Writing: A Pathway to Mindfulness

Albert Flynn DeSilver has written a book titled, Awakening through Writing:  The Space Between the Words, as a wake-up call to the power of writing as a means for exploring our inner landscape.

In an interview with Tami Simon, Albert identified some of the key messages in his book and I want to reflect on them here.

Time as a Construct

The concept of time is a human invention to enable us to communicate, collaborate and manage our lives singularly and collectively.  We need this agreed convention to be able to function in our world (and across the world).

However, own own sense of time – “I don’t have enough time”, “there are not enough hours in the day” – is a personal construction.  It is a consequence of choices that we make – the kind and level of work we choose to do, our commitment to the quantity and quality of our work, our family structure and established norms and rituals, and how we choose to spend our leisure or “left-over” hours.  It is a reflection of our prioritising, our sense of self-esteem and empowerment (“my time is not my own”), our goals in life, our need for recognition, our willingness and ability to negotiate “time” to meet our own needs.

When we discussed what you are going to do with the surplus in your life, we highlighted the need to create space in your life.  Albert reminds us that to realise the benefits of writing and meditation in terms of being able to achieve awakening or to grow in mindfulness, we need to look at the way we spend or “expend” our time.  We have to “make time” to engage in writing and meditation on a regular basis.

Assess your motivation – why write?

If your writing is aligned with your personal goals and values, you have a better chance of sustaining the effort through the ups and downs of life and the writing cycle.

I have to constantly remind myself why I write so regularly.  I’ve found that having multiple reasons for writing (some primary, others secondary) enables me to maintain the momentum.  So I have reflected on my motivation and identified the following:

  • to keep mindfulness at the forefront of what I am thinking about and doing
  • to use writing as a journey in self-exploration
  • to learn more about mindfulness and mindful practices
  • to engage my mind in learning new things
  • to share what I learn with others so that they can better handle life stresses and overcome the negative impact of depression and anxiety
  • to integrate what I have learned from my various roles in life – as a student, manager, trainer, educator & consultant
  • to help myself and others realise our creative potential
  • to better understand what I can contribute to creating a better world.

I used to say to my doctoral students, “Do your research on something that you are passionate about, otherwise you will not be able to sustain the effort through the vicissitudes of daily life”.  The same applies here if you are going to write on a regular basis, you need to be passionate about the topic and the audience.  The motivation has to come from you – not from what other people say you should write about.

Reading

Many of the great writers were great readers and this is often reflected in their books or novels.  You will often see writers quote poetry or the works of other authors to reinforce a point or introduce a new idea.

Reading can become a source of personal reflection, offer new perspectives on an issue, illustrate key ideas or points through life stories or act as a stimulus to your own writing.  I would include here podcasts and videos as a source of ideas.

I find that if I am stuck for a topic to write about or for something to say on a topic, I will read an article/ report that is relevant, watch a video or listen to a podcast as a way to stimulate my own thoughts and reflections.

Discipline

Albert stresses the importance of discipline to advance your writing and insights.  He points out that most great writers have a routine that fits their own lifestyle and personal work style.

You need to develop your own writing routine that will enable you to sustain the effort of writing.  Great writers often warn about not just writing when “you are in the mood”, but pushing through the emotional barrier in a disciplined way by sticking to your routine, even if ideas are not flowing.

It may sound trite, but the reality is to become a great writer, you need to write…write…write.

The immersive element

If you are able to persist with researching and writing about a topic or an area of interest, you gain the benefits of immersion – you see connections that you did not see before, you deepen your knowledge and understanding of yourself and the world around you, you improve your self-management (via discipline & insight) and you are better able to make a significant, original contribution.

You also gr0w in mindfulness and your capacity to be fully present to what is happening in your life and world.   Albert maintained, in his interview, that to make the commitment to develop mindfulness through writing requires courage:

I think for people to look inside, and to pause, and to really show up and be present in the world takes a tremendous amount of courage. And it seems to be more rare than ever, which is alarming. That’s why I’m so devoted to this work. Because I want to keep reminding people this is the most important thing we can do as human beings. Without changing consciousness and awareness, and having that positive influence, we’re really going to be kind of screwed as a species.

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

Image source: courtesy of  Engin_Akyurt on Pixabay

Mindful Leadership: Goldie Hawn

In sharing her life story in abbreviated form at a technology conference, Goldie Hawn manifested what we have described as mindful leadership.

