On Knowing You Can Bear It (In the Time of Coronavirus)

There is a story in Jack Kornfield’s wonderful book, The Wise Heart, that reminds us of what kindness and compassion can do for us in the immediacy of illness, uncertainty and fear,  as individuals and collectively as a human family:

JK: On one occasion I was sick with what was probably malaria, lying in my hut, feverish and wretched.  I had received medicine but it was slow in taking effect. Ajahn Chah came to visit me.  “Sick and feverish, huh?” he asked.  “Yes,” I replied weakly.  “It’s painful all over, isn’t it?” I nodded.  “Yes, it’s suffering alright.”  He paused.  “Here. This is where we have to practice.  Not just sitting in the meditation hall.  It’s hard. All the body and mind torments.” He waited for a while, then he looked at me with the warmth of a kind grandfather.  “You can bear it, you know.  You can do it.”  I felt that he was fully there with me, that he knew my pain from his own hard struggles.  It took some time for the sickness to pass, but his simple kindness made the situation bearable.  His compassion gave me courage and helped me find my own freedom in the midst of hardship.

Much of my own teaching centers around guided meditations, the application of mindfulness, practices of personal development, all towards the aims of optimal well-being, increased focus and performance at work and reducing our day to day stress. These are all honorable and important intentions for the quality of our lives.  I feel privileged to be able to do it.

AND what drew me to mindfulness so very long ago was its powerful antidote to fear and suffering and trauma, moments like these- when any escape is a mirage and avoiding reality for something more palatable is not only dangerous but sometimes lethal.

Mindfulness as part of an overarching philosophy of our human suffering and how to ease that suffering has its underpinnings in the teaching of compassion as our very human nature. Mindfulness without embodied kindness  lacks the power to sustain our spirit when it tires.

As the poet Naomi Shihab Nye writes: “Before you know what kindness really is you must lose things/feel the future dissolve in a moment like salt in a weakened broth.  What you held in your hand, what you counted and carefully saved, all this must go so you know how desolate the landscape can be between the the regions of kindness…then it is only kindness that makes sense any more.

The answer say the sages and those who have fought the hard fight (as Paulo Coehlo likes to call it) is kindness. Kindness is a tender quality of being with unbreakable roots. You can bear it. You are being held in your own heart, cared for by the stranger who is here to make you well and sharing the fear among us with friends and family, dividing it up and breaking it into more manageable bites.

Kindness is the ‘com’ part of compassion.  Being with the suffering- your own and that of others, with gentleness and a sincere desire to help reminds us of our resilient nature and the indomitability of the human spirit.

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A Primer for Letting It Go: When People Get “On Your Last Nerve”

During the course of our daily life, we inevitably push each other’s buttons and pull one another’s triggers. Mostly unintentionally, people can, at times, get “on our last nerve.” We’re human. And most of the time, with the little stuff AND if we’re taking good care of ourselves, it can be easy to just brush it off.

Yet it is also true that when you’ve been hurt (or even annoyed) by someone, at work or in any other part of your life, the path to letting it so is not always so simple.  We know that holding on to a grudge or nursing a slight will only make us feel worse- and not just emotionally.  Resentments and pent-up irritations can cause our blood pressure to spike and activate stress chemicals that can make us physically sick.  And the truth is: it doesn’t really do any good anyway.  Any satisfaction in being right or having the last word is short lived and ultimately a misuse of our imagination.

 

Here are some steps to help you let go when you feel angry, sad or plain indignant:

 

