Is leadership an “out there” enterprise? Is it a function performed by other people– special, chosen others — who stand in front of a group and show us the way? Perhaps… but increasingly I’m realizing that our culture defines leadership too narrowly. What if instead of passing this practice off to the chosen few we considered it an invitation to put ourselves in the drivers seat, or in effect, to lead our own lives?
Each one of you has a powerful impact in your social eco-systems: your family, friends, work environment, and community. And as you grow and stretch there are ripple effects out in concentric circles from your life which touch, inspire and spark change around you. In fact this is one of my favorite side effects of my work as a coach: the honor of walking with people as they turn up their inner light and watching how it brightens and impacts the world around them. Often this happens in surprising and delightful ways. This is not a side effect we can engineer or force (and you certainly can’t approach self-growth work with the goal of changing someone else) but again and again I have witnessed people showing up for the gift of their own life in a fresh way and watched their courage and grace spill over around them.
So how do you lead your life?
Step One: Put your ‘beginner’s mind’ in the driver’s seat
Beginners mind is the practice of relaxing our mind’s habit of labeling or already “knowing” every experience and bringing your focus back to what you are actually experiencing instead of your idea of it. This practice is true in really stressful contexts or life experiences… for we can redeem even the most uncomfortable experiences by consciously choosing to learn from them. This shift of putting your most expansive you in the drivers seat can help shift the focus from blaming and reacting and gift you back a sense of agency, freedom and choice. (And these are the very things which are often in short supply when we feel backed in a corner with two bad options, anxious over finances, broken-hearted over a relationship or community conflict or are experiencing any other kind of grief, sadness, or fear).
So step one of leading your own life is to show up as a student, with open and receptive eyes to learn (even if part of what you are learning is how to avoid ever ending up in the same place again!)
Step Two: Stay in the Action
To lead your own life requires a commitment to stay in the action. Often in challenging situations or times of growth we become aware of a gap between what is happening and what we know to be possible, or between the pain we find ourselves living and the way we wish we felt. And the temptation in these situations is to flip out on one side or another of the gap rather than to hold the tension.
We can flip out on the side of cynicism, despair and withdrawal or we can flip out to the realm of irrelevant idealism, too much possibility and maintaining a life of illusion. We flip to either side of the gap to avoid the hard and painful dimensions of engagement. (indebted to Parker Palmer and the work of Courage and Renewal for this lesson). But flipping out of the gap also takes us out of the action, it takes us away from the space where we can evolve as people. We bypass our own opportunity to learn.
Staying in the action is not about striving or being hard on yourself. In fact it is the opposite. In order to endure the discomfort of change and growth in the gap it is essential to be compassionate with yourself and get really good at drawing in strength, energy, and resiliency from the resources which are available to you. (A meditation or centering practice is really helpful here… especially in times of transition.)
I’m curious… how can you imagine staying in the action today or this week? Are there ways you can resource yourself as you grow and change? I’d love to hear about it! Click reply below to leave a comment.
Where do you learn what you need to know? I love the acerbic teaching of fourth century spiritual teachers, called the desert fathers and mothers. They are like zen masters within the Christian tradition and their sayings cut through false or incomplete understandings of life.
They lived in caves and rejected the collusion of Christianity with the Roman Empire and say things like: “Go into your cell and it will teach you what you need to know.” I can hear the wind blowing through their writing and love the invitation to turn inward to find the resources we need for life.
One of the desert mothers likens the inner spiritual landscape to a nest and encouraged her fellow seekers to stay in place and listen deeply rather than fluttering from location to location. I think of this as an inner practice – of not abandoning ourselves by chasing externals but instead choosing to tune into the messages of our body, our intuition, and our feelings.
Friday evening I gathered at Oil & Cotton, a local creative exchange, with ten families of all ages. There was a lovely energy in the room and people dove into feathering and decorating their nests seeming hungry both to create and to spend some time reflecting as a family. Here is an excerpt from my lesson that night on how to set core-desired emotions:
“When seasons change it is a natural time to take stock. We feel the shift in nature and register it in our bodies. It is a wonderful time to set your intensions for who and how you want to be in your home.
Experiencing fluctuating emotions is a part of being human.
Yet what if we could actually cultivate and live more often in positive, soulful emotional states? Feeling happy, centered, or peaceful is a subtle sensation compared to the steady drumbeat of negative emotions (anxiety, anger, shame etc.) which are stirred up by habitual personality patterns and exacerbated by busy lives.
We aren’t looking to generate certain positive feelings in an artificial way but rather to prime ourselves to catch the beautiful moments of our lives as they organically unfold.
For what we pay attention to grows.
Did you know it takes the body on average eleven seconds to absorb a good experience or register a positive emotion? Can you guess how quickly we take in negative energy? Half a second. You can put this piece of bio-wisdom to work for you by trying to consciously “breathe in the good.” When something lovely is happening, when you are feeling the way you want to feel, bring awareness to the actual embodied experience and soak it up on a cellular level. It is sacred work to model a fullness of life which can only be found through savoring everyday goodness.”
And pics of a handful of the participants:
This is the gist of what lights me up as a teacher and coach: people tuning into their inner lives whether through a creative practice, meditation, or time in nature. And I love teaching the enneagram because it fast tracks the whole process. As we learn our personality type and come to recognize habitual patterns we can relax them. And in this more relaxed state rise up the tender and beautiful feelings which are really what we are chasing in life: an organic sense of gratitude, of freedom, of hopeful possibility, of being loved and knowing we have love to give, of feeling solid and rooted in our bodies and tasting generosity—both in receiving from others and in our compassion for our self.
And there is no where better to stoke the fire of this awareness than by naming our desires for who and how we want to be in our home space. Home is our refuge. It is where we can resource ourselves and draw from a deeper well.
So my invitation for each of you is to spend some time meditating on your hearts desires. On how you actually want to feel. Is it more balanced? More awake? More kind? More peaceful? More engaged? More fulfilled? More solid? Simply by asking the question and listening you will live your way into the answer.
And consider claiming a handful of words and writing them out.
Maybe you make your own centerpiece and incorporate the words: it could be in an elaborate nest or as simple as writing them on a few stones and gathering them in a tray. Or easier still maybe you simply write them on a piece of paper and tuck them in your pocket.
However you do it know they are a compass which helps you moment by moment make choices which honor your soul. Considering a new job? Ask yourself how you feel as you imagine doing it… Just move into a new home? Ask yourself how you want to feel in the space and edit out old or unwanted things which no longer inspire. Feeling anxious or dissatisfied in a relationship or work setting? Give yourself the freedom to name how you desire to feel. And use that desire as your guide… taking note when those feelings come up organically (even if it is rare) — and stopping to breathe them in.
Go into your nest and it will teach you what you need to know.
PS I have space opening in my calendar for two new coaching clients in October. Could you use support in living your way into a life that feels better? Read more about coaching here and contact me at 972.571.6860 or firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a free half hour phone conversation about your needs. xxo
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