Goldie was participating in the final day of the conference which was devoted to how mindfulness practices can develop a person’s potential.  She certainly epitomised what can happen when we grow in mindfulness.

At the age of 8, Goldie experienced a panic attack related to the fear of war with Russia.  She experienced another severe panic attack following the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York.  In between, Goldie had experienced the benefits of transcendental meditation to calm her body and mind.

It was through recalling the benefits of this mindful practice that she was able to regain her balance and display the resilience that was reflected in her life story.

Goldie set about understanding herself, her emotional reactions and her brain. She explored the most recent insights into brain functioning offered by neuroscience and came to understand herself better. She progressively grew in self-awareness and awareness of others.

Through increased self-awareness, she was able to learn self-management, both of which were enhanced by her mindful practices.

Through her own experience as a child and her growth in mindfulness, Goldie developed a very strong empathy for children suffering emotional stress, unhappiness and depression. She could strongly relate to how children were suffering through fear and anxiety and the pressures of modern life and study.

This empathy provided the motivation and a goal to work towards – world peace through developing mindfulness in children who will be future leaders.  She wanted to equip children with an understanding of the mind, how it works and how to use the resources of the mind and mindfulness to manage pain and stress and develop strong self-esteem, joy and competence.

Goldie did not stop at feeling empathetic and formulating a motivating goal, in true compassion for the mental health of children she decided to act and draw on her own experience, her knowledge of mindfulness and neuroscience, her financial position and her visibility as an actress, to  help children in schools.  This active intent led to the formation of the Hart Foundation and the development of the MindUP program.

Goldie’s presentation at the technology conference was clear evidence of her communicating with insight. Her communication would surely inspire followers who were moved by her story, her passion and her results.  They  could see clear evidence of how mindfulness has helped her grow into the wonderful human being that she is.

Goldie Hawn’s life journey is a story of growth in mindful leadership – an achievement that is open to all of us as we grow in mindfulness through mindful practice.

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

Image source: courtesy of johnhain on Pixabay

 

Mindful Leadership: Inspiring Followers

What do you think it would be like to follow a mindful leader, someone with advanced emotional intelligence skills?  As we have discussed, mindful leadership entails self-awareness, self-management, motivation, empathy and social skills (compassion and communicating with insight).  The mindful leader attracts and inspires  followers because of these characteristics.

They have a highly developed level of self-awareness, acknowledge their limitations, admit when they make a mistake and are tolerant of others’ mistakes.  When someone else makes a mistake they do not look for an individual to blame but undertake a system-based analysis to learn from what happened.

A mindful leader inspires confidence and trust – they are in control of their emotions.  They do not lose their temper when something happens that embarrasses them or their organisation/community.  Their high level of self-management enables them to stay calm in any situation they confront, even in what appears to be a crisis. This level of self-composure reassures followers that the situation is under control and models calmness and self-control.

Mindful leaders are highly motivated – they have a clear vision that is aligned to their values. In turn, they are able to effectively communicate their vision and reinforce their values by their congruence – aligning their actions with their words.  This alignment means that their communications are believable and inspiring.

The mindful leader understands others’ pain and suffering and genuinely feels with and for them.  They are empathetic listeners, able to reflect and clarify feelings as well as content.  They are not so self-absorbed that they are oblivious to others’ feelings – they are empathetic and inspire a willingness to be open about and deal with emotions. They themselves show vulnerability by being open about their own emotions – whether that means having felt anger, disappointment, distress, pride or any other emotion.

The mindful leader is compassionate – they not only notice others’ suffering and express empathy but also act to alleviate that suffering where possible.  Their compassion is an inspiration to others and gives followers permission to be compassionate to others in the organisation or the community. They talk about the organisation/ community in terms of a family – they do not employ the aggressiveness of the sport/war metaphor.

Mindful leaders communicate with insight gained through clarity of mind and a calm demeanour.  They see beyond appearances and have a depth of understanding that encourges and inspires followers.  Their communications are clear, meaningful and accessible – they inspire engagement.

They are fundamentally happy – they are doing something meaningful, engaging their core skills and contributing wholeheartedly to a vision that extends beyond themselves.

Chade-Meng Tan, author of Search Inside Yourself, is the epitomy of mindful leadership.  His effusiveness and happiness is contagious, his vision engaging and his clarity and acuity are inspiring. Meng, in his Google Talk, explains the foundations of the Search Inside Youself program, the benefits that accrue and why he chose to embed it in a prominent, global organisation such as Google.

