The Final Stages of the Hero’s Journey for the Frontline Midwife

In a previous post, I discussed the story of Anna Kent as a midwife volunteering in South Sudan in terms of the first 8 stages of the Hero’s Journey.  What I will discuss now is her Sudan story expressed in terms of the final stages of the hero’s journey (Stage 9-12).  I’ll be drawing again on her book, Frontline Midwife: My Story of Survival and Keeping Others Safe, in which she tells her story in graphic detail.

The final four stages of the hero’s journey – stages 9 to 12

The final four stages of her hero’s journey in South Sudan were deeply formative and life-changing and enabled Anna to develop a new perspective, skills and determination to help others in need wherever they were in the world:

9. Reward – there is no doubt that Anna emerged a stronger person as a result of overcoming personal challenges, including self-doubts and questioning of her obsession with volunteering.  The reward, too, that she experienced involved saving the lives of mothers, children and babies.  However, she had to deal with the sense of guilt she felt for the death of baby Mariam.  James tried to reassure her that she was not responsible for the death of the baby – in his words, “it was everyone in the world’s fault”.  She accepted intellectually that “every aid worker has a patient they carry in their conscience”.   Emotionally, though it was a continuous challenge to overcome the sense of guilt which pervaded her nightmares as she relived the traumatic event.  Unfortunately, our brains carry a negative bias – we see the negative much more strongly than the positive.  For a time, Anna found that her negative thoughts overwhelmed her rewarding thoughts – her personal satisfaction that she had saved many lives who otherwise would have died without her skilled and brave intervention.

10. The Road Back – this is both a physical journey and a metaphorical one.  On the physical level, it involves returning to her “ordinary world” – life with her boyfriend Jack in their comfy home in Nottingham.  The metaphorical aspect relates to being comfortable with her new self in an environment that is starkly different on every dimension to the one she was leaving in South Sudan.  It also meant dealing with the grief of leaving her mentor, James, her colleagues and the Sudanese people who she grew to love and admire for their courage, gentleness and stoicism.  Her short recreation spells during her volunteering in South Sudan forewarned her of the pending difficulty of the “road back”.  She found on her brief recreation trips that she could not share with Jack the horrors and traumas she had experienced and realised that she was totally lacking in libido.  Friends would ask about the exciting bits of her story but all she could share were her stories about snakes, not the reality of the poverty, harshness, and deprivation of the basic rights of women in South Sudan.  She found that she and Jack had so little to talk about, and their time together involved lots of silence as Anna tried to come to grips with crossing the threshold back into her former life. 

11. Resurrection – on her return home Anna broke off her relationship with Jack and moved to her parent’s home.  This created significant stress for her as she was unable to talk to her parents about her Sudan experiences or her reasons for breaking up with Jack – both these topics were too raw and traumatic.  In speaking with James her mentor, she shared her angst and he informed her that he had experienced similar dislocation and disorientation on his return from volunteering abroad.  James suggested that he made the mistake of “trying to be the person I once was when that person has gone”.  Anna recognised that everything changes with overseas service in a different culture and land where deprivation is rife – your values and perspectives change and you see “luxuries” and waste with new, intolerant eyes.  The way home for her involved a dying to the old person she once was and becoming a new, stronger, values-driven person. 

12. Return with the Elixir – another phase in Anna’s transition to her new persona began with entering a share house with two other nurses.  What she found was the ability to party together and share their experiences in a way that was cathartic.  Out of this period came a very strong resolution by Anna to build on her newly acquired midwife capabilities.  She enrolled in a midwifery degree at Nottingham University and had a very rewarding and enlightening work experience in Ethiopia as a student midwife.  She felt stronger and better prepared for subsequent volunteering missions involving Haiti following the earthquake in 2010 and Bangladesh working with Rohingya refugees – and these experiences entailed different journeys with new challenges and companions (as discussed in her book). 

Reflection

Throughout her hero’s journey in Sudan and beyond, Anna had to face her traumas which had “many heads” and in the process develop her resilience.  An experienced volunteer nurse, Anita, had told her “you’re gonna have to work out how to sit with these painful feelings without reacting to them”.  Like James, Anita suggested that meditation would be helpful as well as focusing on what has been achieved, not what her inner critic perceived as a “failure”.  James even suggested that Anna meditate for “an hour every day” and often encouraged her to be in the moment and experience what was before her – e.g., children playing with kites made from sticks, and the earth glowing from the setting sun. 

Anna demonstrated that as we grow in mindfulness through meditation (no matter how difficult we find it) and other mindfulness practices such as being in the moment, we can learn to regulate our emotions, deepen our self-awareness and develop resilience.

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Image by Steve Buissinne 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.

Mindfulness on the Path of a Hero’s Journey

Anna Kent has provided a thought-provoking memoir in her book, Frontline Midwife: My Story of Survival and Keeping Others Safe.  The “frontline” theme of her memoir enriches our understanding of this concept.  Anna’s story recounts how she undertook nine months service with Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières, MSF) in South Sudan – where the population had suffered civil war for fifty years, with ongoing outbreaks of conflict despite a peace settlement.

Anna whose background was as a nurse in a hospital Emergency Department (ED) in the UK found herself as an accidental midwife.  There was no one else available to do the task because there were no trained midwives in South Sudan at the time because of the civil war and its impacts.  As I read her “heart-wrenching tale”, I recalled Joseph Campbell’s book, The Hero’s Journey

Anna’s story is told with unassumed humility, raw emotion, and acknowledgement of her fears, frailties and vulnerability.  As nurses tend to do, she provides graphic descriptions of the medical challenges she confronts and provides a warning at the front of the book in terms of potential triggers for people who have experienced birth-related injuries, maternal death, loss of a baby or gender-based violence.

The first eight stages of the hero’s journey – a structured view

As  you read Anna’s memoir, you can begin to map Joseph Campbell’s twelve stages of the hero’s journey throughout her account.  I have attempted to link her story to the first eight stages in this blog post:

  1. Ordinary world – Before her journey, Anna enjoyed a comfortable life with her kind and musically talented boyfriend, Jack, and a home in Nottingham which included “an airy, high-ceilinged bedroom”.  Her normal professional world was that of a highly qualified ED nurse at the Queen’s Medical Centre, Nottingham, where she coordinated a major trauma unit.  To prepare herself for her work in South Sudan, she undertook a number of voluntary shifts in the maternity unit while on leave, completed a diploma in tropical nursing and volunteered for a brief placement at a Zambian Hospital in a rural district.  Additionally, she completed a pre-departure course conducted in Germany by Doctors Without Borders (MSF).
  2. Call to adventure: Ever since an early age in her childhood, Anna felt the call to do something about the suffering and pain she saw every day on TV and in the newspapers.   She felt a strong urge to help alleviate the overwhelming suffering she observed, especially that experienced by children like herself.  As an adult, she experienced “complicated reasons” for wanting to volunteer and help those in need of relief from pain and suffering.
  3. Refusal of the call:  As she was packing for her trip, Anna was almost overcome by her fears and uncertainty.  She felt ill-prepared for what lay ahead and concerned about leaving her boyfriend and all the comforts of her everyday existence.   She could acutely feel the tug to stay and not take the perilous journey involved in work in South Sudan.  She also wondered about her comfy life, “Why isn’t this enough for me?”
  4. Meeting the mentor: At Loki, in north-west Kenya, Anna underwent a week-long training that included how to survive a kidnapping, emergency evacuation, and working in isolation.  She was informed that there was no internet access because computers melted in the heat and was warned about landmines, poisonous snakes and scorpions.   She was told about her onsite mentor who she would meet on arrival in Tam, South Sudan.  All she knew about him was that he was over sixty years old and “eccentric”.
  5. Crossing the threshold: Anna crossed the threshold in more ways than one.  She flew to Tam in a rambling, old aid plane which was the main transport for people and supplies to this remote area of South Sudan.  The flight itself involved being thrown into the reality of war-torn Sudan with bandaged passengers and a woman covered in a bundle of rags lying on a stretcher on the floor of the plane.  She was dying and had an IV line connected to her arm and attached via string to the seat’s edge.  The French nurse attending to her indicated that the woman would be delivered to the MSF Hospital in Leer, the State’s capital.  Anna was very aware that back in the UK, this woman would have had the best of care including drips and monitors and would not have had to suffer the indignity of travelling on the floor’s plane.  She was informed that Tam itself suffers from a drastic shortage of pain relievers, antibiotics and other medical necessities.  After offloading the dying woman and other passengers in need of urgent medical attention, the plane flew onto Tam where Anna would be working.  Her plane eventually lands roughly on the mud landing strip that reflected the terrain – hot, barren and forbidding. 
  6. Tests, Allies, Enemies: The heat and oppressive conditions are the enemy.  Anna meets her mentor, James, a very experienced nurse and she took an immediate dislike to him.  His joviality in the face of unmitigated horrors does not ring true and she can’t make him out.  This uncertain relationship with someone whom she will have to depend on, added to her discomfiture.  She identified an ally in another female nurse who supports her in the early days of her volunteer work in Tam.  However, she is horrified by her sleeping conditions – she is in a tent with James nearby in another tent, both located within the dirt compound that is also traversed by poisonous snakes and scorpions.   On top of this are the conditions for patients, many of whom walk many miles to attend the clinic even when seriously ill.   The waiting room is effectively the “Waiting Tree” where patients huddle under the limited protection provided by a tree within the dirt compound.  The stream of patients is endless (Anna and James treat 1,000 patients in a month) and the diversity and complexity of illnesses is scarry.   The makeshift wards are overrun with some patients having to lie on mattresses in the dirt compound.  There are continuous life and death decisions determining who will be airlifted to the hospital in Leer, given the restricted availability and limited capacity of the aid plane, and the resources at the hospital itself.  
  7. Approach to the inmost cave: The death of a young boy became a crisis point for Anna.  Her inner conflict intensified, doubts about her own capability in such trying conditions resurfaced, and she experienced emotional turmoil and overwhelm at the sight of unmitigated suffering, pain and death.  She was tense about what further trauma lay ahead.  Her salvation came in the form of lengthy, tent-to-tent conversations at night with James , her mentor.  Unburdening herself with him and talking through what she was experiencing in an open and honest way changed their relationship.  It helped her deal with her emotional crisis  These conversations  enabled her to reflect on her challenging experiences as they occurred and voice her worst fears.  He offered her reassurance and emotional support.  James introduced her to the power of mindfulness for dealing with turbulent emotions.  Anna came to value his advice, his philosophy of life and his positive psychology.
  8. Ordeal: The ultimate ordeal for Anna and the medical team arrived in the form a 16 year old pregnant girl who was in deep distress and agonising pain.  Anna played a major role in successfully delivering premature triplets and helping to save the young girl’s life as she was in acute danger of dying from excessive bleeding resulting from postpartum haemorrhage”.  This experience gave Anna the ultimate high so that she felt like a “hero” and suddenly understood why she had volunteered for such physically and emotionally draining work. She believed at the time that the high from this event would enable her to ride out the lows.  The image of the young mother walking home with her triplets in a basket on her head reminded Anna of what was possible in saving others and to value her own contribution.

Reflection

Anna’s story lends itself to mindful reading which according to Mirabai Bush “moves the reader into a calm awareness, allowing for a profound experience and understanding”.  It requires full attention, avoidance of distractions and openness to thoughts and feelings as they emerge throughout the reading process.  This story is rich in self-disclosure, replete with expression of emotions and immersive in its description of the context and physical environment.  Anna encourages us to join her on her hero’s journey into the challenging unknown and land of profound suffering.

Her efforts to grow in mindfulness through micro-practices increased her self-awareness and emotional regulation and enabled her to deal more effectively with the challenges that she had to meet on a daily basis.

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Image by Eszter Hornyai 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.

Accessing Doorways to the Present Moment

Vy Le, international meditation teacher, provided a guided meditation podcast on Doorways to the Present Moment as part of the weekly meditation series offered by the Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC), UCLA.  Vy is the Founder and Managing Director of the In Wave Group dedicated to developing a culture of well-being and resilience in organisations through mindfulness practices. 

In her MARC guided meditation Vy mentioned that she had qualifications in maths and computers and was heavily engaged in left-brain activities until she realised that she was “not really embodying her experiences” – being engaged in mental activity and not being aware of the present moment and all that it communicated.  She reinforced Diane Winston’s definition of mindfulness as paying attention in the present moment not only with curiosity and openness but also with acceptance of what is.

Vy explained that our breath, five senses and our body provide ready access and the doorway to the present moment – if only we pay attention to them.  We are so trained from our school days to pay attention to external sources, at the expense of “listening to ourselves”.   We need to tune into what is going on in our inner landscape – incorporating our sensescape, bodyscape, heartscape and breathscape.  Jon Kabat-Zinn in his book Coming to Our Senses teaches us ways to access our senses.

Vy makes the point that at any moment we are breathing, experiencing the world through our senses, having bodily sensations, and feeling emotions.  If we just stop and focus on one of these doorways we can gain access to the numerous benefits of mindfulness, including calmness, ease and equanimity.    

Guided meditation – exploring the doorways to the present moment

Through her guided meditation, Vy introduces us to each of the doorways to the present moment – breath, senses, bodily sensations and feelings:

  • Breath – Vy begins with encouraging us to take a number of deep breaths and release our breath and related bodily tension through extended out-breaths.  During the meditation, she explains how to tap into our breathing by focusing on the undulations in our chest or abdomen or consciously experiencing our in-breath and out-breath through our nose.  She notes that at anytime or anywhere, we can access the natural flow of our breath through our body – always occurring in the present moment. 
  • Senses – as the meditation progresses, Vy encourages us first to tune into her voice then the sounds in our room and external sounds (our soundscape).  She moves on progressively to focusing on our sense of smell, sight, touch and taste – the latter may involve sensing the taste of a recent coffee or elements of a meal.   We so often overlook the sense of taste when we are eating – fixated as we often are on our thoughts and plans. Mindful eating can be one way to utilise the sense of taste to stay in the present moment rather than focus on the past or future.
  • Bodily sensations – Vy encourages us to feel the sensations in our feet such as warmth, connectedness to the floor or earth, or a sense of solidity/security through groundedness.  She then has us explore sensations in our own bodies – in our arms and legs (including the pressure of the chair on the back of our thighs), our chest and abdomen, and our face and forehead (releasing any frown or tightness).  She suggests that we note any areas of tension or ease as we go.  Vy also points out that by joining our fingers together we can sense the aliveness in our bodies through the resultant warmth, tingling and vibrations.  This practice can also help us to tune into our breath simultaneously and assist us to increase our awareness at times of waiting (for example, when waiting for traffic lights).
  • Heartscape – towards the end of the guided meditation, Vy encourages us to focus on our feelings, what is going on inside us. We may become aware of sadness, joy, disappointment, gratitude, resentment and even grief – emotions that have become clouded by the flurry of everyday life.

Reflection

Vy’s  guided meditation offers practical ways to access the present moment through the doorways provided by our breath, senses, bodily sensations and feelings.   We can grow in mindfulness by daily accessing these doorways to the present moment.  This will require developing a mindset about the value and benefits of mindfulness and engaging in micro-practices on a regular basis so that we can develop the habit of being fully present to our experiences.

