Living in the Light of the Lessons from Death and Dying

Frank Ostaseski in an interview with Rheanna Hoffmann about death and the process of dying, mentioned his book based on his experiences of being with a thousand people as they died.  His book, The Five Invitations: Discover What Death Can Teach Us About Living Life Fully, provides five principles or guides for living life with integrity, meaningfully and in alignment with our true purpose.  Frank was the co-founder and director of a thousand-bed hospice, so his book is based on lived experiences and real stories of how people faced death, as well as the distillation of the “wisdom of death” from these deeply personal and moving experiences.

Frank maintains that death is the “silent teacher”, imparting understanding and wisdom about how we should live.  He expounds his ideas and principles in a number of recorded podcast interviews, including What Can Death Teach Us About Living Mindfully. His recoded talk at Google focused on his book through the theme, Inviting the Wisdom of Death Into Life.   A succinct explanation of the principles in his book, which he describes as “invitations to living”, is provided in his 26-minute edited interview with Steve Heilig of Palouse Mindfulness.

The five invitations to living learned from the dying

Frank emphasises that these invitations to living have been taught to him by the dying and by compassionately helping many hundreds of people with the process of dying.   Understanding the following five principles and putting them into practice enables us to live life fully and mindfully:

  1. Don’t wait – we assume that life will go on as it always has, that our health, wealth and relationships will persist into the future.  If nothing else, the Coronavirus should disabuse us of this belief and the associated perceptions.  There is a tendency to put off changing the way we live because of this belief in continuity.  However, living is precarious, nothing is certain.  We can become absorbed in the busyness of life and put off any change – avoiding the need to slow down and really experience life and relationships.  We can spend so much of the day planning our next activity or sequence of events. Frank maintains that we are reticent to fully “step into life” – “waiting for the next moment in life, we miss the present”.  Frank urges us not to wait till our death to find out the lessons of dying.
  2. Welcome everything, push nothing away – whether it’s grief, loneliness, boredom or suffering, there is a lesson to learn if we don’t push away the feelings, emotions and thoughts that pervade our life.  Frank suggests that we should welcome grief and fear and difficult feelings because these “moments” of discomfort are pivotal in our life for developing sustainable personal change, if we fully face them.  He spoke of the grief he experienced working with the dying and how he adopted meditation, bodywork (the touch of a practitioner on a source of physical pain in his body) and holding and rocking newly born babies (a life-affirming activity) as a way to face the full emotional, physical and mental experience of grief – it’s as if he ritually experienced the life cycle of birth, living and dying as a way to manage his overwhelming grief.  
  3. Bring your whole self to the experience – Frank made the point that in his work with the dying, the part of him that was most helpful was his vulnerability and helplessness because it acted as an “empathetic bridge to their experience”.  These “weaknesses” became his strengths and enabled him to be fully present to them, to be-with-them.  He has stated previously that authentic presence and compassionate listening are healing and supportive of people’s transition in both the challenges of living and of the dying process.  He asserts that none of us is perfect but that we can bring our whole self to whatever we are experiencing – leaving no part of our self out of the interaction.
  4. Find a place of rest in the middle of things – we can find a place to rest amidst the turmoil and tenuousness of life and despite overwhelming emotions that beset us.  The “place of rest” could be a breathing exercise, a ritual, mindfulness practice or reconnecting with nature.  Finding such a “place” is critical as a self-care approach for healthcare professional, particularly in these challenging times. Rheanna Hoffmann, who volunteered to work in the Emergency Department of a New York Hospital during the height of the Coronavirus, stated that this principle, explained in Franks’ book, helped her deal with the exhaustion, grief and overwhelm she experienced in helping suffering and dying patients while working under unimaginably difficult conditions. Frank also recounts the story of how he helped a woman to find a place of rest who was dying and experiencing extreme difficulty breathing, a struggle to breathe exacerbated by fear.  He asked her, “Would you like to struggle a little less?”  He then helped her to put her attention to the gap/pause in her breathing and began to pace her by breathing in and out with her.  He reports that “fear left her face” and she died peacefully.  Frank pointed out that none of the conditions had changed for her (including difficulty with breathing), only her relationship to her experience of dying.
  5. Cultivate a don’t know mind – this is not designed to encourage ignorance.  Frank quoted a Zen saying, “Ignorance is not just ‘not knowing something’ but the right thing”.  Ignorance is knowing the wrong thing and insisting on its truth and universality.  The principle is not about accumulating information (the “what”) but cultivating a mind that is “open, receptive and full of wonder” – a mind that is curious and pursues the truth and understanding in everything.  Frank suggested that we should talk with our children about death and, in the process, learn from them (not tell them).  He recounts his experience as a Director of a pre-school when he organised for the children involved to go and collect dead things in the woods nearby.  He marvels at the insight of the children and their perceptiveness.  They had been discussing the theme of endings becoming beginnings, e.g. a caterpillar becoming a butterfly, when a four-year old girl said, “I think the leaves on the trees are very, very generous – they fall and make room for new leaves”.  Frank maintains that a “don’t know mind” is fluid and flexible and “infused with a deep interest to know” and to know what is true right now.

