Lifelong Learning through Reflection

Ortrun Zuber-Skerritt and Richard Teare in their edited book, Lifelong Action Learning for Community Development, highlight reflection as core to action learning and lifelong learning.  Hospitality entrepreneur and author, Chip Conley is an exemplar of lifelong learning through reflection.  In his podcast interview with Tami Simon, he emphasised the role of reflection in his entrepreneurial career.  Chip had a secret process of recording his learnings in a weekly bulleted list based on his reflections about the previous week and what he learned from each significant encounter.  His reflective Wisdom Books in the form of notebooks were developed over many years and provided the ideas for his five published books on leadership, entrepreneurship, peak organisational performance, psychology and marketing.

Mutual mentoring – the Modern Elder

Chip was the founder and CEO of a chain of boutique hotels, Joie de Vivre.  He sold them after 24 years following a near-death experience a few years earlier.  This “flatlining” experience was the catalyst for him to think about what he wanted to do with the rest of his life and also changed his orientation from an efficiency-driven “to do list” person to a “to be list” person who was prepared to slow down and appreciate beauty and aesthetics.

He came to a clearer understanding of the difference between intelligence and wisdom and began to repurpose his life around sharing his insights and encouraging people to develop wisdom.  Reg Revans, the father of action learning, had also highlighted the difference between cleverness and wisdom and pointed out that wisdom, not cleverness, is necessary when confronted with unfamiliar conditions or situations.  For Reg, admitting what we do not know is the starting point for the development of true wisdom.

Acknowledging what he did not know became a critical component of Chip’s new career move after the sale of his boutique hotel chain.  He had been approached by the three founders of Airbnb to work fulltime in the company as a mentor and strategic adviser.  He found himself as someone in his fifties mentoring people in their twenties.  This led to a mutual mentoring arrangement where he shared his knowledge and experience re strategy and marketing in the hospitality industry and gained knowledge from the founders about the digital world and its impact on business management and growth. 

Chip wrote his book Wisdom at Work: The Making of a Modern Elder  to share his experience of being both a mentor and an intern”.   Jack Welch, when CEO of General Electrics (an action learning-based company), also employed the concept of “mutual mentoring” between senior executives and young technological experts within the company.

The Modern Elder Academy

This experience of mutual mentoring led Chip to establish The Modern Elder Academy to enable people to make the midlife transition in a way that was enriching for themselves and others.  Through his personal experience and insight, he recognised that there was an unmet need to help people in midlife to transition to their new reality (whether that be impending retirement, role as a carer, transitioning to a new career or experiencing the onset of chronic illness).  He maintained that rituals, training and tools existed for other transitions in life (such as puberty, graduation from school or university or marriage) but not exist for those who were transitioning to the midlife stage (35-70). 

The Modern Elder Academy is designed as a “place where people cultivate and harvest their wisdom” and “reset, restore and repurpose” their life.   Chip’s academy, described in a Forbes article as a “Cool School for Midlifers”, is very different to any other academy and incorporates learning entirely new skills such as surfing and bread making and incorporates the development of mindfulness through a “silent contemplation park” and periods devoted to meditation, reflection, yoga, “wisdom circles”, appreciating the beauty of nature, and a desert-based vision quest (in the extended version only).

 One of the core challenges people experience at the Elder Academy is what Chip terms “midlife edit” – letting go of old beliefs and patterns and acquiring a “growth mindset” where the emphasis is on getting rid of baggage, developing a flexible mindset and focusing on self-improvement and personal growth.  Cliff explains that his experience of mutual mentoring led him to adjust his mindset from that of a CEO and industry leader to an “Intern”, to acknowledge that he needed to learn about the digital world of business from millennials and to shift from “being interesting to being interested” – a transition that requires deep listening.  Participants who complete the one-week “curriculum” receive a “Certificate in Mindset Management”. 

Reflection

We can grow in mindfulness at any stage of our life.  However, what Chip offers through the Modern Elder Academy is a structured way of developing mindfulness, processes for changing fixed mindsets and an opportunity to repurpose our midlife in this transition period.  The added advantage is the community dimension – making this journey with others and developing a deep sense of connectedness to nature and others (by sharing our common humanity, midlife challenges and growing wisdom).

