Leading Mindfully: Stop Chasing Authenticity

Amanda Sinclair, in her book Leading Mindfully, cautions against the endless chase of authenticity or of the holy grail of authentic leadership.

In the first place, Amanda notes that “authenticity” is not a personal attribute or characteristic; it is an attribution by others.  People may deem you to be an authentic leader by your words and actions and their alignment, by your readiness to “put your money where your mouth is” or your willingness to admit your mistakes.

People readily follow leaders who are authentic – leaders who possess self-awareness, whose words and actions accord with their stated values, who are able to listen empathetically and value others’ perspectives and who willingly risk the vulnerability of personal disclosure.   Followers know where they stand, they can place trust in the leader, they sense that their own ideas will be heard and treated on their merits and they are more willing to step outside their own comfort zone as a result of the risk taking and openness of the leader.

The problem arises where a leader chases the “authentic leader” model as if it is some unerring means of gaining commitment and performance from others.  The endless pursuit of “selfies” with significant people and the temptation to create their own personal brand modelled on idealised leader characteristics can lead to self-absorption, rather than the leadership of others.

If we become obsessed with how we are viewed by others, our energy and attention becomes inner-directed, moving us further away from being fully present in the moment.  We are then unable to read others’ needs or to notice the challenges confronting our organisation.  This self-referential behaviour leads to distortion of perception and perpetuation of bias and stereotyping.

Perception of a leader’s authenticity will flow naturally for a leader who practices mindfulness and, in consequence leads mindfully – fully attuned to their inner and outer worlds and demonstrating high levels of self-management.

Amanda concludes that by “setting aside the hunger for self” through mindfulness practice, we can gain real authenticity in the sight of others:

“Being me” takes up energy and attention while I seek to make sure I come across in the right way, or alternatively descend into a cycle of self-recrimination when it doesn’t all go to plan.  In contrast, mindfulness gives us ways of pausing and noticing when the need to be someone stops us from really being here and now. (p.172)

So, as we grow in mindfulness, we can stop chasing authenticity, get in touch with our self-absorption, increase our other-awareness and gain self-mastery.

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

Image source: courtesy of johnhain on Pixabay

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Savor The Space Of Being Alone

People who experience loneliness as a constant state are prone to all kinds of issues such as disinterest, disengagement and depression as well as physical illness.  The feeling of loneliness is a serious issue today, not only for older people but also the young, including school children.

People can feel lonely even in a crowd or large group if they feel they do not belong, especially if no one reaches out to them with compassion to draw them into the wider circle.  The UK Government is so concerned about the impact of loneliness on people’s health and welfare that they have appointed a Minister of Loneliness.

Gretchen Rubin points out, however, that being alone is not the same as loneliness which feels draining, distracting, and upsetting.  In her view, being alone or experiencing solitude can be peaceful, creative and restorative – it all depends on how you use the time when alone.  Gretchen is the author of The Happiness Project.

Introverts may crave time alone after suffering extended periods of exposure to others; extroverts, on the other hand, may crave the company of friends because they derive their energy from social interaction.

Whether we are introverts or extroverts, we can have the tendency to use alone-time to occupy ourselves rather than confront ourselves.  We may experience boredom and look for ways to allay this feeling rather than savor the opportunity and freedom it presents.

Being alone creates the space and opportunity to attend to our own internal and external environment.  We can get in touch with our own feelings, rather than ignore them; we can question who we are and what we stand for, rather than hiding from ourselves.  This exploration of our internal landscape may turn up some unpleasant findings, but we are then in a position to deal with the issues involved.

We can also really take notice of our external environment – getting in touch with all our senses in a peaceful and calming way.  Haruki Murakami, author of Norwegian Wood, gives a wonderful illustration of focus on the sense of sight when one of his characters describes what he sees:

Every now and then, red birds with tufts on their heads would flit across our path, brilliant against the blue sky.  The fields around us were filled with white and blue and yellow flowers, and bees buzzed everywhere.  Moving ahead, one step at a time, I thought of nothing but the scene passing before my eyes. (p.180)

You can sense the contentment expressed here – something that we can experience in our time alone.

