Unconscious suffering…

This is a reflective post – drawing on my own journey of self discovery …

We’re all suffering. I know that I’ve suffered.

Some people have found a way through or perhaps a cure if you like, but many, many people are suffering – maybe consciously but my assumption is people are unconsciously suffering.

We are suffering from ignorance – ignorance is the lack of knowledge or information.

We continue to unconsciously suffer as we choose ignorance through our collective divisive behaviours and whilst we may hold a belief that, our current views will keep us safe, we are all increasing the ignorance that leads to developing our fears, creates more instability and injustice and erodes the safety and human connection we all desire and crave in these times of distraction.

Until we tackle the root causes of our collective suffering the planet we call home and importantly all life including human life is at risk of ending and that is a tragedy

Our collective actions hold us all back from reaching our human potential and delivering the future everyone seeks and yearns for.

No single person can be blamed, for we all share and hold accountability through our collusion and complicity in all events we choose to participate in or ignore.

If we wish to see change from whatever perspectives we hold as our individual truth, we must first lean into and accept that for those changes to occur we must first change ourselves.

This is the single biggest challenge facing human kind – our denial of human development and growth.

This is the path open to everyone that leads us towards ending the suffering.

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The benefits of Practice and Discipline – reflections on 5 key practices

It was a little over a year ago that I really committed internally to pushing forward with a level of personal development that has had profound impact on who I am.

The type of development I’m referring to is truly leaning into learning new practices and disciplines that are intended to anchor me in a more creative, playful and purposeful frame.

For me I used to think that knowing or having just enough experience in certain things was enough – Brene Brown nailed it for me as she explicitly made visible the typical frame people have – attitude vs practice – I had an attitude to learning and developing as opposed to truly having a practice of learning and developing. Learning and seeing this challenged me as it knocked me sideways for a while as I believed I was continually learning and developing but was doing anything but that given my understanding now.

For the purpose of this post and to share what these words mean to me I offer my perspective below for which you are welcome to inquire into should you have different perspectives to share.

practice : to perform repeatedly / habitually so as to become proficient

And…

discipline : to develop by instruction and exercise especially in self mastery

There are many practices I’ve now integrated into my day, my work patterns and my life in general but I wanted to share my experiences into 5 key practices for me and the learning and benefits I’m gaining as a result.

1) Gratitude

I didn’t actually think this would have the impact it has had but practicing gratitude in various forms has increased the joy I feel and experience in my life.

I started by mentally taking note at the end of the day things I was grateful for, at the beginning I found this awkward as I didn’t feel the things I was grateful for was worth being grateful for.

However weeks into the practice I had a moment when during a normal work day I simply stopped and enjoyed a single moment working with some leaders in health and social care and after that finished I felt the gratitude wash over me and a sense of joy emerged.

After that I accepted that the practice is not a quick fix to anything but is a discipline to hold that allows you to see and sense the moments in our lives that give us meaning and joy. That has transformed my life, I never realised joy could be found and felt in such simply things…naive I know but for me transformational.

I’ve now expanded my practice and have a gratitude journal as I’m keen to capture and reflect on those things.

2) Checking In / Showing Up

The practice of checking in, in its simplest form is sharing how you feel, what holds your attention and what’s going on for you when you connect with people/colleagues etc.

It’s a practice I had curiosity in about a year ago but it wasn’t until last summer when working with a health and social care team in northern Devon I introduced it as a practice to build connectivity and togetherness.

It was such a powerful practice with the team that members of the team refuse to start meetings without having the opportunity to check in.

The benefits and impact on me personally have been that in every meeting this happens I feel I can show up as myself and can have how I feel acknowledged by others which helps that simplest of human desires – connection.

The practice is so much of what I do and how I work now that only last week with the teams support I, along with co-facilitator Kelly – guided 30 senior leaders in the council including the chief executive and leader of the council through a learning session where everyone checked in.

