The Impermanence of Everything and the Preciousness of Life

In Part 1 of his book, The Five Invitations, Frank Ostaseski discusses his first invitation and principle for living, “Don’t Wait”.  Frank, as founder of a hospice and end-of-life carer, has cared for more than a thousand patients during their dying process and death.  In this first part of his book, he highlights the impermanence of everything and the preciousness of each moment of living.   

Frank has been a companion to the deepest grief of friends and relatives of the dying and experienced a depth of vicarious grief that is difficult to conceive – it’s as if the collective grief of others had beset him and brought him to his knees, both physically and metaphorically.  Fortuitously, he was a colleague and friend of Elizabeth Kübler-Ross at the time who supported him in his grief and his work as an end-of-life carer.  Elizabeth developed the classic concept of the five stages of dealing with death and loss in her book On Death and Dying and was also the author of Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss.

The impermanence of everything

If nothing else, the Coronavirus reinforces the impermanence of everything through its pervasive impact on every facet of our daily lives – our home, work location, transportation, schooling and education, shopping, spending, entertainment, health, finances, sport and our very daily interactions and movements.  The on-off nature and varying intensity of imposed restrictions serve to reinforce this message of the changeability of everything.  In these challenging times, we are called to adapt to the unpredictability of our work, our changing home arrangements, the extreme challenge to our health and welfare, and the uncertainty of our income and overall finances.

Without the pandemic, we can still become aware of impermanence – the birth and death cycle for humans, animals and nature.   Relationships end, animals are killed and eaten by other animals in the endless pursuit of food and survival and leaves fall off trees to become life-giving compost for new plant growth.  

The impermanence of everything was brought home to me by two recent incidents.  The first was the disturbing story of a nurse killed suddenly in our city while cycling to work.  Her husband indicated that their day started as normal with a coffee and breakfast together but ended tragically when the nurse was only metres away from her work at the hospital.

The second experience of impermanence occurred when I was walking along the foreshore of Moreton Bay near our home.  I was watching the small fish full of life darting back and forth in the marina when a fast-moving bird dived into the water and retrieved one of the fish for its food – only to be followed by other birds dive-bombing the school of little fish. 

The preciousness of life

Frank describes the process of dying as a “stripping away” of everything including our sense of “self” – our sense of who we think we are and should be, all our roles such as husband/wife, partner, parent, neighbour.  We lose our professional identity, our personal orientation, e.g. as a “people person” and our comparative self-assessment such as well-off or impoverished and successful or an abject failure.  Frank reinforces his view of the inadequacy of the medical model to explain the breadth and depth of the “stripping away” at death.  He maintains that in dying everything is released/dissolved – “the gross physical elements of the body, thoughts, perceptions, feelings, conditioning all dissolving”.  Frank asserts that what is left to discover is “something more elemental and connective” that constitutes the real essence of human nature.

Our awareness of impermanence, accentuated by illness, can lead to anxiety or a readiness to appreciate and savour the preciousness of life, of our relationships and of nature.   Through appreciating the pervasiveness of impermanence, we can more readily accept change and more willingly give up our attachments – the things that we hold onto to define our self and our worth.   This is where meditation can help us both in fully living and preparing for dying and death.

The “Don’t Wait” principle reminds us of the certainty of death and the uncertainty of the timing of our death – that it will happen, but we don’t know when or how.  This principle encourages us to value every moment we are alive and to savour what we have in life and the experiences of living.  Frank’s heart attack reinforced this message for him – his sense of self and perception of himself as the “strong one” helping everyone else in need was completely undone.  He encourages us to be curious about ourselves and our preferences/attitudes/ biases and to work at letting go of the identities that we have become attached to.

 Frank maintains that “softening around these identities, we will feel less constraint, more immediacy and presence”.  I am learning the profound truth of this statement through softening my identification with being a “good” tennis player who never or rarely makes mistakes.  Instead of wallowing in negative self-evaluation, I am beginning to enjoy the freedom of progressively loosening this unsustainable identification as I grow older and less physically able.

Reflection

Frank’s book would have to be the easiest and most-engrossing personal development book I have had the privilege to read, and, at the same time, the most profound.  As someone who has had a deep interest in, and knowledge of, his subject, he can communicate his ideas in simple language and practical illustrations.  Each paragraph contains exquisite morsels of wisdom and the book is replete with moving but brief stories that impress indelibly – so, even if you don’t remember the exact wording of his principles, you certainly remember the stories that illustrate them.  Frank’s writing reflects the calmness, humility and depth of insight and wisdom that is evident in his many conversations and podcast interviews about the process of dying and “The Five Invitations”.