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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.

Preventing and Reversing Alzheimer’s – Dr. Kat Toups

Dr. Dale Bredesen, author of The End of Alzheimer’s, in an interview podcast with Kirkland Newman, indicated that he was the theoretician oversighting the work of his team engaged in clinical trials to prevent and reverse Alzheimer’s.  He also introduced Dr. Kat Toups as the practitioner and Principal Researcher for the clinical trials.  Kat specialises in functional medicine psychiatry and in 2009 was awarded the honour of Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychological Association (APA), the highest honour bestowed by the APA.  After researching Alzheimer’s for 20 years and working with Dementia patients in her clinic, she found in 2010 that she herself was a Dementia sufferer.  She spent the next three years researching and treating herself to the point where she was able to return to her practice after a period of incapacitation.

Kat was 50 years old at the time of her self-diagnosis of Dementia and she was acutely aware that such early onset Alzheimer’s tends to develop more rapidly than for people who are 65 years or older.  Kat described development of her symptoms as a progressive deterioration of her cognitive abilities:

  • Commencing with her inability to remember two sets of three words that she had used for 20 years in undertaking memory tests with her patients (she had to write them down to access them)
  • She found she was unable to reverse park or parallel park her car because these involved fairly complex cognitive steps
  • Her memory of how to work on her computer declined – she could not  remember how to operate this primary research tool and its particular functions; she found that her husband would get annoyed at her because she could not remember his instructions or that he had actually reminded her of the processes involved
  • Kat found she had difficulty remember phone numbers, and even worse, needed multiple attempts to dial a phone number
  • She found during a conversation at a friend’s place that she lost track of the conversation and was unable to understand what was being said in normal conversation (her cognitive ability had declined to the point where she had developed auditory processing problems)
  • She continued to deteriorate and eventually she suffered extreme fatigue, had difficulty getting out of a chair (for a year) and could not work.

Kat was very conscious of her concurrent problems including an auto-immune disease, Lyme disease, chemical sensitivity, allergy to multiple things resulting in hives and rashes all over her body and brain fog (resulting from exposure to chemicals in stores).  Because of her awareness of the many factors impacting cognitive ability – such as toxins, nutrient deficiency, lack of hormones, lifestyle challenges and stresses, inflammation and infections, and diet – she was motivated to undertake a battery of tests to determine and treat the specific factors impacting her cognitive health.  She indicated that in her clinical trials she does the same thing – isolate personal factors that can then become “treatment targets” for reversing the impact of Dementia (including Alzheimer’s).

Kat was eventually able to return to work and resume her clinical practice with the added benefit, because of her personal experience, of being able to treat her patients faster than she had treated herself.  She explains the thoroughness of her self-testing and treatment in her podcast interview with Kylene Terhune, Functional Diagnostic Nutrition (FDN) practitioner.

In her interview with Kirkland mentioned previously, Kat discussed a case study that demonstrated reversal of Dementia.  She spoke about a patient who had been tested elsewhere at the age of 60 and found to have a delayed memory score of 19, a score that should have been “way over 50”, given his education and obvious intelligence.  When he presented for a Dementia trial with Kat at age 63 (after doing nothing in the intervening period on the basis of the medical advice he had received), his cognitive test result was 7 (a decline of more than 50%).  Kat stated that she and her team were able to reverse this result after the patient spent 9 months in the clinical trial – resulting in a score of 92 at the end of that time.   

Ways to prevent and reverse Alzheimer’s and other forms of Dementia

Kat provides a free e-book, Decoding Dementia, in which she explains the causes of decline in memory and cognitive ability, discusses different treatment options, proposes diet and lifestyle changes and ways to test for and identify underlying causes of Dementia, including toxins (especially mould), inflammation, lack of hormones, and stress.

Kat provides what she terms a Basic Dementia Protocol which includes:

  • Identifying and correcting any underlying causes likely to contribute to cognitive problems
  • Observing her guidelines on exercise, diet and sleep
  • Brain training e.g. Brain-HQ
  • Correcting vision and hearing through testing and taking remedial action
  • Overcoming deficiencies in nutrients (e.g. Vitamin D)
  • Reducing stress by using mindfulness practices
  • Restoring hormones to the right levels and balance.

Kat is particularly conscious of the need to remove mould from homes and correct sleep apnea:

  • Mould – Kat explains that certain types of mould “can result in inflammation and destruction of the neurons” if left unattended over a reasonable period.  She advocates strongly for mold testing using home kits and external professional assessment.  Kat provides detailed instructions on how to go about dust collection and assessment (pgs. 10-11 of Decoding Dementia).
  • Sleep Apnea – Kat encourages testing and correcting Sleep Apnea where frequent snoring occurs as this condition causes a continuous loss of oxygen to both the brain and the heart.  In her words, if left untreated, “Sleep Apnea can lead to both Dementia and Congenital Heart Disease”.

In her free e-book, Decoding Dementia, Kat offers more details in relation to each of the elements of her Basic Dementia Protocol.  On mindfulness, she states that any mindfulness practice will be beneficial provided it is done on a daily basis and, ideally, for at least 20 minutes.  Kat recommends using a mindfulness practice that suits you personally and your commitments.  She encourages the use of guided meditations such as those provided by the Mindful Awareness Research Centre (MARC), UCLA.  Other options Kat proposes include Tai Chi, Gratitude practices including journalling, Meditation apps such as HeadSpace, and HeartMath Technology (focused on inner balance and stress reduction).

Reflection

We can each think of someone who could make use of the information and options provide by Kat.  The challenge is to apply her experience and research insights to ourself and undertake the testing, lifestyle changes and treatments (where necessary) that she proposes.  I find that guided mediations, mantra meditations and Tai Chi (meditation-in-action) are my favourite mindfulness practices.  Through these practices, I hope to grow in mindfulness so that I can increase my self-awareness, develop and support my brain (through improved attention and concentration) and build better understanding and compassion.  I hope to cultivate and savour my subconscious and gain greater access to my innate creativity.

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Image by Gerd Altmann 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.

Note: The Content of this post is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

Life Shaping Events and People: Finding Our Way Home

In an earlier post, I explored the concept of authenticity and ways to develop it – after listening to a presentation by Jeff Brown at the Surrender Summit.  This exposure to Jeff and his thinking stimulated my reading of his early book, Soulshaping, A Journey of Self-Creation – a revealing memoir that tracks his outer and inner journey.  As a result of the heartfelt responses to this book, Jeff came to understand that he was not alone in experiencing life’s challenges and exploring the inner journey to seek out peace, happiness and fulfillment.   He comments that he came to realise that “so many of us have walked the same trauma trails and endured hardships”. 

Jeff contends that his disenchantment with his early adult life was a result of following the “false-path”, instead of the “true-path” – alignment with his unique, profound life purpose.  He points out that the world we live in values external achievements not inner progress and constantly distracts us from our life purpose with false rewards and endless enticements designed to capture our attention and cultivate our obsessions.

His personal story captured in Soulshaping describes how he started on his journey to authenticity by listening to his “inner voice” (which he calls “Little Missy”) and exploring his true-path with its multiple challenges and turning points.  He argues that the inner voice is “the little voice that knows”, is persistent and unrelenting and contains what he describes as “the karmic blueprint for our destiny”.  The challenge is to allow this inner voice to reach our consciousness and influence our words and actions and, ultimately, shape our life choices.

