Being Vulnerable: How to Improve Our Relationships and Contribution

In the previous post I discussed Tara Brach’s presentation on vulnerability and intimacy and ways to overcome our defence mechanisms. In this blog post, I want to focus on becoming vulnerable to improve two aspects of our lives – our contribution and our relationships.

Vulnerability is universal

Vulnerability is “part and parcel” of being human. When you think about it most people you encounter in life will have experienced at least one trauma – a significant frightening or disturbing event – in their life at one time or another. A traumatic event may take many forms and people will react differently to varying events such as the death of a child, partner, parent, sibling or friend; the break-up of parents through divorce; a major car or workplace accident; loss of a job; experience of chronic illness and/or pain; severe financial difficulties resulting in the loss of a home; break-up of an intimate relationship; a period of mental illness; addiction to drugs or alcohol; or any manner of distressing events.

Tara makes the point that “the more wounding there has been, the greater are the defences”. We each have been wounded at some time through various events, traumatic or otherwise, that have intensified our sense of being vulnerable and precipitated our defence mechanisms designed to protect us from such vulnerability. Ian MacLaren recognised that everyone experiences vulnerability when he wrote, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle”.

Because of our past experiences, we may feel afraid to speak up, to take part in a group activity, to perform publicly, to engage in conversation or to give positive feedback to another person. We may feel that we will be rejected, laughed at, or cut out of a group. We might be concerned about experiencing embarrassment, lack of control or overt emotions expressed as tears.

How we hide our fear of being vulnerable

There are many ways that we can camouflage our fear of being vulnerable such as:

  1. excessive criticism of others, constant judging (people never measure up to our expectations)
  2. projection of our own fears or anxiety onto others (“they are too fearful or lack courage”)
  3. aggressive emotions such as anger, blame (fight behaviour)
  4. withdrawal through depression (flight behaviour)
  5. inertia (freeze behaviour)
  6. overcontrolling others
  7. overconsuming – food, social media, goods and services, drugs
  8. hiding behind a mask/role – being the boss, the helper or the victim

The problem is that these ways of hiding our feelings of vulnerability are often subtle, elaborate, sub-conscious and developed over long periods of time. It takes a concerted effort and continuous training to be able to identify our defence mechanisms and overcome them through sustained, focused attention in meditation.

Being vulnerable to improve our contribution

Tara at one stage in her presentation tells the story of how a disturbed teenager’s life turned around when he heard a monk sing a song both loudly and off-key in front of an audience. He was taken with the courage required by the monk to do that and make a “fool” of himself. The monk showed bravery by placing himself in a potentially embarrassing situation.

I previously recounted a similar story of coach Mo Cheeks (who could not sing in tune) getting up in front of thousands of people at a NBA playoff and helping a 13 year old girl complete the national anthem after she was overcome with nerves.

Both these stories illustrate the power of being vulnerable (overcoming our natural defence mechanisms) to make a contribution to others and the community generally. Mo’s action, for instance, has been a source of inspiration for more than half a million people who have viewed the video of his compassionate intervention.

Improving a relationship by being vulnerable

Tara tells another story of a mother who was feeling very vulnerable because her daughter had become addicted to heroin and was continuously in and out of treatment centres for her addiction. The mother hid her sense of powerlessness and being vulnerable by her angry, blaming and controlling behaviour towards her daughter. Through psychotherapy the mother was able to let go of her defences and need for control and provide compassionate support for her daughter – to be with her daughter in her struggle, trusting in her daughter’s own wisdom to break free of the addiction.

The daughter did succeed and overcame her addiction and the mother and daughter built a deep relationship through this mutual experience of vulnerability. The mother was able to overcome her defence mechanisms to provide constructive support that enabled her daughter and the relationship to move forward.

A meditation on vulnerability

In her presentation (at the 35.45-minute mark), Tara provides a basis for reflection on your own sense of vulnerability and how it is impacting your relationships. She suggests you focus first on a relationship that you want to improve in terms of closeness or one that is bogged down in a pattern of behaviour that is not constructive. The focal relationship can be with anyone – life partner, friend, child, sibling or work colleague.

The reflection then revolves around exploring the ways that you are creating separation through your own thoughts and actions. Tara provides some questions to explore how your vulnerability is impacting the relationship:

  1. in what ways are you protecting yourself in these interactions?
  2. are you judging the other person?
  3. are you projecting on the other person some expectation of how they should be?
  4. are you withholding yourself and pretending to be who you are not?
  5. are you trying to impress the other person by constantly explaining how good you are at some endeavour or how much better your trip or experience was?
  6. are you operating from a low level of trust of people generally?