“Don’t Wait” is a challenging principle but Coronavirus has forced us to stop, reassess and protect ourselves and others.  It has been the catalyst for incredible acts of courage and kindness – by our health professionals and people from all walks of life.  The Pandemic Kindness group on Facebook©, with over half a million members, is but one of many efforts to encourage and support random acts of kindness in these challenging times.

The “Don’t Wait” principle incorporates many invitations to create change in our lives.  As we grow in mindfulness through meditation and reflection, we can become increasingly aware of our attachments (including to harmful self-narratives) and progressively develop the discipline and self-regulation to create real change in our lives to live with more appreciation, thoughtfulness, kindness and compassion.  We can learn to savour every moment of our life and everything that it entails.

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

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

How to Be Open to Change

Diana Winston recently provided a guided meditation on Opening to Change as part of the weekly meditation podcasts provided by MARC, UCLA.  Diana pointed out that change has always been a part of our life – both internally and externally.  We have constantly experienced change in the form of changes to our bodily sensations, our thoughts, emotions and body form.  We have experienced constant change in our environment (local and global) – our economic, political, social, financial, legal and climatic environment.  We can just think of the ever-changing nature of social media or the weather to remind us of the numerous changes that we experience daily.

Disruptive change brought on by the Coronavirus

The Coronavirus has created a disruptive change that is unprecedented in its magnitude and impacts.  We are finding that every dimension of our lives has been disrupted.  How we work and where we work has changed and for some people this means a loss of job and income.  Our financial situation is changing constantly as the new reality sets in, with businesses closing or going into lockdown, the share market fluctuating erratically, and customers prevented from visiting stores, cafes and restaurants.

Local, interstate and international travel has been severely constricted.  There have been significant restrictions on our daily lives – our movement, hygiene practices and access to resources have been mandated by Government (employing emergency powers).  Our interactions are changing as we have to adopt social distancing and social isolation – so people avoid rather than connect, people even cross the road to create distance as we approach them.

There are new limitations on who we can meet with, and the nature, duration and location of our meetings.  We are often forced to connect online, instead of face-to-face and to experience the exhaustion of this new mode of contact when adopted on a constant basis.  Everything seems to be turned upside down, even our perception of what day it is.  Bernard Salt, social commentator and demographer, coined the term “Lockdown Befuddlement Syndrome (LBS)” to describe our inability to remember what day it is  – a condition he attributes to the “loss of reference points” which served to fix the time of day and the day of the week for us (Weekend Australian Magazine, 16-17 May 2020, p. 28).

It is natural then for us to experience stress and resistance when we encounter total disruption and uncertainty.  It is also natural for us to experience the very real fear of viral contamination when going to the shops, being in enclosed public transport or lifts or just walking down the street. 

Previously, we have discussed various issues that impact our openness to change – our immunity to change, the need for emotional agility and the different survival strategies that individuals adopt.  Diana offers a guided meditation to help us to be more open to change whatever our habituated response is.  She suggests that, through mindfulness practice, we can turn the current “breakdown” in our life to the potential of a “breakthrough”. 

Guided meditation on openness to change

There are several steps in the guided meditation offered by Diana:

  • Physical grounding – sitting, lying or standing comfortably with eyes closed or downwardly focused.
  • Body scan – feeling your feet on the floor or ground, breathing into points of stiffness or pain, opening to your bodily sensations as they are at the moment.   Diana also suggests some form of movement to loosen your muscles, e.g. move your neck from side to side, stretch your arms and legs.
  • Emotional scan – getting in touch with your feelings at the moment and naming your feelings, without self-censure or self-evaluation (everyone experiences a range of emotions when faced with extreme uncertainty and threats to their sense of security).  It also involves confronting the experience of boredom and how it negatively impacts your life.
  • Mind scan – being open to your thoughts and what occupies your mind, exploring your preoccupation with the lost opportunities of the past and/or the uncertainty of the future.
  • Mindful breathing – sense your breathing (the in-breath, out-breath and the gap between), adopting deep breathing to tap into your life force.
  • Tune into sounds – open your awareness to sounds in the room and externally, without interpretation or emotional response.
  • Decide on an anchor – what will help you return to your focus when your mind wanders and you lose focus?  Your anchor could be a specific form of breathing, a bodily sensation, attention to sounds or any other signal to return your attention back to your desired focus.
  • Exploring your approach to present changes in your life – once you are in touch with how you are holistically experiencing your current reality, you can ask yourself a series of questions:
    • What aspects of your changed life are you adapting to well?
    • What positive responses have you employed, how have your enriched your daily routine?
    • What has slipped from your earlier resolve and practice, have you lost the discipline of a daily routine?
    • How could you improve your responses to your changed life and environment?
    • Are your expectations realistic, given your present environment?
    • What single positive behavioural change will you adopt?

