Knowing yourself

And so any of us who leads, or wishes to lead others, could do well to study ourselves closely through taking up (1) some kind of mindfulness meditation practice which brings us into repeated and sustained contact with our inner world, and (2) through taking up a reflective journalling or writing practice.

It’s simple, really. Until we start to know ourselves we’re mostly on automatic pilot, hardly a way to powerfully and responsively bring ourselves to what matters.

To be clear about what I am saying here: developing self-knowledge is really very different from using mindfulness or reflective practices as a way of tuning out, numbing ourselves, staying calm, trying to have a transcendent experience, or training ourselves to put up with the status quo without complaining too much – all of which seem to be fuelling the current hype around mindfulness at work.

Getting to know ourselves well is not easy to do, mostly because when we stop our busyness we quickly come into contact with our own inner turmoil which we’d rather get away from. But it’s necessary if we are to know our reactions and responses well enough to have them rather than be had by them.

And we also need to do this because it’s only by knowing the contours of our own inner worlds that we can get a glimpse of what others’ inner worlds are like. Until then, we just see others’ behaviour without any real idea of what they might be experiencing. In this way developing self-knowledge builds the foundations for the compassion and deep understanding that any of us need in order to work well with, cooperate with, take care of, and stay in productive and creative relationship with other people.

Making visible

So much of what it is to be a person is invisible to us.

Yes, we can see outward behaviour, but we can’t see the thoughts, intentions, vows, commitments, bodily sensations, meaning, love, joy, grief, sadness, hope or pain of others.

In order to see and understand other people as people and not as objects we need to be able to understand the contours of their inner worlds. And in order to do that, we need to know our own inner worlds: we need the language and discernment to notice and distinguish what’s happening inside us. But we have abandoned the practices that can support us in this.

We’ve abandoned reflection and replaced it with busyness.
We’ve abandoned sitting quietly with ourselves and replaced it with consuming.
We’ve abandoned patient and disciplined self-observation and replaced it with entertainment.
We’ve judged the contemplative practices of those peoples and traditions that came before us to be irrelevant, spooky, or superstitious – at odds with our apparently sophisticated, rational way of being.

Our capacity to understand ourselves, and to understand others, has been flattened out, rendered shallow and inconsequential as a result. We barely know ourselves, and we barely know how to respond to the suffering and difficulty of those we work with, and those we live with.

If we want to build families, communities and organisations in which people have a genuine chance to thrive, we need to take care of this.

It’s time we took back what we’ve so comprehensively abandoned, so we can learn to treat what’s invisible about others and, first, about ourselves, with the seriousness and wonder it deserves.

What to pay attention to

I wrote yesterday about the inevitability that what we are doing in our lives (and hence in every activity, relationship, project) is joining the dots, stringing together the phenomena we experience into coherent narratives and explanations. In other words, we are always interpreting – and which interpretations we choose (or which choose us) is of enormous significance.

Of equal significance in this is our choice of phenomena to pay attention to. What we notice, and what we take to be meaningful, is a matter of both choice and practice. Choice – because an infinity of phenomena reach us and we pay attention only to some. Practice – because the way we pay attention (which includes what we pay attention to) is both a matter of habit (we most easily pay attention to what is familiar to us) and skilfulness (our capacity to discern and discriminate between different phenomena is something that can be learned, and cultivated over time).

The current cultural background of scientific materialism in which most of us are deeply schooled without our knowing it does not help us well in developing life-giving interpretations from which to live life, nor in learning to pay attention to what might be meaningful to us. This is not through any fault in science, itself a powerful and rigorous method for discerning deep and fundamental patterns and truths about the material universe. But looking at our lives only this way has us pay attention only to certain kinds of experience. We look only at what can be reasoned about, logically and in a detached way. We treat as true only that which can be proved, measured, quantified.

Scientific materialism, in its deep commitment to understanding the material world (and in understanding the world only as material) has little scope for understanding what’s meaningful to people, what makes our hearts sing, how we are moved by encountering or making art, what it is to love and be loved, what it is to care about life, the world, others. Or, more accurately, when it does have something to say about these topics it can only say that love is a particular firing of neurons in the brain, or an evolutionary adaptation to make it more likely that we reproduce; or that art is simply an adaptation that allows us to build social status, or that our appreciation of it comes because of the transmission of pleasure signalling chemicals to reward centres of the brain. And while all of these might well have a kind of rigorous truth about them when looked at from a materialist perspective, they tell us nothing about the meaningful experience of being human – what it is to love, or be loved, to create art, or be moved by it, to open to the mysterious and endless wonder of finding ourselves alive, or to be a whole world – as each of us are – of relationships, language, meanings, longing, desire, sadness, grief, joy, hope and commitment.