This exercise in that setting fundamentally shifted the discussion into a space where a deeper and more personal honesty was actively shared and displayed. So much so I was at times overwhelmed with emotion as colleagues shed their armour and were vulnerable. It was a humbling moment.

3) Noticing

This practice emerged from my use of the Headspace app.
I found this practice incredibly helpful as I found myself getting distracted often by the many thoughts that filled and consumed my mind.

In headspace you are introduced to noting as a way to create that bit of space, a moment where you can regain awareness and allow yourself to use the technique to let things go.

The practice creates the space for oneself to regain some personal clarity and learn more about thoughts, distractions and habits etc.

I’ve found the practice so transformative as noting can only happen when I have and hold awareness. If I’m not then through noting I can bring myself back. By definition, you can’t be both distracted and aware at the same time.

I’ve learnt that living more aware is healthier for the mind than living distracted.
4) Generosity

Within my practice development is the Braving Inventory from Brene Brown.

All of these practices are incredibly important and interconnected. However I wanted to share the practice of generosity as it has been the hardest to hold and make a discipline

Underpinning the practice is the assumption “everyone is doing the best they can”. So the practice involves holding this continually even in those moments people you might be engaged with lack tact, sensitivity, empathy or kindness and come across as angry or aggressive.

The practice invites you to extend the most generous interpretation possible to the intentions, words and actions of others

Try it and you’ll understand how much it challenges you but after time you develop your empathy skills and can more often than not hold that generosity and when you do it unlocks something inside.

I found it removes judgement and helps me move away from closing things down and encourages me to open things up with a curiosity that simply wasn’t there before.

I still wobble a lot on this practice but know that continually developing my practice I can live a life without judgement and that is a worthy goal.

5) Creating clarity

This practice wasn’t an intentional practice to develop but became visible through learning why and where my anxiety’s originated from.

Lack of clarity nudged me into a space where anxiety was a core emotion and that felt horrible.

I was sure how the act of creating clarity helped until I started a practice which helps create that more often. One of the key underpinning and contributing practices is understanding, playing back, summarising and agreeing. Clarity creates safety and Clarity is kindness (as Brene Brown shares).

It was a practice I started because once I experienced clarity being created I realised how much clarity was lacking from my work and life.

This practice along with and connected to the noticing practice allows me to seek and find external and internal clarity which frees me from a struggle I never had a conscious view was happening.

This has been the single biggest impact on my mental health and that allows me to engage fully with the other practices listed above and the many many more that are now key and core to how I live.

I hope you have found the learning shared above helpful and if you decide to try any or have practices of your own I’d be interested to hear what they are and how you benefit.

Seeds to Trees – Vulnerability as the birthplace

Extract from Presence: Exploring Profound Change in People, Organizations and Society by Betty Sue Flowers, C. Otto Scharmer, Joseph Jaworski, Peter M. Senge

I take joy from moments when things connect to create clarity of a bigger and more complex picture.
The picture above which talks about the seeds being a gateway for trees to emerge helped me make connections to the learning I’ve been doing around vulnerability.
The connection I’ve made is that just like all new emerging life, it starts in a very vulnerable state – in this case a seed – it needs a safe space for that vulnerability to be secure, to allow the growth to emerge.  That safe space needs to allow for the ingredients of growth to be present so that the seed has the best chance of reaching it fullest potential or in this case a tree.
I’ve understood this using the assumption and logic shared in my previous post which are:

1) Adults continue to learn, develop and grow and can be supported to do this,

2) In order to learn, develop and grow it requires me to be vulnerable,

3) In order to be vulnerable it requires a safe and trusted space in which to be vulnerable.

We are all fragile like seeds and the best way for us to reach our best versions of ourselves we need to safety and nurturing environments like seeds require that allow them to develop and transform into something unrecognisable as a seed…

The question we need to ask ourselves how much of what I do is contributing to the lack of safety? What are we really afraid of?

Instead of trying to write something profound, i’m borrowing from other wise people.