Reflection

There are numerous examples, locally and globally, of individuals, communities and businesses adapting in a positive way to the experience of our current, constrained existence.  Parents are spending more time with their children; people working from home are valuing their home environment and enjoying increased productivity; businesses are adapting to a take-away or online environment; consultants, trainers and teachers are successfully converting to an online-teaching environment; people are learning new skills, including how to make bread; many people are exercising more and/or spending more time in nature and the open air.

Individuals and communities are working together to offer free nutritious meals to frontline health workers; businesses are adapting manufacturing processes to produce sanitisers, ventilators and protective gear; and musicians and artists are providing free shows online to brighten people’s lives and raise funds to fight the Coronavirus.   Everywhere you look, you can see examples of the resilience and generosity of the human spirit.

Diana askes us, “How can we channel what we have learned [in this crisis] to create a new existence?”  She maintains that as we grow in mindfulness we can move beyond our self-limitations and negative self-talk to access our inner strength, resilience and creativity.  We can move beyond our self-absorption to a sense of gratitude, self-compassion and compassion towards others.

Bernard Salt asks the Australian community:

What learnings, skills, adaptations, re­imagined values can we, should we, take forward in the recovery process to build an even better Australia in the months and the years ahead?  (The Australian, Monday 18 May 2020)

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

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

What it Means to be a Tough Male Today: Strength through Adversity and Vulnerability

In a recent interview podcast, Tami Simon spoke to former NBA star Lance Allred about his book which focuses on changes to what it means to be a “tough” male in times of adversity.  Lance is the author of The New Alpha Male: How to Win the Game When the Rules Are Changing.   As the first legally deaf player in the NBA, Lance missed hearing a number of plays but he brought to the game a keen sense of sight and intuition – he was able, for example, to develop heightened peripheral vision and the capacity to read body language through intuition rather than analysis.

Lance explains in his interview (as part of the Insights at the Edge podcast series) that he was raised as a child in America to become the classical Alpha Male – dominant, powerful and focused on the external signs of success that were associated with materialistic values (what you possess) and “superior conceit” (“better than” or “superior to”).  The catalyst for his change of perspective on what it means to be male was the sudden end to his NBA career (precipitated by the Global Economic Crisis) and nervous breakdown which resulted in thoughts of suicide.

Characteristics of males who successfully persevere despite adversity

In the interview, Lance describes the seven characteristics of what he terms the “New Alpha Male”.  The characteristics are strongly aligned to mindfulness and Lance describes them as the “seven principles of perseverance” when faced with today’s life challenges:

  1. Accountability: Lance argues that we need to own our feelings and avoid hiding them through “false bravado”.   He maintains that to be accountable we have to cast off those embedded self-stories that lead to envy and aggression and own our real feelings, instead of playing the victim or the child throwing a tantrum.
  2. Integrity: Speaking your “authentic truth” – not showing one side to a valued audience and another worse side to people viewed as lesser in importance. This entails working towards personal integration as a lifetime pursuit and being congruent as a leader.
  3. Compassion: Understanding that others are in pain and can often cause you hurt as a result of their pain (e.g. pain resulting from adverse childhood experiences).  It entails being willing to forgive others and show compassion towards them and their suffering.
  4. Intimacy: Being able to have the “intimate conversations” that express how you really feel but also being able to “own your side of the street” – what you have contributed to the conflict.  Lance talks about “self-intimacy” which is effectively a very deep level of self-awareness along with the courage to own up to what you are thinking and feeling.  The resultant vulnerability becomes a strength, not a weakness.
  5. Adaptability: Being able to deal with “extreme discomfort” including feeling alone because you are not conforming to other people’s expectations – people who do not see you for “who you truly are” and what you are capable of.
  6. Acceptance: This is the precursor to surrender.  Acceptance entails acknowledging mistakes but working to overcome them for your own benefit as well as that of others affected by your mistakes or inadequacies.  Surrender goes one step further in accepting “what is” after you have given your all to a particular pursuit or dream.  Lance explains that acceptance and surrender in turn involve both heartbreak and gratitude – willingness to learn through heartbreak and gratitude for what you have achieved.
  7. Choice: A fundamental principle underlying perseverance. This involves showing up in your life – choosing to start again after some “failure”, not being afraid of failure.  In the final analysis it means to “be a leader of your own life”.

