Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Being Positive

First appeared in Leadership & Change Magazine

The frames our minds create define – and confine – what we perceive to be possible. Every problem, every dilemma, every dead end we find ourselves facing in life, only appears unsolvable inside a particular frame or point of view”. That is what Rosamund Stone & Benjamin Zander explain in their book The Art of Possibility. Thus, not blind optimism nor despairing pessimism, but realistic reasoning and choosing – recognizing that life consists of ups and downs, happiness and suffering, and deliberately searching for the stars through the bars – so that we mindfully transform our suffering.

Zen Koan: Disciple: “Tell me teacher – when times of great trouble, trial, and tribulation arrive, what should we do?” Teacher: “Welcome them”.

The critical default settings

Neuroscientists point out that our default setting is to be critical, negative. Research shows that self-criticism is associated with lower resilience. Conversely, positive self-compassion is associated with higher resilience, and neuroscientists also point out that because of our brain’s plasticity, we are able to rewire and establish positivity.
Barbara Frederickson has shown that positive emotions introduce us to possibility, that is – our minds are opened, broadened. Being more positive makes us more skillful and adept at seeing opportunities, solving problems. And when combined with the characteristic of empathy the result is often a snowball effect resulting in a virtuous cycle of positive behaviors throughout an organization.

“The thief left it behind: the moon at my window” – Ryōkan

Adopting a positive attitude is, in the first instance, a choice. We can choose to have an attitude of entitlement, being deserving of more – or an attitude of being grateful for the gifts we have received (physical, emotional, social, intellectual and spiritual). A choice that we then constantly reinforce by letting go what we cling to and control, being grateful, embracing our suffering as best we can, reframing in order to reveal what is positive. Albus Dumbledore, the Harry Potter Professor, said: “It is our choices that show what we truly are far more than our abilities”.

“All the days of the oppressed are wretched, but the cheerful heart has a continual feast” – Proverbs 15:15

The Work

Byron Katie teaches a method of self-inquiry known as ‘The Work’. “The Work is a way of identifying and questioning any stressful thought. It consists of four questions and a turnaround. This is a way of experiencing the opposite of what you believe. The four questions are:

1) Is it true?
2) Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
3) How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
4) Who would you be without the thought?

The turnaround involves considering the thought in a reversed form–changing subject and object, changing yes and no, or changing it to be self-referential. For example, for the thought ‘My husband should treat me better’, turnarounds could include ‘I should treat my husband better’, ‘I should treat myself better’ or “My husband shouldn’t treat me better’”.

Choose your attitude

A friend told me about an incident in a restaurant. One of the guests knocked her plate off the table. As it crashed to the floor and smashed, there was a stunned silence. A moment of acute embarrassment? No – in Greek party tradition, someone at a nearby table shouted “Opa!” and the entire mood shifted. We always have a choice: to dampen the fires of hope, aspiration, and enthusiasm (our own and others) or to ignite them.

Be grateful for what you give and receive Click To Tweet
Frankl’s experiences in Oświęcim in Poland (German: Auschwitz, Yiddish Oshpitsin) are well chronicled. One of his observations was: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing, the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances”.

Naikan is a Japanese way of practicing self-reflection that combines meditating and journaling. Naikan means “looking inside” so that we learn to develop and express our gratitude, discard our “you owe me” attitudes, improve our well-being and contentedness, become more positive as we realize that all that we have to be grateful for is unmerited, and engage and act to uplift, support, and care for others. It’s a way of counting our blessings (Gregg Krech’s downloadable work-booklet elaborates on this in a very practical way), contemplating the impact of our actions and omissions, and examining our shadow side based on three questions:

“What have I received from …..? (It may be his/her time, a nod of appreciation, a correction, support, and care …. A friend occasionally sends me an SMS along these lines, ‘I was thinking about you today and wanted to encourage you to keep on ….”
“What have I given to … ? (Our self-centred, disconnected way of life often means that our giving is minimal …. )
“What troubles, difficulties, ‘suffering’ have I caused to ……? (Ignored a phone call, failed to include, been abrupt or – as we often excuse ourselves – been unaware (thus ‘inadvertently, unwittingly or by mistake’ hurt this someone)

These questions, honestly and fully answered, provide much food for soul – thought. They also foster the development of a route to compassion for self and others. Now that’s positive!

