Developing Compassionate Leadership through Mindfulness


The concept of “Compassionate Leadership” has its foundations in the global mindfulness movement.  One example of this foundation is the book by Amanda Sinclair, Leading Mindfully.  She has a chapter on Bringing Love and Compassion into Leadership in this very readable and eminently practical book.  In this chapter she draws on the example of Paul Roos, who coached Sydney Swans to their first AFL premiership.   

The emergence of compassionate leadership

LinkedIn published an article in 2014 on the benefits of compassionate leadership and the traits of compassionate leaders.  In 2017, Forbes produced an article on Compassionate Leadership: A Mindful Call to Lead from Both the Head and the Heart which tracks why compassionate leadership has evolved to its prominence today.  The article recognises the seminal work of Google in developing mindful leadership through The Search Inside Yourself Program which is now available world-wide through the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute.  The program was initially conducted over seven weeks in Google and is now offered globally as a two-day mindful leadership course covering mindfulness, emotional intelligence, neuroscience, and compassion.

The currency of the compassionate leadership approach has been reinforced by Forbes.  In January 2020, Forbes published an article, How to be a more compassionate leader (and why it’s so important), which provides some practical steps to develop compassionate leadership including compassionate listening and helping to make other people’s lives better.   

Developing compassionate leadership through mindfulness

In October 2020, Forbes published another article which recommends mindfulness practice as a way to develop Compassionate Leadership.  The author, Laurel Donnellan, drew on the work of Darrell Jones, General Manager of Chill.  Darrell recommends three basic elements – focus on inner transformation, value quality of mindfulness practice (however brief) over quantity (and the related “shoulds”) and find refuge in your practice whatever form it takes (e.g. meditation, Tai Chi, mindful reading or prayer) in challenging times, especially in times of grief.  Darrell also suggests that we focus on “togethering” – putting our connectedness before our separateness.  One way to do this is to consciously practise “compassionate listening” to those who have a different perspective or cultural background, seeking to create conversations that are inclusive.

During the Radical Compassion Challenge, both Jon Kabat-Zinn and Tara Brach reinforced the need for mindful listening to personal stories as a stimulus to compassionate action and highlighted mindfulness practice as a way to remove the blockages (such as fear of failure or unrealistic assumptions) to taking kindness-inspired action.

Chade-Meng Tan, author of Search Inside Yourself and founder of the Google program of the same name, stressed the role of mindfulness in developing personal insight, compassionate action, and the capacity to inspire others.  His personal vision is to contribute to world peace through the development of compassionate leadership globally and he views mindfulness as the pathway to achieve this goal. 

Many mindfulness practitioners and researchers see self-compassion, developed through mindfulness, as a source of insight and motivation for compassionate leadership.  Tara Brach, for instance, argues that mindfulness can help us to overcome negative self-evaluation, sensitize us to the needs and hurt of others and free us up for compassionate action.  Pema Chödrön maintains that “compassionate abiding” in our own pain and suffering as a form of mindful self-compassion builds resilience and acts as a doorway to compassion for others.  Kristin Neff, author of The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook, maintains that self-compassion is not self-pity or self-indulgence but helps us to understand our connectedness to others through sharing the human condition of pain and suffering. 

Reflection

Mindfulness helps us overcome self-absorption, our sense of separateness, negative self-narratives and resentment and, in the process enables us to see more clearly our connectedness, identify our capacity to helps others and to find the courage and creativity to put our compassionate ideas into action.   As we grow in mindfulness through meditation, reflection, and mindfulness practices, we build our capacity for compassionate leadership that not only enables us to take compassionate action but also inspires others to do likewise.

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Image by Joshua Choate from Pixabay

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

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

Living in the Light of the Lessons from Death and Dying

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

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

The five invitations to living learned from the dying

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

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

Reflection

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

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

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

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

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Image by mostafa meraji from Pixabay

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

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

Using Meditation to Let the Light In

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

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

Meditation to let the light in

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

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

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

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

Reflection

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

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

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Image by Mabel Amber from Pixabay

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

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

Transformation through Meditation

Sohini Trehan writes about the transformative powers of a particular form of meditation – Bija Mantra.  This form of meditation uses specific sounds or mantras aligned to the seven chakras of the body.  Sohini suggests that the literal meaning of “mantra” is “to liberate one’s mind” and mantra meditations serve to “create transformation”.  She states that the emerging research in psychoacoustics reinforces the “vibrational energy” of sound and its healing power for mind, body and emotions. 

In a previous post, we discussed the experience of Tina Malia and her emergence from her “dark night of the soul” through the transformative power of Japa – in her case, the combination of the Ram mantra with the use of beads.  Tina spoke of her transformation from a total loss of meaning to a deep well of energy and creativity.   Some experts believe that the depth of depression experienced in the dark night of the soul is what is necessary to achieve a truly deep transformation.

This transformation occurs because the depth of depression derives from the fact that we become detached from our meaning anchors – all our constructs about meaning break down so that things like material success, being seen to be competent or creative or becoming famous or popular, cease to have meaning anymore.  As a result, we have to search inside ourselves for something deeper and more meaningful – a true purpose to our lives.   This purpose does not have to be ground-breaking or earthshattering – it has to be aligned to our specific life experience and our real gifts and contribute to something greater than ourselves.

Meditation brings true peace and transforms suffering

In an interview with Oprah, Thich Nhat Hahn maintained that meditation brings true peace, even in the midst of the turbulent waves of life.  He also stated that meditation develops compassion which, in turn, “transforms suffering in you and the other person”.  He suggested that what is needed is deep listening for understanding, what he calls “compassionate listening” – listening without judgment. By being fully present to the other person, we can enable them to release their pain and suffering.  In the process, we come to understand their perspective and deepen our understanding of our own perspective. 

Mindfulness meditation dramatically increases our response ability so that we are not overcome by difficult emotions,  chained by resentment or captured by envy.  Meditation transforms reactivity into a positive way to respond  – overcoming our habituated way of reacting and developing our power and energy.  Likewise, as Rick Hanson argues, meditation can transform fear into resilience.

Reflection

It is so easy to undervalue the transformative power of meditation because we often adopt a piecemeal approach to developing the habit of meditation.  The real transformative benefits of meditation are experienced when it is practiced daily over an extended period.  This requires discipline and a sound appreciation of the power of meditation to transform our lives, our happiness and our energy.  As we grow in mindfulness through meditation (especially mantra meditation) and mindfulness practices throughout our day, we will experience the pervasive effect of meditation on our lives.  As Oprah commented to Thich Nhat Hahn, other people will feel calm just by being in our presence.

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Image by Jackson David 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.