I want you to join me in an exercise in expanding your mind and opening your heart. The objective of this exercise is to help you become a better leader so it is worth your while to play along.
Imagine with me for the next few minutes that you are someone else entirely.
Your name is Sam.
You’ve spent the last few years in the web of a double life that has finally caught up with you.
Last week you were sentenced to 15 years in jail with no parole for smuggling drugs into the United States.
You had realised that your life had two sides to it, but it is only now that you have been delivered a huge wake up call.
You realise that your actions will devastate your colleagues, but more importantly, your family as well.
What do you do?
How will you survive one and a half decades in prison?
Would you turn to violence? Would you play the blame game, seeing yourself as a victim of circumstance?
This is an exercise in fantasy for you and me, but for one young person it was far from that. It was reality: at the age of 24, convicted of drug smuggling and destined to spend part of the 1980s and 1990s in a US federal penitentiary.
For the sake of consistency let’s call him Sam.
As he did his time Sam came to understand that there are three key things he could do to survive and thrive in this situation:
1. Completely owning your experience
2. Catalysing your awakening
3. Reclaiming your inner wisdom
I believe that this is also a pathway to becoming a better leader and Sam’s approach fits with my mantra of being fierce, removing our masks, tapping into our innate capacity for compassion and taking heroic action.
Completely Owning Your Experience
Sam realised that the only way to survive, the only way for him to finally walk out of this nightmare was to completely own the experience. He accepted that he was at fault and that his destiny was of his own making.
He decided to transform his life through developing a practice of meditation and deep contemplation. He went on to have a major impact on the lives of many prisoners by advocating for and providing access to mindfulness practices. Since his release from prison Sam has widened his work to influence people all around the world.
During his time in prison he came to see the world and his place in it for what it truly is.
He realised that if we simply allow ourselves to live an unexamined life we find ourselves on the evolutionary path with our mammalian drive for survival overriding everything. In this way we set ourselves up to follow fear based, habitual, mechanistic and survivalist lives. Layered on top of this we co-create a culture and set of institutions that are also blame and fear-based, habitual and mechanistic.
Even the most highly functioning of us are susceptible to and have the propensity to live unaware that we have condemned ourselves to follow such a fear-based, mechanical path.
You live your life in quiet desperation; you wait for a light bulb moment that never comes; you never really deeply examine your situation and you don’t realise that you are roving like a hungry ghost, finding fleeting security in whatever confirms your existence or your sense of worthiness; finding home in external confirmation of your ‘success’: your bank accounts, your job, or your relationships.
You haven’t really done the internal work necessary to find your true place, which has been residing within you all along yet has been cloaked by your an evolutionary override and peer-based cultural mask. You have an innate basic goodness that saturates and permeates through you. You can tap into this goodness through your tenderness and your vulnerability.
Catalysing Your Awakening
Finding yourself in a highly charged situation, facing your version of 15 years in prison, you have a choice. You can condemn yourself to continue living a habitual, fear-based life.
Or, preferably, you can use that moment as a catalyst to awaken yourself, increasing your compassion and becoming even more vulnerable. In choosing this awakened path you open yourself up to living a life of service to others, which is one of the highest things we can aspire to do as human beings. By doing so you not only give your life exponentially more meaning and fulfilment, but you also turn your compassion inwards and satiate your hunger for external confirmation.
Reclaiming Your Inner Wisdom
How do you get to the point of making such a choice, particularly if you are really struggling with the situation you have gotten yourself into?
You need to use self agency to break the conditioning so that you can start being more than a victim of this conditioning and the world you and society have constructed around you.
You need to use this self agency as a springboard for self empowerment. This will heighten your level of awareness and empower you to reclaim your inner wisdom, your innate goodness.
No matter how much the world seems to have conspired against you and convinced you of your unworthiness, you know, somewhere way back inside of you, you know this is all a mask and that you are innately good, you are innately wise.