However, the journey to authenticity – alignment with our life purpose – requires what Jeff describes as “gut wrenching, self-admission” because it is only when we expose what is really inside of us that we are able to “liberate our own voice”.  Admitting “who we are”, and not persisting with our social disguises (the face we present to the world), is essential for our liberation to a life of joy, profound realisation of our connectedness and experience of the well of ease with its inherent peace and tranquility – a stark contrast to the hurly-burly world we normally inhabit with its unceasing expectations.

Writing our way to our inner home

Jeff suggests that one way to access our true-path and the attendant inner sense of contentment and aliveness, is to begin writing to remove our “emotional debris” and uncover our inner voice.  To this end, I have enrolled in his online writing course, Writing Your Way Home, and I have set out on my own writing journey while concurrently exploring Jeff’s journey through reading Soulshaping and his latter book, Grounded Spirituality.  My core writing project will be a reflective memoir focused on acknowledging the people who have shaped, or are shaping, my life.

In a moment of synchronicity, I recently listened to an interview with Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, as he was discussing the fact that his life at the time involved parallel endeavours – his writings on emotional and social intelligence and his exploration of meditation through research and long-standing meditation practice.  He disclosed that he was pursuing these endeavours on two fronts simultaneously by writing another book about emotional intelligence and writing what he called a “spiritual memoir”.  He indicated that this latter inner journey was about the people who influenced him over his life and enabled him to be the person he is (and the person he is becoming).  Daniel indicated that he was thoroughly enjoying his memoir endeavour and that he was initially writing it for himself, not necessarily for publication.

Jeff indicated that we each have events and interactions with people in our life that shape us and our way of life.  Sometimes these events are traumatic and/or the people we encounter seek to turn us from our path through belittlement, envy or active discouragement.  Others seek to support us to be the best we can be and assist us to explore, and stay on, our true path.  As we are often reminded, “it is not what we experience in life (including traumas) that matters, but how we respond to life shaping events and people”.  In reading about Jeff’s “journey into self-creation”, I came to see some parallels in my life with events and people that were life shaping for him.

Life shaping events and people

Jeff describes a number of key events and people who influenced the direction of his life and his pursuit of a writing path as a manifestation of his profound life purpose.  As I read about his life, I experienced flashbacks to my own life as well as an intense motivation to begin writing my reflective memoir.  I am strongly convinced that the simultaneous pursuit of his writing course and his life story will provide the fuel to energise my memoir writing and help to sustain me in this endeavour.  Already, I have found the following parallels in life shaping events and people:

Adverse childhood experiences

In common with Jeff (and many other people), I had a number of adverse childhood experiences.  Jeff describes having a father who wished Jeff had not been born (he wanted a girl, not a boy) and who was violent and abusive towards him, always seeking to diminish him and his achievements.  He also had a mother who lived a life of “poverty trauma” and resorted to a world of fantasy as a way to cope with life’s harshness.  She “closed her heart” to protect herself.  Jeff experienced a life that was tumultuous and destructive as a result of the overflow of his parents’ challenging emotions and the constant state of conflict between them.

I had a similar upbringing with an alcoholic father who was suffering post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of his imprisonment for three years in the Changi Prisoner of War Camp.  He sought to drown his pain through alcohol and, while not physically abusive towards me, he would physically attack my mother and, on at least one occasion, put her in hospital with broken ribs.  I can relate strongly to what Jeff describes as the verbal assaults of his mother which drove his father “deeper into darkness”.  I can hear my mother berating my father about his drinking and wasting our family income, and the resultant shouting and escalating conflict.  None of us, including my father who had no psychological or government support (apart from a miserly pension), had any idea of the impact of PTSD on a person’s life and family. 

In contrast to Jeff’s mother, my mother lived in the real world but experienced a life punctuated by illness and grief (her four month old son died of a brain tumour when I was 4 years old).  She found her life purpose in raising her other five children, including me, and continually sacrificed herself for our physical, emotional and intellectual welfare (professional support for our emotional welfare was unachievable).  She worked endlessly at the local Woolworths to sustain us and provide for our private school education.  She had high hopes for each of us and encouraged us in whatever we wanted to pursue in our sport, study or work.  Unlike Jeff’s mother, she opened her heart to anyone in need and, in turn, accepted food packages from Vinnies to enable us to live from week to week. 

Career misfit

Jeff describes his very successful entry into a high powered career as a defence lawyer.  It was only as his Bar Admission Exams approached that he began to have doubts about whether this was a false path or a true path for him even though it involved the defence of innocent people who had been subjected to a miscarriage of justice.  His inner voice (Little Missy) created some cognitive dissonance for him by suggesting that he was only pursuing the external accoutrements of being a lawyer – fame, visibility, high income and social standing.  Ironically, it was when he was trying on a new suit for Court appearances (a clothing accoutrement) that he heard that persistent inner voice yet again, “Who are you, really?”

He arrived at a crossroads when he was due to sign a lease for a legal office to share with potential law partners.  At the time, he was pulled by the Warrior in him and his survival instinct to sign up to an externally rewarding life as a defence lawyer in partnership with supportive colleagues.  He described this period of sleeplessness, agitation and hellish indecision as being caught “between direction and exploration”, where he was unable to surrender to the joy of the unknown nor to experience the relief and certainty that came from “knowing where I am headed”.   It was when he was in Santorini in Greece that he began to write a journal which led ultimately to his “calling” and true path of being a writer.  He refused to sign the lease because his life as a defence lawyer seemed to him to be “living in disguise”, not living his real, unique self.

Immediately after I finished high school, I entered a novitiate in Sydney (about 1,000 kilometres from my home in Brisbane) and became an inductee into the life of Catholic priesthood as a contemplative monk.  After completing my first year and confirmation in the religious Order, I moved to Whitefriars Seminary in Melbourne (a further 800 kilometres from home) to complete my studies and training before ordination.  However, after four years there, I decided that this was not the career for me and returned home with $100 and the suit on my back.  I had previously committed to vows of poverty, chastity and obedience as part of my confirmation.  The decision to leave required formal approval from Rome to release me from my vows.

While I was studying in Melbourne, I consistently scored 90% in the annual oral exams for my various studies in philosophy and theology.  It was suggested that I was earmarked to complete a doctorate in theology in Rome because of my academic ability and “model” behaviour as a monk dedicated to daily silence, meditation and study.  However, I suffered from severe migraines and constant anxiety about my home situation where the conflict and domestic violence was relentless.  I came to think that I had undertaken the vocation as a priest as an escape from my distressful home situation and to win the approval of my mother who was very religious.  In some sense I was living my mother’s desire for my career – which filled a deep-seated need on her part.   Like Jeff, I was torn between “direction and exploration”. 

I had all the accoutrements of success – a sense of doing something worthwhile, high standing in the community and amongst my tutors and colleagues, a very balanced lifestyle and enjoyment of the journey.  However, my inner voice caused me to be dissatisfied and I left the Order as I approached ordination as a priest.   I had experienced an overwhelming sense of responsibility to the community generally and to my parents in particular.  As it turned out, sometime after I returned home, I took my mother away from my father for her own safety (but this is another story).  Both my parents blossomed when they were separated and I went on to pursue marriage and a career in the public service.

Reflection

Jeff recalls that as he set out to write a book that “talked about spirituality through the vehicle of my own journey”, he became caught up in self-deprecation.  He was “riddled with shame and doubt”, questioning whether anyone would want to read about his “miserable journey”.  While he recognised that the process of exploring his historical inner landscape through writing was therapeutic for himself, he doubted whether anyone else would benefit from it.  His experience after publishing his book certainly put paid to these doubts about the beneficial effects of his writing for others who read his Soulshaping book.  