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Tears in Heaven

Jesus Wept – John 11:35
There is sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love - Unknown
Tears are simply the raindrops from the storms inside us – Hindu saying

‘Goodbye’ old friend

My friend of over 30 years, Dave Smal’s funeral service of celebration was held last week. Back in the day we were brother elders and long distance runners of little note. We enjoyed and shared music. Our families were close.

At the end, as a result of crippling, ravaging multiple sclerosis, his limbs were locked rigidly, leaving a knee permanently on his chest. Just speaking was a huge challenge. Yet during years of being curtailed and deprived physically by MS, Dave never once voiced a complaint, remained positive and focused on others. Bereft of power, position, possessions, mobility - privately he must surely have cried tears of Job?

His witness at the Robin’s Nest frail care centre was so strong that the staff called him Sipho - ‘the gift’. He loved Love. We saw a remarkable, transparent emptying, and an emergence of a poverty of spirit and a purity of heart of the sort I understood was displayed by St Francis. As the material declined so Spirit emerged. Dave's room was a sacred place/ space of joy, calm, peace, humour.
Notwithstanding being reared in a ‘big boys don’t cry’ family setting, I simply couldn’t stop crying for quite a while after Dave died. All of the “inhibitory control” mentioned by psychology and neuroscience professor Robert R. Provine, that developed alongside “Emotional tearing - a uniquely human and relatively modern evolutionary innovation” left me. (1)

The last time I remember crying so is as recorded by David Hutchens describing story-invoked “narrative transport”. “This is a powerful effect, and at its best it bears similarity to a trance or hypnotic state. Graham says he recalls watching the movie ‘The Elephant Man’ in a theatre and being unexpectedly seized with sobs that he could not control. “At some level I had entered the story” he says. “Perhaps I identified with Joseph Merrick’s ugly duckling situation. I certainly experienced overwhelming empathy with him, and anger at what society can do to individuals”. (2) Quite a few similarities, but this time the story was very close and raw.


What is it about tears? “Tears are the medium of our most primal language in moments as unrelenting as death, as basic as hunger, and as complex as rites of passage. They are the evidence of our inner life overflowing its boundaries, spilling over into consciousness. Tears spontaneously release us to the possibility of realignment, reunion, catharsis, intractable resistance short-circuited… It’s as though each one of our tears carries a microcosm of the collective human experience, like one drop of an ocean”. (3)

Fisher catalogues photographs of tears shed for many reasons. Tears captured and dried on glass slides, and magnified many times through a high-resolution optical microscope. (3) She exposes tears of grief, change, joy, possibility/ hope, compassion, redemption, remorse, tears for what couldn’t be fixed, from being overwhelmed, after goodbye, yearning for liberation, elation … Even onion tears!
There could be many more categories: physical pain, empathic tears, gratitude …

Conceivably, there could also be sub-categories (and a mixing with other emotions): tears of overwhelm could happen because we cannot cope with a situation – including sheer frustration, or when we are confronted by beauty, a remarkable revelation, an achievement that we’ve long striven for, discovering a higher purpose, meeting our first born, becoming immersed in a piece of art...

Tears of grief too could be complex: loss of the other in your life, regret, sadness, feeling abandoned, confronting one’s own mortality and facing questions about the ‘after – life’. Imagine the loss and emotional pain that Eric Clapton experienced at the freaky, unfair death of his four-year old son and which led to him writing ‘Tears in Heaven’. (We’ll bypass the theological implications here).

Tears and Sense-Making

Ancient wisdom tells us that the Christian Desert Fathers and Mothers held ‘the gift of tears’ in very high regard. Jewish proverbs teach ‘What soap is for the body, tears are for the soul’ and ‘A drop of love can bring an ocean of tears’. Rumi: “Within tears, find hidden laughter. Seek treasures amid ruins ….” Tears touch our physical, intellectual, emotional, social and spiritual dimensions.

