Mindful Connection

Sharon Salzberg, in her presentation provided as part of the  Mindfulness & Meditation Summit, focused on the theme, The Art of Mindful Connection.  Sharon is the author of ten books, including Real Love.

Sharon made the point that real love is not a commodity to be exchanged, it is not simply about reciprocation -“I’ll do something for you, if you do something I want in return.”  In her view, love does not mean unwillingness to express your own needs or feelings or coming from a place of neediness.

At times, real love is “tough love”, expressed as a readiness to say “no”, when the context, situation or your needs require that response.  It does not mean just agreeing with the other person for the sake of peace or a false sense of making them happy.

Sharon spoke of love as a capacity – a capacity for real connection which flows out of being mindful.  Real love creates real connection and is developed through mindfulness practice and being mindful in the situation when we encounter people.

The problem is that we all bring our conditioning and assumptions to every interaction – some being more negatively impactful than others.  We each have our own conditioning and assumptions developed as a result of our family environment, our work experience and/or life events.

Our conditioning may mean that we are wary of dissenting, reticent to express our feelings and needs or have difficulty trusting others.  Adverse events in our life may contribute to a tendency to look for, and see, only the negatives we experience, e.g. when reviewing our day, we may only focus on what we did wrong, our lack of achievement and/or our disappointments.

Our assumptions play a major role in how we relate to others.  We can show interest in people (who we assess as interesting), look right past others or consider others to be not worth talking to.

Sharon told the story of a writer friend of hers who, on first sight of a woman who had approached him, assumed that she was not intelligent or not “with it”.  It turned out that the woman was very intelligent and was actually a professional proof-reader for a publisher.

This example resonated strongly with my experience of my own unfounded assumptions which I described in my previous post about removing blockages to learning and performance.

Sharon encourages us to engage in meditation practice and honestly confront ourselves – to look squarely at the impact of our conditioning and assumptions on our relations with others.

She suggests, for instance, that in conversations with ourselves that we ask penetrating questions.   We could ask, for example, “What groups do we think do not count?”, “Which of our assumptions were at play in a recent interaction with someone else that did not work out as we expected?” or “Who have we been avoiding and why?”

Sharon urges us to be honest with ourselves in these conversations and not let negative emotions such as shame or embarrassment get in the road of a genuine exploration of how our conditioning and assumptions play out in our daily interactions.

She suggests that unearthing these impediments creates a new freedom – a liberation from the constraints that prevent us from achieving mindful connection with others.  Mindfulness, in her view, is the gift of liberation.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation and conversations with ourselves, we can free ourselves from the conditioning and assumptions that hold us back from genuine engagement with others.  By becoming progressively unfettered in the way we relate and being able to give our full attention to the other person, we can create meaningful and mindful connections.

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

Image source: courtesy of sasint on Pixabay

Leadership and Self-Awareness

Rasmus Hougaard, Jacqueline Carter and Marissa Afton, in their recent Harvard Business Review article , contend that “self-awareness can help leaders more than an MBA”.

On first reading, and based on the minimal evidence provided, this looks like an unfounded assumption.  However, the authors have demonstrated elsewhere a very sound knowledge of the linkage between mindfulness, self-awareness and effective leadership.  Rasmus Hougaard, for instance, co-authored a subsequent HBR article that maintained that ‘spending 10 minutes a day on mindfulness subtly changes the way you react to everything”.  In this subsequent article, the authors explore the impact of mindfulness on a leader and how it enables them to expand the gap between stimulus and response – a key requirement for self-management.

In the earlier article, the authors rely initially on two research studies that led to the conclusion that having an MBA did not differentiate effective leaders from non-effective leaders.  In fact, the reverse was shown to be true – those without an MBA performed better than those with it.  Clearly, we are dealing with limited samples and a limited explanation of the research involved.   There is an over-simplification of the factors impacting leadership performance, partly I assume for the purposes of brevity (not as a result of lack of awareness of the complexity of the factors involved).