Jeff encourages each of us to explore our life story and share it with others.   His writing course provides the psychological support and technical knowhow, including insights into how to get published.  He offers Soulshaping as a flexible template to assist us on our writing journey. His hope is that some of the themes he has written about will resonate with the reader/writer and provide the encouragement to follow our own true path.

Like Jeff, I have had considerable self-doubts about the benefit of writing my own memoir.  However, I am encouraged by his experience and support and the resonance I have already experienced with some of the themes in his recorded journey.  I am continuously flooded with recollections, insights and ideas now that I have chosen my reflective memoir as my core writing project.  I am excited by the prospect of researching aspects of my life and recording my growing self-awareness.  I am also flooded with feelings of gratitude towards the people who have helped shape and enrich my life.  I can already envision my memoir as an e-book, illustrated with historical images from significant events in my life.

As I continue to grow in mindfulness through my regular practice of meditation, Tai Chi and reflection (including writing this blog), I look forward to exploring further my inner landscape, gaining in self-awareness and emotional regulation and experiencing the joy of creative writing grounded in lived experience.

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Image by Robert C 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.

Savouring the Wins of Others

I have been reflecting on Jeff Brown’s comments about the journey into authenticity and particularly what he had to say about savouring the accomplishments and wins of others.  He comments for example, “I love it when people accomplish something they have set out to do”.   My reflection helped me realise that I have been pursuing a path of authenticity in how I turn up for, and play, social tennis (although I have not previously framed it that way).  Like when playing competitive tennis, the inner game of social tennis is challenging but influences how you approach successes and failures. 

I realise that the journey into authenticity while playing social tennis has a number of dimensions for me and while I have started the journey, I have a fair way to go.  The journey entails confronting inner challenges that impact the way I relate to others on the court, both partners and opponents (I only play doubles tennis at my age due to exercise asthma – I turned 76 today!).  Some of the inner battles I have been addressing include the following:

  • Expectations: I have had to adjust my expectations.  I am no longer a 30-year old A-Grade tennis player playing competitive tennis in tennis fixture competitions. I have had to realise emotionally, as well as cognitively, that I no longer have the speed, mobility, strength or endurance that I had when I was half my present age.  This means that I have to control my emotional response when I am not able to execute tennis shots that I have been able to achieve previously.  This has led me to accept my situation without being captured by negative emotions.
  • Blind Spots: By watching competitive tennis and reflecting on my own social tennis game, I came to realise some of my blind spots, both behavioural and cognitive.  On a behavioural level, after I had some lessons (at age 75) on playing a two-handed backhand, I had to rethink how I held the racquet when I waited for a serve.  On a cognitive level, I had to reacquaint myself with my “slice shot” (both forehand and backhand) which I had “put away” because I thought that it was not a “real shot”.  My thoughts about this shot changed after observing Ash Barty achieve Number One world ranking in tennis.
  • Making Mistakes: Because I still carry “video-tapes” in my head of shots I have played competently over many years, I would often get upset when I made a mistake.  However mistakes in tennis are part and parcel of the game …and it took me quite a while to acknowledge this emotionally.  I had to deal with negative self-evaluation and find ways to develop emotional equilibrium even when making basic mistakes.  To assist this journey into authenticity, I try to savour the present moment – the opportunity to play, the capacity to run and hit the ball and my developed tennis competence. 
  • Savouring the wins of others: This is still my greatest authenticity challenge when playing social tennis.  I can fairly readily acknowledge and savour the good shots of my tennis partner.  However, to do the same for my opponents is a different matter.  Because of my conditioning over many years of playing competitive tennis, I want to win every point in a tennis game (although this is not physically possible).  After a long rally where I have hit a lot of shots, run a considerable distance and displayed some tennis competence, I get annoyed if my opponents ends up winning the rally.  It means effectively that I am not authentically focusing on the process but worrying about the outcome.   This is a considerable challenge because it involves rewiring – overcoming my competitive conditioning.  It is my current focus in trying to achieve authenticity when playing social tennis on a weekly basis. 

Reflection

The journey to authenticity in playing social tennis is a continuing challenge.  For one thing, I have to explore why I become annoyed when my opponent wins a rally and learn to savour the wins of others on the tennis court.  As I grow in mindfulness through reflection, Tai Chi and meditation, I  can learn to better accept my physical limitations, admire the achievements of others (even if they are at my expense) and manage my expectations and associated emotions.  This will require a major change in my mindset and help me achieve authentic transformation.

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Image by mohamed Hassan 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.

How to Develop Authenticity

Jeff Brown spoke recently at the Surrender Summit on the topic, The Power of Authenticity.  Jeff is an author, expert in personal transformation and a lifetime seeker of his own authenticity.  He does not only talk about authenticity; he pursues it relentlessly and tirelessly in his own life and work. Jeff experienced adverse childhood experiences but has explored his inner landscape mainly through writing to  enable him to take his place in the world and to pursue his unfolding life purpose.  He maintains that writing is therapeutic and a tool for developing authenticity. 

To this end, Jeff has created his online writing course to make his personal lessons and insights available to anyone.  The course,  Writing Your Way Home: Answering the Soul’s Call, is available as a six-week audio course that incorporates inspiration and encouragement along with practical writing and publishing tips.  Jeff describes this course and its intent to help the participant find their “deepest and truest expression” in his short video where he encourages others to undertake the “transformative journey” of writing.

In his book, Love it Forward, he recounts how he had a turning point in his life when he stopped to give some money to a homeless person in the street.  He realised that this was a token action so he found out the contact details of the homeless person involved and arranged to send payments to him each week.  This felt more authentic and heartfelt

In an earlier book, Soulshaping: A Journey of Self-Creation, he explored the traumas and successes of his life in search of his inner authenticity – what he describes as alignment with his “soul purpose”.   He was able to set aside external achievements such as becoming a criminal lawyer and move towards his life calling as a writer.  He established the Soulshaping Institute: A Center for Authentic Transformation to assist others to make this personal journey to authenticity – to identify and pursue their life purpose.

Ways to develop authenticity

In Love it Forward, Jeff provides a series of quotes and insights into what authenticity means in daily life.  His book is a call to authenticity through overcoming any “emotional debris” and setting out on the path to our “soul purpose”.  His written words identify ways to be authentic in our actions and interactions:

  • Learn to live in the present moment – not the future or the past
  • Have the courage to break the hold of our “comfort zone” which prevents us from realising our true potential – we tend to avoid new beginnings for fear of the pain of endings
  • Avoid connecting with people who diminish us, distract us from our path, or try to dissuade us from realizing our potential
  • Savour life, love, breathing, being-in-relationship, and the ability to see, talk, walk and run
  • Acknowledge that giving in service to others is reciprocal – they are giving in return by accepting our generosity and enabling us to honour our life purpose (it is not a one-way street)
  • Accept that chaos precedes clarity and that without confusion there is no movement forward beyond the present understanding
  • Recognize that when we actualize our gifts to serve others in need, we are paying-it-forward and backward (to the people before us who have not had the skills or opportunity to serve others or those who come behind who can walk in our footsteps).
  • Don’t take things personally – create a mental boundary between ourselves and the behaviour of others (it is not about us)
  • Let love blossom as we age – open our heart to everything and everyone (we will no longer have time for avoidance or envy).
  • Express gratitude for our mentors and elders who have helped us realize our potential and our calling
  • Acknowledge that sometimes people have to experience and express victimhood to be able to move to well-being
  • Develop a self-care plan that acknowledges our intrinsic value and worth
  • Measure our success not in terms of externalities but inner victories over unresolved traumas and our “inner critic”
  • Treat negative self-talk as a culturally-induced, false story
  • Maintain a vision of our purpose and its realisation so that we actualize it “when the time is right”
  • Value the success of others (avoid envy of other’s  achievements).