When we treat ourselves or others as mere material objects and truth as only scientific truth – as we are encouraged to do in so many of our systems in organisations, education and government – we miss out on deeper interpretations that take into account that we are subjects too, living beings who act upon the world through our ability to care and make sense, and who possess an exquisite and precious consciousness and capacity for self- and other-awareness. Precious indeed, because as far as we can tell, compared to the abundance of matter in the universe, life is rare enough. And among all the life we know about, as far as we can tell, consciousness and self-awareness (the capacity to say ‘I’ and reflect on ourselves) even rarer.

Alongside our scientific materialism, we could support our understanding and care about being human by paying attention also to the insights of those cultures and peoples who came before us, many of which we have thrown out in our elevation of reason over wisdom. In treating only reason as valid, we’ve discarded ways of encountering truth that can include beauty, meaning and goodness alongside what can be logically proved to be true. Myth, art, poetry, music, legend and spiritual practices that bind us into communities of meaning and action are all worth studying and taking seriously here. They can teach us to pay attention not only to the deep insights of our logical minds but also to the wisdom of our hearts and bodies, and to our first-hand lived experience of being human among other human beings.

Which brings me back to the ‘dots’ we pay attention to – the phenomena we treat as meaningful in our lives. What we experience does not come labelled for us as important, or not, significant or not. We have to decide what’s worth noticing, and practice living lives in which we make matter what can matter. And it’s incumbent upon us to do this, by paying a deeper kind of attention to our lives and our experience, and to what we choose to care about.

Joining the dots

We’re all joining the dots… connecting up what we observe and experience of our lives in ways that are coherent to us. And we each have preferred ways of doing so – habits of heart, mind and understanding that have the world show up the way it does for us.

I’ve noticed recently, for example, how familiar it is for to me to connect up other people’s action (or non-action) with a story of their current or impending withdrawal. I’ve done something wrong, I imagine, that they know about and disapprove of and of which I am hardly aware. A call not returned, a terse email, a silence, apparent distance during a social encounter – all of these are the dots I’m paying attention to in this way of making sense of the world. And the joining that I do has me be the outsider, the one who has to work and prove and be kind to get back in, the one who ought to feel ashamed of myself.

It’s a habit, this way of making sense, almost certainly born in my early years and practiced repeatedly since then. And, as I keep on finding out, not only is it just one way of joining up the phenomena I experience, it’s often far from accurate and rarely life giving to me or others. Moreover, when I fall into this habitual way of making sense I tend to pay attention to only some of the ‘dots’. Other phenomena – such as the enormous love and affection that comes my way, the contribution I’m making, or simple gratitude for being in the presence of others without my having to do anything – receive much less attention than they deserve.

I’m having to learn again how to join up the dots in a way that lets me see and feel the enormous love and support there is around me.

How you join the dots – how you interpret what happens – matters. As does the choice of which dots to notice. And each depends upon, and shapes, the other.

When you start to see that you are not experiencing life as it is but as an act of dot-joining, you can start to ask yourself some important questions about relationships, work, and about life itself.

It turns out that for any set of ‘facts’ (which is what we usually call the phenomena we’re choosing to observe) there are an infinity of interpretations, not all of them equal, and some filled with much greater possibility or much greater suffering than others.

And it also turns out that there are an infinity of ‘facts’, many of which are supremely significant in a life well-lived or in work well-done, that your current interpretation may be blinding you to.

So how you join the dots of your life is a significant question, as is the choice of dots you ignore as you do so. It can be difficult to see what you’re doing here without patient observation, because our habits of interpreting are most transparent to us – forming the usually hidden background to our lives and relationships. But the quality and possibility of your life, and all that you undertake, may hinge on your answer to this most invisible and most important of questions.

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What I learned from Du

Our special guest at the ten-year celebration of thirdspace last week was Du Lapaine, an extraordinary musician from Croatia. As well as playing for us (and more about that in moment), he spoke with us about what had had him step out of his PhD programme in mathematics in order to take up music as a calling.

Like many of us, Du explained, he found out early on that he was very good at something – in his case solving complex maths problems. And he enjoyed it enough, and was talented enough, to be able to study it seriously through school and university, and to step into an advanced programme of postgraduate research.