Once you have addressed these questions, the process then involves getting in touch with how you feel in your body when you are defending yourself – are you uptight?; does your face reflect your intensity?; are you physically rigid?; or are you looking distracted (as you search for a self-protective response)?

You next ask yourself how would you manage if you let go of one or more of your defences in your interactions with this person – how will you need to feel differently? A visioning question can be helpful here – “What if I reduce my armour, what will our interaction be like and how will I cope with being seen to be flawed or being rejected or looking foolish”? You can ask yourself, “How likely is it that these outcomes I fear will actually occur?”

The final step is to face your fear and sense of being vulnerable, acknowledge it and use your breathing to bring it under control. You can adopt a mindful breathing approach, deepen your in-breath and out-breath or envisage the fear as you breathe in and envisage its release as you breathe out.

As we grow in mindfulness through noticing and managing our vulnerability through meditation practice, we can open ourselves up to more creative contributions to our community and to deeper and more meaningful relationships. As the defence barriers we construct begin to come down or weaken, we are able to free up our creative abilities and let people into our life.

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

Image source: courtesy of geralt on Pixabay

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. 

Beyond Mindfulness at Work: Soul in the Workplace

Richard Barrett, author and business coach, presented at the encore release of the 2018 Mindful Leadership Summit which was presented online over 10 days from December 3-12, 2018.  Richard’s presentation, Soul in the Workplace: the Future of Mindfulness at Work, brought a new frame of reference to the discussion of mindfulness.  He argued that meditation and mindfulness constitute the journey, while “soul awareness” is the destination.  He puts forward a seven-stage development framework illustrating the journey and its destination.

After many years researching and writing about the evolution of human values in society and organisations, Richard contends that the next phase of the development of mindfulness at work is, “Soul in the Workplace”.  His insightful and integrative thinking has led him to reframe the proposition, “I have a soul” to “I am a soul”.  

Soul awareness

Richard drew on his experience at the World Bank where a “spirituality group” morphed into a mindfulness group focused on “soul awareness”.  He argues that beyond the three-dimensional reality that we all have access to, there is a fourth dimension of “soul awareness” which involves awareness of an individual’s existence within a universal energy field.

Richard argues that a person’s “soul” is the “individuated aspect of the universal energy field”.  In other words, we are each an incarnated soul that is an individual expression of the universal energy that surrounds us.  Many studies of human anatomy support Richard’s contention that our body, brain and mind are energy fields and that we are surrounded by energy fields, e.g. sound energy utilised in sound therapy,  or energy transfered through touch.  

The concept of the Seven Chakras, which has existed for thousands of years, identifies the location of energy centres in the body.   Similarly, the concept of Qi (Chi) in Chinese Medicine relates to the energy flow in the body that is activated by acupuncture through needling of specific points on a person’s energy “meridians” (pathways).

Personal development stages 

Richard suggested that our life journey involves seven stages involving different levels of consciousness.  The developmental stages are illustrated in the Barrett Model.  The model draws on the earlier work by Erik Erickson in identifying the stages of psychosocial development.  The stages identified by Richard can be summarised as follows:

Stage 1 – Focus: Basic need to survive – the reptilian brain (the most primitive part of our brain) is dominant.

Stage 2 – Focus: Conformity to achieve a sense of belonging and being loved -limbic system (where our emotions are centred) is dominant.

Stage 3 – Focus: Personal integration and group acceptance – designed to achieve recognition as an individual together with identity as part of a group.

Stage 4 – Focus: Personal identity (individuation) – breaking free of conformity to parental and societal controls to explore autonomy and freedom.

Stage 5 – Focus: Self-actualisation – finding meaning through self-expression utilising gifts and talents.

Stage 6 – Focus: Making a difference – through connecting with others whether spontaneously with other individuals or as part of an ongoing group.

Stage 7 – Focus: Contribution through selfless service – utilising unique knowledge, skills and experience for the greater good.

According to Richard, regression at any one of the stages can lead to ongoing problems as we seek to realise soul awareness and “soul activation” which can be interpreted as “living a values-driven, purpose-driven life”.

Developing soul awareness and soul activation

Richard suggests that our core problems underpinning maladaptation have their origins in the frustration of the needs pursued in the first three stages.  The resultant developmental blockage can be perceived as the “shadow” discussed by Robert Masters and explored in my previous blog post.  in contrast, stage 4 (individuation) places a person on the pathway to soul awareness in that it involves a person moving beyond a self-absorbed, ego focus.

The last three stages of personal development – self-actualisation, making a difference, and contribution – are about soul activation, pursuing our true life purpose.  In his book, What my soul told me (available as an inexpensive eBook)Richard identifies detailed processes to move beyond self-absorption to soul awareness and soul activation.