Meng explains that his vision is to contribute to world peace by developing, on a global scale, leaders who are compassionate.  He sees that helping leaders to grow in mindfulness will achieve this goal.  The Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute is a vehicle to bring his philosophy and training to the world through conduct of workshops, seminars and intensive training on a global basis.  In pursuit of this vision, Meng and his collaborators are developing trainers who can work globally.

Meng is one example of a mindful leader and his passion, humour, insight and humility are inspiring.

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

Image source: courtesy of  johnhain on Pixabay

Mindful Leadership: Social Skills – Communicating with Insight

Chade-Meng Tan (affectionately known as “Meng”), is the author of the book, Search Inside Yourself, a developer of the related Google course and one of the founders of the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute.

Meng maintains that as we grow in mindfulness we develop calmness of mind and clarity of thought.  So whatever the stressful situation we are in, we are able to remain in control of our emotions – instead of being held captive by the primitive part of our brain, the amygdala. (Meng’s Google Talk)

We are able to notice our emotions as they occur and to choose how we respond, e.g communicate with compassion, instead of with anger.  We are no longer controlled by our emotions.

The insight we gain is not only insight into ourselves but also understanding and insight into others’ emotions, motivations and behaviour.  So we are better able to communicate from this position of increased understanding and insight, a position of increased clarity of mind not confounded by emotions.  We also gain a greater understanding and appreciation of our environment, both the natural environment and also the micro and macro work context.

The Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute’s two day program on mindful leadership and emotional intelligence offers a process to help leaders communicate with insight in the context of difficult conversations.  The process involves reflection on a conflicted conversation that you have been involved in with another person.  It aims to help you to gain insight into your own perceptions, emotions and motivation and those of the other person.

The two step process starts with an analysis of your involvement in the conflict.   Firstly you are asked to identify the content of the conflict (what happened from your perspective) and secondly, your feelings at the time (your emotions). The process then helps you to gain a deep insight into your own motivations.

The third step, then, is the critical one. The assumption is that both parties in the conflict are ultimately trying to deal with identity issues  – a fundamental motivation behind the conflict for each party.  These identity issues are expressed as three  questions:

  • am I competent?
  • am I a good person?
  • am I worthy of love?

Once you answer these identity issues questions for yourself, you put yourself in the position of the other person and repeat the three step process with respect to the other person in the conflict (the what, the feelings and the identity issues for them).

This then puts you in a position to communicate with renewed insight into the other person in the conflict  You should undertake the follow-up conversation only after you have first reflected on your intention on having the subsequent conversation.  You may actually decide not to pursue a further conversation at this point, but resolve to approach the next interaction with greater care and insight.

Communicating with insight comes with growth in mindfulness.  As Meng points out, if you have developed mindfulness, you are able to approach any situation, whatever it involves, with clarity of mind and  calmness (free from from the influence of uncontrolled emotions).

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

Image source: courtesy of geralt on Pixabay

From Outer Landscape to Inner Landscape: The Growth of Awareness

In my previous post, I discussed mountains and rivers as a source of meditation and their predominance in Chinese landscape art. I also focused on the Shan shui tradition of landscape painting where the artists expressed their thoughts and emotions about a physical landscape in their painting.  In this way, they revealed something of their inner landscape.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, in his book Coming to Our Senses, describes each of the traditional five senses in terms of a landscape, e.g tastescape and touchscape.  After discussing each of the five senses, he introduces “mindscape” and describes its role as follows:

…ultimately it all comes down to what we call, by extension, mindscape.  Without the discerning capacity  of our minds, there would be no knowing of any landscape, inner or outer.  When we become aware, when we rest in the knowing, we are resting in the deep essence of mindscape, the vast empty spaciousness that is awareness itself.  (p. 234, emphases added)

He maintains that as we grow in mindfulness, we can gradually gain access to mindscape – that unadulterated awareness that is a deep insight into our inner landscape and our outer reality.

With this awareness comes the realisation that everything is passing – our sensations, thoughts and emotions.  They are here today and gone tomorrow.

Awareness increases our insight into our inner landscape and how we tend to cling to things that we want. It enables us to let go of our disappointments generated by the past and fears about the future.

Awareness leads to full acceptance of ourselves as we are – with our bodies and our quirks.  However, being able to access full awareness, mindscape, does not mean that we will not go backwards towards lacking acceptance or engaging in internal conflict.  As Kabat-Zinn points out “that is part of the human condition”.