But something very interesting and profound happened to him during this time. He discovered that he was falling in love, and with something quite different to what he knew himself to be good at. The other party in this growing affair was the didgeridoo, an instrument he’d come across in the corner of a local music shop as a young man. He’d spent some years struggling with it – and many thousands of hours of practice – and was gradually coming to know its contours and possibilities, as well as his own. And, over time, he was coming to feel the call that this practice had for him, and the deep aliveness he experienced while playing.

Unlike many of us, who do our best to stay on the path we think we’re meant to be following, or on the path others have designed for us, Du decided to treat the love and longing he was experiencing with the seriousness it deserved. And rather than forcing things, as he found himself with less and less energy for the studies he was pursuing and less aliveness in the teaching he was doing, he decided his heart’s call needed honouring with a respectful and sensitive response.

“When I told my PhD supervisor I was leaving, and why”, he told us, “he gave me his blessing right away. And he let me know I could always come back”.

Perhaps most importantly, Du chose to go all in – an act of both dedication and surrender. “I knew that to start with it would be like being caught in a big stormy sea,” he said, “but that there would soon be floating wood I could hold on to.”

Eight years on, he told us, he’d managed to build himself a sailing boat and, more recently, with continued dedication and practice, something more like a small yacht with which he has enough power and wherewithal to set a direction and weather the bigger waves and squalls that life can throw at any of us.

“It’s been a huge change in my life,” he said “but I haven’t suffered because I didn’t struggle against what was happening to me. I decided that I would fight for my life with the didgeridoo”, he said, “rather than fight against it”.

That, it seemed to me, was among the most important lessons I learned from hearing Du speak and play: what can happen when we give up fighting against what life is calling us to do, and instead use its energy to support us. Following a vocational call in this way guarantees nothing in the way of material gain (which may not come) or cessation of difficulty (of which there may be much). But it does, at last, offer an opportunity to live – and an opportunity to give up a particular kind of suffering. And this is something that many of us are very far from doing as we try to squeeze ourselves into pathways that others have laid out for us or with which we mistakenly feel we must bind ourselves.

Watching Du play in person is extraordinary. The separation between him and the instrument, and between the music and the audience, quickly dissolves away until it’s clear that we’re all up to something, together.

If you have the opportunity to see him (and I hope we will bring him back, before long), please do. He and his music are quite something to behold.

Responding to life

On Thursday night of last week, at a celebration to mark 10 years of thirdspace coaching, the organisation I founded in 2005, I spoke a little about events in my own life that had given rise to its founding. And I talked about the some of the people who’d been influential in inviting me to step in, in spite of my own fears and confusions, to what was beginning to call to me.

Our contemporary culture, at least for most of the past 150 years or so, has not given much credence to the idea of responding to a calling. Our narratives about work, and the practices that support it, are mostly oriented towards how to fit in to what our culture has designed for us, and how to get ahead. We learn, more or less successfully, how to mould ourselves to the categories already on offer in the world – lawyer, factory worker, administrator, school teacher, manager etc – and how to use these to try to get what we want: status, money, recognition, security. We’re caught, in this late-capitalist phase of our society, in a promise that was hatched for us by the early pioneers of industrialism – fit into our scheme, work hard, do what’s asked of you, and you’ll eventually get what you want and what you need.

It’s not hard to see the many ways in which this promise often does not work out, and the suffering that it causes when either the material benefits do not arrive, or when our hearts and souls are stunted by the repeated self-abandonment that fitting in can require of us.

And, beyond that, splitting off parts of us that don’t fit in means that what we each have to bring – the unique contribution of gifts and talents – rarely gets brought to the world. That matters way beyond words, because in the multiple crises of our times – crises of ecology, economics, health, meaning, belonging, and community – we need all the art, science, insight, compassion, pragmatism and wisdom we can muster.

And so, I said, it’s vitally important that we simultaneously cultivate a different kind of narrative about us and the world, and the practices to go with it. We could pay more attention, I argued, to what life is asking of us, which might be quite different from what we had imagined we would do, and which could take us far from the path we thought we were following when we began.

Responding to life’s call, which means being sensitive enough to listen to it and courageous enough to take action on it, is the first step in bringing what is each of ours to bring to the world. And we’re blessed by an explosion in technology which, if we’re wise enough to use it well, offers an amazing opportunity for each of us to share our contributions widely. We have more ways of distributing our writing, ideas, art, music and thinking than have been available to any generation before us, if we’re willing to step in.