The 5 minute gratitude practice advanced by Elaine Smookler enables us to use our outer landscape to explore our inner world of feelings, especially of appreciation.  This is an excellent way to use the space in our lives provided by being alone.

Being alone frees us from the need to talk, to engage with others, or to follow the conversation.  It provides the opportunity to explore within and without.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation we will be better able to savour being alone and the opportunity it provides to explore our inner and outer landscape.  This can be a source of self-awareness and other-awareness, of contentment and of appreciation and gratitude.

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

Image source: courtesy of pixel2013 on Pixabay

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Savor the Freedom of Boredom

Barry Boyce, Editor of mindful.org, suggests that boredom provides the opportunity to free yourself from the need to continually occupy your mind, be productive or entertain yourself.

This idea of savoring the opportunity that boredom provides takes the idea of savoring to another level – to achieve this we need to reframe what we would normally consider to be a negative experience.

Increasingly, in moments of inactivity, we tend to fill up the time by accessing our mobile phone – checking emails, viewing the news, connecting via social media or searching for a store, product or the meaning of a word.

Boredom creates stress for many people because of our need to be “doing” all the time, a need created and sustained by today’s fast-paced world and work intensification.

The boring tasks and situations – washing the dishes, doing housework, waiting for a bus, train or plane – can free you up to engage in some form of meditation or savoring something you experience as positive in your life, such as the development of your child.   Some people attach a particular meditation practice to a boring event, e.g. waiting for the jug to boil or waiting for transportation.

Elaine Smookler offers a 5-minute gratitude practice which enables you to appreciate what is good in your life by focusing, in turn, on each of your senses.  This puts into practice the exhortation of Jon Kabat-Zinn in his book, Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness.

Boredom has many faces and is not a simple concept or experience.  However, there is increasing agreement that out of boredom is born creativity – it can provide the stimulus and space for new ideas and ways of doing things.  It can also help us to recognise the lack of challenge in our work or life generally, motivate us to change jobs or explore the surplus in our lives.

In boredom there is opportunity – something to savor in a world obsessed with continuous doing and achieving.  As we grow in mindfulness, we can reframe boredom, savor the latent opportunity involved and have the presence of mind to utilise our down-time to enhance our meditation practice, develop creative solutions or explore constructive ways to utilise the surplus in our lives.

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

Image source: courtesy of stevepb on Pixabay

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

Savoring Friendship

Friendship is something we can take for granted until we lose a friend or move to another location or workplace and have to make new friends.  Losing a friend, whatever the cause, can leave a hole in our lives – a sense that we have lost something of ourselves.

There is something special about a close friend – the ability to take up where you left off after many years, the capacity to share most subjects, the ready understanding of your quirks, easy tolerance of your idiosyncrasies and understanding-in-common from a shared history (however short or long the shared experience).

Barry Boyce discusses this feeling of being “in sync” in terms of the neuroscience notion of “brain coupling”, the experience of being “like one brain”.  He goes on to elaborate:

I’m sure we have all felt that with a friend.  The sheer joy of a shared laugh.  The moments of listening when you need to be heard.  The shoulder to cry on.  Someone to share the ups and downs without caring which it is.

There is clearly something to savor in friendship – the ease of connection, the joy of “being with” someone, the ready tolerance, the sense that you are not alone (even if you have lost both your parents), the shared memories and stories, the emotional support and the supportive challenge that helps you to be a better person, parent, colleague or friend.

We need to take time out to value and savor these close friendships, whether they involve our life partner or people who live apart from us.  Sometimes savoring may lead to a loving-kindness meditation to express appreciation or gratitude for the friendship or to reach out compassionately to a friend in need who may be struggling through health issues or some form of loss.

Then too there are the friendships that we experience every day that we do not consider to be close relationships.  They may be supportive colleagues, the person serving us at the coffee shop, the owner of the newspaper shop or any number of acquaintances who we encounter regularly.  We should savor their friendliness, helpfulness, willingness to engage in conversation and the way that they can “brighten our day”.  These friendships are another form of human connection that enriches our lives – we can make them a source of mindful connection if we really savor the richness of being with them.

