How conscious do you want to be?

The other day I came across the most gorgeous graphics. They came by way of Integral Life, and in particular, the work of Beena Sharma and Susanne Cook-Greuter. Their article and work is titled  The Stages of Leadership Maturity. 

As fate would have it, the same day I came across this work, I was scheduled to present a lecture on “QUANTUM LEADERSHIP” at Case Western Reserve University. My presentation opened with the following quote:

“Becoming a leader is the same as becoming a fully integrated human being.” – Ken Wilber

The deeper I move into my own “work” both personally and professionally, I see  how true this is– and it reaffirms, once and perhaps for all, why I do the work I do.

We cannot improve community/public health or have flourishing enterprises UNTIL we help individuals become leaders of their own lives.  How? Through education of the behaviors that comprise what many, including myself and my colleagues, call “21st century leadership skills”.

These “soft skills” are actually quite potent and necessary. Behaviors such as  cooperation, kindness, contemplative practices, mental and emotional awareness and regulation, among many others practices are necessary proficiencies for all of us because they support our becoming integrated human beings.  

All of these “coincidences” reminded me of a little chart I put together a few years ago as a way to describe the stages of awareness (consciousness) relative to health and well-being. (LINKED HERE) [NOTE: this table was very much inspired by the work of David Hawkins’ MAP OF CONSCIOUSNESS]

Without having a gauge for “where we are”, it is difficult, in this third-dimensional space of ours, to know where we can still go, and that there is more…that there is hope….that there is peace.

How conscious do you want to be?  It is your choice. It is your work. Everything you need is actually right here and now.

The People Who Grind Us and the People Who Shine Us

I’ve been contemplating this for a little while– specifically, the people who have, whether intentionally or unintentionally “grinded” me; meaning that they caused me to reassess, re-think, and re-evaluate, whether personally or professionally, some aspect of my life.

The “grinders” are not easy people. They’re not supposed to be. Their sole (soul) purpose is to show you where you have work to do because you have not fully integrated your own trueness. That’s it.

Getting into any kind of ego battle with a grinder is not only ridiculous, it is wasteful of your energy and creativity.   “Grinders” are learning too by the way,  and you, in fact, are a “grinder” to them/for them! (in Buddhist teachings, the “grinder” is only yourself– there is no “other”).

Ultimately, the “grinders” are a gift because they represent the fullest vision and version of something you yourself find intolerable, and in doing so, provide an incredible opportunity to  consciously change.

And the “shiners”?……they are represented in everyone and everything, actually. Anyone who makes you shine, lights you up, awakens some aspect of yourself, is a shiner– and that includes the grinders……especially the grinders! 

Practice Seeing the Good


This suggestion, to practice seeing the good, is a simple, powerful, and life-changing one.

While at first, this may feel fake, stupid, or even disingenuous, there are solid and scientifically-backed reasons why implementing such a practice will improve your life, work, and health.

Intentionally changing our neurocircuitry and neurochemistry requires attention, followed by action. With every thought, emotion, and action we create, or don’t, we are literally creating “code” in our body. Consequently, this creates a vibrational sequence (we now know that everything in the universe is energy) that either promotes or hinders our health and well-being, and that of those closest to us (see the work by Fowler & Christakis on connection and the power of networks).

When we practice seeing the good, we are affirming life as it truly is. When we affirm and accept, we create less resistance– in fact, we are yielding to what is…and when we yield to what is, we are free (yes, free!) to chose, move, create from a place of clarity and conviction, not one of fear and anger.

When we begin to see through the lens of gratitude, arguments become obsolete (you are only arguing with yourself, anyway); competition becomes a repugnant option; and you see, quite clearly, that supporting and enhancing your own trueness is what makes true progress occur; not destroying the other, but consciously creating the new you.

It seems paradoxical that something as gentle as gratitude, could be so powerful.  Like any other contemplative practice, it has the potential to transform the way we live and work…but only if we practice it.

Asking Better Questions

Being bilingual has informed me in ways I’m still discovering.

Having a vast range of words to describe the color of the ocean, for example, has shaped the way I see the ocean, and life.

Ultimately, we are, each of us, an expression of what we think we are and what we are capable of in this world. The quality of our lives, which is shaped by the words we use and the thoughts we entertain, time and time again, do steer our course.

But, what happens when we question this? When we challenge even our own long-standing language and notions, when we, like Rilke invites us to practice “living in the questions.

Learning a new language, albeit French, Mandarin, or love and appreciation, will change you through sheer expansion of awareness. To me, that is the most incredible and fun part of being a human being; that just by getting a little “software upgrade”, we are immediately improved.