Reflection

Jeff reinforces the fact that personal transformation cannot be rushed and that the journey to authenticity is paved with setbacks (lows), as well as joy (highs).  There is excitement and exhilaration in the journey of unfolding and realizing our uniqueness and potential.                                                                                                       

Meditation and other practices can enable us to grow in mindfulness, be fully present and have the courage and resilience to embark on our own journey to authenticity.

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Image by Ke Hugo 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.

Overcoming Anxiety

Presenters at the Anxiety Super Conference reinforced the view that adverse childhood experiences provided the foundation for anxiety in later life.  The early childhood experiences could involve sexual and/or physical abuse, psychological control, cruelty, demeaning words and actions or any other form of adversity that undermines a child’s self-esteem, sense of self-worth and security.  The effects of adverse childhood experiences are long-lasting, sometimes a whole lifetime.  I find it amazing that in my seventies, I am still anxious in confined spaces, especially lifts.  I track this anxiety back to 18 months of confinement in an orphanage when I was 4 years old and separated in the complex from my younger sister.

We are told that there is wisdom in anxiety and it can be good for us, e.g. warning us about an unhealthy situation, either self-generated or other-generated.  It can also be useful when it activates focus and energy when pursuing our goals, whether at work, in sport or in our homes.  Anxiety is counterproductive when it undermines our confidence or causes us to freeze, dissociate or engage in destructive, addictive habits.  However, the path to overcoming debilitating anxiety does not lie in avoidance or denial, but in truly facing up to anxiety and related fears.   The presenters at the Anxiety Super Conference provided ways to overcome anxiety, many of them embedded in the body, such as Restorative Yoga offered by Adelene Cheong.

Anxiety Loops

Amber Benziger, who spoke at the Anxiety Super Conference, provides a short video on the nature of anxiety loops that potentially generate escalating fear.  She suggests that experiences like the pandemic can intensify uncertainty around day-to-day activities like getting the children to school, retaining a job or maintaining physical and mental health.  The uncertainty can provoke anxiety about how to handle the resultant disruption and disconnect with established routines.  This, in turn, can lead to physical manifestations of heightened anxiety such as increased heartrate, headaches, or pain in the arms , legs, neck or back (through tightened muscles and constriction of blood flow).  The physical symptoms can activate negative thoughts such as, “Why haven’t I prepared for this?” “I am not a good parent/spouse/colleague”, “Why can’t I cope with this disturbance when other people seem to be coping?.   Amber suggests that, over time, the uncomfortable feelings intensify, negative thoughts become reactionary and excessive and anxiety can be experienced as a panic attack or burnout.

Breaking the anxiety loop

Amber’s suggestion to break the anxiety loop is to first validate the true nature of the external stimulus, e.g. acknowledge that it is a global pandemic and certainly a challenging time that is causing uncertainty and worry for many people.  Then, asking yourself a number of questions relating to control (which appears to be the thing we experience as most under attack), e.g. “What can I actually control?, “What is in my power to do now to prepare, protect and provide for myself and others?”  She encourages us to check in to our bodily sensations via processes such as a body scan and progressive releasing of tension.  At the same time, she encourages us to challenge our negative thoughts and underpinning assumptions.  Amber asserts that in the final analysis, “feelings are not facts!” and we should question why these feelings are arising  – just as Jon Kabat-Zinn asserts, “We are not our thoughts!” and we should use diffusion strategies to minimise their impact.

Amber is the creator of The Anxiety Lab which is a membership site for women who want to overcome anxiety and restore control in their lives.  Besides social support provided by members, Amber offers resources and workshops to enable participants to develop mechanisms for coping with anxiety.  As a trained counsellor and clinical therapist, she also offers counselling for individuals and families as well as group therapy and teletherapy.

Anxiety can be compounded when we take on new roles such as that of a leader in a community organisation or a manager in a commercial enterprise.  Our inability to cope with anxiety can be more public and open to scrutiny in these roles and environments.

Managerial anxiety

Managers can be anxious about the decisions they make, their impact on the welfare of staff, their ability to properly represent the organisation and its goals, their capacity to observe legislative requirements or meet any of the multitude other demands of a manager in this day and age (including coping with new technologies and industry discontinuities).   Managers can be concerned about how they are viewed by their hierarchy, their staff, their colleagues or their clients. They can be anxious about meeting targets, avoiding budget overruns or achieving the required organisational growth.  Managers, whether executives or managers lower in the organisation, can be captured by expectations, those of others as well as their own unrealistic expectations arising from a perfectionist tendency.  This anxiety can lead to overwork and an inability to create boundaries between work and home (particularly in these days of hybrid work).

During the Anxiety Super Conference, Moira Aarons-Mele raised the issue of leadership anxiety and explained that it is different for every person.  She stated that because of our nature as “human relational creatures”, we worry about how we are viewed by others, “ping” off others’ anxiety and take on others’ urgencies.  She maintained that this anxiety-related behaviour is aggravated both by email (where we worry about the communications we initiate and our response to others’ communications) and online meetings.  Meetings via platforms such as Zoom, can be draining not only because of the level of concentration required but also the fact that we are “performing under lights”.  Moira suggests that the “energetic output” required for a series of Zoom sessions is excessive and in a TED Talk, she offers 3 steps to stop remote work burnout.

Moira self-identifies as “an extremely anxious overachiever” who is working to bring some normality to her life.  In pursuit of this purpose, she created The Anxious Achiever Podcast – a series of podcasts in which she interviews experts in the field of anxiety management including those who propose writing as therapy, adoption of the Acceptance and Commitment (ACT) therapy and dealing with the “imposter syndrome”.  One of her interviewees, journalist Priska Neely, explains why managing is the hardest job she ever had.

Overcoming managerial anxiety

Moira offers a number of ways to overcome managerial anxiety.  She suggests that one of the first steps for a manager is letting go – stop micromanaging and empower others through mindful delegation.  Associated with this, is the need to adopt healthy work habits that become new norms by way of modelling desired behaviour.  Sometimes this involves changing the expectations of staff that have arisen as a result of the previous behaviour of the manager, e.g. arriving early and leaving late. 

Moira also recommends talking about the work situation and the stressors involved and working collaboratively with staff to develop ways to cope effectively – e.g. introducing a wellness program or a morning exercise routine.  This self-care and other-care approach could involve checking in on oneself as well as staff experiencing distress.  Moira also strongly recommends setting boundaries , both at work and at home, ensuring there is a clear divide between work life and home life (avoiding endless spill over, a trap for the unwary when working from home).   Moira, like Ginny Whitelaw, encourages movement and bodily awareness to enable leaders to let go of tension – otherwise, their tension contaminates the mood of everyone else they come into contact with (bosses, colleagues and staff).

Reflection

There are many paths to overcoming the anxiety that negatively impacts our health, productivity and overall well-being.  We have to start, and persist with, the journey into our inner landscape.  This can be a lifetime pursuit but the rewards are great as we begin to break free of expectations and the other ties that bind us.  As Janine Mikosza writes in her novel, Homesickness: A Memoir, “your past doesn’t have to be your future”.

If we adopt mindfulness practices such as Tai Chi, yoga or meditation, we can find that over time as we grow in mindfulness we begin to develop heightened self-awareness, the courage to change, the creativity to develop new ways of being-in-the-world and the resilience to maintain the journey.  In the process, we will positively impact others whom we interact with at work, at home or during our everyday endeavours (such as sports or social events).  

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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.