Crying tears of joy may well be the body’s way of restoring “emotional equilibrium... The psychologists say that, by responding to an overwhelmingly positive emotion with a negative one, people are able to recover better from strong emotions”. (4) Presumably the reverse holds true – for instance, nervous laughter when afraid.
Crying has a physiological effect on the body, such as releasing neurochemical substances that can improve mood”. (5) (And emotional release too)

So tears are necessary. Perhaps they water the garden of growth and maturity? Maybe the only way to come out of a dark night is to go into it?
So tears shouldn’t be repressed or suppressed. They heal. Are cathartic. Rapunzel’s tears fell on her husband’s eyes and cured his blindness. When Mary Magdalene washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, she was healed.

But Enough analysis! 

da Vinci said “Tears come from the heart and not from the brain”.
I’m glad I cry for Dave, and celebrate his life and example.
If you need to cry you should cry”. (6)

1. Popova, Maria Why We Cry: The Science of Sobbing and Emotional Tearing citing Curious Behavior: Yawning, Laughing, Hiccupping, and Beyond Hardcover – August 31, 2012
2. Hutchens, David Circle of the 9 Muses: a stortytelling field guide for innovators & meaning makers John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Hoboken, New Jersey 2015
3. Popova, Maria The Topography of Tears: A Stunning Aerial Tour of the Landscape of Human Emotion Through an Optical Microscope
Citing Fisher, Rose-Lynn (Photographer) The Topography of Tears Bellevue Literary Press NY May, 2017
4. Duffin, Claire Why do we cry tears of joy? Telegraph Nov 2014 referring to a study by Aragon, Oriana et al: Dimorphous Expressions of Positive Emotion: Displays of Both Care and Aggression in Response to Cute Stimuli
5. Sreenivasan, Shoba, Ph.D. & Weinberger, Linda E. Ph.D. Tears of Pain and Tears of Joy: is crying a healthy behavior? Psychology Today Mar, 2017
6. Kalman, Maira Ah-Ha to Zig-Zag: 31 Objects from Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum Skira Rizzoli October, 2014

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Living the Organisation’s Purpose

Man, first of all, is the being who hurls himself towards a future and who is conscious of imagining himself as being in the future – Jean-Paul Sartre


The Veracity of Purpose

For both organisations and individuals, a clear (higher) purpose that is bigger than ourselves can provide us with direction, stability, motivation, meaning and a sense of belonging. It informs our behaviour.  Builds our reputation.  Any organisation or individual truly executing its or their purpose authentically, coherently and passionately are alive and well.

Without purpose and meaning we suffer the disease of ennui, are jaded, lacklustre, aimless, feel unsatisfied. “The human brain cannot sustain purposeless living. It is not designed for that. Its systems are designed for purposive action. When that is blocked, its systems deteriorate, and the emotional feedback from idling these systems signals extreme discomfort and motivates the search for renewed purpose, renewed meaning”.(1)

So finding and following our purpose is work of the utmost importance.
“When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds; your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be”.(2)

Purpose encompasses being, then the doing that results, with any achievement or outcome of lesser concern. To the extent that we are attached to the results of our work, we rise and fall with our success and failures, which is a path to burnout. Failures are inevitable, and successes are not the deepest purpose of our work. This requires a deepening of faith in the intrinsic value of our work-

beyond the concrete results. To the extent that our actions are rooted in pure intention, they have a reverberation far beyond the concrete results of the actions themselves.  As Gandhi emphasized,   "The victory is in the doing", not the outcome”. (3)    Purpose evokes a passion about why we exist.

Employees should be able to identify with and support the organisation’s purpose although their own individual purpose may be different, and this is sufficient ‘alignment’.

Finding our higher purpose has been the subject of previous papers:

This document now explores how we might, at the organisation level, follow a decided purpose.

