Imagine a world of things that can be sub divided into two separate worlds; the world of clocks and the world of clouds. Within the world of clocks are neat orderly systems that can be defined and evaluated. We can take these things apart and see how they fit together. In the world of clouds are things, which are irregular and dynamic. They are hard to study and change from second to second.
The uncertain nature of clouds makes them beautiful but some how ghostly and not quite there. They are constantly being formed and being destroyed. They emerge and withdraw. They are nature’s great example of the constant wash of creation and destruction. They remind us of our own impermanence. “I wandered lonely as a cloud….”
Does this explain our desire to live in the world of clocks? Things that can be divided and explained provide comfort and protection from the flow and flux. The rational subdivision and explanation of experience pacifies the mind wracked with existential angst. Things can be ordered and kept safe… I can be ordered and I can be kept safe.
From Descartes to Darwin to Freud and on through the 20th century the world of clocks has come to dominate our politics, wellbeing and wealth.
My own background is in the world of clocks. I trained in old-fashioned economics. Pareto, Keynes and the ideas of Milton Friedman were drummed into me. After that I studied to become a chartered accountant. Here I learnt to freeze time at a balance sheet date and talk wisely to people who would pay me to explain how things were, how things are and how things maybe in the future.
I spent most of my childhood and working life understanding how to divide things up and “explain” to other people how things worked and I used information to prophesise how things may be in the future.
My left hemisphere thinking was finely honed. I lived in a world of clocks; of dissected finite time, a world of mine and yours, a world of success and failure. Around about the time of the new millennium this desire to explain and understand the world through dissection started to feel a little hollow. I craved connection to something bigger than me.
The Greeks describe this as Thumos; the desire for union and recognition through the development of a higher self. This is the feeling we have when we recognise, celebrate and unify with one another through the development of the great human strengths of kindness, compassion, bravery and love.
After twelve years in finance I studied to become a massage therapist and found a connection to a higher self through human touch. I felt that I was a good therapist. I felt I was kind and compassionate and provided a nurturing touch, which helped both my healing and my clients.
There were moments when I worked as a therapist that I felt that the world stopped. I would stare at a back and become absorbed in an area of the persons body. It felt like my being was part of the being I was massaging. I experienced euphoric feelings of oneness. There were times where I felt that I could see my molecules and the client’s molecules coming together and merging. In those moments I could see and feel the truth that humans and everything in the universe are emerging systems. We are constantly forming and un forming. We are connected to and of our environment and each other. Dissection of mind and body cannot explain our essence and can only have limited potential in helping us grow.
My years as a massage therapist helped me to develop a holistic view. I started to live and enjoy the world of clouds. I no longer felt lonely as a cloud and fearful of uncertainty but started to enjoy and embrace that uncertainty.
With my imagined or real observation at the molecular level of the floating and fleeting nature of reality I began to experience more freedom in my life. I became grounded in uncertainty and abstraction. The very fleeting and precious nature of life enabled me to grow. I began to gently kiss and caress life as it flowed around me rather trying to hold onto things.
However I still live in a world of clocks. Each time I float as a cloud I feel drawn back to the world of mine and yours. I feel the neediness of my left hemisphere thinking. The desire for comfort, the desire to be liked, the desire for material reward, the desire to hold and grab this precious life and not let this moment go. And the desire to shackle and control my thoughts and feelings and those of the people around me.
I take steps forward and then many steps back. I feel sometimes I have “it’.
It’s just there. It’s there when I see a sunrise or a rainbow. It’s there when I run into the sea or see the light refraction on the bottom of a pool. It’s in the smiles of my family and it’s in the air that brushes my skin.
And then it’s gone again.
After my years of bodywork I became a yoga teacher and this provided me with amazing new tools enabling me to embrace flow and connection.
And after my yoga training I was drawn once more to the world of clocks. I took a masters in psychology and learnt how psychologists like to count like accountants. I was suddenly back in the world of numbers and systems and control. I studied system after system that attempted to explain our inner workings.
But the more time I spent with evidenced based psychologists and exploring their models I began to have the same strange clock like disconnected uncertain and unhappy outlook on life. I felt many of the practitioners I met were not trying to develop Thumos. They didn’t seem kind are altruistic or compassionate or uncertain. There was something about the lack of humility and the lack of positive intention that I found disturbing.
As I studied economics I read more and more work by behavioural economics by people like Daniel Kahneman. I became interested in their ideas that people are more like clouds in their composition and outlook and behaviours.