Soul in the workplace

Richard, through his writing, public speaking and consultancies, has worked tirelessly to bring soul awareness into workplaces around the world.  He has pursued this goal through a focus on developing values-driven and visionary leadership, organisation culture transformation and whole system change in organisation.  He maintains that organisations do not transform, people and leaders in them transform themselves and in the process change the level of consciousness in their organisation.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation and mindfulness practices, we can move beyond self-absorption, progress in our psychosocial development and achieve a values-driven life that enables us to achieve our true life purpose.  Our positive energetic field can have a real impact on everyone we encounter throughout our day.

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

Image source: courtesy of MemoryCatcher on Pixabay

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.

Exploring Your Personal Vision

I previously discussed the need for a personal vision as a leader in an organisational context.  But what if you do not have an organisational leadership role? The benefits of a personal set of values and a clear personal vision apply to you as well.

The power of vision is that it attracts support and resources, helps you to integrate the diverse aspects of your life and enables you to notice things that would otherwise pass you by.  Lou Tice, author of Smart Talk for Achieving Your Potential, spoke eloquently about the power of vision and argued in Smart Talk that:

You will never accomplish all that you dream, but you will seldom accomplish anything that you don’t envision first.

Vision is like a magnet pulling ideas, people and energy towards you – enabling you to achieve a unique contribution to your community and the world at large.

A personal vision helps you to ride the waves of life, with its ups and downs, highs and lows.  It provides some form of protection against the temptation to be your lesser self when pressured to give into the expediency of the moment and say or do something that is hurtful or harmful to yourself and/or others.

Discovering your vision and values through meditation

The Mindful Movement provides one of the many meditations that help you clarify what it is you value and how best to formulate a personal vision that can evolve over time as circumstances change and you become better equipped to pursue what flows from your uniqueness and life experiences.  Their guided meditation helps you to Discover your Values and your Vision of your Ideal Self.

This meditation provides an ideal way to become grounded first through a process of progressive body scanning and muscle relaxation.  This frees your mind to be open to the potentiality of your uniqueness.  It helps still the negative thoughts that can act as a barrier to developing and pursuing a vision.

In establishing a personal vision, you are sowing the seeds for happiness in your life because it opens up the possibility of doing something meaningful beyond yourself through using your unique set of knowledge, skills and life experiences.

As you grow in mindfulness, you will be able to gain a clearer view of your personal vision, realise your potentiality and experience a deeper happiness in contributing something worthwhile to your community and the world at large.

 

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

Image source:  Photo taken on Murano Island, Venice

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 Thoughts Can Affect Our Performance

In the previous post, I discussed how nervousness can affect your mind and body and impact your performance.  I also looked at two strategies – naming your feelings and accessing your success anchor – to gain control over your nervousness.  In this post, I want to focus on how our thoughts can affect our performance.

Our negative thoughts

When we are nervous or anxious about our performance before some public activity, our minds tend to race, and we lose control over our thinking. We can be bombarded with a whole host of negative thoughts – “What if I forget what I was going to say?”, “What will people think of me?”, “How will I ever recover if I embarrass myself in front of my colleagues?”,  “Will I cope if they reject me?”, or “What if I do not meet their expectations?”

These negative thoughts often lead to procrastination.  I have found many times that people fail to start something because of these kinds of negative thoughts.  Sometimes, these disabling thoughts are not at a conscious level – they may just manifest as nervousness or anxiety.  This is where an exercise to name your feelings and the thoughts that create them can be very helpful.

Reframing with positive thoughts

I was recently following up people by phone who had participated in one of my courses – effectively a coaching session.  I was wondering what was causing me to procrastinate.  I have facilitated hundreds of courses and the people I was ringing were participants on my most recent course and yet I was nervous about the phone activity.  I started to follow the suggested step of naming my emotions and identifying the thoughts that gave rise to them.  The thoughts predominantly related to, “Would I live up to their expectations?”, and “Could I actually provide them with some help with their practice or project?”.  Sometimes, our doubts are not rational, but they persist.

Getting in touch with my feelings and negative thoughts enabled me to move on and actually conduct the phone coaching discussions.  What I found was that by controlling my negative thoughts through mindfulness, I was able to change my mindset and view the phone coaching differently.  I came to appreciate the very positive aspects of this exercise and this helped me to reframe the activity as relationship building.  I found that the participants were actually putting into practice in their workplaces the skills we covered in the course and they were having a positive impact on their workplace and the people in their team (intrinsically rewarding feedback!).

I came to the realisation yet again (somewhat blocked by my current anxiety), that my major role was to listen and ask questions for clarification and understanding (mine and theirs).  The experience then was very reaffirming.  Reframing the activity in positive terms, rather than focusing on possible (but not probable) negative outcomes, freed me up to perform better in the coaching interviews.  However, I have a long way to go to be free of “ego” concerns.