Warren Bennis, widely regarded as a pioneer in developing our modern understanding of leadership, wrote about the Seven Ages of Leadership and identified the impact of the level of experience of the leader on leadership effectiveness, while signalling what personal perspectives and actions are required by the leader at each “age” (stage).  Underpinning his classic article, which is highly self-critical and self-reflective, is the exhortation for leaders to develop self-awareness – a high level of consciousness about themselves and their impact on their organisation.

Warren Bennis also agrees with Hougaard and his co-authors that an MBA alone is insufficient to prepare you for leadership roles:

Every new leader faces the misgivings, misperceptions, and the personal needs and agendas of those who are to be led. To underestimate the importance of your first moves is to invite disaster. The critical entry is one of a number of passages—each of which has an element of personal crisis—that every leader must go through at some point in the course of a career. Business school doesn’t prepare you for these crises, and they can be utterly wrenching. But they offer powerful lessons as well. (emphasis added)

Hougaard, Carter & Afton illustrate this inadequacy of a business school education very well when they describe the leadership crisis of Vince Siciliano after he took on the role of CEO of the New Resources Bank, based in California.  It was a deep personal crisis created by his own lack of self-awareness, but he did demonstrate the capacity to address his personal weaknesses and “blind spot” (relating to “soft skills” and relationship building), when confronted with the challenging information from his executives and others.

In contrast, Warren Bennis uses the example of Howard Raines – deposed Executive Editor of the New York Times – who through arrogance failed to see the deficiencies of his own leadership style which was divisive and, as a result, failed to build the alliances a leader needs to succeed.  Arrogance is a blinker, blocking out self-awareness – even when information (and support) is available to address personal blind spots.

Hougaard, Carter and Afton conclude their article by sharing the results of  their research about leader self-awareness undertaken across multiple organisations and countries.  They conclude from this research “that leaders at the highest levels tend to have better self-awareness than leaders lower in the hierarchy”.  They surmise that increasing leadership responsibilities precipitate self-awareness, a conclusion that resonates with Bennis’ “seven ages of leadership”.

Hougaard and his colleagues suggest that leaders adopt a daily mindfulness practice because this enables leaders to grow in self-awareness – in their words, “to expand your awareness of what’s happening in the landscape of your mind from moment to moment”.

These articles demonstrate that, as leaders grow in mindfulness, they not only develop self-awareness but also self-management.

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

Image source: courtesy of  PublicDomainPictures on Pixabay

Mindfulness for Children: MindUP

Empathy is the gateway to compassion. As we grow in mindfulness we become more aware of others and their needs and of the pain and suffering that mirrors our own experiences.  We also gain the insight to understand our own potential and capacity to act to redress pain and suffering in others – our ability to show compassion in a way that is reflective of our life history  and unique skill set.

This was certainly true of Goldie Hawn who acknowledged that, as she grew in mindfulness through mindful practice, she developed a deeper empathy for the plight of children who were lacking in joy and suffering from stress and fear.  This deepened empathy led to the insight that she herself could do so much to redress the pain and suffering of school age children in a unique way – she could show compassion in a way that was built on her own life history and skill set.

This, in turn, led to the development of MindUP™ – mindfulness for teachers and children.  In establishing MindUP™ through her Hart Foundation, Goldie had some very clear goals in mind:

I created MindUP ™ with educators, for educators.  I wanted to help them improve student focus, engagement in learning academics and give them tools and strategies that would bring joy back into the classroom. It is my greatest hope that every teacher who uses MindUP™ will find it beneficial in their work and in their life.

Goldie realised that she had to work through teachers to develop a new curriculum based on mindfulness and to give the teachers experience of the benefit of mindfulness so that they were motivated to share this with their students. The program with its curriculum and framework  consists of 15 lessons for Pre-K-8th grade children.  It exposes the teachers and children to “neuroscience, positive psychology, mindful awareness and social learning”.

An experiential approach to mindfulness is embedded in the program through daily mindfulness practices.  Children are taught “activities around topics such as gratitude, mindfulness and perspective taking”.  Goldie was able to report that the science/evidence-based program, which has been evaluated over a ten year period, has impacted the lives of 500,000 teachers and children.