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Image by Benjamin Balazs from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Healing the Wounds of Trauma

Corey De Vos of Integral Life and Ryan Oelke discussed the need to address the effects of trauma at sometime in our life.  Their discussion, Inhabit Your Wound, was wide-ranging and covered the impacts of trauma, barriers to addressing the wounds and processes for uncovering the wisdom that lies beneath the pain of trauma.  They suggest that each of us has our own “unique constellation of trauma” but if the wounds are addressed with a gentle curiosity, social support, professional help and self-compassion, they can release new insights and energy to enable us to more fully realise our purpose in life.

Trauma tends to impact many facets of our life, often below the level of consciousness.  It might be reflected in irrational fears, reluctance to appear in public, constant anxiety and depression, inability to develop and/or maintain intimate relationships, eating disorders or addiction, indecisiveness, inability to hold down a job or an overall sense of lack of meaning and purpose.  Many things can trigger a trauma response, including objects, people, news, conversations and observing a violent incident – because trauma impacts at a “cellular level”. Trauma can leave us directionless, powerless, confused and disoriented.

Barriers to healing the wounds of trauma

Corey and Ryan maintain that the shadow of trauma follows us throughout life, but we typically have defence mechanisms to prevent us from dealing with the pain and healing the wounds.  The memory of a trauma is often submerged below our level of consciousness because we sense that recollection is potentially too painful.  We may even have experienced dissociation to keep the memory away from our inner awareness.  We may have developed an internal narrative that is based on denial – “it really didn’t happen” – and this acts as a barrier to exploration and healing from trauma.

Ryan and Corey also observe that sometimes we could be part of a collective trauma experienced as a result of systemic discrimination or jointly experienced life events.  These life events could take the form of war, mass incarceration, natural disasters or a terrorist incident.  They can lead to “culturally inherited dramas” imprinted on our psyche.  Experience with religion during childhood or later in life can leave its own “baggage” and can be “harder to unpack” and deal with because it can become caught up with other traumatic experiences.  Corey and Ryan suggest that sometimes people want to hold onto their trauma because it makes them feel special and may even elicit a desired, sympathetic response from others (neediness in this area my be symptomatic of the trauma itself).

Processes to heal the wounds of trauma

We may have developed the ability to operate productively and confidently with our work environment but become aware of some disfunction in other arenas of our life.  Alternatively, we may have noticed a habituated and unhelpful response to a specific kind of incident such as personal criticism, open conflict or someone challenging our ideas or perspective.  These experiences can be the catalyst to deal with the “residual effect” of trauma and provide the necessary motivation to change our behaviour.

Corey and Ryan suggest, in line with Jon Kabat-Zinn, that a potential starting point is to “reinhabit our body” – to start noticing our bodily sensations and reactions.  This can lead to curiosity about what has triggered these responses and what prior experiences underly the nature and intensity of our response.  Ryan suggests that we need to work with any resistance we may experience in our body, but we should proceed slowly with a tender and caring curiosity.  A key here is our readiness to open the wounds and our resilience in dealing with the result – timing and support are of the essence.  Somatic meditation has proven to be an effective way to deal with the wounds of trauma and it is often undertaken with professionally trained facilitators.

There are a wide range of therapists to assist anyone who wants to deal with trauma and its effects.  Some employ cognitive approaches (such as Dialectic Behaviour Therapy) requiring voicing our thoughts, feelings and assumptions, others use less cognitive approaches such as art or music as tools for therapy.  A more recent development is the use of equine (horse) therapy which may be more appropriate for someone who loves animals and particularly horses.  Organisations such as Beyond Blue provide links to resource centres and professional therapists and others such as the Black Dog Institute offer support groups.  Keith Witt offers two books, Shadow Light and Shadow Light Workbook, that provide insights into our trauma-induced, unconscious responses and offer practices to illuminate the nature and potentiality of our “shadow self”.

