Over the weekend, I attended a retreat with the Rev. Dr. Cynthia Bourgeault. She taught us a form of self-awareness and personal meditation called Centering Prayer. It’s all about letting go of daily distractions and finding new pathways into the heart. The method is simple and yet challenging for most of us. In silence, we simply release any thoughts and come back to our spacious soul. She spoke about the tyranny of thoughts in our lives and how our thinking drives us crazy.
Centering Prayer gives us a way to notice just how often we unconsciously live out of those thoughts. As our hearts become strong and clear through this spiritual practice, we are able to be present to divine goodness within us and are able to live out of our authentic self.
Our newspaper has a little section called “The Good Stuff” where people write in about some act of kindness bestowed upon them. I asked the editor of the newspaper how people respond to these stories and he said: “People love them!”
This morning a grandmother reported that she was in a Subway with her two little grandsons and after they ordered, she realized she did not have her wallet. She was embarrassed. Then a nearby woman—a stranger–stepped up and paid for their lunches. Our hearts do enjoy these instances of generosity.
Many times I automatically focus on what is wrong instead of what is right with things. What if I found “the good stuff” in the meeting rather than complain about what I thought were the weaker ideas? What if I found the “good stuff” in the rebate procedure (like getting $50. back) instead of grousing about the complicated process?
What if I released my automatic focusing on what is wrong with things? Perhaps then I will have some “good stuff” for our local newspaper.
A woman called yesterday and asked if I would be willing to talk to her brother. She said he was a busy executive and liked his work but felt like it had “overtaken” his life. Apparently he travels several times a month and is beginning to think that he does not spend enough time with his spouse and two small children. He said to his sister (who works at a church): “Don’t tell me I should change my work—not in this economy. I just need some coaching on how to handle the stress.” I told her I would speak to him and that perhaps the principles and practices of servant leadership could provide some alternative ways of being in his current job.
Many times, in our minds, we think that in order to lead more complete and fulfilling lives, we have to make a radical change—quit our jobs; move to another location; or divorce our spouse. These are external.
Real change happens within our hearts, which in turn, renews our minds. Often we avoid the internal change because we mistakenly believe that change will only happen if we alter the outside conditions.
True change is just the opposite—when we move the inside of us, then the outside sifts as well.
Someone left a message for me to call back. She said she wanted to discuss with me an offer I had already refused. I got irritated. I had already made up my mind. I did not want to do what she requested.
This reminded me of an experience with an aggressive salesperson who insisted on selling us an extended warranty. We said “no” four times. We almost left the store but, frankly, we did not want to weave through the traffic to get to the next place for the purchase.
Perhaps my irritation comes from my own ambivalence about making decisions. I second guess myself and wonder if the “other” choice might have been the better one. Maybe this appliance will break down in the next three years. Then I think of a counselor who gave me some good guidelines about many decisions we make each day. She called it “wanna.”
When we have looked at all sides of an issue, and it is a close call, she recommends just doing what you “wanna” do. This is: trusting your gut for a clear sense of what is right for you. Then we make the choice and repeat it to others over and over—if necessary.
I was walking through a park when I heard a bullhorn in the distance. When I turned a corner, a man was talking about the race that was about to begin and the cause it supported. As people stretched their legs, he talked about the research they were doing to find a cure for a particular kind of children’s cancer. As I walked along, I saw groups of people wearing different colored tee shirts. The blue team’s shirts said “Jason’s Bluebirds” and the green team’s “We love you, Casey.”
The teams began the race together but then all the colors got mixed up as the race progressed. Along the road where they ran, markers were set up every hundred yards with messages like: “We miss you, Toot Toot” or “For our brave Dennis. Love, Mom and Dad.”
There were hundreds of people joined together by something beyond their control doing something within their control.
Even when seemingly helpless, we do have choices.
I had a goal and a specific way that goal would show up in my life. I kept pushing for a young adult program in our community based on ones I knew about in two other cities. Nothing was happening. In fact, I kept getting push back.
On a Tuesday afternoon, I sat down and let go. I said to the universe: “I feel called to mentor young leaders. I thought this was a good idea but I am meeting resistance all over the place. Wrong timing? I do not know. So I let go and trust that if I am to mentor young leaders that something will reveal itself.” And the next day (I kid you not) the phone rang and a woman asked me to teach a graduate course in Nonprofit Management and Leadership for the local university. This offer was not anything I could have imagined—and yet it allows me to mentor young leaders.
When we make hairpin turns, we “put out to the universe” our heart’s desire and then we wait and watch to see what happens. Mystical, effortless, this is what happens when we trust our heart’s direction in leadership and life.
Recently I have visited two different buildings that serve the homeless population. In one building, the floor-to-ceiling windows let in natural light to a large room. The wall colors are hues of mild green and light blues. A bookshelf full of reading material lines one wall, and in another corner there is a couch, chairs, lamp and rug inviting conversation. I relax when I walk around as I take in the clean, spacious beauty of this place.
In the other building, I am met with signs on the outside of the building door: “Do not ring bell over and over—we will come as soon as we are able!!!” and “Required Meeting: You must Have a Signed Excuse for Missing the Meeting.” When I walk into the building there is an old dusty plastic plant leaning in the corner, and piles of old magazines on end tables that do not match. I walk into the restroom and a sign says: “It is stealing when you take toilet paper!” I tense up in this environment and want to leave as soon as possible.
Both environments speak volumes without words. What does your space communicate about you? Often our outside space communicates something about our inside space—and actually changing our outside space, in some mysterious way, facilitates change in our lives.
When in transition we hold onto the hope that the future will bring something different from the past or the present. Emily Dickinson said: “Hope is the thing with feathers
that perches in the soul.”
When I left one career for another, I felt like I was “in flight” from one branch to another—not sure if the next one would hold. I stayed on the first branch a very long time until my soul assured me that the next branch would most likely be steady.
Hope nudged me from one to the other and brought unexpected joy and surprises. What perches in your soul?
Leaders set moods. You witness this in any meeting. When the appointed leader displays a “bad mood” then this tends to infect others. Soon the meeting seems to be spiraling downward.
We can take responsibility for our moods and shift to another way of being in the moment. This begins with examining what we are saying to ourselves and then having some strategies to make a change. This is a hairpin turn.
Here are some ways to make a mood change: Change your physical posture—there is a connection between our body and our moods; Consider who you hang out with—if possible—as moods are contagious; Play some music. And remember that we cannot avoid our moods.
The turn occurs when we observe what is going on, make a choice to change and move to this new place available within us.
For the past two years, I have devoted a substantial amount of energy to a project—and I had high hopes for this work. Nevertheless, so far, the outcome has not matched my expectation. I am, in a word, disappointed.
I sat in this place for a few weeks and noticed how this feeling darkened my heart. Then I read something that turned me around in a different direction. “When depressed (disappointed) pause and kiss the ground.” I took this to heart and kissed what is present in my life right now—where I might focus some heart-filled attention: our daughter is graduating from college in a month; my husband is considering shifting from one kind of work to another; my friend just got a diagnosis of cancer (again).
Instead of wallowing in the gap between my high (maybe overblown?) expectation of something that is not happening, I am invited to “kiss” what is actually happening in my life right now.
When we make authentic hairpin turns in our lives, often we are brought back to the amazing aliveness of this present moment. What do you do with disappointment?