  1. Name It-Whether you’ve hurt yourself or have been hurt by another, allow yourself to simply name the feelings that are there.  They might include guilt, shame, sorrow, confusion, or anger.  A study at UCLA found that when you name your emotional experience it turns the volume down on your amygdala, the emotion center of the brain, and brings resources back to your pre-frontal cortex, the rational part of your brain.  By naming the feeling, you create some space around it and not become overwhelmed.
  2. Feel It- Forcing yourself to let go is an oxymoron.    Keeping hard feelings bottled up only cause additional stress to your mind and body.  Talking it out is helpful- to a point.  Sharing helps you expand your perspective, and perhaps even see what happened through a different lens. It’s not about telling everyone your side of a story.  It’s about letting out your frustration so you can move on. This could also mean writing about it. The practice below can also help you to pause and sense what you’re feeling.
  3. Flip Your Focus. If possible, see if you shift your focus from being the victim to seeing the other person as being distracted in their own inner world of worries, who are, like so many of us, stuck in reactivity.  People lash out and speak before thinking, sometimes. Have we ever done this?  This is difficult to do, but remember, you’re not condoning any action.  It’s just about trying to see how each of us are deeply impacted by our life experiences, which informs how we show up in the world.  Researcher Brene Brown, author of Rising Strong, says, “Blaming is a way to discharge pain and discomfort.”  However, it gives us a false sense of control inevitably keeping the negativity kicking around in our minds, increasing our stress and eroding our relationships. Compassion tends to flow a more understanding perspective.

 

  1. Bring Awareness Practices into your daily life.  In two recent studies in both the Journal of American College Health and The Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology with several hundred participants that found a direct link that a consistent mindfulness practice supports our ability to forgive.

 

  1. Have patience: Forgiving and letting things go isn’t always a one and done.  It’s not always a quick fix.  It’s a process, so be patient with yourself.  With smaller transgressions, forgiveness can happen pretty quickly, but with the larger ones, it can take longer.

 

A Mini Forgiveness Practice to Try (1x Day):

 

Think of someone who has caused you angst (to start, it’s not advisable a person who has deeply hurt you).  Visualize the person and even feel the tightness in your unwillingness to let go.  Now, observe what emotion is present.  Is it anger, resentment, sadness?  Use your body as a barometer and notice physically what you feel?  Are you tense anywhere, or do you feel heavy?  Next, bring awareness to your thoughts; are they spiteful, sad, or something else? If you feel like you have carried this burden long enough, silently repeat: “Breathing in, I acknowledge the hurt.  Breathing out, I am forgiving and releasing this burden from my heart and mind.”  Continue this process for as long as it feels supportive to you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What it Means to Live Authentically


Leading an Authentic Life 
doesn’t mean spouting your ‘truth’ every time there appears an opening. It’s not the wisest move to be habitually giving your opinions at work or anywhere else for that matter. Yes, honesty matters. And what we are thinking may or may not be the arbiter of truth-ours or anyone else’s.  Living with authenticity is different than this. It means to live a life that is genuine and principled.

Consider the following characteristics of living genuinely:

 

  • Being open to your moment to moment experience without distortions, denial, or  invalidating yourself in some way or another.
  • Enjoying a sense of dynamism and not feeling stuck or stagnant.
  • Having a deep trust in your own intuition and ability to self-direct your own course in life.
  • Knowing the responsibility and the freedom in responding to life with our full attention, rather than reacting impulsively or habitually to people or events as they occur.
  • Adopting a creative approach to life, demonstrating flexibility rather than rigidity and closed-mindedness.


Of course, we may possess more of certain qualities than others. Embodying these qualities are certainly fluid on any given day. What’s vital is that they all can be cultivated by practicing these 5 suggestions:

  1. Be deliberate.  Roy Baumeister, PhD (Univ. of Florida), states that “authenticity consists in being aware that you have choices and consciously choosing what you do.” A large part of living an authentic life involves being aware of your ability to chart your own course, choosing wisely the activities of your day to mirror your intentions and goals. While many things happen each day that we cannot control- we can choose our actions.
  2. Don’t be too deliberate.  Without this seeming like a completely contradictory message, consider how you can be intentional in your behaviors without over analyzing and over thinking everything. Too much opinion polling and second guessing in our lives is sometimes called “analysis paralysis.” Deep down, there is an intuitive understanding of who you are as a person.  Trust yourself.
    Often good decisions are made when we don’t think about them too intensely.  Go with your gut.  Authenticity resides, in part, at the gut level.

 

  1. Practice mindfulness. (Of course) Deep attention creates moments of happiness not contingent on outcomes or external factors or manipulation of the environment.  Mindfulness meditation enables you to become a curious, accepting, and nonjudgmental observer of your own experience.  When you are truly connected to the present moment, there is less attachment to needing certain outcomes or trying to control the way things are. It puts things in perspective and increases connection with the whole of life.