Reflection

Lance puts forward the challenge of conscious choice and mindful action – being willing to overcome our self-stories, moving beyond our comfort zone, being truly accountable and authentic about our thoughts and feelings and being compassionate and forgiving towards others.  As we grow in mindfulness, we can develop the self-awareness and self-intimacy that underpins his principles of perseverance and progressively move towards personal integration.

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

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

Developing Resonance through Listening: Leadership in Action

In a previous post I discussed leadership as resonance, drawing on the work of biophysicist Ginny Whitelaw.  Fundamental to this concept is the role of a leader as an “energy concentrator” – capturing, focusing and amplifying energy.  This process is a two-way street.  The leader generates energy alignment and amplification through developing a vision, shaping team culture and enabling the transformation of creative energy into innovation.  On the other hand, the leader captures the energy of his or her followers through listening – being in tune with their energy vibration, removing political and organisational blockages and providing energetic support.  This is very much a form of bottom-up management, in contrast to the former way of concentrating energy through vision and culture which is a top-down approach.  Listening, then, is a means of achieving resonance – aligning with and amplifying energy vibrations from followers.

Listening as resonance

A common expression used to describe the act of listening is to say that people who are actively listening in a conversation are on the “same wavelength” – their energy vibrations are aligned.  Ginny, drawing on neuroscience research, maintains that this statement is both metaphorically and literally true – if the leader is actively listening, they are matching the brain waves of the communicator, making a map of the other person’s energy vibrations within their own brain.  This is what Ginny calls “connected communication”.  As she points out, when we are on the same wavelength, we have access to a deeper level of understanding and information exchange.  This is in direct contrast to parallel conversations where there are no connections and people are “talking past” each other.  In Ginny’s words, listening involves a sensitivity to the point that the conversation changes us and has a healing effect.

Disconnected communication – a lack of listening and dissipation of energy

Communication is a form of energy exchange that can be either employed to make things happen or dissipated through failure to listen by either party in a conversation.  In organisations, it is all too common for staff to lose heart and energy when their leader fails to listen, to be in tune with what they are saying.  This can happen in communications about ideas for improvement, expression of dissatisfaction about some aspect of the workplace or work practices or identification of potential risks.  Leaders can tune out through a need to maintain control, through their own busyness or habit of interrupting the speaker or diverting unpleasant or challenging conversations.  Leaders often attempt to solve the problems of followers before they have heard and understood what the real problem is.

Developing resonance through listening

Leaders can develop their capacity to listen effectively and develop resonance – energy alignment and amplification – through mindfulness practices.  These can take many forms as discussed in this blog – such as meditations to address fear, the need for control, resentment or negative self-talk.  A very useful strategy is to reflect on a situation where you failed to listen effectively.  You can ask the following questions in your reflection:

  • What was the situation and the nature of the conversation?
  • What was happening for me in terms of my thoughts or feelings?
  • To what extent was my need for control involved?
  • How did the exchange impact my sense of self-worth or self-identity?
  • What was my mindset in the interaction?
  • What intention did I bring to the conversation?
  • What words or actions did I use to curtail, redirect or end the conversation?
  • What negative impact did I have on the energy of the communicator?

Honest answers to these penetrating questions can enable you to increase your self-awareness, remove blockages to your listening and open the way to develop resonance through effective listening.

Reflection

The way we listen as leaders can build resonance or dissipate energy.  As we grow in mindfulness through meditation, mindfulness practices in our daily life or reflection on our words and action, we can better attune ourselves to what others are saying – both in terms of the content and significance of their communication. We will be better able to match and amplify their energy and facilitate the transformation of ideas into action.  Mindfulness enables us to be present in the moment, aware of our own emotions and that of others and builds the capacity to self-regulate our words and actions.  Connected communication is a challenge but it is essential to leadership effectiveness as research and our own experience continuously affirms. ___________________________________________

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

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

Leadership as Resonance

Ginny Whitelaw, biophysicist and global leadership coach, understandably frames leadership in terms of energy and resonance.  She explains that as humans we are made up of matter and energy – matter in the form of blood, skin, bones and energy in the form of our mind.  Ginny notes that the leadership function entails concentrating energy, your own and that of your followers, to create an organisational vision (capturing emotional as well as intellectual energy); develop the culture of a team (through energy alignment); and promote innovation (turning creative energy into new products, services and structures).  She explains that energy is always on the move, in constant transformation and continuously vibrating.  Her new book, Resonate, to be released in 2020 explores these concepts in depth and their many leadership applications.