The outcomes of the MindUP™Program, identified in the ongoing evaluation, are reported as “drives positive behavior, improves learning and scholastic performance, and increases empathy, optimism and compassion”.

This program shows you what mindful leadership can lead to and what impact a single individual can have through their own growth in mindfulness.

Mindfulness for children is becoming critical because of the increasing loss of the capacity to focus and pay attention, the growth in depression and mental illness in school aged children, the disastrous impact of cyber bullying leading some to suicide and the underlying lack of skills and resilience to deal with life’s challenges.

Goldie Hawn, through her MindUP™ Program, takes action to redress these issues for children.  She shares how her own life is now filled with joy and happiness.  What she has effectively achieved in her own life through mindfulness practice, are the essential elements of happiness:

  • work or activity that utilises her core skills and experience
  • meaningful work/ activity
  • working towards something that is beyond herself.

Personal happiness can be an outcome of mindfulness but it also provides the foundation for the active pursuit of some goal that will bring happiness and fulfilment into the lives of others.

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

Image source: courtesy of Khamkhor on Pixabay

 

Mindfulness: Realise Your Potential

This post comes to you from Venice, the city of inspiration, a few days before New Year’s Eve and the beginning of 2018.

The closeness to the end of the year and the beginning of the next, prompted Seth Godin recently to write about the power of the possible in these words:

Next year is almost here.

And doing what you did this year probably isn’t going to be sufficient.

That’s because you have more to contribute than you did this year. You have important work worth sharing.

While Seth was writing in the context of marketing, his words are particularly apt in the context of mindfulness at this time of the year as we approach the beginning of 2018.  Here we want to explore the power of mindfulness and what is possible through mindfulness practice.

As we grow in mindfulness, we enhance our potential.  We break free from the shell of negative thoughts that constrain us and learn the power of the present moment.  We develop greater insight into ourselves, those around us and our environment. With mindfulness, we gain clarity to see our potential and the calmness to make the possible a reality.

As Google has found over a decade with their own staff, mindfulness training releases creativity and the capacity for innovation.  There is something about having clarity and calmness in tandem that opens our eyes and minds to what is possible.

What are you going to do with this new found potential?

It is interesting that at one of the largest technology conferences ever held, the organisers set aside a full day to explore “Mindfulness practices that activate your full potential“.  The YouTube video of this last day, provides the contribution of some of the world’s leading mindfulness experts such as Tara Branch, Chade-Meng Tan, Jack Kornfield and Goldie Hawn.

In her presentation on the last day of the conference, Goldie Hawn spoke of how mindfulness had released her joy and potential from the constraints of panic, fear, anger and other negative attitudes and thoughts.

She studied herself and her own brain and the research on neuroscience and came to the conclusion that she had so much experience and knowledge to share.

Goldie recalled that following the trauma of 9/11, she was panicked and paralysed and unable to function.  On remembering, after a week of inertia, how mindfulness had helped her previously, she resolved that she had to do something with the innate potential mindfulness had given her.  She asked herself:

How old are you now?

How long have you been an actress?

How long have you been working as an actress?

How many years do you want to sit in front of a makeup chair?

Because there’s work to be done.  And I want to help. I know too much now!

Goldie went on to establish The Hawn Foundation that brings mindfulness training to thousands of children in schools through a program called MindUP.  What motivated Goldie was the level of depression, fear and suicide in children

So we need to ask ourselves, “How long do you want to sit in front of the makeup chair, living a life of unrealised potential?”

Goldie encourages us to realise our potential through mindfulness:

And if there is any challenge, it is to remember that the one person you need to challenge – to become better in life for you, and for your loved ones and for  your children and your job – is to go to the University of You and become the best human being you can possibly become.

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

Image source: courtesy of congerdesign on Pixabay

Sustaining the Practice of Mindfulness: One Breath at a Time

You might have been inspired by a mindfulness workshop or the stories of other people who have experienced the benefits of mindfulness.

You could be convinced of these benefits by the neuroscience supporting mindfulness and just want to experience particular benefits yourself.