Living your Purpose using the ‘Purpose Sphere’ and its Dimensions

Steering the organisation to deciding and fulfilling its newly stated purpose requires considerable effort, especially in the kick-off phase, in order to build and maintain momentum through to completion. 

This is not simply about fixing a few things but about embracing new possibilities, entering a new way of relating to the community being served, becoming a different entity, with a different culture.  Naturally a new way of leading is required.  A number of dimensions need to be leveraged in the interests of this transformation. Hence what I term the ‘purpose-sphere’:


Some background to explain this visual conceptually:

  •  Somatics attempts to go beyond cognitive knowledge to embody, and generate.  Centreing from thinking to feeling happens along four dimensions.

       LENGTH - from spiritual to pragmatic (Be and Do),
       WIDTH -  being ‘wide’ open and beyond self into community (relational space), 
       DEPTH is the space between what’s behind and what’s in front (or the depth of one’s inner  
       The 4th dimension then becomes a centred purpose.

  • The Whirling Dervish dancer is connecting heaven and earth, embracing all, symbolising the way the universe and all within rotate and connect

               When particles of dust
               Are touched by the sun
               They spread their arms and start whirling
               To a music no one can hear

               The sun, moon, and stars
               Keep turning around the sky:
               We’re in the middle
               Turning around the centre
              What should I do
               If love seizes me
               Start dancing of course! (Rumi)

  St Patrick (born around AD 414):

               Christ with me
               Christ before me
               Christ behind me
               Christ in me
               Christ beneath me
               Christ above me
               Christ on my right 
               Christ on my left

Ephesians 3:18: “And may you have the power to understand, as all God's people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is      
The ‘purpose sphere’ visual may be viewed as a journey to integration. Interestingly, the Christian cross is a symbol of becoming whole, attaining equilibrium. It has both dark and light connotations. It is “a double see saw with the two axis crossing at the centre. It provides the framework for balancing right and left and also the high and the low” - Robert Johnson

Width, depth and length factors contribute to the totality of purpose and need be integrated in order to gain and maintain momentum, in order to reach the purposeful being and doing foreseen at journey’s ‘end’:

  • WIDTH in the sense of an open-ness to the needs of the community.  Think in terms of willing, wide open arms, to serve and give in order to to make our purpose explicit.

      And also as a balancing factor, that is, a balance between ‘left brain’/’right brain’ thinking,    
      non-duality (‘And’ rather than ‘Either/Or), masculine and feminine, positive and ‘negative’
      opportunities.  A good metaphor is that of steering a boat – with only one oar one goes
      around in circles. Utilising both oars ensures sound guidance towards the chosen direction.

    Integrated (systemic) thinking when making a decision, solving a problem, formulating   
    a  plan 
      -  taking account of the impact of and on the interconnected capitals available to business
      (human, social, manufactured, social, intellectual, natural)(4) to which we could add 
     ‘spiritual’, is an important balancing mechanism. The integrated thinking model goes hand in 
      hand with stewardship: an eco-centric approach to the environment, ushering in a circular 
      economy and enabling sustainable, cohesive communities and society.

  • DEPTH is being focused on and moving towards bringing purpose to fruition - fully engaged, assuming a presence in the community, having a sense of wider inter-connectivity, and a clear scenario of your future, being ‘in the flow’. Being pushed by wonder, awe, curiosity, compassion ….  -  but also being held back or restrained / constrained by past experiences, limiting beliefs, attachments, false logic,  lack of capacity, a non-growth mind-set, self-deception .…

      We are often unaware of the unconscious forces pushing, pulling or constraining us, our
      built in, hidden impulses and drivers.  An illustration:

      Dr Gabor Maté interviewed by Tami Simon of Sounds True on Tues Mar 21, 2017 told of  
      being in Budapest a day after the WWII German occupation, when he was 2 months old, his
       mother called their paediatrician: "Would you please come see my son?  Because he's            
       crying all the time". And the paediatrician says, "Of course I will come, but I should tell you 
      all my Jewish babies are crying".
      And so that anecdote told by my mother speaks to the very essence of childhood experience,  
      which is to say that what happens to the parents happens to the child.