Unmasking the “isms”

PHOTO CREDIT: NASA.GOV

On this momentous day (solar eclipse 2017), as I join so many others around our country and the world doing the deeper work required for mutual understanding and personal peace, I wanted to tend to the obvious; the “isms”.

The isms are co-constructed ideas. These “beliefs”, which continue to plague us and cause such suffering have landed squarely on our collective laps.

Clearly, it is up to each of us to “re-construct” new ways of thinking and being. Our health and the health of our world is at stake. That is how important this is.

We cannot, nor will we ever achieve understanding and peace through the use of force or fear. Sadly, we have a long and painful history of doing just this. Are you going to do more of the same? Or, are you willing to try something new to help reduce your own suffering and aggression?

As with all beliefs, these “isms” can be abandoned or changed at any time. Which are you ready to re-think and re-construct?

Consumerism– belief that the purchase and/or consumption of a product can reduce your innate sense of inadequacy.

Patriotism/nationalism – belief that your country is the best in the world and/or the only one that matters.

Ageism– belief that people outside your age group are somehow incompetent and/or unproductive.

Sexism– belief that individuals, who don’t have the same gender as you, are not as competent, and those who have multiple genders, somehow flawed, pathological, or confused.

Racism– belief that individuals from a race different than yours, are less human than you.

Terrorism (interpersonal, domestic, national and global) – belief that the annihilation, control, or destruction of anyone/anything that espouses views different than yours, is the only way to ensure peace, progress, and the good of all.

Unmasking your own “isms”:

  1. OBSERVE: Become aware of the ways you either contribute to or are triggered by the beliefs and behaviors of others;
  2. SELF-CARE: If/when triggered, separate yourself (by yourself, for yourself) to explore your own beliefs and do not seize this exploration until you understand your “why”;
  3. INTEGRATION: We do not help anyone or anything by “destroying” it/them, but by changing the dynamic, which requires a change in OUR beliefs and behaviors (not “theirs”).
  4. PRACTICE: Allow all that you “resist” to teach you about the fullness of humanity in order to practice personal peace.

This is deep and ongoing work—all of this. It is soul-work, and it is everyone’s “work”.

Civility Begins at Home

Civility is a democratic and human value; one of basic respect for fellow human beings.

Violence is a symptom of a lack of civility; it is the visible evidence of a fearful and diminished mind; one that is incapable (or unaware) that to be human, requires co-existence.  In other words, that one live and let live— without threat– without insult  — without abuse.

“Violence is what happens when we don’t know what else to do with our suffering.” – Parker J. Palmer

Sadly many, (too many) people in our communities live in violent conditions. Unless they/we know what to do with this suffering, it can lead to two common responses:

1. paralysis

2. more violence 

How do we respond to fear and anger, and towards those who shout insults, demean, abuse, marginalize, threaten, kill?  Until someone comes up with a better plan, I’m going to defer to the truth which has been told to us by sages and spiritual leaders,  as well as by our contemporary peacemakers.

“We urgently need to bring to our communities the limitless capacity to love, serve, and create for and with each other. We urgently need to bring the neighbor back into our hoods, not only in our inner cities but also in our suburbs, our gated communities, on Main Street and Wall Street, and on Ivy League campuses.” – Grace Lee Boggs

For anyone who believes “love is weak” or that to love those who hate is an exercise in futility, I would like to offer that the “love” is for those who can accept and receive it– those who have already gone through several cycles of violence and paralysis, and who know, deeply and intimately, that the first person who needs this “love”, is actually themselves.  That is the game changer– the thing that neutralizes fear and enables a sliver of imagination to spring forth.

Civility, as with all other health behaviors, begins with the self. It starts with you. Only then, is it freely and effortlessly expressed outwardly and infinitely.

Ready-to-use educational resources:

CIVILITY ACTIVITY SHEET
WORKBOOK of HUMAN SUPERPOWERS (workbook)
WORKBOOK of HUMAN SUPERPOWERS (printable pack)

Adapting

Adaptation is a bit of a paradox.

While it is wise to adapt, it also feels like we’re surrendering, or somehow “giving up”.

Yes. It is both, and.

It is only in surrendering (our ego) that we allow the grace of life to enter our being.  To surrender to life, however, is no easy task.

In our Workbook of Human Superpowers we define adaptability this way: openness to changing conditions

Adaptability, then, is not necessarily something we do, but is more of an orientation, and openness, to whatever comes our way. If we desire happiness and personal peace, it is our task to adapt; constantly.

Control is the opposite, of course. However, control is something we all must do and try– until we learn, for ourselves, the futility of our effort.