But all the knowledge, inspiration and desire alone will not help you to grow in mindfulness, if you don’t practice mindfulness.  You have to learn how to maintain the motivation for mindfulness practice.

Mindfulness is like any other skill area – you need to practice to master the process and make it an integral part of your life.

Chade-Meng Tan, one of the creators of Google’s Search Inside Yourself course in mindfulness and emotional intelligence, likens sustaining mindfulness practice to developing the habit of going to the gym:

It is the same with sustaining a mindfulness practice.  You probably need some discipline in the beginning, but after a few months, you may notice dramatic changes in quality of life.  You become happier, calmer, more emotionally resilient, more energetic, and people like you more because your positivity emanates onto them.  You feel great about yourself.  And again, once you reach that point, it is so compelling, you just cannot not practice anymore. (Search Inside Yourself: The Secret Path to Unbreakable Concentration, Complete Relaxation, Total Self-Control, p.56)

Over the last ten years, Google has trained more than 4,500 staff and managers in mindfulness and emotional intelligence through their Search Inside Yourself course.  One thing the creators and facilitators of the course have learned is how to sustain mindfulness practice and realise its benefits.

Chade-Meng Tan shares his insights about a simple three-step process to sustain the practice of mindfulness:

  1. find a buddy to check in with on a weekly basis to share your mindfulness experience and make yourself accountable
  2. do less than you can manage so that it does not become onerous
  3. take one mindful breath a day.

Chade-Meng Tan explains the last step more fully below:

I may be the laziest mindfulness instructor in the world because I tell my students all they need to commit to is one mindful breath a day.  Just one.  Breathe in and breathe out mindfully, and your commitment for the day is fulfilled; everything else is a bonus. (Search Inside Yourself, p.58)

Practice increases our consciousness of mindfulness and its benefits.  It enables us to develop momentum that will help to sustain our commitment and motivation.

The secret is to develop a habit but start small with something that is easy to achieve.  This enables us to get over the early hurdles where practice is experienced as a chore.

If you don’t persist past the early resistance stage, you won’t experience the benefits of mindfulness.  So there is a lot of wisdom in starting with just one breath a day to grow mindfulness.

Image source: johnhain on Pixabay

Manage Your Morning Panic Attacks

If you experience a panic attack when you wake in the morning, it is extremely difficult to manage your reaction.

Deep breathing may be virtually impossible because you are so agitated.  Trying to reframe the situation – think differently about the cause of the anxiety and resultant panic – is impossible because you do not know what set off the panic attack.  The anxiety that set off the panic attack is the result of something you experienced in your sub-conscious while you were asleep.

Normally when we are awake, we can isolate a thought or event that generated fear and anxiety in us.  When you awake with a panic attack, you are incapable of isolating the cause.

Mel Robbins suggests an approach which could help you manage a morning panic attack.  The steps she suggests are:

  1. get out of bed (the physical act of moving will help your body experience a “moving away” from the cause of the anxiety).
  2. Think of something – an event/location/person – that generates pleasure and enjoyment for you (e.g. you might visualize a relaxing beach scene)
  3. Stay with this vision as you count backwards from five – then say to yourself that you are excited to be at the beach (you are giving your mind a reason for the positive arousal that you feel – a way of replacing the fear reaction that caused the panic attack).

Mel Robbins explains the steps in detail in the following four minute video:

As you develop your mindful practice in other times and arenas of your life, you will grow in mindfulness and spend less time being anxious about the future because you will be more grounded in the present. Daily mindfulness practice will gradually erode the root cause of your anxiety and panic attacks.

Image Source: Courtesy of geralt on Pixabay

Singing: A Pathway to Mindfulness

Chris James, internationally acclaimed singer, musician and voice teacher, believes that we all have a natural, beautiful voice.  Having been a Buddhist monk, he is also very aware of the power of mindfulness and is firmly convinced that singing is a pathway to mindfulness.  He teaches singing around the world at events large and small, as well as provides one-on-one coaching.

