person is just like you – in another time, another place, it could so easily be you who finds yourself in this darkness 

Sympathy: a judgement of the other, a standing apart.

Empathy: seeing their humanity, yours, and the fragile existence you both share.

Sympathy tries to fix or rescue, always from a distance.

Empathy comes in close, knowing that there’s often nothing to be fixed, and that it’s relationship that matters the most.

This distinction, so clear and powerful, is from Brené Brown, and beautifully illustrated in this short video inspired by one of her talks at London’s RSA.

The mind’s stream

If you are still – really still – for a while, you might start to notice the stream of thought that runs below the surface of everything, a stream that seems to flow on and on even when you’re not consciously thinking at all.

Like most of us, perhaps you’re so caught up in this stream that you hardly notice it. But all the time it’s affecting you – ushering in particular moods, comparing you with others, making plans and undoing them again, judging, blaming, hoping, longing, musing, playing, working things out.

This stream of thought is an expression of your relationship with yourself, with time, with life. Watching it attentively, so you can see what is really there, can be startling and liberating, because it’s shaping so much of what you do and don’t do, and what it feels like to be you.

If you practice being still and watching this regularly enough and for long enough, you can gradually develop the capacity to see through your habitual patterns of thinking instead of being caught up in them. And when you’re no longer bound so tightly by the horizons of an otherwise invisible current, the world gets just a little bigger.

Such mindfulness is an important skill for each of us to cultivate, because often we put all our attention downstream, on our actions and their consequences, rather than upstream on what gives rise to them.

And it’s an important leadership skill, because if you don’t know yourself well enough to see through what’s shaping you, how can you expect to take responsibility for your actions, or understand others?

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Not pretty

Life calls on us to be whole, which in turn calls on us to embrace the parts of ourselves that we’ve hidden away or denied – all the parts of being human that we’re sure are nothing to do with us.

The alternative is one-sidedness, in which we are gripped by a single end of each of life’s great polarities. We come to strongly prefer – or perhaps demand – perfection over mess, control over uncertainty, doubt over trust, going it alone over requesting help, peace over disagreement, success over sincerity, and so on.

We become convinced that the side we’ve chosen is the truth. And we come to see ourselves in a similarly one-sided way – perfect, or broken.

Being whole requires us to choose the middle path that includes both sides. Not easy, and probably not pretty either, because it calls on us to take responsibility for the darkness within us as well as the light.

But if we’re going to find a way to lead, teach and inspire others – and seize the chance for a fulfilling life while we’re at it – it’s vital and urgent work for each of us.

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So fast

Why are we committed to going so fast, to doing so much without end?

We, the people who have watches and clocks, but have apparently forgotten what it is to have time.

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A year of discernment

Perhaps this could be a year of unusual discernment for you.

Instead of your usual habits, pay close attention to what you read, who and what you listen to, and particularly to what you say.

Notice what dulls you. What twists you out of shape. What sends you asleep to yourself and to the world. You can be sure if you’re diminishing yourself, you’re also diminishing the people around you.

Notice what brings you vibrantly to life.

Does this sound like an irrelevant question? I can assure you, it’s of the greatest and most practical importance.

Because if we’re going to address the challenges ahead of us, we urgently need you to be wide awake, and we need you to shine… so that we can all shine too.

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Gifts from the you of yesterday

If you’re going to take up one new practice in 2014, I’d strongly recommend keeping a daily journal.

Use it as a place to record questions, thoughts, feelings, experiences, and insights, rather than simply an account of what you did. Treat it as a space in which to muse, doodle, wonder and wander; in which to discover what you didn’t know you knew; and in which to tap into the deep undercurrents of creativity and insight that are often just out of sight.

As a regular journal writer myself, I can think of few more powerful and enriching ways of discovering the hidden threads that run through a life. Maria Popova over at Brain Pickings has been writing about this topic too. I love the way she describes journalling as an ‘existential upgrade’.

Here’s what to do:

  • Buy the most gorgeous journal you can find – with high quality paper that’s satisfying to look at and to touch. Good quality, inviting materials make a huge difference to the experience.
  • Choose a pen that’s equally satisfying to write with. A good fountain pen is unbeatable for this.
  • Set aside a fixed amount of time every day, say ten or fifteen minutes, ideally at a regular time of day.
  • And then, just write. Some hints on this from an earlier post, are here.

Reading back over a journal as it unfolds can be an illuminating experience. You’ll see patterns you weren’t aware were there, recurrent themes and ‘new’ discoveries that you seem to forget and re-discover time and again. And perhaps you’ll receive the gift of deep and practical wisdom given to the reader you are today by the writer you were yesterday.

Please share with me your experience of taking on this practice.

I’d love to hear how you’re getting on.

Photo Credit: angela7dreams via Compfight cc

A year of days

To remember for the new year:

Days are like scrolls. Write on them what you want to be remembered.

Bachya Ibn Pakuda

and

How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.

Annie Dillard

Photo Credit: another.point.in.time via Compfight cc