Reflection

Frank’s approach to fully facing all that life presents (both discomfort and joy) is in alignment with Jon Kabat-Zinn’s concept of Full Catastrophe Living and Frank’s personal process for handling his grief accords with Deepak Chopra’s recommendation that we adopt a ritual to symbolise our release from the stranglehold of grief.

Frank epitomises in his life and work what he advocates through his talks and video podcasts.  He pursues a life that is meaningful and purposeful.  For example, in addition to his book and public presentations sharing his knowledge and experience of the dying process and its lessons, he has established a creative approach to educating end-of-life carers through the Metta Institute.  His words and actions manifest a life of integrity, compassion and wisdom.

Steve Heilig, the person who interviewed Frank in one of the video podcasts mentioned above, has also found a way to live a life full of meaning and purpose.  One of his many mindfulness endeavours has been to collect resources and permissions from leading mindfulness practitioners, including Jon Kabat-Zinn, to enable him to provide a free, 8-week, online course in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).

As we grow in mindfulness, by employing the five principles that Frank espouses, we can live our lives more fully and expansively and truly aligned to our energy and purpose.  We can find our expansiveness and spaciousness which Frank evidenced with people who were dying – their capacity to find the personal resources to face their fear and death despite their belief that the challenge was beyond them.   We can also become a calming presence to others who are experiencing difficulties as we progressively overcome our own reactivity. If we develop the discipline of the daily practice of meditation, we can live in the light of the lessons of dying and death.

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Image by mostafa meraji 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.

Using Meditation to Let the Light In

Lynne Goldberg presented at the 2020 Mindfulness & Compassion Global Summit on the theme of Leonard Cohen’s words, The Crack is Where the Light Gets In.  Lynne spoke of her life experience where meditation enabled her to find joy, happiness and holistic success after a dark period of pain, grief, and anxiety.  The “crack” was the fracture of her external, projected veneer as the perfect wife, mother and businesswoman (Vice-President of a retail store).  Lynne epitomised what Harriet Braiker called The Type E Woman who had to be “everything to everybody”.

Lynne’s world fell apart when she lost her mother through cancer, her marriage through divorce and her twin daughters who died two days after their birth (after she had tried to conceive for six years).  Despite the turmoil in her life, Lynne tried to keep it together and be the perfect executive but lost her position.  Lynne numbed herself to the physical, emotional and mental pain she was experiencing.  It was only through meditation and improved nutrition that she was able to restore her equilibrium and find peace and happiness.  Up until then, she was full of self-loathing and self-recrimination.  She had to acknowledge to herself that “position and possessions” do not guarantee happiness – they were only the external trappings of “success”.  Meditation enabled Lynne to loosen the hold of false beliefs and let in the light of self-belief and self-esteem. 

Meditation to let the light in

Through meditation and nutrition Lynne found her balance and love for life and others.  She became a certified meditation teacher and described her odyssey in her book, Get Balanced, Get Blessed: Nourishment for Body, Mind, and Soul – a life journey that shares strategies and tools to overcome the stress of trying to be perfect and “control the uncontrollable”. Lynne is also a co-creator of the Breethe app.

In a recent interview with Beau Henderson discussing meditation’s role in challenging times, Lynne offered five steps to help us overcome fear and anxiety and achieve mindfulness and serenity:

  1. Set your intention – be very clear about why you want to develop a meditation practice and find ways to remind yourself of this intention.  Clarity of intention energises the discipline to maintain practice.
  2. Stay present – avoid wandering into the past and the uncertain future and practise restoring your focus to the present.  Some simple mindfulness practices such as mindful walking, focusing on the sensation of your fingers joined together or deep listening, can be helpful here.  You can also monitor your own words, e.g. when you say, “I can’t wait till the weekend!” or “I wish it was Friday”.
  3. Practice non-judgment – be with what is happening rather than judging it to be good or bad, e.g. the weather. 
  4. Let go of control – give up on trying to “manage the unmanageable” but do what you can to the best of your ability, given limited resources, time and understanding. 
  5. Go from “me” to “we” – help other and in the process help yourself to overcome fear and self-absorption. Compassionate listening in times of anxiety and uncertainty is a bridge to self-compassion and compassionate action towards others.

Lynne offers a 5-minute meditation that can be used at any time during your day to let the light in and bring peace and tranquillity to your life.

Reflection

There are many simple meditation practices that can help us to become grounded and to rest in equanimity.  The starting point is a clear intention to undertake a core meditation practice on a daily basis. Starting small enables us to build the discipline of consistency.  The core practice, even five minutes a day, can be supplemented by other mindfulness practices to build and sustain the momentum. 

Revisiting the benefits of our meditation and mindfulness practices helps to reinforce our intention and reward our discipline.  As we grow in mindfulness through meditation and mindfulness practice, we can overcome false beliefs, experience serenity, access our creativity and achieve holistic success.