The experience of Clare Bowditch in healing the wounds of trauma

Clare Bowditch – singer, songwriter and actor – captured her healing journey in her “no holds barred”, personal memoir, Your Own Kind of Girl.  Clare indicated that she wrote the story of her early life to encourage others to speak to someone and seek assistance if they are suffering from the effects of trauma, especially if they are experiencing anxiety and/or depression.  She describes in detail her own battle with anxiety and depression brought on by adverse childhood experiences and the trauma of seeing her sister die at the age of seven, after two years of hospitalisation with a rare, incurable illness that progressively eroded her muscles and caused paralysis. 

Clare, like Corey and Ryan, stressed the critical importance of relationships (family and friends) for her successful healing journey.  She encourages people to set out on the painful journey because it is “well worth it”, even if it turns out to be tougher than you first thought.  Clare experienced a nervous breakdown – she had fled to London, unprepared economically and emotionally, after she experienced shame and depression following a relationship breakup.  She experienced severe symptoms of her trauma wounds such as an inability to listen to music, write songs, watch TV, listen to the radio, eat well, sleep adequately or go outside.  She was consumed by all kinds of irrational fears and images of death (grieving her sister’s death).   Her response was to return home to her family and spend up to six months healing herself including meditating and learning about the impact of stress and unhealthy foods on the body’s nervous system.

Clare was able to reframe her nervous breakdown as a “nervous breakthrough” because “it was at this time that I got a really deep sense of what made sense to me, which was music” (p. 326).  She had finally found herself.  She rediscovered her need to be creative, to avoid things that did not make sense to her and to sing and write songs that really spoke her truth – her real, raw feelings.  She stated that the journey required the discipline to control her negative self-talk, the insight to realise that despite her life circumstances she had a choice in how she responded and the courage and resilience to persist despite setbacks.

Consistent with Corey and Ryan, Clare maintains that it is important to celebrate the small steps forward because they collectively make up the journey:

… a career is a thing that’s made up of one tiny step, one small act of courage after the other.  It’s only really when you look back later that it all makes sense. (p.313)

Reflection

Trauma affects many people in multiple, idiosyncratic ways.  The problem is that it works away as our shadow self and unconsciously impacts our perceptions, thoughts, emotions, behaviour and responses to triggers.  As we grow in mindfulness through meditation, reflection and self-observation, we are better able to gain insight into how we have been impacted, to develop the courage to address our trauma-induced wounds and move forward (however slowly) to realise our life purpose. 

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Image by John Hain from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Our Past is in Our Present

Dr. Matthew Brensilver, a teacher at MARC UCLA, focuses on the relationship between mindfulness and mental health.  In his guided meditation on The Present is Made of Our Past, he explores the connection between the present and the past.  When we are present, we are not absorbed by the past or anxiously anticipating the future.  Matthew points out, however, that “in some sense, the present is composed of nothing but the past”.  This is a challenging idea for those of us who have been exposed to the unerring emphasis on being present.

Expressing the past in the present

In this present moment, you are giving expression to everything you experienced in the past – the habits you developed over time, the conditioning you experienced in different aspects of your life and the momentum (in career, life & relationships) that you have achieved.  So, the present is composed of these many elements.  In Matthew’s perspective, the present can be viewed as “making peace with the past” – combining gratitude with loving-kindness.

The past is present through your memories (not only of events or situations but also of the emotions involved at the time).  It is also present in what Matthew describes as “habit energies” – your habituated way of doing things, of relating and responding.  The past is present in your thoughts and feelings that arise from different stimuli – patterned as they are on previous experiences, responses and outcomes for yourself and others.

Your habits can be good for you or harmful.  Mindfulness enables you to appreciate your good habits and the benefits that accrue to you and others when you act out these habits.  Mindfulness also makes you aware of unhealthy habits that condition you to respond in ways that have a deleterious effect on you and others.  You become more aware of the existence of these habits, their origins, the strength of their hold on you and their harmful effects. Over time, your mindfulness practice can release you from the hold of these habits and assist you to transform yourself.  For example, you can develop the ability of reflective listening where before you constantly interrupted others and failed to actively listen to what they had to say.

As we grow in mindfulness, we can better integrate our past with our present, understand the influences shaping our responses, improve our self-regulation and bring an enlightened sense of gratitude to others and loving-kindness to ourselves and our everyday experience.

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Image – Noosa, Queensland, 18 May 2019 (7.45 am)

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.