Resonance – synchronous vibration

One way to define resonance is synchronous vibration.  For example, a room or a musical instrument is described as resonant when it amplifies sound vibrations and extends them by vibrating at the same time.  Ginny provides the example of making a loud sound over an open grand piano and noticing that some strings vibrate, and others do not – the strings that vibrate match the vibrations in your voice.  When things operate synchronously, we say that they are “in synch”.  So, in Ginny’s perspective, leadership is about creating real change and making a difference by achieving synchronisation of energy, our own and that of our followers – in other words, generating resonance.  She describes a leader as an “energy concentrator”.

Blocks to leadership resonance

Through her study of biophysics and martial arts (5th degree Aikido black belt), Ginny came to realise the very close connection between mind and body and the role vibration and energy play in human consciousness (the resonance theory of consciousness).  Her role as a senior leader in NASA, coordinating the 40 groups that supported the International Space Station, enabled her to understand that coordination involved energy alignment and resonance (vibrating “in synch”).

Ginny’s experience with martial arts and Zen philosophy heightened her awareness of the mind-body connection.  For example, she explains that fear holds back our achievements as leaders because it distorts our resonance – blocks our energy emission and reception.  She suggests that as leaders we need to go beyond our triggers that create fear in our mind and body.  The fears may have their origin in adverse childhood experiences or the negative self-stories that arise through our inner critic.

Ginny likens the effect of fear to the dampening of resonance created when several socks are placed inside a bell.  Even a bell designed especially for resonance will sound dull and clunky when the socks are inside it.  The socks are metaphors for our mental and physical blockages – the things that stop our personal resonance.  Our challenge as leaders is to remove the blockages – so that our voice is “as clear as a bell”.

Removing the blocks to leadership resonance

Ginny discovered through the impact of deep breathing on her asthma that clearing blockages requires being still, mindful breathing, and other mindfulness practices such as meditation, Tai Chi and yoga.  Reconnecting with nature and the multiple sources of energy in the environment also help to rebuild personal resonance.  Ginny explores relevant practices and exercises in her book The Zen Leader.

When you can achieve a level of integration between your thoughts, emotions and body you free up yourself to become your more “resonant self’.  Ginny explains that by achieving this integration we can emit a “clear signal” and “bring our one clear note to achieve our purpose” as a leader.

Reflection

I can relate fully to the concept of leadership as resonance having been involved in many minor and major change endeavours as a leader in organisations and in community.  The concept of energy emission and reception resonates strongly with me.  I also find that as I grow in mindfulness, I am better able to tap into my creative energy, enhance my ability to tune into others’ focus and energy and contribute to a purpose that is greater than myself.  Removing the personal blockages to my “one clear note” is a lifetime pursuit – a journey into mindfulness through meditation, Tai Chi and other mindfulness practices.

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

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

How to Develop Natural Awareness

Diana Winston, in her book The Little Book of Being, suggests that as we grow in mindfulness, we can more readily develop natural awareness (awareness that is not goal-oriented, but involves being conscious of experiencing awareness itself).  She maintains that natural awareness can give rise to deep internal changes that can be sustained over a period or experienced intermittently.  These changes involve a clarification of our life purpose and the desire to achieve alignment in our daily lives.

Diana argues that natural awareness is difficult to maintain but whenever realised it takes us into a state of profound peace and equanimity.  This state enables us to better manage the vicissitudes of life – the waves of challenge and disturbance that are an integral part of being human. 