Even a simple smile for the person at the supermarket checkout counter can be an expression of appreciation and gratitude and a simple way to savor the moment through acknowledging their presence, friendship and assistance.

Savoring friendship does not always require loving-kindness meditation. As we grow in mindfulness, we can savor the moment when we experience friendship and be grateful of this gift that is often missing in the lives of people experiencing depression.

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

Image source: courtesy of cherylholt on Pixabay

Savor the Moment

It is interesting that we are frequently exhorted to “seize the day” – to make the most of the moment for our personal advantage.  It implies haste and possession – two primary descriptors of today’s fast-paced, “get ahead” world.

Barry Bryce, Editor-in-Chief of the Mindful Magazine and mindful.org, provides a very different exhortation in his article, Get Real with Everything: A Savoring Practice.

The article resulted from Barry’s commitment to maintain a savoring practice over a week-long period.  Through this practice, he came to identify seven ways that we could actually savor the moment.

“Savor” is not a term in common usage today as it implies a counter-cultural orientation.   The word in its American English form means:

To enjoy food or an experience slowly, in order to appreciate it as much as possible.

This is the meaning of “savor” behind Barry’s article.  His encouragement to savor everything relates to not only experiences we view as positive but also to those that, on the surface, appear negative.  Savoring these latter moments requires a positive stance – being able to perceive the positive in each situation irrespective of how it first appears.

In this post, I will concentrate on the first of those experiences that we normally view as positive – when things are good for us.

Savor the joy

Underpinning Barry’s orientation in the article is appreciation or gratitude for any experience in your life.  This perspective not only requires slowing down, but also overcoming a “taken-for-granted” attitude.

Barry suggests that when things are going well, you would naturally be able to savor the resultant happiness and joy.   He found that this was more difficult than he had imagined.  This is partly because we take things for granted and because there are different levels of savoring.  On the more immediate level, you can savor the smell of the flowers and trees, the rustle of the wind, the song of birds, the sight of a sunrise or sunset or the sheer joy of being able to walk or to do so in the fresh, open air.

At another level, that Barry refers to, is consciousness about your body and how it is naturally in-the-moment and in synch with what you are doing, e.g. walking.  This is appreciation of the way our body parts work together in unison to enable the act of walking.  I alluded to something similar in my recent article on developing mindfulness through tennis, when I expressed appreciation of the moment when the body and mind work in unison to assess the speed and spin of a tennis ball and to create a return tennis shot.

To savor the joy of the moment also entails overcoming the urge to “get somewhere” or to “do something” – both being obsessions of our times.  As Jon Kabat-Zinn points out, we spend so much time “doing” that we have lost the art of “being”.

Mindful walking and mindful eating are other forms of meditation that entail savoring the joy of our actions and sensations in-the-moment.

As we grow in mindfulness through savoring the moment we are able to enjoy a richer and more rewarding life, to value what we have at the most basic level and to experience real happiness and joy.

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

Image source: courtesy of  MiguelRPerez on Pixabay

You Are Traffic Too!

In one of her presentations, Sharon Salzberg tells the story of driving a friend somewhere and being held up by a traffic jam.  Sharon became increasingly agitated and frustrated by the delay caused by the congestion.  Her friend turned to her and said, “Sharon, you are traffic too”.

This is a great illustration of what Sharon describes as the “centrality” of ourselves.  We forget that we are part of the problem we are complaining about – that we too are the traffic.  By being in the traffic queue, we are contributing to the traffic problem.  However, we see the other vehicles as the ones that are holding us up – what right have they got to be there when we are trying to get somewhere else?

We are entirely focused on our needs in the situation and the impact of traffic delays on us.  We are unaware and unconcerned about the needs of the other drivers and passengers who are also delayed by what is happening (or not happening) on the road we are on.

Traffic delays create a great opportunity for mindful connection.  We could think about frustration of the needs of other people in the traffic queue who are also delayed – rather than obsessing about the frustration of our own needs.

We could think of someone trying to get to see a dying relative for the last time, someone going to the hospital to give birth, someone missing out on an important job interview that they were a “shoe-in” for, someone else going to a specialist’s surgery to find out the results of the diagnosis of a potentially life-changing disease or someone experiencing some impact that is less dramatic.