      Sometimes we have to push and push until purpose and vision pulls!  Key to this is being   
      aware of what is propelling or preventing our forward momentum, through disciplined
      external and internal sensing, and building or leveraging what is needed.

  •  LENGTH is about having a raised consciousness and being practical; about being part of, and inspired by, a higher calling, belonging, having faith and a transcendental view, being values- based, operating from the inside out while at the same time being alert, grounded, practical, mindful, effective at decision-making and problem solving, and at bringing about lasting change through sound, courageous leadership.  Integrated thinking is applied. There are reflective, relational and resilience aspects to this dimension. 

       The ‘Length’ dimension can be viewed as a contemplatives-in-action dimension. Spirituality
       promotes and fosters:

o   an internal focus and an outward execution
o   a meaningful, transcending, pervasive world view that calls forth a higher purpose, and rises above religion, culture and ethnicity
o   a deep appreciation of our interconnectedness as a context of existence
o   an other-orientation. The desire to serve others, society and the environment. An awakening from self- consciousness to a wider, deeper consciousness
o   the development of positive principles and character virtues, a mature ethics and morality in action (purity of heart) along with a recognition that love is the highest virtue, but reachable
              Spirituality is about the whole person. When we’re spiritual we think, feel and act differently
               and congruently. (I am acutely aware that there is a mystical, mysterious, inexplicable inner
             – experience dimension to spirituality which defies easy explanation and definition).

A Moving Force-Field and Container

Think of the ‘purpose – sphere’ as a powerful force field, designed for you to succeed at implementing your purpose statement.  The sphere is also a container: Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach  -   Clarissa Pinkola Estes

We are reflective, relational and resilient beings.  (“At the heart of resilience is a belief in oneself - yet also a belief in something larger than oneself” – Hara Estroff Marano, Editor at Large, Psychology Today)

Reflecting periodically as a group on the transformation journey to is a bonding, growth experience. A creative pause in our hectic daily activities - that yields clear ways forward to gain and to keep momentum. 
Has the journey improved our stability, ‘anti-fragility’ and who we intend to be as we’ve moved into living our clear purpose and direction?  
Have we sufficiently leveraged the length, width and depth dynamics of the ‘purpose sphere’ to this end? 
These two questions raise the issues of feedback and measurement, and here I love the simple eloquence of what drives Menlo Innovations, a highly successful IT services company based in Michigan.

Their CEO and Chief Storyteller, Richard Sheridan, is focused on JOY as a value, a purpose and a description of their culture. When I asked Richard how he measured joy, his response was that he produces statistics, metrics and improvement-outcomes for the cynical and disbelieving, but essentially his real measure (the one that counts!) is the extent to which Menlo’s successes and advocacy travel as anecdotes by word of mouth.(5) 

When contemplating progress towards a higher purpose, compose story of a future possibility, how things will look when you overcome existing blocks, challenges or traumas. Allow yourselves to enter   Neil Gaiman’s world of “not yet(6), asking and then answering one or more of these three questions:

“What if … ?
If only …
If this goes on …”

© Graham Williams 2017


1. Cooper, Mick Presentation: Tree of Desires citing Klinger The search for meaning in evolutionary goal - theory perspective and its clinical implications. In P. T. P. Wong (Ed.), The human quest for meaning: Theories, research, and applications (2nd Ed)  New York: Routledge  2013
2. Rutte, Martin (2006) The Work of Humanity: project heaven on earth citing Patanjali (in Seeking the Sacred: leading a spiritual life in a secular world. (ed Mary Joseph) ECW Press, Toronto, Canada
3. Will Keepin’s Principles of Spiritual Leadership
4. The international Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC) (2013) The International ‘IR’ Framework, December 2013
5. Sheridan, Richard  Joy, Inc.: how we built a workplace people love Portfolio/ Penguin  2013
6. Gaiman, Neil  The View From the Cheap Seats: selected Nonfiction  Headline  2016