How to Build Team Resilience: The 10 C’s

After writing multiple posts about personal resilience over the past five years, I have turned my attention to the task of building team resilience.  This has always been a challenge for managers but the issues have been compounded by the challenging times we are experiencing at the moment (with the global pandemic, war in Ukraine and elsewhere, economic uncertainty and the differential impacts of climate change and associated global warming).  Managers and staff are increasingly facing discontinuities in the way work is done, in where they work and in the nature of internal and external environmental changes.

How then do we go about building team resilience as we are confronted with multiple assaults on many fronts – e.g., on physical and mental health, economic welfare, working conditions, supply and demand, and relationships?   More recent writing and research point to a number of factors that contribute to team resilience in these challenging times.  I have summarised these as the 10 C’s for ease of access and recollection.

The 10 C’s for building team resilience

Team resilience has been described as “the capacity of a group of people to respond to change and disruption in a flexible and innovative manner”.   Even if adverse conditions result in a temporary loss of productivity, the resilient team can restore its balance, take care of affected members and find new ways to work and achieve their goals.  They are able to revise their goals, too, where necessary.  The 10 C’s of a resilient team are described below:

  1. Congruence: This is the cornerstone of a productive, mentally healthy and resilient workplace culture.  Managers need to ensure that they share their values and align their actions with their words.  Congruent leadership inspires, motivates and engages others in the task of personal improvement and innovation.  Lack of congruence on the part of a manager adds to environmental uncertainty, derails personal resilience and undermines team cohesion.  Team members don’t know what to believe, question their own self-worth and lose confidence in the face of the ambiguity created by incongruent behaviour.  Managers need to develop managerial mindfulness so that they are constantly aware of the impact of their words, actions and omissions on the welfare and resilience of their staff.
  2. Connection: Dr. Erin Raab maintains that “resilience is rooted in relationships” which enable trust and flexibility to develop and grow.  Without trust in a team, there is no resilience – individuals withhold information, protect themselves and withdraw (both psychologically and physically).  Managers need to be proactive in building connection through established rituals – e.g., regular, productive and focused meetings; celebrations of birthdays and personally significant events such as cultural or religious days; on-boarding and “off-boarding” practices; and regular occasions of eating together (e.g., enjoying shared  lunches that reflect the multicultural nature of a team).  Foundational to trust and a sense of being valued for contributions to a team, is expression of appreciation given as positive feedback in a way that is sincere, specific, timely and personal.  This builds personal self-efficacy, reinforces team values and develops overall team competence and capability. 
  3. Clarity: Along with relationships, Dr. Erin places considerable emphasis on the role of clarity in building team resilience.  She maintains that clarity “facilitates communication, increases intrinsic motivation and engagement” and contributes to a team’s capacity to handle change adaptively.  At a fundamental level, this involves ensuring that each person understands the specific requirements of their job and are trained and resourced to achieve them.  For the purposes of this discussion, clarity includes not only roles and structures but also team values.  Lack of clarity around roles/structures can lead to role overlap, role conflict and role ambiguity – each of which can undermine alignment of individual effort with team goals.  Clarity about team values is critically important to team resilience.  If team values are developed collaboratively, along with the explicit behavioural expressions of those values, they provide agreed guideposts and enable individual and collective alignment with the ethos of the team, facilitating working together productively within an ever-changing environment.
  4. Collaboration: This includes being conscious of contributing to a team effort (rather than solely absorbed in one’s own tasks) and a willingness to work together and to help out where needed.   It also involves moving beyond competition to “committing to build each other’s competence” to enable other team members to be the best they can be.  In line with an action learning approach, this can entail providing “supportive challenge” to assumptions or negative self-talk that are holding an individual back and undermining their personal resilience and capacity to contribute to the team.   Managers can proactively build collaboration through cross-functional, action learning project teams, establish reverse mentoring (e.g. where new, young staff with specific technological skills mentor older staff in those skill areas) and/or engage in team-building activities such as collaborative problem solving using change tools (e.g., Force Field Analysis or Brainstorming).  These activities build overall team competence and capacity to effectively manage change as a team. They also develop a sense of agency amongst team members – the ability to influence their work environment and how their work is done.
  5. Competence: Conscious efforts to build individual and team competence are an essential element for moving a team beyond its current level of capability.  This not only involves providing externally facilitated individual and team training opportunities but also building competence through internal, prioritised knowledge sharing processes, multi-skilling activities and related learning-on-the job opportunities.  If people in a team are not developing their knowledge and skills, they are going backwards in terms of a changing environment and its concurrent demands for upskilling.  The wider the gap between the present level of team members’ knowledge and skills and that demanded by the internal and external environment, the less resilient the team will be.  In contrast, relevant competence building develops a team’s resourcefulness and the process of continuous learning builds a team’s resilience.  Having a debrief or reflection process after a mistake or setback, without trying to apportion blame, can provide team members with new insights, ideas, tools and increased capacity to avoid or manage such adverse situations in the future.`
  6. Candor: LHH and Ferrazzi Greenlight, through their research, identified candor as one of the four critical characteristics of a resilient team, along with compassion , resourcefulness and humility.  Candor can be understood as “tell it like it is”.  It entails honesty, openness and transparency on an individual as a well as a team level.  It is the manager’s role to keep the workplace “businesslike and professional” and a key element of this is providing corrective feedback to an individual where they fail to meet communicated performance and/or behavioural standards.  Honesty in this interaction is essential to develop the receiver’s self-awareness, create the opportunity for their skill development and reduce the possibility of disharmony in the team.  On a team level, the manager can openly share with the team where they are placed in relation to the team goals and elicit team members help in attaining the goals and/or setting new goals.
  7. Challenge: Keith Ferrazzi, Mary-Clare Race and Alex Vincent argue that helping team members to own, and share, their workplace challenges, builds trust and openness.   This is important on a team level as well as individually.  Managers can be open about the challenges facing the team as a whole.  I worked with a CEO some years ago who managed an aged care operation with 23 different residential facilities on the one site, each with a separate manager and providing services ranging from respite care to palliative care.  What the manager found is that the level of care required by residents was increasing in need,  complexity and cost, at the same time that Government funding was reducing dramatically.  The manager openly shared this financial situation with his team of facility managers and enlisted their aid in resolving the challenge.  The facility managers came up with a number of innovative solutions which enabled the installation to overcome substantial losses.   Managers, where possible, can share information about impending organisational changes to build change readiness in the team and to prevent team members from being blindsided by the changes when they occur.  In the absence of information, team members fear the worst and start to share rumours that undermine individual’s confidence and the team’s resilience.  Sharing information about forthcoming changes can enable a team to collaboratively develop strategies to effectively manage the changes, thus building resilience.
  8. Compassion: It is important that managers show that they care – not only expressing empathy for staff needs, but also taking compassionate action.  This may entail making reasonable adjustments for people experiencing mental or physical health issues.  It could involve developing mental health awareness programs that facilitate people effectively managing their own mental health.  Another approach involves offering workplace mindfulness training to enable staff to manage stress and build personal resilience in the face of multiple workplace stressors.  Mindful organisations develop compassion in all their interactions, including actively listening to each other in the workplace and helping each other through the challenges they experience.  Overall, it entails cultivating a care and concern culture where peoples’ welfare comes before task achievement – a culture that can be developed by regular, non-invasive check-ins by the manager as well as by workplace colleagues.  Involvement in the RUOK? movement can facilitate the development of this cultural orientation. 
  9. Communication: “Information is power”, so sharing information is sharing power – empowering others to achieve.  This involves moving from sharing information on a “need-to-know” basis (often arbitrarily determined by the manager) to a “need-to-enable” basis.  People need information to do their job, to understand the organisational context and to align with the organisation’s strategic direction.  Managers are interpreters of the organisation’s vision, values and goals and have a critical role in ensuring their staff know where the organisation is headed and why.  They can enhance their role in engaging the minds and hearts of staff by enabling collaborative development of a local statement of the team’s vision in line with the organisation’s direction.  What mangers say and how they say it can create a positive or negative culture and contribute to team resilience or undermine it.  Research has shown that a manager’s mood is contagious.  This emotional contagion impacts how a team responds to challenges and setbacks.  Managers are encouraged to be positive and avoid cynicism and negativity if they want to build team resilience.  They need to be conscious about the impact of their communication and monitor their own talk
  10. Celebration: Celebrating successes in terms of goal accomplishment or achievement of project milestones, deepens the memory of team members in terms of how they have overcome obstacles and setbacks and serves as a fall-back when future challenges or setbacks arise.  Mind Tools provides the research behind the value of savoring team success and offers multiple ways to celebrate team achievements.  Celebrations open up the opportunity to share success stories, build cohesion and reinforce positive emotions associated with belonging to the team – all of which adds to a sense of connectedness and team resilience.  Another way into savoring team achievement is to engage in an “appreciative inquiry” process with a team.  This strengths-based approach works from what is good about the present (revisiting achievements) to envisioning an even better future and innovating to realise this vision.