He goes on to say, encouragingly:

But, there may very well be a gradual shift in the balance over time, from more inner conflict to more equanimity, from more anger to more compassion, from predominantly seeing only appearances to a deep apprehending of the actuality of things. Or there may be so at times  but not at other times. (p. 235)

As we grow in mindfulness, we begin to see things as they actually are – we become less likely to project onto people, things or events, our negative perceptions shaped by our own life experiences.

Accessing mindscape, opens us up to full awareness of our inner landscape so that we can realise our full, creative potentiality, develop deep insight and self-compassion as well as compassion for others. In this state, we can find true peace and tranquility

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

Image source: courtesy of  johnhain on Pixabay

We Need Support to Build Mindfulness

Jon Kabat-Zinn, in his book Coming to Our Senses, reminds us that we need support for our meditation if we are to build mindfulness. This support may take the form of a routine, technique, books, audio tapes or a support group. He cautions, however, that we need to gradually reduce our reliance on this support. Otherwise, we will create dependence on one form which will result in goal displacement.

He likens meditation support to scaffolding which is used to build a house. Eventually, however, the scaffolding has to be taken down once the house is built. It may be used again if there is a need for house restoration or renovation. So it is with the support for our meditation.

Jon Kabat-Zinn suggests that if we do not eventually remove the scaffolding, our support mechanisms, we will not realise the deeper levels of mindfulness that enable us to gain penetrative insight into our real selves and our full potentiality. The deeper levels of mindfulness are only reached as we remove the barriers to this insight.

He likens the deeper levels of mindfulness to the insight of Michelangelo.  He is reputed to have said that he sees the final form of his sculpture in the block of marble. His work as a sculptor is to chip away the bits of marble that prevent the final sculpture from emerging – he works to remove the barriers to emergence of the final perfect form.

As we grow in mindfulness through an ever-widening range of mindful practices we remove the blockages to achieving deep insight and reduce our dependence on particular support mechanisms. Mindfulness becomes increasingly a part of our daily life and way of being in the world with all its distractions and disturbances.

Jon Kabat-Zinn suggests that we are aiming for what the Tibetans describe as a state of non- meditation as we gradually remove the scaffolding that is our meditation support system:

That scaffolding is helpful in aiming and sustaining your practice, yet it is also important to see through it to actually be practicing. Both are operative simultaneously moment by moment as you sit, as you rest in awareness, as you practice in any way, beyond the reaches of the conceptual mind and its ceaseless proliferation of stories even, or we could say, especially, stories about meditation and you. (Coming to Our Senses, p. 100)

By gradually removing the scaffolding, we are moving our focus from our support mechanisms to actually being mindful.

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

Image source: Courtesy of Hans on Pixabay

 

 

Mindful Walking on the Inside

In a previous post, I discussed various ways of mindful walking with an emphasis on walking outdoors.  Here I want to focus on a simple approach to mindful walking that can be used indoors, particularly when you are time-poor.

The basic process for mindful walking indoors is as follows:

  1. Work out where you are going to walk from and to
  2. Stand with your feet apart and be conscious of the soles of your feet on the floor
  3. Ground yourself mentally and physically
  4. Lift your right foot slowly
  5. Place the heel of your right foot slowly on the floor
  6. Gradually lower your foot so that the sole of your right foot is slowly flattening on the floor
  7. Lift your left foot slowly
  8. Place the heel of your left foot slowly on the floor
  9. Gradually lower your foot so that the sole of your left foot is slowly flattening on the floor.

Repeat steps 4-9 keeping your mind focused on your walking action.   You can start with your left foot if this is your preference.

As you become more conscious of mindful walking and begin to practise it indoors, you will notice many opportunities that arise where you can take a few minutes to practise, e.g. while waiting for the jug to boil, or waiting for your partner or children to get ready to go out.  You will also become more conscious of your walking when outdoors.

So often we “race from pillar to post” thinking about something we have to do or have failed to do or done wrongly.  We rush everywhere, even in our own home.

Mindful walking enables us to slow down, to be more conscious of the present and to appreciate what we have.  It can help us to reduce anxiety about the future and depression about the past.  It leads to peace, contentment and lowered stress.  With a clearer mind, you may also experience increased awareness and insight.

Mindful walking indoors is a simple, time-efficient way to grow mindfulness and to keep things in perspective.

Image Source: Courtesy of Pexels on Pixabay