I learnt how psychology studies were weird ie based on sample populations who were mainly white, educated, industrialised, rich and democratic. I also learnt that more 64% of psychology studies could not be replicated. I became concerned at the lack of real evidence behind much of “evidenced based psychology” and disappointed at the way many health practitioners use the evidence based badge of psychology to maximise their wealth.
From my studies of neuroscience I learnt that we are infinite selves within this self. Our 80 billion neurones with 10,000 (plus) possible synaptic connections enable us to perceive the world and ourselves in an infinite number of ways. We can try and explain human behaviour through dissection, correlation and extrapolation but this can only be of limited use in helping us develop Thumos.
We behave in ways depending upon context. Our inner systems of like and dislike can not un see or un experience what we have seen or have experienced. We cannot see or un see what our forebears have seen or experienced. We are guided by inner systems of like and dislike and we are intimately and intricately connected to all that is and all that has ever been.
There seems to be one huge mind which has no barriers and no limits and is filled with knowledge. I learnt through my body work, meditations and yoga that I can tap into this universal sea. When I behave cloud like I can use my intuition. I can tap into a source of knowledge and energy that is infinite. It is always there but my yoga teaching explains to me how it is often obscured by koshas or layers of ignorance that bind me to duality.
With my business background and body work and yoga training I chose to retreat from the world of psychology. In the last 10 years I’ve dipped my toe back into the areas of emotional intelligence coaching and positive psychology but I spend little time with people with similar qualifications to me. Accept some….In my travels I’ve been blessed to meet some people from the world of psychology who are filled with love and positive intention. They are also filled with confidence and humility. I’m blessed that they are my friends and colleagues and if you find a coach or counsellor or clinical psychologist who manage to combine the world of clouds and clocks stick with them!!
And now I’m at a crossroads. I feel love and connection in the world of clouds but mainly earn my living working with clocks. I’m uncertain how to proceed. I’m not sure if I’m on the right track but I can take comfort from the growth, fun and love that I’ve experienced since I first started to explore my cloud like self.
This blog will continue but we have a new way of connecting – please check out www.breathe-magazine.com
As I started to write this article I wanted to call it the Mindful Leader but this brought to mind images of North Korean leaders. So its an article about leadership and what leaders should focus upon.
Ask yourself two questions. Who is the leader in my organisation and who is the most influential person? It’s quite common that the answers to these two questions may be very different. The person that stimulates, encourages, connects, motivates, listens too, energises may not be the leader. The leader may have become aloof and removed
Since the financial crisis of 2007/8 and in the decade before that there has been a growth in command and control style of leadership. The call went out for leaders who could cut costs and extract value. And this has come at a heavy price.
Daniel Goleman, the Emotional Intelligence guru has said, “the common cold of leadership is poor listening”. With ever shortening deadlines, increased customer expectations, a heightened competitive environment and increased a huge increase in data, a leader can be left not knowing where to turn. In such an environment the safest place for a command and control leader is back to the security of goal focus and ridged top down management.
Successful leaders need to be able to focus on four critical areas:
- Exploitation – extracting the maximum value from current products and services
- Exploration – awareness of the competitive environment, so that they can prepare for challenges and take advantage of opportunities
- Focusing on the culture and vibe of the organisation to ensure that they are listening to their team – picking up concerns and being able to harness great ideas
- Self awareness – understanding their impact upon others
Each of these skills is essential to good leadership but require very different neural pathways. A great leader can move seamlessly between one style of working and another. The leader who spends too much time on any one area, at the expense of the others, will have difficulty engaging and harnessing the collective energy and focus of the organisation. This balancing act requires great mindfulness.
A leader needs to be able to see what others cannot see. When a leader focuses upon a something she gives it meaning. But is it the right thing to attend to? Will it bring value to the organisation and pull the team together. And once the collective attention of the organisation has been placed in the subject, the challenge of a leader is to retain that attention through powerful, uplifting and engaging stories.
The great balancing act requires a leader to have a wide range of emotional intelligence skills including being empathetic, sensing their affect on others, good team work, heightened listening skills and cooperation.
A recent Accenture study of CEOs came up with one over arching factor that was an essential part of the successful leaders tool kit – self awareness.
Just think back to the performance of ex CEO of BP, Tony Hayward . After a long delay in responding in person to the Gulf of Mexico tragedy he turned up on a local beach and said to the gathered press group, “Nobody wants this over more than I do. I want my life back” . No mention of the deaths of BP staff and the suffering of their families, no mention of the environmental catastrophe, no mention of the economic hardship for local fishermen…”I want my life back”….
A leader must be authentic. A leader must listen. A leader must be humble and know that he serves his employees, shareholders and the wider community.