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Image by Mabel Amber 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.

Mantra Meditations for Calm, Peace and Energy

Mantra meditation involves the repetition of a sound, word or phrase during meditation.  The mantra can be repeated silently, spoken or chanted, sometimes accompanied by music.   The singing of mantras can provide variation through intonation, pace, pitch, and volume.  The content can be rich in meaning drawing on ancient traditions or simply a single word.  Instrumentation can be added and often involves guitar, harmonium and/or flute. 

Famous yogi-musician, Girish, combines neuroscience and the art of singing mantras in his book, Music and Mantras: The Yoga of Mindful Singing for Health, Happiness, Peace and Prosperity.  Girish maintains that “Mantra is a sound vibration through which we mindfully focus our thoughts, our feelings, and our highest intention”.  In this statement he captures not only the power of focus inherent in chanted mantra meditations but also the energetic effect of the vibrations of music and singing. 

Singing of mantras has gained a resurgence through the development of the relatively new discipline of music therapy and the advent of neuroscience along with the understanding of the vibrational energy of sound and voice.

The benefits of mantra meditations

Like any meditation, mantras build attention and capacity to focus which in itself has a beneficial effect.  Typically practitioners return to their focus whenever a distracting thought interferes with their concentration on the mantra.  Neuroscience has highlighted this benefit and explained how meditation positively impacts the mind, emotions and the body. 

Susan Moran focuses on the distinctive nature of mantra meditations and summarises the science that supports this approach to meditation.  In her article, she identifies several research-based benefits:

  • Reduces distractions generated by the default-mode network of our brains (with its inherent negative bias)
  • Minimises negative self-talk that leads to depression
  • Activates the “relaxation response” and builds resilience in the face of stress.

Turning depression into a deep well of calm, peace and centredness through mantra meditation

The beneficial effects of mantra meditations were clearly articulated by Tina Malia in her interview with Kara Johnstad.   Tina Malia is globally famous for her song writing, singing, instrumentation and integration of different mantra traditions, and at the time of the interview, was working on her seventh album.

Tina told the story of her very deep depression in her twenties and her experience of the “dark night of the soul”.  She indicated that she had all the trappings of external success but experienced despair and a “deep, deep aching loneliness” that would not go away – she lost her meaning in life and considered ending her life through suicide.   At the time, she was a backing singer for world music singer/songwriter Jai Uttal and his band.  Jai suggested that she start a daily practice of Japa – silently singing the Ram mantra meditation while passing beads through her fingers.

Tina reports that this practice which she undertook conscientiously every day, although having little effect in the first few weeks, enabled her to find peace, harmony and an inner well of calm and creative energy.  She explained that it “completely lifted me out of despair” and she still continued the practice daily at the time of the interview.  She finds chanting mantra meditations a tool for helping her when she feels frazzled at busy times while touring the world.   She describes her silent mantra meditations as a well – an internal source of pure water that brings the experience of visiting a calming, familiar room. 

Kara Johnstad, who is herself a visionary singer-songwriter, describes chanting mantra meditations as creating “a higher vibrational field” that protects us against the turbulence of daily life and its many challenges.

Reflection

I have found just listening to the chanting of mantra meditations very calming, particularly those of Lulu & Mischka and the many mantra meditations of Deva Premal & Miten.  From my reading and listening to Tina’s story, it is clear that the real benefit of chanting mantra meditations comes not only from repetition of the mantra but from daily practice over an extended period (in Tina’s case over many months and years). 

It takes time to absorb the positive messages of a mantra into our consciousness so that over time it displaces our negative self-thoughts.  Tina suggests that mantra meditations are like a tool to explore our inner reality, “a shovel to go inside and dig”.  In this way we can develop a deep level of self-intimacy.

As we grow in mindfulness through chanting mantra meditations, we can unearth our disturbing negative thoughts and difficult emotions and replace them with a deep well of calm, peace and energy. Tina has demonstrated yet again that discipline creates freedom and success.  Her latest album, Anahata (Heart Wide Open) can be obtained through Sounds True.

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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.

“Transformative Pyramid” Applied to Meeting the Needs of Customers

Chip Conley developed the “transformative pyramid” as a reflective framework for his leadership philosophy and approach.  He had created it by adapting the work of Viktor Frankl and Abraham Maslow who focused on the hierarchy of human needs.  Applied to employees, the Transformative Pyramid translates into leadership action to meet basic security needs (such as adequate and fair pay), recognition for contribution to the organisation and providing clarity around the meaningfulness of their work.  Chip was very focused on enabling leaders to grow and develop through reflection and to develop a growth mindset in their transition to midlife.  Associated with this mindset change is the need for leaders in midlife to learn through curiosity from millennials in their organisation.

Chip not only applied his Transformative Pyramid to employees but also to investors and customers.  He suggested that in relation to customers, businesses too often benchmarked against the lowest common denominator which in his model represents the security needs of customers.  His pyramid, however, suggests that great companies can move up the pyramid of need and really engage customers to the point where they become intensely loyal and market the company themselves by their word-of-mouth “advertising – sharing their great experience with others in their family and social networks.