We also have many reasons to be afraid. We’re afraid of being rejected (we might be). Afraid of our own (inevitable) insecurity. Afraid of not fitting in. Afraid it won’t work out (it might not). Afraid when we see others respond more to life than we are currently doing, and keen to have them fit in so we don’t feel so troubled.

And, often, we’re afraid to love.

Though it turns out that love, with all its risks, all the ways it undoes things, and all of the wholeness it can bring, is a powerful source for our own action and our own unfolding, and for our own responding to life, even when – especially when – we are most terrified.

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On other people, and on ourselves

One of the most necessary liberations comes when you discover that what other people think of you is not the same as who you are. When you can stop identifying yourself with the stories and assessments of others, you can also free yourself from the constant inner pressure to appear as you think people want you to.

But once you know this, you have to understand that other people are not the same as your stories or assessments either. That means that whatever you think you know about them can only ever be partial, one angle on a situation way more complex than you’ve allowed for.

It means you’re going to have to learn to be way more imaginative and listen much more deeply, if you’re ever going to understand what’s going on when others are involved.

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Turning

If you want to be up to something beyond fitting in, settling down or taking up the roles others have made for you, you’re going to have to look closely and seriously at your relationship with tension. And ask yourself, when you feel your body tense, which way do you go?

You may not be able to address this question until you spend some time quietly observing yourself. What does tension actually feel like in your body? Where does it show up? What is its quality? How does it move?

The easiest way to interpret tension is as a problem to be resolved. So you move away from it, dissipate it, release it so that it can’t trouble you. You’ll have your own well practiced ways of doing this, and if you continue to observe yourself for a while you might find out what they are.

But know that if your move is away, always away, you’re acting to keep the world exactly as it is. Because tension is stirred at that exquisite moment when difference or possibility present themselves to you. The possibility of speaking with courage, of standing out, of surprising others and yourself, of being known in a new way, of being fully and radically in contact with others, of standing for something – all profound sources of tension.

So take on a bigger, more generous interpretation of what your body is up to. How about tension as an invitation, a doorway, the opening of a new horizon that you’ve never experienced before? Tension as a profound call to throw yourself wholeheartedly in to the riskiness and creativity of being alive.

If you want to be up to something in the world, sooner or later you’re going to have to step in and learn to stay in the midst of what you’ve turned away from for so long.

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Meaning and Mattering

Does it strike you how small an orientation to work, and to life, it is to focus only on efficiency or performance?

And how small an orientation to engaging with the world it is to demand knowledge rather than cultivate wisdom or discernment?

We are so convinced by our rush to produce, to measure, to attain and to know that we give little space to two deeply important human disciplines – the capacity to wonder and the capacity to be patient.

And the more convinced we are, the more we turn our organisations and ourselves away from an encounter with what could both be meaningful, and what could matter.

And it’s a tragedy, because meaning and mattering are two of the foundational requirements of a human life well lived.

Talking to ghosts

First, we had talking.

Given half a chance, we human beings can be very good at talking and listening to one another. It’s a capacity we’ve built by doing it for hundreds of thousands of years.

If we settle and quieten ourselves, if we tone down our inner chatter and impulsivity, we can  speak powerfully with one another in ways that foster deep understanding and the exploration of wide-open possibility. And we can take action together, directly and effectively, by making and responding to each others’ promises and commitments.

But our technology, to which we are so addicted, does not always help us with this.

We invented the telephone, a revolution in connectivity, opening up wide new possibilities to talk and listen with those not physically present with us.

This, at least, is synchronous. We must speak to a person who is actually there, when they are there. We have to be in conversation. We have no choice but to witness to their reactions to what we’re saying, and they to ours. Though stripped of the bodily presence of another, a conversation by phone brings us in contact with them.

But then we invented voicemail (first, the answer machine), allowing us to speak when the other person is absent.

And we invented email and text messaging, forums and Facebook and social media of many kinds, which enabled us to exchange messages more quickly and fluidly than recorded voices would allow.

And we found that we loved them.

These are asynchronous technologies. They afford us the possibility of speaking and listening without the other’s simultaneous presence. And we like this because leaving messages feels much less risky, much less exposing, much safer than the delicate work of speaking with another live human being with emotions and reactions, thoughts and judgements, cares and commitments.

We get to speak without having to be vulnerable.

And, because we like this feeling of safety more than we will admit, today we drown under a deluge of messages. We spend our time interacting with ghosts – distant others who are not there to feel or hear what we have to say. We do not even have to speak. And, most importantly, we are spared feeling or experiencing others’ reactions to us.