Reflection

The factors impacting team resilience – the 10 C’s mentioned above – are not discrete influences.  They overlap to some degree and reinforce each other.  The relationship between different factors is often bi-directional, e.g., connection inspires compassion and compassion, in turn, builds connection.  So, acting positively on any one of the factors identified, can strengthen other factors and enhance the impact on team cohesion and resilience.   The factors provide a focus for efforts to build team resilience.   If a manager wants to achieve a significant change in an organisational/team context, they need to have multiple points of intervention to shift from the status quo to a desired future. 

However, trying to focus on all the resilience factors at once can create overwhelm for a manager.  Shelly Tygielski, international mindfulness trainer and trauma counsellor, encourages “chunking” when faced with such a mammoth “to-do list” – that is, grouping tasks into like activities (chunks) and assigning relative priorities.  A manager, for example, could engage their staff in a Force Field Analysis (FFA) process to identify the helping and hindering forces impacting the goal of developing team resilience and then collaboratively assign a priority to each force to determine what factor(s) to focus on.  The 10C’s and their component elements could be used as a checklist during the FFA process.

When writing about personal resilience, Shelly Tygielski encourages “building resilience one step at a time”.   On a team resilience level, this involves beginning with a primary focus and progressively adding activities as one intervention is established and stabilised.  

As managers grow in managerial mindfulness, they will see opportunities for improving their own practices and develop creative ways to build team resilience.  Proactivity is required on the part of a manager if team resilience is to be developed and sustained.  Writers in this area often liken team resilience to a battery – needing continual recharging and reenergising. 

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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.

Ways to Manage Ourself During Difficult Times

The Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC) at UCLA offers weekly guided meditation podcasts on a wide range of topics and issues.  In one of the recent meditation podcasts Diana Winston, Director of Mindfulness Education at MARC focused on “Practices in Difficult Times” – providing several mindfulness practices designed to help us achieve calmness, manage our challenging emotions and express compassion to ourselves and to others who are suffering.

Diana highlighted the fact that challenging events such as the mass shootings in America and the war in Ukraine can generate “emotional inflammation” in us – we can feel strong emotions of anger, grief, rage or sadness.  We might feel overwhelmed by others’ inconceivable pain and loss and our own emotional response.  We might be confused and continually ask ourselves, “Why the children?”, “Why Ukraine?” or “When will this emotional and physical devastation stop?”

Diana draws on mindfulness practices to help us deal with these challenging times and the emotions they elicit in us.  She reminds us that mindfulness involves placing our attention fully on the present moment while being open and curious and accepting what is in our present internal and external reality. 

Three mindfulness practices for difficult times

The three mindfulness practices offered by Diana are described, in turn, in the following discussion:

  1. Calming Practices: Here we are encouraged to tap into the body’s own capacity to generate calm and ease.  The primary aim is to achieve groundedness in a way that is conducive to our present needs.  We could start by taking a couple of deep breaths and releasing them slowly to let go of the tension within us.  There is the option to find a place of ease in our body and focus in on it, e.g., our arms beside our body, our relaxed legs or our fingers joined and pulsating with energy.  Diana particularly stressed the power of “feeling the support of the earth” through our feet on the floor or the ground.  Our breath with its natural rhythm can provide a basis for experiencing calm and ease (unless, of course, focusing on our breath acts as a trauma stimulus).  If attention to our breath is calming, there are many ways to access a relaxed state through mindful breathing  practices.  We could adopt “micro-practices” such as the  4-7-8 breathing practice often used in yoga, the breathing in time practices (using our breath as a musical instrument) or we could pay attention to the internal physical sensations of our breathing – e.g., the rising and falling of our abdomen or the feeling of air moving in and out of our nose.  Diana suggests another alternative is to pay full attention to the sounds in the room or what is being generated externally (especially if we are in a natural setting with the sounds of birds, waves, or wind).  Sound can also be used as a calming mindfulness practice as we listen to and sing mantra meditations provided by people like Lulu & Mischka (such as their Rainbow Light song as part of their peaceful Horizon album).
  2. Holding strong emotions: Normally, people tend to suppress challenging emotions, deny them, or deflect their attention from them by numbing themselves with some form of addictive behaviour such as drinking excessive alcohol, overeating, taking illegal drugs or over-spending while shopping compulsively.  Mindfulness experts and psychologists remind us that we need to face up to our emotions or they will cause disruptions in our lives through some form of mental and/or physical illness.  Diana encourages us in this guided meditation to pay attention to our challenging emotions and observe how they are manifesting in our body, e.g. tightness in the chest, pain in the arms or neck, headaches, overall stiffness or fibromyalgia (non-specific whole-body pain).  Holding on to these strong emotions enables us to deal with them directly and use the healing power of our mind and body to dissipate them.  If we experience overwhelm while confronting our strong emotions, we can return to our meditation anchor which could be our breath, external sounds, bodily sensations or music.
  3. Compassion practice: Diana explains that compassion practice in this context involves ourselves as well as others who may be experiencing suffering and loss.  She encourages us to treat ourselves with kindness and compassion as we struggle to deal with our challenging emotions and our misguided attempts to ignore them or numb them.  She suggests, then, that we extend loving kindness to others in the world who are experiencing pain, devastation, grief and anger.  Diana offers  a possible expression of compassion for others in the form of a statement of desire, “May you be freed from pain and suffering and find contentment and ease”.

Reflection

We have a deep well of ease in our bodies that we can access at any time, if only we can let go of our damaging thoughts.  As we grow in mindfulness through calming practices, facing our challenging emotions and practising compassion towards ourselves and others, we can gain the insight, courage and capacity to manage ourselves during difficult times.  Mindfulness enables us to achieve emotional regulation, self-awareness and the creative drive to be the best we can be.  Challenging emotions, left unchecked or ignored, can undermine our endeavours at home or at work.

Over time we can develop a regular mindfulness practice that suits our make-up and that we can undertake on a daily basis (e.g., Tai Chi, mantra meditations, chanting or yoga).  This core mindfulness practice can be supplemented by micro-practices that we engage in throughout the day (e.g., when washing our hands, during waiting times, or when boiling the jug).  The compound effect of these core and micro-practices is a calm state of mind, enhanced patience and conscious presence.

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Image by ChiemSeherin 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.