 

4. Cultivating Solitude.  Peter Kramer, a researcher at Brown University notes that “quiet and time for the self are a big plus.  If you’re worried about inauthenticity, there’s nothing like shutting the door.” While people differ on their individual needs for more or less quiet time to relax and recharge, there are significant benefits to taking a bit of quiet reflective time on a regular basis.

5. But Stay Connected. While it is always wise to check inwardly with ourselves, we can be positively informed and inspired by external factors and forces in our life too. Relationships are a vital part of living genuinely. We humans need each other. You can learn a great deal about yourself and your strengths through examining your interactions. Try noticing how you show up in relationship with others.The idea is to find the right balance between reflective solitude and connection with others that is healthy for you.

 

 

 

As Shakespeare penned in Hamlet:

“This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man (or woman or person).”

 

 

 

 

 

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Living Authentically: The Genuine You

It is the unique combination of talents, personality and experience that make each of us vital to the whole. We sometimes cover up the “real” us; maybe someone once said we were “a bit too much” when we were little or we’re worried that we won’t be accepted if we show up fully ourselves. Of course, these are just notions that don’t serve any good purpose for us or the world. And while it’s true, that we can’t just let it “all hang out” during a workday, we can show up for work with our most authentic self in place. Read more

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SIX STEPS FOR EVERYDAY LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT

“We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.”- John Dewey

1.Leadership is not simply a title given to those with a supervisory role or hold a job title that sounds leader-like. Leadership is about influencing people and processes in service of accomplishing a collective aim or goal. Such influence can be performed by any member of a group or organization. This notion of leadership is a fundamental state that we can enter and exit when called upon. It’s about focusing on collective needs and goals and influencing the group towards results that benefit the whole. Read more

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Minding the Questions

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Much of skillful leadership involves asking great questions…and really wanting to know the answer. Today’s question involves a disciplined awareness and an inquisitiveness on your part:

What’s Needed Most Right Now, at a Time like This?

This is a worthwhile question; worthy of bringing your attention to- a refrain to ask yourself with curiosity from time to time throughout each day. You could choose to even make it a practice. Read more

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“Er”, “Um”, “Like”: Mindful vs. Mindless Speech

 

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I stumbled across a creative and innovative practice this morning that is worth sharing. It incorporates mindfulness into our daily lives in a way that forces us to actually think about what we are saying and how we are saying it. This simple but challenging instruction brings an immediate and positive shift to how we are in the world. Read more

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EASING OUT OF COMPULSION, EASING IN TO CHOICE

brainThere are lots of ways in which we as human beings can get caught under the vast net of stress in our lives. We oftentimes find ourselves feeling trapped by difficult circumstances and the attending feelings and thoughts that arise from them. All of this can create a sense of being overwhelmed and life at times can appear unmanageable. We then struggle and we suffer. Often times the root cause no longer exists but our coping strategies themselves have become problematic. Read more

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10 Simple Ways to Invite Mindfulness into the Present Moment

apples_editMindfulness is not reserved for only those times when you are “formally practicing.” While taking the time to close your eyes and follow your breath, or taking a mindful walk can be enormously helpful,  we can build our awareness by bringing our full attention to our everyday daily activities. These are the tasks that have been so ingrained by repetition , so habitual that they are often times performed on autopilot. It can almost be like we are sleepwalking.  We sometimes don’t even remember doing them! Read more

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Practical Applications of Mindful Leadership

artful cairnsMuch of what I do each day entails fostering and facilitating mindfulness training for leaders of industry, academia and healthcare. Many of these leaders have already enjoyed an illustrious track record of success and innovation in their field. And some are just getting started. But wherever they are on their journey, they tend to share certain qualities: a quick mind, high emotional IQ, substantial educational backgrounds and varied and impressive work experience. Rarer still but counted among them are the managers who display true adeptness at leading by example, championing team members’ accomplishments and having a bold vision for their organization. Read more

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