Transformative Pyramid applied to customer needs

Chip explained in a podcast interview with Tami Simon that the Transformative Pyramid when applied to customers, involved the same three levels as when the pyramid is applied to employees – survival, success and transformation.  However, each of the levels has a different meaning when applied to customers.  “Survival” relates to meeting customers’ expectations (a basic need also for business survival); “success” in this context involves meeting the desires of customers; and at the highest level, “transformation”, means to differentiate and expand through meeting an “unrecognised need of the customer”.

Identifying and meeting a need of customers that has been unrecognised and unmet is the basis of Chip’s approach to marketing as explained in his book, Marketing That Matters.  Chip gives the example of one of his boutique hotels, Hotel Vitale, that developed a yoga studio on its top-level floor and provided free morning yoga classes.  This met an unexpressed and unrecognised need of travelling businesswomen who wanted to maintain their health to counteract the wear and tear of business travelling.  The convenience of being able to do yoga before work without leaving the hotel premises was a real selling point.  Up until this point, boutique hotels were very much designed as “men’s clubs”- meeting the needs of male business travellers.

Innovation and transformation

Chip drew on his experience as owner and CEO of 52 boutique hotels to put forward what he described as The Three Key Rules Around Innovation and Disruption.  He spoke about (1) foreshadowing that occurs before an innovation (some companies begin to move in the direction of the innovation but their early efforts are incomplete or inadequate); (2) innovators fulfill “an underlying human need that has not been met” adequately or comprehensively; and (3) established companies eventually catch up and adopt the innovation (and we can see this happening daily in the growth of “gluten-free” and “vegan” products in our major supermarkets, previously the province of specialist (organic) stores). 

However, being innovative and creative by departing from established practice takes courage and bravery.  An Australian example is Karen Quinlan who introduced fashion as a key differentiating theme of the Bendigo Art Gallery.  Karen recognised that over 80% of visitors to art galleries were women and they were very interested in fashion and its history.  She set about meeting this “unrecognised need” – a need that art galleries around the world had not met because they were almost exclusively managed by male Art Directors who were blind to this need of their predominant customer base.  Bendigo Art gallery now enjoys global recognition for its innovative approach and theme-based fashion exhibitions.

Chip points out that deep listening to customers can lead to identifying needs that have not been met.  He suggests that what is important in innovation is understanding customer psychographics – their interests, passions, values and who/what they identify with.  He suggests that the great companies develop the capacity to effectively “mind-read” their customers.  To do this their leaders have to be fully present to customers and notice their inclinations, behaviours and self-expression.

Reflection

As we grow in mindfulness, we can develop curiosity, creativity and innovation and begin to understand our own needs and those of our customers/clients.  We can progressively move from trying to make ourselves appear interesting to being genuinely interested in our customers and their unmet needs.  This requires mindful listening, an openness to new ideas (from whatever source) and the courage to act on our insights and avoid procrastination through fear of departing from the established norm.

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Image by Angelo Esslinger 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.

A Framework for Reflection for Organisation Leaders

Chip Conley, author and hospitality entrepreneur, emphasised the importance of reflection, wisdom and lifelong learning for leaders.  He created the Modern Elder Academy to further that end.  He was especially interested in making the workplace a place for fullment, inspiration and self-actualization for employees – which he maintained was the means to achieve a sustainably successful organisation.  Chip acknowledged that his leadership philosophy was heavily influenced by the writing of two men Viktor Frankl and Abraham Maslow.

Viktor Frankl through his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, impressed on Chip the importance and power of a meaningful life for leaders and the critical role of leaders in providing an environment that is conducive to employees developing a “sense of purpose and meaning”.   Research has confirmed that a meaningful life is foundational to a person’s health, happiness and overall well-being.

Abraham Maslow and his work on developing a Hierarchy of Needs had a very profound effect on Chip and his approach to leadership, both as an owner/entrepreneur and a mentor to other leaders, especially the young founders of Airbnb.  Maslow’s work gave Chip an insight into how to develop a reflective framework to guide his own role as a leader and to assist other leaders to create meaningful work for employees.

A framework for reflection for organisational leaders – the transformative pyramid

Chip explained his reflection framework in a TED Talk© given in 2010 titled, Measuring What Makes Life Worthwhile.  He elaborated further on the evolution of the framework and how to put it into practice in a podcast interview with Tami Simon of Sounds True.  He was particularly concerned about the challenge of applying Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to business and the management of employees.

What Chip realised is that, for employees, meaning provided inspiration which in turn developed intrinsic motivation.  He came up with the idea of a framework which he called the “transformative pyramid” – built on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs which was illustrated as a five-level pyramid with physiological needs at the bottom of the pyramid and self-actualization at the top.