We say this drowning is ‘just how it is’, but fail to see that we’re making a choice. A choice to stay secure behind our machines. A choice to accept a flood of disembodied words at the expense of the shakiness and power of speaking directly to other people.

We’ve made the world this way, and it’s killing us.

But we can do something about it because, first, we had talking.

And we still have it, if we would choose to turn towards one another.

Because given half a chance, we human beings can be very good at talking, and listening. It’s a capacity we’ve built already by doing it, very well, for hundreds of thousands of years.

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Waiting for life to begin

Perhaps you’re living a life where happiness, fulfilment or meaning is dependent upon reaching some future goal:

You’ll be happy when you retire
You’ll rest only when you’ve made (you choose how much) money
You’ll be fulfilled when people at last recognise and appreciate you

Meanwhile, you’ll put up with living a life at odds with yourself, or a life in which you don’t take care of what’s right here – your body, your loved ones, your talents, your capacity to contribute, and all the people who can support you.

What will your life be, do you think, if you never get to your dreamed-of destination? If the goal is never fulfilled in the way you’re imagining it? If you’re thwarted in your intentions by breakdowns and failure along the way? If illness, or death, intervenes? Or if you get there and find out it wasn’t, at all, how you imagined it to be?

Have lofty, ambitious goals, yes. Set out for something, yes. Bring energy, commitment, hope and optimism to it, yes. Make a contribution. Make a splash.

But please don’t do it for the far-off result alone, or have your life rely on things turning out in order for you to be fully in it.

Too many people have constructed their lives this way and found out, too late, that their deferring life in favour of an unknown future turned them away from the deeper rewards – and bigger contribution – made possible through actually living.

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It has been decided…

Facilitating a workshop I’ve designed for a group of colleagues – people I know well and love – I find myself saying “In a moment I’ll tell you the groups that have been decided”. One of the participants points out to me that the groups weren’t just ‘decided’ as if by some abstract, dispassionate hand. They were decided by me.

I have to catch myself. I’m surprised to find myself making this move.

“It has been decided…” and “The groups that have been decided…” are so easy to say. But the move to leave out ‘I’ is a move to hide, or to duck away from responsibility.

And, though it may seem like a subtle point to make, each time you leave out ‘I’ and other people play along, you diminish the opportunity for others to respond, to dissent, to say no to you. You, ever so subtly, move not only to diminish your own responsibility for what happens, but others’ capacity to step in to the conversation.

Leaving out ‘I’ looks like an act of humility or self-diminishment, when really it’s a move to cement your power, and to ever so quietly have things go your way.

Fear or care?

What do you imagine brings forth our most generous creativity, commitment and attentiveness? Would you say fear, or care?

And, yet, we seem determined to construct our companies, and our schools, around making people afraid.

It may not look this way. We cover it up with a veneer of respectability, process, and ‘best practice’. But, still, we try to bring about so much of what needs to happen by generating fear – about the future, about prospects, about promotion, about opportunity.

Perhaps we do this because we have not yet become skilful enough at working with, or being present to, our own fear. Because we’re had by our fear, we imagine we’ll bring about something that lasts by stirring it in others.

But while fear can be a powerful force for immediate action, it quickly leaves us resourceless, frozen, diminished and disconnected both from others and from the source of our own creativity and aliveness.

Could we instead take the bold move of cultivating and welcoming the care that is equally inherent in being human?

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Right-sizing yourself

You probably have no idea of the actual scale of your presence in the world.

Under-sizing:

I’m so small
They’ll never take any notice
I can’t do anything
Who cares what I see and know?
Better not to cause any ripples
Nobody listens, why would they?
Who, little me?

Over-sizing:

I’m so important
It’s all about me
I’m entitled to whatever I want
Get out of my way
You owe me

It shouldn’t be surprising that you adopt one or both of these positions, such is our desire to hide from or conquer the complexity and confusion of life. But, in the end, both reduce the world to something small and rather petty. They are a way of manipulating life to get what you want, or avoid what you don’t want to have to feel. And each diverts you from the duty of stepping up and contributing what is only yours to give.

When you right-size yourself, you’ll find out that you have both immense power and immense responsibility, because to be human is inescapably to be a creator of worlds.

You always have the power to speak, act, imagine, trust, create, persuade, love, build, challenge, connect, listen, invent and teach. And with it the responsibility that comes from knowing that everything you say and everything you do shapes you and the lives of those around you. And when you right-size yourself, and you see all this, all you’ll want to do is serve.