My yoga journey started back in 1999. From the start I was hooked. Initially drawn to fast paced dynamic flow yoga, my practice has evolved over the years. The hard physical aspect of assana practice was my entry point to the complexity of yoga.
Early in my practice I was blessed to come accross an amazing Iyengar yoga teacher. She had been a pupil of the great teacher, Iyengar, for over 25 years. Over the years she had direct experience of Iyengar’s adjustments and I was lucky to receive some of this wealth of experience via Brenda. In 2003 I was also lucky to stumble accross Sivananda yoga. Their fantastic course provided a great introduction to the beautiful knowledge from the Yoga sutras and also the Bhagavad Gitta. Since then I’ve learnt techniques and received insights from hundreds of amazing teachers and been lucky to have taught thousands of classes and workshops.
My yoga journey led away from my former career in Corporate Finance with KPMG towards physical and mental fitness. And from there to Leadership development and Mindfulness
Yoga – flourishing
Many people see yoga as a stress management tool, a good stretch, a way to alleviate pain or create a hard and lean body. It is all this but is also much more. The Eight Limbs of Yoga, contained within the Yoga Sutras, provides a diligent practicioner with the keys to a thriving life. Daily practice provides insight into the perfection that is already present. We reveal our inner radiance and connection to the outer radiance by exploring and bringing into presence each area of the eight limbs.
Through my subsequent exploration of neuroscience and Positive Psychology I have have come to realise how each of the eight limbs re wires the brain. Diligent practice enables us to thrive as individuals and also fosters community and global wellbeing.
The Eight Limbs
Many mental health practitioners are embracing the wonderful concepts from various Buddhist traditions but there is a real lack of knowledge among psychologists about the depth and power for brain training and whole body flourishing contained within the Eight Limbs of Yoga. Here is a little about each :
Yama – mindfully developing love, kindness and compassion for others and the environment
Niyama – mindfully developing self kindness and compassion. This includes being mindful of our cravings and impulses and regulating them in order to encourage non attachment. Through practice we are better able to savour, observe and let go – Non grasping. Non affliction. The joy of life flows and we let it flow on by
Asana – mindful observation of our physical bodies. The act of observing in a kind and compassionate manner changes the observed and has a positive impact on the brain
Pranayama – mindful observation of our breath changes the observed. As we engage in deep, slow, abdominal breathing, our resting heart rate and blood pressure are positively influenced. And as we engage in this process the body informs the mind, through the vagal nerve, that all is well. We feel safe, loved and have all we need. No need to run. No need to strive in order to keep up with the crowd. In a calm, balanced, state we are better able to attend to the things in life that bring meaning and foster personal and global wellbeing
Pratyahara – Mindfully turning our attention inward in order to observe the relationship between cause and effect. We observe how we crave some things and are repulsed by others. This mindful, non judgmental, observation allows us to unpick some of the hard wired tendancies that we have. These are the tendencies we were born with, the ones that came to us with our development and the ones that we are creating or solidifying at this very moment. Like Leonardo DA Vinci we become the disciple of experience through mindful observation. We observe ourselves moving through life, attracted by some things, repulsed by others. Calm observation fascilitates the development of wisdom as we understand that our ego is nothing but a bundle of thoughts, feelings and sensations wrapped in a physical layer. Observation enables us to understand that the self is not an unchanging thing but an evolving, connected thing which can grow and change and live harmoniously within the world
Dyhana – Being mindful of the first five limbs requires focus. Dyhana is the process of training the attention to focus on one thing. As we practice this we get better at it. With the sharpened tool of attention we can attend better to developing kindness and compassion for others. We are also better able to develop kindness and compassion for ourselves. With sharpened attention we can be more mindful of our physical bodies, our breath and better placed to observe and regulate our thoughts and feelings. Without attention we can not attend to that which we find meaningful . Without attention we cannot attend to the things that the Buddha and Patanjli observed made us thrive
Dharana – effortless attention. Through practice the karmic impulses are quietened and non judgmental single pointed focus can be achieved effortlessly.
Samadi – a practicioner of yoga may experience fleeting moments and profound realisations. The realisation that our neurons are connected. As you suffer, I suffer. As you thrive, I thrive. The world in peace and harmony . The mind in peace and harmony. Transcenence, oneness. The realisation of perfection
Our next course, Positive Psychology for Yoga teachers, Mental health workers, Psychologist and Yoga students, explores how the findings from Positive Psychology and Emotional Intelligence compares and contrasts with the observations of Yoga practiconers.
The next course is with myself and Michale de Maninor at the Yoga Institute, Sydney on the 9th November http://www.breathe-australia.com/sessions