To simplify things and make his framework easy to implement, Chip developed his transformative pyramid as a three-level pyramid with “survival” at the bottom, “success” in the middle and “transformation” at the top.  He pointed out that many leaders focus only on the bottom of the pyramid, the survival needs, by using all their energy to create non-sustainable, extrinsic motivation in the form of pay, bonuses and financial rewards while ignoring what truly influences and shapes employee motivation.

In Chip’s model, “success” relates to recognition that an employee is achieving their role and contributing to the organisation.  He understood that positive feedback was a powerful motivator and that people often left their jobs because of the way they were treated, including feeling a sense that they had been “taken for granted” and their efforts were unrecognised.   Chip explained, by way of example, that during the dot-com crash, he introduced a process of recognition at his weekly managers’ meetings that not only provided some positive element to what was a relatively sober discussion but also helped to spread recognition and positivity throughout the organisation. 

The initiating process for giving recognition was simple – he introduced a ten-minute period at the end of each meeting where a manager would mention someone in one of the teams who “deserved recognition” for something they had done in the workplace or in the field.  This recognition was communicated personally to the individual involved who felt that they were “noticed” and respected, and their contribution was appreciated.  Chip suggested that great companies are differentiated by the fact that they are “first-class noticers”.

At the highest level of the transformation pyramid is personal reframing of work from “just a job” to something that is meaningful and worthwhile.  Chip suggested that this can be achieved by helping employees to understand the higher purpose of the organisation – the inspirational “why”,  and to find meaning in what they do by understanding the connection between their daily work and something broader that makes a difference in people’s lives.  

Chip indicated that he learned this lesson from a maid who had worked for a  long time in one of his hotels.  When he asked her why she seemed so happy doing mundane work every day (such as cleaning the toilets), she said that she was able “to create joy” for people who stayed in their hotel away from their home and often without their family or partner.  She was able to mentally connect what she did every day to a “noble purpose”.  This realisation and reframing were “transformative” for her – putting her mundane work in a totally different light and acting as a source of intrinsic motivation.

Chip encapsulated his “transformation pyramid” and its underlying principles in his book, PEAK: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow.  He encouraged leaders to use his framework to reflect on their relationships with their employees, customers and investors.  Since the first edition of the book, many organisations worldwide in different industries have used his framework to transform their businesses. In particular, they have found innovative ways to recognise the contribution of their employees.

Reflection

It is often the simplest ideas that have the greatest impact.  Chip demonstrated that focusing on intrinsic rather than extrinsic motivation was the way forward to transform companies and he proved this through his own roles as founder and CEO of Joie de Vivre and as mentor to the founders of Airbnb.  In the process, he addressed one of the key underlying problems associated with the growth of depression – the loss of connection to meaningful work.  As we grow in mindfulness, we can increase our understanding of leadership and what is meaningful in life for us and others, and notice, appreciate and provide recognition to people we encounter who contribute in whatever way to our own welfare and that of our organisations.  Noticing, appreciating and giving recognition require us to be present in the moment – a key aspect of mindfulness.  Being present builds awareness of our self and others.

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Image by Pete Linforth 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.

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.

Deepening the Mind-Body Connection through Tai Chi

In the very early stages of this blog I discussed Tai Chi as a pathway to mindfulness.  I also highlighted the challenges I experienced in maintaining daily practice of Tai Chi along with meditation and writing this blog, when I still had a range of professional and personal  commitments to fulfill on a regular basis.   I concluded then that keeping the benefits of Tai Chi at the forefront of my mind, aligning my Tai Chi practice with the timing of my highest energy levels (I’m a morning person) and continuously reading and writing about Tai Chi would build my motivation for daily practice.

In 2018, I explored the benefits of Tai Chi for the mind-body connection based mainly on research that had been conducted at various centres of research at UCLA such as those focused on psychoneuroimmunology and East-West Medicine. This current post highlights the work of Dr. Peter Wayne who is associated with the Harvard Medical School.

Peter Wayne, who has spent decades practising, studying and researching Tai Chi, stresses the power of Tai Chi to deepen the mind-body connection.  Peter is the Research Director for the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine and the founder of The Tree of Life Tai Chi Center

The eight active ingredients of Tai Chi

In 2013, Peter published a book, The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi, summarizing the research around Tai Chi and highlighting what he calls the “eight active ingredients of Tai Chi” which he had developed through his own research and the teaching of Tai Chi Masters.   These ingredients focus on the “biological mechanisms” that contribute to the wide-ranging benefits of Tai Chi including those related to cognition, breathing and neuromuscular control.  Peter points out that this focus on active ingredients helps him in multiple ways – in shaping a curriculum for teaching Tai Chi, in communicating with members of the medical profession and in establishing clinical trials.

In an interview with Dan Kleiman about his research and teaching, Peter explained that his early study of evolutionary biology and ecological modelling helped him to develop a systems perspective that is holistic in orientation and strongly akin to Chinese Medicine.  His orientation to integrative medicine and his mind-body perspective on Tai Chi flow from this early academic training and related research experience.  In a technical presentation Neuroscience in the Body: Perspectives at the Periphery, Peter highlights the downside of having multiple medical specialisations that contribute to “reductionist thinking” and blind us to the whole-body benefits of interventions such as Tai Chi.