Developing Natural Awareness

Diana suggests several ways that you can develop natural awareness as a part of your everyday life:

  • While undertaking a simple daily task like washing the dishes, focus your attention on the sensations associated with this action, e.g. the visual realisation of the suds that arise when dish washing liquid is added to the water, the sensation of the hot water on your hands, the sense of accomplishment or associated relief from completing an often unwelcome task.
  • Consciously monitoring how you spend your time during the day and deciding to let go of activities that take you away from alignment with your life purpose, e.g. watching “soap operas” or “reality television”, spending time criticising others/the government/service providers, reading magazines that are based on rumour and gossip or holding onto anger or resentment.
  • Ask yourself, “Who would you be if you were fully you?” and engage in deep listening as you attend to what emerges from this brief reflection.
  • Imagine something that is deep and boundless such as the ocean depths; something that is expansive and ever-changing such as the clouds in the sky; or something that is brilliant and visually contrasting such as a sunrise or sunset.
  • Notice what has changed inside you when you effortlessly handle a disruption to your meditation practice, an annoying comment from an spiteful person, an unwarranted criticism or time spent waiting for public transport.
  • Find a “new address” by moving out of Envy Boulevard or “Anxiety Street” or any other self-absorbed position or location – moving progressively instead to a new place to reside such as “Joy Avenue”.
  • Consciously avoid foods that cause inflammation in your body and negatively impact your health and well-being, and practise mindful eating with health-promoting foods.

Reflection

Natural awareness is a desirable outcome flowing from meditation and the associated growth in mindfulness.  With natural awareness we can experience deep personal insight and change, clarify our life purpose and progressively move to achieve alignment with that purpose in our daily activities – our words, our actions and how we spend our time.  This integration leads to sustainable happiness.

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

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

Mindfulness and Personal Transitions During Organisational Change

Change in our personal lives and in an organisational setting can generate anxiety, fear, insecurity and anger.  This discomfort can be expressed as resistance to change and lead to a wide range of unproductive behaviours that can be harmful to us as individuals as well as for the organisations we work in.  William and Susan Bridges identified three broad stages of personal transition in the context of organisational change.  In their 2017 book, Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change, they explained that each of us go through these stages at different rates for different changes depending on the our perception of the impact of the changes.  The three stages they identified are (1) endings – where the focus is on loss, (2) neutral zone – involves a “wait and see” orientation and (3) new beginnings – putting commitment and energy behind the change.  Their book provides a range of managerial strategies that can be employed by organisations to help people transition from endings to new beginnings. They emphasize that without these strategies individuals and organisations can become stuck in either the endings stage or the neutral zone, resulting in illness and organisational decline.

Mindfulness and personal transitions during organisational change

Wendy Quan, a certified organisational change agent and creator of The Calm Monkey (Mindfulness Meditation in the Workplace), had a personal experience that gave her a deep insight into how people deal with a confronting and challenging change.  She was diagnosed with cancer after many years in multiple organisational change roles. This personal challenge led her to seek out mindfulness practices, and meditation in particular, to help her deal with this devastating illness.  Through her meditation practice she came to accept her illness and all that it entailed, and realised that she had a choice – she could view herself as a victim or take a proactive approach that would enable her to lead the best life possible, given her health setback.

This led to a further insight in that she realised that she could employ her understanding of organisational change and mindfulness to help others in an organisational setting.  She was able to draw on the research of William and Susan Bridges and developed a refined model of personal transitions.  She focused on the psychological change processes involved and identified five transition points in an individual’s psychological journey during organisational change:

  • Awareness: becoming aware of your thoughts, emotions, reactions and behaviour when facing the change
  • Understanding: gaining insight into the “why” of your holistic response – body and mind (recognising that this is a normal reaction to a confronting and challenging change)
  • Acceptance: accepting “what is”, not denying your current reality (e.g. a changed role, loss of a job or status)
  • Commitment: moving beyond acceptance to committing to adopt a positive, proactive response to improve your personal experience of the change, “taking things into your own hands” – self-management instead of reactivity
  • Advocacy: promoting the change and its positive elements if your energy level and role enable this.

Research into mindfulness and personal transitions during organisational change

Wendy was able to apply her insights in her work situation to help her colleagues through difficult change processes.  She moved beyond working with a small group to establishing a weekly mindfulness meditation “drop-in” where participants could share their experiences of change, both personal and organisational, and identify what they were trying to cope with and how they were going about it.  After a few years, she had 185 people on this drop-in program (highlighting the psychological challenge of organisational change) and this enabled her to undertake formal research of the impact of her approach of combining mindfulness with change management insights.

Her research was published in a study titled Dealing with Change Meditation Study which can be downloaded here.   Wendy indicated that her approach revolved around two key points of intervention, (1) raising awareness of the personal, holistic impact of a change process and (2) focusing on the future to develop a more constructive response so that the individual undergoing organisational change can have a better experience of the change and make decisions about their future.  Participants in the study were asked to focus on a challenging change and listen three times over a two-week period to a 15-minute, guided meditation focused on positively dealing with the change.

