On Using Change to Access Transformation

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In many ways, being an effective leader involves being able to dance with change. This is difficult when the predominant stereotype of the strong leader is one who is a bulwark against change: A strong and effective leader is one who controls such that changes are minimized, if not eliminated.

The problem is that that is not reality. Change is reality. Change is what happens, regardless of what a leader chooses to do. The best that s/he can do it to adapt to change in every moment, to roll with the proverbial punches.

Thus, a crucial and necessary stepping stone in the leadership development journey is to transform our relationship to change. We must embrace that change cannot be managed out but rather can be the access to transformation.

A mantra, or set of aspirational statements, which I’ve been practicing the past few weeks is below:

Change is an inevitable part of life.

May I be kind to whatever feelings come up.

May I stay anchored in this moment.

On Leadership as Holding Space

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“The most important aspect of being a leader is holding the space for things to get done.” – Marianne Williamson

One of the most difficult lessons I’ve had to learn as a general manager is that my work is different from when I was responsible for a specific area of the operations of my organization. Whereas before it was my job to see that my operational area was being handled so that the organization is functioning effectively, as a general manager, my work is to support my senior executive team in doing their work effectively.

One does not have to wait until they are a general manager to explore how leadership is about holding space for others. This kind of leadership is bodhissatva leadership. The bodhissatva is someone who commits to rousing compassion in themselves to help alleviate the suffering in others. The bodhissatva leader is the one whose leadership sees and draws out the best in others in order for them to realize their potential to make a difference in this world.

Like the parent who stands back and allows a child to learn from their own risk-taking and mistakes, so too the bodhissatva leader wisely allows those they lead to step into their own power.

To hold space is to ask: How might I support you in discovering your own answer?

A Starting Point for Wholeness

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I have never been a fan of being “anti-” anything. For example, being “anti-war” is not helpful because for such a situation to exist, “war” as a concept must exist for which “anti-” can be a response. This is why proponents of peace, like Thich Nhat Hanh and Rev. Michael Bernard Beckwith, prefer the idea of being “pro-peace.”

In a similar regard, I recently had a realization around my addiction. I saw that I was investing so much time and energy worrying about and being vigilant against my addiction that such worry actually creates the conditions for my addiction to be triggered. I realized that, rather than being “anti-addiction,” I need to be “pro-self-compassion” and “pro-nurturing.”

The best way to end the war with oneself is to start from the space where compassion and nurturing are the only possibilities for being whole.

On Bearing Witness to Our Own Suffering

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The past four days have been the most emotionally-exhausting and challenging I have experienced in a very long time. I have had to confront the pain and suffering my actions have caused others, especially my partner. And more importantly, I have had to dig deep to find that place of compassion and love for myself that is necessary to not have this turn into bitterness and self-fulfilling failure, but rather as the bold and powerful next step to finally dealing with my own self-destructive behavior.

I deal with an addiction that has, each day, robbed my spirit of its dignity and driven me to do things for which I am ashamed. It would be easy to punish myself, engaging in Catholic self-flagellation for my sins. … And I do. … Yet, there is also something to be said about allowing my heart to break open further to the world, to let in the ways in which all human beings do things that cause themselves and others suffering.

We are hard-wired to draw back from suffering, be it our own or others. It is something that our biology had developed over the years to protect us from physical danger, but which has since also numbed us to the day-to-day pain and hurt that go on in and around us.

To win back our dignity as human beings, … to have any hope of rising above those seemingly insurmountable challenges that rob us of our own light, … we must learn to bear witness to the suffering of ourselves and others.

Through the love and support of my partner, family and friends, I finally see a different place to begin to safely bear witness. That place is my commitment and intention to have the love for myself and others be greater than the addiction. Each time I am confronted, it is choosing the love for my self and others above those patterns of behavior that stand in my own way.

The Starting Point for Compassion

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One of the bodhisattvas that I most love is Quan Yin. Buddhist mythology holds that Quan Yin had an opportunity to achieve full enlightenment. Instead, she forwent enlightenment, saying that she would only cross that threshold when all beings have been freed from suffering. I’ve always seen this as the ultimate act of compassion. Yet, last night, I realized that for her to have achieved that level of compassion for others, she had to have shown the deepest compassion towards herself first.

In an age where we are attempting to do more, and therefore, have more things that we don’t get done, there are more opportunities for us to beat ourselves up. That’s when we need to show ourselves compassion.

The more I love about myself, the more of myself that I make available to others.

Accepting the Dark Parts

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This morning, I was reading The Foundations of Huna, by Dr. Matthew B. James. He was contrasting how in Western psychology, the tendency is for folks to look down upon the dark, unconscious parts of ourselves and to “go towards the light.” In comparison, Huna recognizes that the unconscious is part of human Being, and that accepting the unconscious parts allows us to access the higher parts of our Self. Therefore, we do not attempt to squelch the unconscious; rather, we embrace it.

Oh, so you mean: You gotta get through the bad stuff to get to the good stuff.

Yes, that’s what that means. …

As I continue to move through a more intentional process of self-exploration as part of my Lenten observance this year, this perspective is a useful one. It encourages me to have more compassion for myself as I move through and confront those things about myself that do not work for me anymore.


The Choices We Make

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Growing up, my alcoholic father was verbally abusive, calling me derogatory names like “faggot” and denigrating my mother. When I was 12, my mother brought me along to confront my father who was in bed with another woman. When I came out to my father, it was at the end of his rifle. I have every reason to dislike my father.

Now, my father is preparing for a procedure to excise a 2.5-cm tumor pressing against his pituitary gland. The only father I have is confronting the worst threat to his life since his days trudging through the swamps of Vietnam. The situation compels me to examine all the places in which I have not extended Compassion and Forgiveness to him.

What I’ve found in the search for Forgiveness and Completion is that I had an unfair expectation for my father. I got upset with him, because he made different choices than I would’ve had I been in his situation.

As much as I want to control what’s happening around me, the reality is people are different. When I can accept and begin from the place that people will have different reactions to and make different choices about situations, I free myself up to extend Compassion and see the Love in others.