The eight active ingredients of Tai Chi identified in his book highlight his integrative, systems perspective:

  1. Mindfulness
  2. Intention
  3. Structural integration
  4. Relaxation (of the mind and body)
  5. Strengthening and building flexibility
  6. Freer breathing
  7. Social interaction and community (if done in a group)
  8. Embodied philosophy and ritual.

Deepening the mind-body connection through Tai Chi

Peter explained in his interview with Dan Kleiman that the integrative nature of Tai Chi and its capacity to deepen the mind-body connection is demonstrated in the focus on mindful breathing (which is common to all martial arts).  He pointed out that mindful breathing requires improved posture; positively impacts your nervous system, cardiovascular system and mood; and stills what Seth Godin calls the “Lizard Brain” through enhancing the power of focus.  In Peter’s view, an ecological perspective on health recognises that all these processes of body and mind are intertwined and mutually interdependent.

In his neuroscience presentation mentioned above, Peter described Tai Chi as a “multi-component mind-body exercise”.  He stressed the interaction of mind-body through Tai Chi by stating that it “integrates slow intentional movement with breathing and multiple cognitive skills”. The cognitive skills he refers to include body awareness, focus and visioning using imagery.

He illustrated the benefits of the mind-body connection involved in Tai Chi by mentioning several research studies that show two key outcomes (1) the primary risk factor in falls of people over 65 is “fear of falling” and (2) Tai Chi has been shown to reduce the fear of falling by 35%.  Tai Chi achieves this result not only by strengthening muscles and improving coordination and sensation (especially in the feet), but also by reducing falling anxiety, increasing exercise self-efficacy and improving the “executive function” of the brain.  Peter suggests that Tai Chi is a “gateway exercise” – increasing people’s confidence to try other things that lead to overall wellbeing.

Reflection

Research into the impacts of Tai Chi reinforce its power to improve our mind and body and the mind-body connection that is so critical for daily functioning, quality of life and longevity.  I have already identified the personal benefits that motivate me to practise Tai Chi.  However, Peter’s research and presentation has increased my desire to improve the frequency of my Tai Chi practice. 

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation, research and reflection, we gain a better understanding of the mind-body connection, the impacts of our thinking and self-stories on our intentions and the blockages that impede putting our resolutions into effect, particularly at this time of the year (with the start of 2020).  I can look forward to improved Tai Chi practice and the multiple personal benefits that can accrue (not the least of these being to improve my tennis game!).

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Image by Antonika Chanel 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.

Living with Purpose

Ginny Whitelaw introduced her Lead with Purpose online training program In an interview with David Riordan of Integral Life.  Basically, the program is about living with purpose because it is not only about leading in an organisational setting but extends to every area of our life, including family and community.  During the interview, Ginny explains in detail what the course covers, the practices employed, and the perspective offered.  She particularly emphasises the non-religious orientation of the course even though it draws on Zen philosophy and is part of the many leadership development programs available through the Institute for Zen Leadership.  Ginny maintains that unlike many leadership programs that are highly conceptual in nature, the Lead with Purpose program is very much about mind-body connection – it highlights the need to achieve this integration of mind and body if a leader is to achieve realisation of their ideas and purpose.  Integral Life offers other enlightening interviews in their series of podcasts, as well as courses.

The influences behind the Lead with Purpose Course

Ginny brings to the course her doctoral studies in biophysics, a sound understanding of recent neuroscience research, training in and practice of Zen philosophy, training in martial arts (Aikido black belt, level 5 achieved as well as training others) and her experience as a senior manger in NASA (coordinating groups that support the International Space Station).  So, her training covers mind and body and their intimate connection – and she incorporates this uniquely shaped perspective in the training course.

To Ginny, the Zen approach is about direct experience of the mind-body connection and aims to deepen and enrich this sense of connection.  This is achieved in part through physical practices focused on the breath and moving focus away from analysis and obsession with using the brain to work things out.   The practices are designed to centre and stabilise the energy of the body and make it available as a rich resource to pursue our life purpose.

These practices heighten our intuition and sensitivity to the body’s signals and develop our insight into our fundamental purpose in life and the pathway to pursue it.  Ginny points out that our individual purpose is what differentiates each of us and our connection within and with others enables us to manifest that unique purpose in our lives, whatever arena we are operating in.   She maintains that this centredness enables us to influence others effectively whether in a meeting, a public presentation, in our family relationships or when engaging with the wider community.

Some of the modern-day issues addressed in Lead with Purpose

In today’s fast paced world with ever increasing demands and rapid change on every front, we often express frustration in three main areas – (1) lack of time, (2) lack of energy and (3) inability to translate ideas into action.