Resources for personal transitions during organisational change

Wendy, building on her own experience of combining mindfulness and organisational change insights, has developed several resources that people can use to assist their personal change processes or to facilitate the transition for others undergoing organisational change:

Wendy also provides a series of free and paid meditation podcasts on her website.

Reflection

I have been engaged in organisational change consultancy for over 40 years, and more recently undertaken extensive research and writing about mindfulness, as well as developing my own mindfulness practices, including meditation.  However, identifying a practical approach to combining the two related skill sets has alluded me to date.  Wendy, through her experience of a personal health crisis, has been able to introduce a very effective, evidence-based approach to using mindfulness to help people transition through organisational change processes.  She has been able to demonstrate that as we grow in mindfulness we can become more aware of our personal response to an organisational change, develop an increased understanding of the nature of that response, increase our acceptance of our changing reality and gradually build a commitment to shaping our future in a positive and constructive way.  Her work resonates with the insights and approach of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, as well as that of Susan David who focuses on using mindfulness to develop “emotional agility”.

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

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

Depression and the Loss of Connection To Meaningful Work

Johann Hari, author of Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions, was concerned about the extraordinary rise in the use of antidepressant drugs in America and the associated total focus on biological causes of depression.  He set about doing worldwide research on the social factors contributing to depression.  He was particularly interested in precursor events or situations that led to a person experiencing depression.  His research led him to identify nine social factors that were contributing to the alarming rise in the incidence of depression and suicide.  As the title of his book indicates, each of these social factors related to a “lost connection.”  He describes the first of these causal factors as “disconnection from meaningful work”.

Loss of connection to meaningful work

Johann’s research (and that of his colleagues) covered a range of people engaged in different kinds of work, usually at lower levels in organisations.  They found that certain job characteristics contributed to a loss of meaning for the worker.  This disconnection with meaningful work resonates with the Job Characteristics Model developed by Hackman and Oldham in the 1970s as a basis for the design of jobs that generated positive psychological states such as the experience of meaningfulness and personal responsibility.

Johann, drawing on his own research and that of his colleagues, identified several job characteristics in different contexts that contributed to the loss of connection to meaningful work and resulted in people experiencing depression:

  • Lack of control over work – research into the high incidence of suicide amongst staff investigating tax returns in the Taxation Office in Britain found that a key contributing factor was the lack of control over their work.  No matter how hard they worked, the pile of work kept growing and they could never get on top of it.  The ability to control the work environment and how work is done, known as “agency”, has been the subject of much research into what constitutes a psychologically healthy work environment.
  • Lack of feedback – in the previous research, another factor identified as contributing to psychological illness was the lack of feedback about performance of the job.  No matter how well or how poorly the work was done, there was no feedback received from supervisors or managers.  This led to a sense of the work and the worker being devalued.  The disconnection between effort and “reward” in terms of positive feedback contributed to people feeling “irrelevant” – they felt that they were not important or relevant to what the organisation valued.
  • Lack of discretion – research into the experience of depression amongst typists in a typing pool demonstrated that a causal factor of depression was the lack of the ability to make decisions affecting the work and the typists’ output.  The typists were totally disempowered because work was given to them with instructions on how it was to be done by people they did not know; they lacked understanding of what the documents involved or meant; demand was endless; and they were unable to speak to each other.  The work was thus experienced as meaningless and “soul-destroying”.  This research, along with other studies, highlighted the fact that people lower in organisations experience greater stress than those at higher levels who have a lot of responsibility because the latter have more discretion over what they do and how they do it.
  • Lack of ability to make a difference – the example given by Johann related to a worker in a paint shop who spent all day adding tint to base paint and using a machine to mix the contents to provide paint with the colour requested by a customer.  The repetitious nature of this task and the associated boredom contributed to the worker experiencing a lack of meaning because he did not make a real difference in people’s lives.  Hackman and Oldham had previously identified “significance” of a job as a key element for a psychologically satisfying job.  Associated with that was the degree to which a job provided what they termed “task variety” and “skill variety”.  Work without variation and with no perceived impact, can be experienced as mind-numbing and deadening and lead to depression.

The loss of connection to meaningful work can be addressed at two levels.  Organisations can develop greater awareness about what constitutes unhealthy work design and remedy deficiencies in the design of jobs.  Action learning interventions can be helpful in this regard and, in the process, build employee’s self-awareness and sense of agency.