Our Greatest Fear
It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?

You are a child of God.

Your playing small does not serve the world.

There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.

It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear, Our presence automatically liberates others.

By Marianne Williamson


I’ve learnt that the biggest contributing factor to my development is my own view of what is possible and what the story is in my head…reframing and understanding the stories I make up has started to help transform the relationship I have with the way I want to be as a human and as a leader.
I feel i’m starting to sprout out of the comfort of the seed environment and that will require me to let go of those things that held me there.  I now need to sit back and observe the world for what it is and notice what is happening, be more present and simply allow myself to be.  Its not easy, in fact it is truly the hardest thing I’ve ever done so far, but the joy and love i feel makes it worthwhile.
I’ve included a video of Dr Brene Brown who through her books and videos has helped guide me into the space of vulnerability.

Development and Growth – A perspective on vulnerability

  • Leading inevitably involves trying to effect significant changes
  • It is very hard to bring about significant changes in any human group without changes in individual behaviours.
  • It is very hard to sustain significant changes in behaviour without significant changes in individuals’ underlying meanings that may give rise to their behaviours
  • It is very hard to lead on behalf of other people’s changes in their underlying ways of making meaning without considering the possibility that we ourselves must also change
    Extract from: How the way we talk can change the way we work – Robert Kegan / Lisa Laskow-Lahey

A number of years ago I participated in a Leadership programme that helped me focus on my strengths and helped me see that by focusing on my strengths I could provide more effective leadership and generally be more impactful as a leader (so the assumption goes)

However a number of years later I have learnt that holding that view has not just hindered my development and growth but in fact completely stopped my development and growth.

This has been shaped by a new insight and learning around what development and growth can and could mean to me. Significantly influenced by research on Adult Development by Cook-Greuter, Kegan, Torbert etc.

One of the main underlying theories behind this as I understand it is the Subject – Object Shift, as illustrated in the image below

The Subject – Object Shift
Moving through the levels requires the subject-object shift — or as i’ve also understood it to mean – moving from Assumptions that hold us, to Assumptions we hold.

This shift essentially allows us to see and understand more complexity and understand the world, ourselves and the people in it.

Along with this shift in my thinking and understanding, it has added value to and increased my understanding of Brene Brown’s body of research and work (Dare to Lead, Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, Gifts of Imperfection etc).

All of this has laid out a set of assumptions and logics which looks a bit like this for me now…

1) Adults continue to learn, develop and grow and can be supported to do this,

2) In order to learn, develop and grow it requires me to be vulnerable,

3) In order to be vulnerable it requires a safe and trusted space in which to be vulnerable.

Circling back to the strengths based model, let me touch on how I’ve understood that to have stopped me from developing and growing.

Only focusing on my strengths potentially ignores those areas that can unlock an internal transformation for me to work towards my fullest potential.  Focusing only on my strengths keeps me anchored in and at a particular development level and will only ever allow me to increase my practical skills within that level as opposed to overcoming and encouraging developmental growth of who I am capable of being.  I do expect of course to develop new skills, capacities and capabilities But i’m learning these are different to what I used to think they were.  The capability to see and understand the interdependence of all things is at the heart of developmental growth.

Understanding those areas within me that need development (some might call these weaknesses) I am starting to learn that the practices of shame resilience and understanding what stops me from showing up and being vulnerable are the areas that allow me to truly develop and truly grow.

I’ve learnt that development and growth requires constant practice and discipline – there are no quick fixes to becoming a better person. Its a blend of continuing the exploration into understanding what I know and understand, how I act and live my life and what I pay attention to and focus on.

So what started as a emotional and fragile journey into shame, worthiness and fear, has been re-framed as an opportunity, in fact a personal quest or adventure to becoming a better human being, anchored in compassion and love.

 

 

 

On being deliberately developmental

I share this and invite reflections on what you think and feel about the space that Ray describes as a work environment?