This process takes us outside of ourselves and our concerns and enables us to become other-centred.  It reinforces, too, our interconnectedness – we are all impacted by the traffic delay for different reasons and to different degrees.

If we cannot readily begin to think of the frustrated needs of others in the situation, we can always begin with mindful breathing to slow down our emotional response to the situation and to bring a degree of mindfulness into play.

Having regained some degree of self-control, we can increase our self-awareness and improve our self-management by adopting the complete process of SBNRR (stop, breathe, notice, reflect, respond) that we described previously.

As we grow in mindfulness, we become increasingly aware of the opportunities in everyday life to be mindful.  We can more readily notice and act on opportunities to grow in self-awareness and self-management if we have actively developed our level of mindfulness through meditation practice and conversations with ourselves.

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

Image source: courtesy of Gellinger on Pixabay

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

Conversations with Ourselves Can Remove Blockages to Learning and Performance

Recently, I was watching some video presentations and podcasts on mindfulness, including a number available on YouTube.  I passed over a number of offerings for one reason or another.  However, in a conversation with myself about overlooking one presentation, I was suprised to realise that my decision was impacted by my unconscious bias.

I was ashamed to admit to myself that my unfounded assumptions got in the road and effectively became a block to learning.  I had decided not to listen to one person’s presentation because they appeared to be overweight (on the surface, an entirely non-rational omission).

However, once I unpacked my assumptions I came up with a rational basis for my decision.  My assumption stream seemed to go like this:

  1. a person who is overweight is not someone who has mastered self-management/self-control
  2. a person who has not mastered self-management cannot be someone who has developed a high degree of mindfulness
  3. I do not want to learn from someone who does not practise what they preach.

Besides the obvious unconscious bias in my decision to overlook this person, there are clear fallacies in my assumptions.  Firstly, someone being overweight may have nothing to do with self-management – it may be the result of a genetic condition.  Secondly, one cannot assume that if someone has not mastered one facet of their life, they have not achieved some level of self-management. Thirdly, a person who is overweight may be highly developed in mindfulness in many other arenas of their life and hence have a lot to offer someone like me who is still at the early stage of developing mindfulness.

After confronting my unconscious bias in my conversation with myself, I did listen to the person involved, who not only was an exceptional practitioner of mindfulness, but also taught others on a global basis.  So my assumptions almost created a block to learning for me.  Their presentation was rich and insightful, and I will certainly revisit it.

In a previous post, I mentioned the recommendation of Sakyong that we should regularly undertake a conversation with ourselves.  It is clear that this type of conversation can help us to identify our own biases and unfounded assumptions and realise how they impact on our learning and our personal effectiveness.

Patrick Chan, a member of the winning Canadian figure skating team at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games, demonstrated that having a conversation with yourself can remove blockages to self-awareness and open the way to exceptional performance.  Chan had skated in the short program for the team’s event and had struggled with his first two jumps but went on to land the first two quads of his free skate.  His explanation of the transformation was reported as follows:

The Canadian admitted he was nervous and he “just had a conversation with myself” to get back his focus. “I achieved a big thing, which was to land the two big quads in one programme,” he said. “I’m going to hold this medal tight to me.” Chan, who won silver in the team and men’s singles events at Sochi 2014, is a three-time world champion but has never won Olympic gold until now. (emphasis added)

As we grow in mindfulness through having a conversation with ourselves on a regular basis, we can overcome the blockages to our learning and personal performance, whatever the arena of our activity.  We grow in self-awareness through this process as we encounter our unconscious biases, unfounded assumptions and emotional impediments.  We can also progressively build our self-management and self-control as we address these blockages.

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

Image source: courtesy of putevodnik on Pixabay

Compassion Meditation

Sometimes it is difficult to show compassion when we are suffering or in pain ourselves.  When we experience pain, particularly if it is intense and/or constant, we tend to become self-absorbed.  A lot of our attention, energy and focus go into managing the pain whether by distraction or different forms of alleviation such as painkillers, acupuncture or somatic meditation.