Workers, too, can develop inner awareness about what in their work is impacting their mental health and causing depression. They can explore this awareness through meditation and reflection and identify ways to remedy the situation.  As they grow in mindfulness, they may be able to identify why they are procrastinating and not removing themselves from a harmful work situation.  Johann found, for example, that the worker in the paint shop really wanted to change jobs and had already identified what job would give more meaning and joy for him.  However, he was held back by his perceived need to achieve the external rewards of life – better income and a good car.  Through meditation and reflection, it is possible to become more acutely aware of the cost of “staying’ versus changing and to be able to cope with the vulnerability involved in changing jobs.

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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.

Bringing Intention to Your New Year Resolutions

Diana Winston offers a meditation podcast in which she provides a way to deepen intention when making New year resolutions. The meditation combines both reflection and goal setting and aims to replace the usual beginning-of-the -year wish list with a firm, focused intention on making a real change in your life.

Diana begins the meditation with a process for becoming grounded. In this meditation practice, she focuses first on a body scan that involves paying attention progressively to the points of contact of your body with the chair that you are sitting on and the floor you are touching with your feet. The body scan is followed by mindful breathing as a way to deepen your inner awareness – noticing your breathing, but not trying to control it. Diana suggests that the mindful breathing approach can be supplemented by paying attention to the sounds around you – without judgment or interpretation. Once you become anchored in either your breathing or through tuning into surrounding sounds, you can move onto the next stage of the meditation practice, reflection.

Reflecting on the past year

Diana proposes that a reflection on the past year should precede goal setting for the new year. The reflection has two parts – (1) what was good about the previous year and (2) what was not so good. In relation to the first – the good aspects – the idea is to focus on what brought you peace, joy or happiness. Here you can express gratitude for all that you experienced as good in your life.

In the second part, you can identify what was not so good in terms of what you did that impacted negatively on yourself or others. This begins the process of identifying what you want to change in your life. The not-so-good aspects may have resulted from not appreciating what was good in your life at the time or they may represent an unhealthy habit that has adverse effects on your life. Diana maintains that it is important at this stage of the meditation to treat yourself with loving kindness and not become absorbed in self-blame and self-denigration.

Bringing intention to your new year resolution

The final stage of the meditation practice is to focus on what you want to change in your life – choosing one thing that will have a significant effect on your life and those you interact with. Just building mindfulness through meditation practice itself impacts positively the people around you as you are better able to express loving kindness towards others and yourself.

The important point here is to focus on one thing or aspect of your behaviour that you want to change in your life. Too many resolutions dissipate energy and weaken intention. Focusing on one thing at a time builds intention and resolve.

Once you have a behavioural goal clearly in mind, a way to strengthen your intention is to envision what your life will be like when you achieve your behavioural goal – what will be happening differently?; what positive impacts will it have on your stress levels/ experience of equanimity?; and what will it mean for the quality of your relationships? The more you can focus on the envisioned positive outcomes, the stronger will be your intention and resolve to achieve your goal.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation and developing our focused intention to create change in our lives, we can progressively remove the unhealthy habits that are negatively impacting our lives and those around us.

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

Image source: courtesy of TeamXris 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. 

The Winds of Change

One day I was observing some trees in the adjacent yard move in response to wind gusts that swirled around the yard.

It was like a choreographed performance.  Some branches danced rhythmically, others moved chaotically and one tree had branches that swayed together slowly in time as if synchronised.

As I became aware of these movements in response to the winds of change, I was inspired to write the following poem:

Wind-blown trees

Dancing rhythmically

Chaotic movement

Swaying in unison

Different trees, different responses.

 

I was reminded of the different responses we have to change and the significant events that affect our lives, e.g.  job changes or job losses.

Sometimes, we move with the change in our lives and take it in our stride while at other times the change creates chaos for us.  If we have strong emotional support, we may be able to move with the change rather than resist its pressures.

When we have built up resilience through mindful practice, we are better able to withstand the impact of major changes in our lives.  We are able to more readily bounce back from changes that unsettle us and upset our equilibrium.

The movement of trees in the face of wind symbolises how we can respond to change in our lives.  We can welcome the change, be overcome by the chaos it can create or respond flexibly to its pressures.  As we grow in mindfulness and experience the winds of change in our lives, we are better able to develop an appropriate response.

When we are buffeted by the winds of change, mindfulness helps us to respond constructuvely rather than destructively.  It enables us to stay centred.