Becoming free of ego concerns

When we revisit our concerns or negative thoughts, we often have in advance of some public activity, we begin to realise how much “ego” is involved.  We are concerned about our image – how we will be viewed or assessed, what impact our performance will have on us or our future, what impression we will make or how embarrassed will we be if we “fail”.

These issues constitute ego concerns.  Tom Cronin (The Stillness Project) in his blog post, How to Find the Confidence to Speak in Front of 300 People, suggests that controlling your ego is a key aspect of gaining that confidence.  The less ego plays in determining how you feel about your forthcoming performance, the better you are able to just be present and appreciate the moment. Your presence and sense of calm can be very effective in helping you access your creative abilities and best performance.  He recommends daily meditation as a way to dissolve the ego and gain peaceful presence, no matter what we are doing:

… meditation plays a HUGE role. In the stillness of meditation we connect with that unbounded state of peaceful presence, beyond the limits of the ego. The work is to put aside time to meditate, and then outside of meditation, to observe the difference between that which is ego and that which is not. 

To remove all ego from our thoughts and activities requires a very advanced state of mindfulness.  As Tom indicates, this is a lifetime pursuit, because ego often gets in the road of our performance and our ability to have a positive impact.  However, we cannot wait until we are cleansed of all ego before we perform.

I have successfully addressed 1,800 people at a World Congress in Cartagena, Colombia in South America.  The topic was on action learning and I was doing the opening address as President of the Action Learning and Action Research Association.  My luggage had not arrived by the start of the Congress, so I had to present in my jeans that I wore on the flight over and a colourful Cartegena t-shirt I bought in the street outside the Congress.

I had to let go of any ego concerns about my standard of dress (the other dignitaries were in suits) if I was to actually get up on the stage.  I think this need and the casualness of my dress helped me in my address – it was particularly well received by the Colombians who were present amongst the representatives from 61 countries.  I certainly had ego concerns but the momentousness of the occasion and the potential contribution of the Congress to global cooperation, helped me to get through and manage my nerves.  But you can see I still have ego concerns that are alive and active when I undertake a relatively simple phone coaching activity (as described above) – lots more meditation to do!!

As we grow in mindfulness, we can clear anticipatory, negative thoughts about our performance, identify and control our emotions and progressively remove our ego concerns.

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

Image source: courtesy of xusenru on Pixabay

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.

 

Further Reflections on an Action Learning Intervention

This post represents a further reflection on the action learning intervention undertaken by Dr. Rod Waddington in South Africa.  It follows on from my previous reflections on the values differences between narcissism and action learning.

In another earlier post, I highlighted the need to support mindfulness training with organisational interventions designed to address things like over-work, lack of agency, managerial style and toxicity.  This was the perspective of the union body in the UK and the Mindful UK Report.   Now I turn to ways that mindfulness could strengthen an action learning intervention that did address these identified issues.

In the current reflection, I want to highlight the role that mindfulness could play in enhancing the outcomes of the action learning intervention by focusing on self-awareness and resilience.

Mindfulness strengthening self-awareness

One of the outcomes that Rod’s intervention in an education setting in South Africa had in common with Dr. Diana Austin’s intervention in a health setting in New Zealand, is the personal disclosure by participants of what they were experiencing and feeling and what contributed to their pain and suffering.  In the case of the college, the disclosure related to the style of management and the toxicity of the workplace; in the health setting, midwives identified the lack of support that they received following a critical incident.

In both cases, participants had suffered in silence and not shared with others what was happening for them – they were engaged in a “conspiracy of silence”.  The collaborative environment provided by action learning enabled them to feel safe and to be open about what they really thought and felt.

If mindfulness training had preceded these interventions, participants could be more aware of themselves and more willing to share at a deeper level. Mindfulness brings with it self-awareness and increased insight into factors impacting thoughts, feelings and reactions.  Participants would also be better placed to support each other through the disclosure experience.

Mindfulness strengthening resilience

If participants in an action learning program had been exposed to mindfulness over a reasonable period and had undertaken regular practice, they would have brought a higher level of resilience to the action learning intervention.  This, in turn, would contribute to the ability to sustain the outcomes of the intervention as participants would be better able to manage setbacks and difficulties.

The potential contribution of mindfulness for an action learning intervention

As potential participants in an action learning intervention grow in mindfulness through meditation training, they bring to the intervention a greater capacity to contribute openness and honesty, make the most of the opportunities for increased agency and contribute to the sustainability of the intervention through their enhanced resilience.

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

Image source: courtesy of Quangpraha on Pixabay

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.