Recently, I was asked to speak at a conference for Women in ICT. I ruminated for a few days, wondering about a practical piece of Wisdom I could offer in 40 minutes that might have every person in the audience change one practice and in doing so, achieve better results – in work and in life.
I have been playing around with the question “what do I really want” for a very long time. For the past 7 years in my capacity as Master Trainer I have walked literally thousands of students through the concept of ‘conversations with constructive intent’. This lesson involves noticing when intent seems ‘off’ and cleaning it up as quickly as possible to get conversations, relationships and results on track again. I make it sound easy, but there’s a depth to the skill that has started to reveal itself.
What do you really want is a question at many levels. Personally, it can be a question in the moment (like right now – maybe feeling like we want to be right…), a question that has context to a situation (like at work – a good relationship with our boss) and a question of more profound meaning (like in life – peace or legacy).
The interesting thing I have noticed is that the ‘right now’ response works against the longer term one – the ones we say we want in life. In the moment, when the mood or circumstance catches us, we can feel powerless around our provocation and reactions. It seems completely counter intuitive.
So, for the past couple of years I have focused on the ‘right now’.
What does it take to bring a mindful awareness to these ‘key moments of influence’ when we’re hot under the collar or triggered in some way, to enable a choice that liberates rather than imprisons us?
What happens when we first start to see menacing patterns in the things that provoke us – when someone says or does something we don’t like or object to – causing us to react and be swept away by motives that diminish the very things we claim to most desire? Here’s where it gets interesting.
The liberation of first seeing these ‘habits’ in ourselves, is offset by the insight which can be deeply uncomfortable.
In these past years, I have moved away from the language that suggests discomfort is something to be overcome or mastered and instead, moved towards language that suggests we should make friends with the uncomfortable emotion, and let it inform and soften us towards being fully present to the experience we are having. In that, being present to ourselves, we create a greater possibility of being present to others.
I have started to reframe ‘unconstructive response’ experiences as motivated by a blend of comfort seeking and habitual response. Undoing them, in every facet of living, is a tremendous and brave adventure.
It’s an adventure we work with every day in the domain of transformation. Just like going to the gym, living a mindful and conscious life is a daily habit that requires the will to ‘wake up’. By ‘wake up’ I mean start to really see the things we turn to for comfort and to begin to bring a compassionate, open awareness to what we ‘do’ to avoid discomfort.
It is only human to turn to practices we know well – to take us away from experiencing things we don’t want to – like anger, fear, sadness, grief, loneliness and discomfort.
Whether for habit or knowing a reliable means to avoid making direct contact with the experience, we move towards what we feel like we want in the moment. We strengthen and maintain the habit by carefully crafting stories and interpretations that justify the behaviour and re-inforce the patterns that keep us a little farther away from the things we say we really want. This short-term reaching for comfort is the very thing that weakens us. Our impulses to reach for pleasure actually undermine our broader, longer term aspirations.
So what does it take to turn this around? We have to begin to see where we go, why we go and to bring compassion in the journey towards a deep and profound intimacy with ourselves. This involves learning, letting go, surrendering, seeing, listening, being, more. Digging into the beliefs that limit us and releasing ourselves from them. Starting to see how we interpret the world and our place in it and redefining our journey as a series of experiences around which we can flow and develop flexibility and courage. Cultivating the courage to have a direct experience of reality and to ‘drop the story’ we attach to things. Acceptance that the nature of things is to change and fall apart and become something else.
The start is being able to sense all of this as it happens, and to work towards allowing it to shift. When we see this in ourselves we can then begin to see it in others.