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I’m not the kind of person who…

You know me. I’m not the kind of person who:

Speaks up for myself
Listens to others
Can be creative
Says what I think
Tells the truth
Asks for what I want
Knows how to stop
Can stay focussed
Keeps my promises

Perhaps not… at least for now.

But the ‘kind of person’ you are is brought about by your practices (what you do, purposefully, again and again) and by what you pay attention to (your own inner critic? the assessments of other people? what ‘one does’ around here?) over long periods of time.

Or: The kind of person you are – your values, your identity, your normal and comfortable reactions to what happens – is actively being brought about by how you choose to live.

Or: You become what you do.

So it would be much more powerful, and freeing, to say

‘You know me, I’m not currently living the kind of life that supports me in speaking up for myself, or listening to others, or being creative…’.

And then to make choices. To begin. To purposefully and consciously practice. And to find out that what ‘kind of person’ you are is much more malleable than you think.

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Myths we live by

Myths we live by…

… it happens to them, but it could never happen to me

… there’s really no cost to my overworking

… and what I do won’t really affect my body (I’m invincible)

… it (doing what deadens me, sacrificing my integrity, twisting myself out of shape) is only for now

… I don’t need any help

… other people get old, not me

… none of this is, really, happening

… there’s something wrong with me

… there are people who live without pain, grief or suffering (just not me)

… if I wait long enough (am good enough, liked enough, smart enough), someone or something will save me

… I’ll be happy when (I get the car, the lottery win, partnership, I retire)

… everyone’s looking at me

Do you live by any of these?

And have you ever stopped to wonder about the cost?

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And the time came…

I was reminded this week of a beautiful quote from Anaïs Nin about what it takes for people to develop:

…and the time came when the risk it took to remain in a tightly closed bud became infinitely more painful than the risk it took to blossom.

Genuine development is always this, an unfolding step in which we release what we’re clinging to and allow ourselves to open into a bigger kind of understanding, and a bigger kind of world.

It’s made possible by a letting go – of our defences, of a way in which we know ourselves and, most crucially, of our certainty.

We can resist this for a long time. But sometimes, if we’re lucky, we find out what Anaïs Nin is telling us, that something has to die in order for us to develop, so that something new in us can live.

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Anticipatory moods

I am finding out how often I experience protective anticipatory moods.

There’s a part of me that makes sure I feel disappointment, long before the events about which I might feel disappointed have taken place. I can feel anticipatory disappointment – a kind of flatness and emptiness – before spending time with people I care about, before a special experience which I’ve been looking forward to, before teaching, before travelling. I’ve been feeling a special kind of anticipatory disappointment in the run up to the elections on Thursday here in the UK.

And there’s a part of me that can make sure I feel anticipatory shame. Before speaking in public, before sharing my deepest inner experience with others, before asking for something that I want or desire, before making a stand for something that matters to me.

The more I care about something – the more significant it is to me – the more often I’ll feel one of these. And the more often they’ll have me tune out or hold myself back.

It has been revelatory to spot this process at work – to disentangle how I’m feeling from how the world is. Because while these anticipatory moods are related to the world, they’re not so much of the world. They are, more accurately said, an attempt by protective inner parts of me to shield me from the more potentially public kind of disappointment or shame that comes from engagement with the world or with others.

Let us do the shaming or disappointment first, these parts say, to spare you a much worse kind of shame or emptiness.

As is so often the case, simply seeing these parts for what they are (and honouring their ultimately unhelpful attempts to protect me) has them relax, giving me a much better chance of bringing myself fully and courageously to the world.

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We need more communication…

We just need more communication round here…

… as if communication were a thing, not a living activity

… as if communication were something that you wait for

… as if communication is an object that can be given to you by others

… as if communication were not something you participate in

We partly treat communication as if it were a thing because we’re in thrall to the idea of work as machine more than work as a living process. But we do it also because we know that really communicating with one another exposes us to risk – the risk that comes from connection with others, the risk that comes from revealing ourselves, the risk that comes from people disagreeing or saying ‘no’ to our ideas and hopes, the risk of disappointment, the risk of not feeling things are moving quickly enough, the risk of feeling ashamed.

Yes, invent processes, restructure meetings, install technology, reorganise your organisation. All of them can help. But don’t for a minute imagine that any of that will resolve your wish for better communication unless you’re also prepared to take the simple but radical step of listening and talking more, and learning to do so more and more skilfully.

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