Chris reminds us that our bodies are a natural resonator and all we have to do is to relax and breathe naturally and we can learn to find our natural voice.  Expression is so much a part of our daily lives – we talk to our family and friends, attend meetings, present information and interact with our colleagues at work.

Through singing we can learn to express ourselves truthfully – to get in touch with our real selves, our natural expression.  In this way, we “find our voice” and open our hearts to beauty, nature and connectedness.

Unfortunately, we all have to manage the “chatter” in our heads – the negative thoughts that we tell ourselves about our ability to sing. Some of these originate within ourselves, others from our pareants, siblings or our friends who remind us that we cannot sing.  We have to let go of this chatter and the “narrative” that constrains our thinking, our lives and our true potential.

Chris James believes, like Jon Kabat-Zinn, that we have to learn to get out of our heads, our endless cycle of thoughts, and learn to “inhabit our bodies”.  When we become grounded in our bodies through voice, we are able to realise more of our potential and experience calm, clarity and creativity.

Over the past fifteen years, I have attended many singing workshops conducted by Chris James – ranging from half-day workshops to a two week residential in Lismore.  I am continually amazed at what happens when people learn to be still, to “let go of what they are not” and to relax into their voice – what happens to the quality of their voice and the way they express themselves with new confidence and excitement is truly amazing.

You can see from the following YouTube video of Chris James leading a “Big Sing” in Byron Bay, that people start off singing very tentatively and as they relax, they begin to open their mouths and sing freely.  The result is a beautiful natural choir of people, many of whom had never met each other before this event.

Chris James has developed a community choir in Lismore that anyone can join, singers and non-singers alike.  There are no auditions and no set vocal parts.  Choir members are encouraged to harmonise spontaneously at different times.  The opportunity is there to find your own beautiful voice, to become grounded in your voice and grow in mindfulness in your expression.

Image source: www.chrisjames.net

 

Reflection and the Art of Solving Jigsaw Puzzles

Our family has had a long-standing tradition of solving a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle whenever we go away on holidays for more than a week.

The collaborative endeavour of solving the jigsaw puzzle has a relaxing effect, builds relationships and facilitates conversation.

Recently, my wife and I went on a holiday and in line with our family tradition purchased a 1,000 word WASJIG? jigsaw puzzle. These puzzles are particularly difficult because the image on the box depicts the present scenario – the jigsaw puzzle itself reflects the same scenario at some future time.  So the image you are provided with is just a guide – and sometimes intentionally misleading.

When solving the jigsaw puzzle, it was particularly important to challenge your own assumptions – to change your assumptions about shape, colour or location of a puzzle piece (or sometimes, all three aspects).  Often when you got stuck, the way forward was to challenge one or more of your assumptions.  This challenge to assumptions was particularly aided by the reflections of the other person, e.g.”Could that piece go at the top, rather than the bottom”; “This looks like becoming a car, not a shop”; “There seems to be a crowd outside the train, have you thought of that to explain the missing pieces?; “Could those two connected pieces be placed vertically rather than horizontally?; “I think that we should sort the last 100 pieces by shape rather than by colour as we have them now.”

The reality is that we have limited perception – we often see what we want to see and often fail to see what is in front of us.  We also experience perceptual bias based on our own life experiences.  So it is important to reflect with others, to be open to perceptions and perspectives of other people, if we are going to move forward in whatever endeavour we are undertaking.

How often have you worked on a jigsaw puzzle and been unable to find a particular piece and someone walks past and says “this piece looks like it should fill the gap” (and they may have had no prior involvement in the puzzle solving process).  They are able to see the puzzle with fresh eyes and have no preconceived ideas or assumptions.

I was reflecting on our processes for solving this jigsaw puzzle and was reminded of the words of Reg Revans, the father of action learning, who suggested that really effective reflection requires challenging our own assumptions.  He also maintained that this challenge to our assumptions was achieved more often by reflecting with one or more others.  He suggests that when we reflect alone we can often reinforce our existing assumptions – when we reflect with others our assumptions can be open to the challenge of others.