  1. Ginny explains in the interview that the course changes our relationship to time so that we are not racing against time but are focused on the now and being fully engaged with our situation.  She points out that participants in the course develop a different perspective on time and no longer see time as something separate but experience time through their continuous, personal evolution.
  2. Ginny addresses the lack of energy by maintaining that often we are unproductive because we get distracted from our purpose and energy gets “siphoned off’ into other pursuits.  The Lead with Purpose course through its centredness in the body builds energy and enables real resonance to be achieved by a person who is leading.  She explains that “as the body relaxes, energy flows”.  Ginny describes four basic “energy patterns” that exist in our nervous system and that are foundational to her approach in the course.  She maintains that we each prefer a particular pattern which reflects our personality (and influencing style) but we need to develop the capacity to use the “right energy at the right time” – a specific focus of the course.  As we increase our internal connectedness between body and mind, we can use our heightened energy to influence externally – to manifest our dreams and purpose.
  3. Often our attempts to translate our ideas into action are thwarted by our internal barriers (such as negative self-talk) as well as external barriers related to organisational, personal or community readiness to change.  The Lead with Purpose course creates a heightened sensitivity to what is possible, to the opportunities that open up and to a way forward in pursuit of our purpose.

Ginny explains that through the program, participants create an “intuitive connection’ with the situation in which they lead and an “empathetic connection” with their followers, collaborators or co-creators.

Clare Bowditch – a journey into leading with purpose

Clare Bowditch – singer, songwriter, and actor – is a person of exceptional talent in many arenas. She is the winner of an Aria Award as the best female vocalist and was nominated for a Logie for her acting role in the TV series, Offspring. She has won many awards, toured with famous singers like Leonard Cohen, and developed as a radio presenter and entrepreneur.  She recently released her memoir, Your Own Kind of Girl: The stories we tell ourselves and what happens when we believe them. The memoir recounts an extended personal journey to find her purpose and pursue it with her total focus and centred energy.

Clare suffered numerous dark days through depression, catalysed by childhood trauma through the death of her young sister and adverse childhood experiences through her abusive treatment at school and elsewhere because she was considered “fat”.  She was filled with self-doubts about her talent, fears about future events and a sense of guilt over the death of her sister and her failure to do more to save her (a totally irrational belief given that her older sister died at the age of seven from a rare and incurable disease).

Clare describes in graphic detail the self-talk that debilitated her for much of her early life and clouded her view of her life purpose.  The memoir is also a story of courage, resilience and persistence in the pursuit of her life purpose. Clare adopted multiple approaches to acknowledge her true purpose, accept it and pursue it with a singular, focused energy.  Her strategies included:

  • Drawing on the support of her family and friends (including a “healing friend”)
  • Engaging in meditation (however imperfect)
  • Listening to her body and the signals it was conveying about her fears, her energy, her passion and her happiness
  • Naming negative self-talk as “Frank” and developing a way to shut Frank up and ignore “his” messages (she called it FOF)
  • Developing a personalised approach to relaxing herself (FAFL – Face, Accept, Float and Let time pass).

Clare had to offload the “shoulds” that beset her throughout her life to enable her to identify her differentiation as a singer/songwriter in terms of speaking with her real voice – becoming her “resonant self”, reflecting her true feelings and beliefs.

Reflection

Ginny’s discussion of her course, Lead with Purpose, helps us to realise the blockages that prevent us from identifying, accepting and pursuing our life purpose.  She provides a pathway forward built on an intensive mind-body connection that removes these blocks to insight and energy.  Clare Bowditch provides a model of the courage, resilience and persistence required to truly align our energies with our purpose.  As we grow in mindfulness through physical practices, meditation and reconnection, we can develop a clarity and resonance that enables us to create a real difference in our world.

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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.

Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness: Providing A Choice of Anchors

David Treleaven recently published a book on Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness. The book enables mindfulness trainers to recognise a trauma-affected individual, provide appropriate modifications to their mindfulness processes and avoid aggravating the individual’s trauma experience.

David argues that two factors are foundational to trauma-sensitive mindfulness, (1) choice and (2) anchors.  He observes that people who are trauma-affected have experienced an unwanted negative event that endangered them, a total loss of control over the situation and a lack of agency (capacity to influence the outcomes).  Providing choice, especially in relation to anchors, is critical for the welfare of the trauma-affected individual – it avoids reactivating the sense of helplessness associated with the traumatic event and reduces the likelihood of triggering a painful “body memory”.

Providing a choice of anchors – internal sensations

An anchor enables an individual to become grounded in the present moment despite being buffeted by distractions, negative self-stories or endless thoughts.  The choice of an anchor is a very personal aspect of mindfulness – it relates to an individual’s preferences, physical capacity and emotional state.  An anchor enables a person to experience ease and emotional stability.

Jessica Morey, an experienced teacher of trauma-sensitive meditation, begins a meditation training session by offering participants a choice of three internally-focused anchors – a bodily sensation, attention to sound within their immediate environment (e.g. the “room tone”) or a breath sensation (air moving through the nostrils, abdomen rising and falling or movement of the chest).