What we then tend to overlook is that there is “pain in the room”.  No matter what we are doing with or for others, such as sitting in a hospital waiting room or conducting a workshop, there are always people in the room who are suffering physically or otherwise.  We do not know what pain people are carrying – we can be fairly confident that suffering and pain exist in the room as it is part of the human condition.

Interestingly, neuroscience increasingly confirms that, with both animals and people, compassion for others is a basic, natural inclination.  In contrast, it seems that self-compassion does not come naturally.  This is explained, in part, by the fact that our brains have a negative bias as a self-protection mechanism.  This safety bias plays out through our amygdala, the most primitive part of our brain.  As we experience life, this negative bias gets reflected in our negative thoughts which means that we are often self-critical and “hard on ourselves”.

So self-absorption, because of our own pain and suffering or through dealing with negative thoughts,  means that our natural inclination to demonstrate compassion to others is suppressed or blocked out.

This is why loving kindness and compassion meditation has a role to play in our lives.  In presenting a series of loving kindness and compassion meditations during the Mindfulness and Meditation Summit, Sharon Salzberg offered a series of meditations, each with a different focus.  The  meditations included loving kindness for a struggling friend, a difficult person, a benefactor and for a group.  These are all designed to take us outside of ourselves and sensitize us to the thoughts and feelings of others.

Daniel Goleman, in his recent co-authored book, identifies compassion as an “altered trait” – a sustained trait resulting from loving kindness and compassion meditation.  The authors contend that neuroscience consistently confirms that compassion meditation results in increased kindness and generosity, even with beginner meditators.

As we grow in mindfulness through compassion meditation, we are more able to move beyond self-centred preoccupation in our thoughts and actions, and manifest real kindness and compassion towards others.

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

Image source: courtesy of jia3ep on Pixabay

Conversation with Ourselves

Jon Kabat-Zinn maintains that we spend so much time removed from ourselves through thinking, that we need to “dial up ourselves” occasionally.   Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche suggests that the art of conversation begins with having an honest conversation with ourselves on a regular basis.  Sakyong is the author of a number of books, including, The Lost Art of Conversation: A Mindful Way to Connect with Others and Enrich Everyday Life.

Sakyong argues that very few people have really mastered the art of conversation.  Conversations in social situations or work situations can be very challenging – they can be painful or even boring.   Relating to people who are difficult behaviourally or who hold strong views that are very different to our own, can also present a real challenge to our equanimity.

So, it is important to be equipped with the art of identifying and dealing with our own emotions, otherwise we will respond inappropriately in these challenging conversations.  What we tend to do, however, is to hide from our emotions, deny them or avoid situations where our emotions will “run high”.  The problem is that despite our denials we tend to play out our emotions in the way we respond to others in conversation.

Our resentment can be reflected in our inattention, our anger expressed through trying to prove we are right, our disgust can be seen in our non-verbal behaviour or our disrespect through avoidance.  There is no real hiding from our emotions.  We may try to stay unaware of them or fail to pay attention to them, but they will assert themselves somehow.

It is common behaviour to avoid openly expressing our feelings, particularly in a work situation.   In such situations, too, we tend to discourage the expression of emotions because they make us feel uncomfortable.

However, in coming to grips with our own emotions, we build up strength, inner peace and even courage.  Sakyong points to the example of Nelson Mandela, who despite his many years in prison, decided while in his cell not to harbour bitterness towards those who had imprisoned him.  Mandela published his own conversations, reflections, correspondence and journal entries in his revealing book, Conversations With Myself, where he discloses his “troubled dreams”, struggles, uncertainties, hardships and victories.

Sakyong urges us to also have conversations with ourselves – meditating on our feelings and thoughts.  We need to get in touch with how we are really feeling – do we feel good?; are we anxious?;  are we preoccupied with a concern that is distracting us?; or are we fearful and defensive?   He warns about doing this half-heartedly and encourages us to bring to light our real feelings and “intelligences”.   We can have these personal conversations either through meditation or journaling (although there is a synergy to be gained by adopting both these practices).

As we grow in mindfulness through these conversations with ourselves, we can develop a heightened self-awareness and bring true character and respect for others to our conversations – and, in the process, realise true freedom.

As Nelson Mandela maintained:

For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.

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

Image source: courtesy of bebeairi on Pixabay