The process of reflection has a strong relationship to mindfulness.  As we build our ability to reflect, we become more aware of the need to be mindful in the situation as an aid to reflection (e.g. “If only I had really noticed her reaction at the time, I could have done something about it!”).  It is difficult to reflect on what you have said or done, if you lack awareness at the time.  In a similar way, when we become more mindful through mindfulness practices, we are better able to reflect-in-action, to reflect on our own words and actions while we are in the process of saying and doing.  So, in the final analysis, reflection and mindfulness are mutually reinforcing.

Image Source: Courtesy of Pixabay.com

Maintaining Motivation for Practicing Mindfulness

Maintaining motivation to practice mindfulness is a Catch-22 situation: to experience the benefits of mindfulness, you have to practice it; to maintain motivation for your mindfulness practice, you need to experience the benefits.  As you practise, you become more aware of the benefits and the benefits themselves increase.

However, the starting point is to believe that practising mindfulness will give you benefits that you value.  Having started your practice then, you are able to experience the benefits and to use these to motivate yourself to continue.

I found it hard to maintain my attendance at Taoist Tai Chi classes because of work commitments but I had experienced enough of the benefits of Tai Chi to find a way to maintain the practice.

As I persisted with the practice of Tai Chi, I started to experience an increasing number of benefits that now form the motivation for me to continue the practice.  These benefits that I value are:

Focus and concentration – these are essential skills for my work as a consultant and for my writing; they also help with playing tennis (my sporting passion)

Balance and coordination – this is a strong motivator for me because I have found over the years that there is a very clear link between my Tai Chi practice and how well I play during my weekly social tennis; I have written about this link elsewhere

Creativity – I noticed this benefit through my experience of greater creativity when designing workshop processes as part of my consulting practice; Google clearly values this benefit as it developed the Search Inside Yourself (SIY) mindfulness program which has been experienced by more than 4,500 members of their staff- the SIY program is now available to the public on a global basis.

Lower blood pressure – I inherited high blood pressure so anything that helps me maintain a lower blood pressure has many positive side effects

Flexibility – as I grow older, I find that my flexibility suffers. However, Tai Chi clearly improves my flexibility and I experience this on the tennis court and elsewhere; many older people throughout the world (e.g. in China) practise Tai Chi to gain this benefit, among others.

Calmness and clarity – mindfulness and Tai Chi, specifically, develop calmness and clarity and help me to manage stress

Reducing the symptoms of arthritis – this is a claimed benefit of Tai Chi which I had some skepticism about until I experienced reduced pain from arthritis in one of the fingers on my right hand when playing tennis; now I can play two hours of solid tennis without the pain recurring or impeding my capacity to play well

Reflective listening – Tai Chi and mindfulness practice generally are improving my capacity to listen reflectively, an important means of improving my valued relationships.

I think the moral of this story is that if you persist in the practise of mindfulness you will experience benefits that you personally value.  Both the choice of mindfulness practice and the valued benefits will be influenced by your own lifestyle and personal preferences.

Image source: Courtesy of Pixabay.com

Building Mindfulness through Open Awareness

Open awareness is something that you can practice anywhere.  It is basically being fully present through your senses.

From my lounge room and deck I can see Moreton Bay with Stradbroke Island in the background.  I used to wake up of a morning and note the sunrise across the bay on my way to making a cup of tea in the kitchen.  I would walk past what is an ever-changing  view.

Now I am developing the habit of standing still and taking in the view for the few minutes while the water in the jug is boiling.

In this way I can practice open awareness – listening to the sounds of birds waking, watching the changing hues as the sun comes up, observing the breeze in the trees and sensing the weather.

I find that my body immediately relaxes and I am able to quickly drop into mindful breathing as a matter of course.  So one mindfulness practice leads onto the next.

What you can do to develop open awareness is to link it to something that you do on a daily basis – a morning walk, the morning cuppa or coffee, the early morning bike ride.  If you structure open awareness into your day, you will be more likely to persist with the habit and progressively build mindfulness.  You will also find that you will more frequently stop what you are doing and become openly aware of your surroundings.

Image source:  Copyright R. Passfield