Participants are given the opportunity to try out these different anchors over a five-minute period and to make a choice of an anchor for practice over a further period.  Providing this choice of anchors avoids locking individuals into a mindfulness process that can act as a trigger for reexperiencing trauma, e.g. sustained focus on breathing.

Alternative anchors – external sensing

David notes that the five senses offer further choices of anchors – in addition to the internally focused anchors suggested by Jessica.  The senses enable a participant in meditation training to focus on some aspect of their external environment:

  • Hearing – tuning in to the external sounds such as birds singing, the wind blowing or traffic flowing past.  The downside of this approach is that it may trigger our innate tendency to interpret sounds and this may lead to focusing on a particular sound – trying to identify it and its potential source. So, this may serve as a distraction pulling us away from experiencing (the “being” mode) to explaining (the “thinking” mode).  The aim here is to pay attention to the experience of hearing, not to focus on a single sound. Sam Himelstein has found that listening to music can be a very effective anchor for a person who is in a highly traumatised state – choosing music that aligns with the individual’s musical preferences can serve as a powerful anchor.
  • Touch – a trauma-affected person could have an object, e.g. a crystal or a stone, that provides comfort and reassurance and enables them to become grounded in the present moment through the sensation of touch.
  • Seeing – taking in the natural surroundings, e.g. by observing closely the foliage of a tree – its colours, shape and texture or observing the patterns in the clouds.

Other options include sensations of smell or taste.  However, in my view, these tend to be less neutral in character and can re-traumatise a trauma-affected person.

David Treleaven offers a wide range of resources to help meditation trainers build their awareness, skills and options in the area of trauma-sensitive mindfulness (TSM).  These include an online training course, interview podcasts, a TSM Starter Kit (incorporating an introductory video and a comprehensive “TSM Solutions Checklist”) and a live meetup of the TSM Community (registered members of a community of TSM-aware practitioners).

Reflection

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation, research and reflection, we can become more flexible about how we offer mindfulness training.  A trauma-sensitive approach to mindfulness requires an awareness of the manifestations of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), identification of different sources of anchors and the willingness and capacity to offer participants the choice of an anchor and an approach to mindfulness.  This means that we need to move beyond our own fixation with “meditation logistics” and be flexible enough to offer trauma-informed mindfulness practices.

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Image – Trees on the foreshore, Wynnum, Brisbane

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.

Trauma-Informed Mindfulness: Relationship Building through Music

Sam Himelstein has developed several basic principles and a series of guidelines to assist mindfulness teachers to sensitively work with people who are impacted by trauma. While these principles have been developed over more than a decade working with trauma-impacted teens, the principles and guidelines are also relevant to anyone working with adults who have experienced trauma. 

Relationship building through music

In his podcast interview with David Treleaven, Sam discussed a particular case that was a primary catalyst to the development of his principles and guidelines.  He provides a more detailed discussion of the case in his blog post, Trauma-Informed Mindfulness with Teenagers – 9 Guidelines.  The case involved a 17-year-old high school student, Jeanette, who had experienced a traumatic childhood with many categories of traumatic events in her life, including drug addiction of her father.  She had approached Sam, a registered psychologist, for help with her trauma-related issues.

During initial psychotherapy treatment, Sam was helping her to locate her estranged father so she could establish a connection with him.  However, before this reconnection happened, the young woman learned that her father had died from a drug overdose.  This intensified her trauma and when she presented at Sam’s clinic after the death of her father, she was unable to talk about her father, follow a line of discussion or formulate coherent sentences.  Sam described this in terms of “her brain down regulating”.

Sam’s first principle – “do no harm” – came into play as he realised that getting her to talk would take her outside her window of tolerance.  As he knew about her interest in music and her favourite genre, he intuitively realised that listening to music that she liked would enable her to establish some degree of equanimity, build trust and reinforce the relationship through a shared pleasant experience. 

As they listened to the music together, she slowly began to move her head in line with the beat and rhythm of the music.  Then, she began to talk.  Sam described the effect on Jeanette of listening to the music as regulating her central nervous system, bringing her back within the window of tolerance and enabling her to access her language ability so that she could express her emotions such as anger, grief and sadness.

Sam had realised that while Jeanette was positive about the utility of mindfulness in the context of therapy, “conventional talk therapy or mindfulness meditation wasn’t going to work”.  This music intervention was in line with what he described as practising an INCRA, an “inherently non-clinical relational activity” that is not a therapy technique in itself but effectively builds the relationship.  Sam discusses case studies where he has used INCRA in a clinical setting with teens in his forthcoming book, Trauma-Informed Mindfulness for Teens: A Guide for Mental Health Professionals.

Reflection

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation and reflection, we can better access our intuition when working with or training people who have suffered trauma.   Being present to the person needing help will enable us to let go of conventional, trained responses and be open to activities that are non-clinical in nature but develop the relationship – the foundation for all helping.  Trauma-informed mindfulness, then, involves not only sensitivity to trauma-impacted people but also the flexibility to depart from habituated responses or processes.  Mindfulness helps us to tap into our innate curiosity and creativity.

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Image by obBilder 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.