Life is a constant flow of favorable and unfavorable events and circumstances. If we can be mindful (aware) of this, it becomes easier (slightly) to “go with the flow” and to adapt to what life is asking of us.

The Negativity Bias

This is a real thing. Simply put, the negativity bias is a conditioned response from your brain.

We all have a negativity bias, by the way. It is our “shark music” (Kristie’s term), and that part of us that exists to alert us of real, or perceived danger. It represents one input (just one) of many and often competing inputs and possible responses to our environment. When we operate from this space, it is common to distort a person or situation. It is the kind of primitive mentality that justifies hatred and prejudice. In its most benign forms, it is a form of fixed-mindedness that can imprison even the most rational among us. Carried to its extreme, only death of the “other” will suffice.

How do you know if you’re operating from this mentality? Fear and its usual companions, restlessness, anger, hate, or aggressiveness, are often the clue. Understanding what these emotions are telling us about ourselves, requires some intentional (and uncomfortable) tuning-in and listening to our own soundtrack.

Do you wish to master your mind, or do you wish to remain its servant? This is a choice only you can make. By becoming better aware of your own scary and negative soundtrack, you not only decrease the incidence of projection (assigning your fears and aggressions unto others), but you create space for a new choice and voice; one that will enable you to neutralize your negativity bias, and replace it with a conscious and thoughtful response instead.

The Anatomy of Suffering

Ever since childhood, I’ve wanted to understand why there is suffering in the world; specifically, why we create it. This curiosity has led me on numerous intellectual, spiritual, and practical explorations, which I am still uncovering.

As a young girl, I was fascinated by the stories of my aunts and uncles– the stories of their trials and triumphs…of death and life regained. One of my favorite aunts used to say, when asked how she was doing, “ahi, en la lucha”….literally, in a battle, and this always confounded me.

Was life really a battle? Or just her life? Did all the grown-ups around me feel this way, too? How can life be such a “battle”, when it is filled with such beauty and abundance?

Yes. Life can be a battle. Life can be brutal. It is brutal. The opposite is also true.

After 52 years of life on Earth, and struggling with PTSD for the better part of 30 of them, I understand the anatomy of suffering and why life can feel like a battle. I also understand that the great equalizer of suffering is consciousness; our ability to awaken the mind and see beyond our circumstances.

It seems to me my daughters came better prepared for life on Earth. Perhaps they’ve benefited from generations of brave men and women who forged their own paths in search of a “better life”. Perhaps their video games, filled with countless “realities”, have equipped them with an upgraded mind; one that is less hampered by the negativity bias, false ideas about the way life works or is, or the way things used to be.

Reality is truly in the eye of the beholder. If you believe life is a battle, a competition of sorts, this is your reality. However, if you believe that life is actually heaven on Earth, your choices and responses will be much different. Much like Viktor Frankl reminds us in Man’s Search for Meaning:

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Your attitude towards the inherent suffering of life can either enslave you, or liberate you. Everything in your life at this moment; your home, your partner, your friends, your work are ALL expressions of your attitude toward life. Are you free?

Letting Go

This is probably one of the most paradoxical and challenging aspects of being a human being; letting go.

How can one embrace life and also let it go? This question used to haunt me and grew painfully loud when I became a mother.

Life and death are a single point in our existence. For anything to be born, something else dies, which then makes the “thing that died”, part of the living thing.

It has taken me many years to fully understand that letting go is both a spiritual and practical practice; one that is critical to my overall health, productivity, and well-being. There are countless teachers and books to guide one through the process, but the best “teacher” is your own life.

Letting go is one of the biggest “advancers” of consciousness– it can literally transform your human experience from one of chronic suffering (mental, emotional, and physical), to one of personal freedom and peace.

Father Richard Rohr has a passage in one of his books about “the colonized, the marginalized, the recovered, etc.” as a sub-set of our human family who are intimately aware of the necessity of forgiveness and the letting go of the distortions that block personal reconciliation and healing.

How do you reconcile (literally) the injustices, crimes, and ongoing abuses of fellow human beings? For anyone who has ever “done me wrong” (harassed, abused, threatened me), I see that I have two options:

Option A (my ego): engage with “my attacker” and fight back
Option B (my soul): understand their pain and suffering (their distortion) and let go

From the words of Jesus, near the moments of his own death, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:24), there are few more poignant reminders of the power of understanding and forgiveness.

Letting go is not a sign of weakness.  To yield and release has been one of the most profound practices of my life. This is true in everyone’s life. Yes, your ego (Option A) will always tell you otherwise. Fact is, however, that letting go is a conscious and awakened choice and the quickest route to the birth of something new.