The Ultimate Cheat Sheet on Stress

You know the score: stress deeply impacts both our bodies and our brains, affecting our health and the incidence of disease. But stress as an overarching term for all forms of strain and tension is too simplistic. We need to differentiate between three types of stress if we want to explore ways to counter it and also if we want to contemplate if stress could even be good for us. In this post I explore the types of stress, the impacts of sustained stress and how to counter it.

Get this, current thinking on stress discerns three levels of stress:
1. Positive stress – going after something you want but are not guaranteed of getting, for example wanting a new job and stressing about the interview; stressing about giving a talk and wanting to be recognised for being knowledgeable; wanting to be the winner and being recognised for your athletic prowess and stressing about a marathon you’re running.
2. Negative stress – getting hit by a bad event and having the personal capability or access to support to pull through, for example being made redundant; the death of a parent.
3. Malignant stress – getting hit by an event that is beyond bad and for which you need to have the personal capability or access to any external support that can arrest your mental and physical downward spiral, for example the death of your spouse or child; losing your business that you invest a large chunk of your working life into building.

What’s the catch? You may not notice the impact of one stress event, but for most of us in the modern manic world what is truly dangerous is the compound affect a continuous stream of stress events has on breaking down our resilience without us taking the time to recover and regain our resilience.

So let’s take a closer look. When you are hit by a stress event your body automatically activates certain organs and deactivates others through a powerful cocktail of hormones that have evolved to provide you with the maximum resources required to overcome the cause of your stress. Theoretically, once the stress subsides your body returns to an equilibrium position.

However, when you are bombarded by a continuous stream of stress you don’t let your body recover. This contributes heavily to the probability of you succumbing to one of the modern stress pandemics: cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity.

Surprisingly enough you might not even feel stressed: you may get used to and even think you are thriving in your made environment of back-to-back long-haul flights, lack of sleep, constant noise, barrage of social interruptions, noxious fumes, excessive alcohol and overeating. Taken together over an extended period of time these are as dangerous to your health and well-being as one major malignant stress event. And what’s worse, is that we can be blissfully unaware of the affect this is having on us.

Why is all this so important? The impacts of sustained, heavy stress are twofold:
1. Negative rewiring – while neuroplasticity can be used as a tool to positively rewire our brains and behaviours, stress can lead to a negative rewiring in which our cognitive function is decreased. We may notice this through an increase in mood swings.
2. Decreased brain health – malignant stress events have been shown to suppress the regrowth of neutrons that are vital to ongoing brain health, especially as it relates to long-term memory and emotional responses.

And another thing, your ability to overcome stress and how you react to it can be partially predetermined: men are more likely to react through emotional outbursts or other forms of antisocial behaviour; women are more likely to develop depression; a nurtured childhood can increase the capability for remaining emotionally stable in the face of negative or malignant stress and even lead to you seeking out and thriving on positive stress.

What can you do now to overcome the stress overload?

So what’s the answer? There are four things you can do to proactively counter an overload of stress:
1. Building a fierce practice – through a combination of reinventing yourself to be more authentic, being more focused on what gives you meaning and undertaking regular mindfulness and breathing activities.
2. Getting physical – undertaking regular aerobic exercise such as walking, and especially walking in nature.
3. Sleeping more – increasing your sleep time by going to bed earlier, preparing for sleep by reducing screen time 30 minutes before bed and taking power naps during the day.
4. Flexing your stress muscle – exposing yourself to a balanced series of positive stress events can help you exercise your stress muscle and maintain a buffer to major, unexpected stress events, for example, by ensuring you regularly speak publicly.

 

A Lesson in Judging and Gratitude

Can I be totally honest with you? I’ve always struggled with the divide between professionals and blue collar workers.

This week I’ve had a reminder that such pre-judging is not helpful and can be downright dumb.

Picture the scene: my parents have lived at Greenpoint on the beautiful New South Wales Central Coast for a decade. Behind their property is a vacant piece of land owned by the Salvation Army who have a facility on the other side of the hill. This piece of land has always been covered with a large stand of blue gum trees, replete with all forms of Australian wildlife: there is a Australian crane, or brolga, that elegantly wanders around on its long legs; there are the tawny frogmouth owls that sleep alongside the other nocturnal creatures and come out at night to feed, there wide eyes scanning the forest for frogs, lizards and other insects they can gracefully swoop down on from their perch in the trees. It sounds idyllic doesn’t it?

But we knew this peace and quiet couldn’t last forever. The signs are everywhere on the Central Coast: traffic has increased exponentially, there is development going on all over. And there has been gossip over the last few years regarding the Salvation Army wanting to sell off this land for development, but these remained relatively distant rumblings.

Wham! Those rumblings became real when bulldozers moved in. Within weeks the lush bushland was turned into a wasteland of wood chips and the constant growl and beeping of various forms of earthwork equipment. Change was in the air.

And then double wham! The noise level rose even higher when a team started digging alongside the cul de sac that runs out front of my parents house so that they could lay further piping to the new development.

And the clinching triple smack to the head! Change was also in the air in my parents home; my father beat off prostate cancer six years ago, but was diagnosed ten months ago with stage IV lung cancer; he was never a smoker; he was super fit all his life, running ultra marathons when he was younger and until he retired he had been active on his feet in his profession as a veterinary surgeon. Whatever the reason for his primary tumour, by the time he realised the pain in his back was not simply muscle pain, the cancer had spread into numerous other places across his body including into his bones.

Can this really all be happening to one family? Sadly this is not an uncommon story and the more I look the more I uncover similar situations. Cancer is so pervasive in our society.

At the time of writing my father is in the final stages of his battle. He is currently in hospital; he’s heavily drugged on a mix of morphine and other pain medication; he has the occasional good day, but many tough ones.

And guess what? Yep, there is more. Sadly the situation is compounded: my mother has early-stage Alzheimer’s and often gets a little confused, which is exacerbated by what is happening both outside the house and with my father. She has been increasingly concerned that he will struggle when he comes home to deal with all the noise going on around the house. I haven’t had the heart to tell her that there’s a very strong likelihood that he will not be coming home again.

Unsurprisingly the noise outside has bothered her but not overly so, she is more concerned with how it may impact my father. Twice she has ventured up the road to talk to the work crew about the level of noise and how much longer they will take. Of course I’ve tried to dissuade her from doing so but she has persisted. I was relieved that the work crew were most polite with her on both occasions and apologised profusely for the noise they were making.

Thankfully she didn’t get angry with them, but the truth is that as her Alzheimer’s progresses she may become more aggressive in her behaviour. My concern is that one day she will venture out and be met with more resistance. Personally, I imagine a disgruntled blue-collar worker sick of dealing with work issues and my mother being on the receiving end of his frustration.

And then yesterday there was an unexpected knock on the door; my mother answered; standing there was one of the workers and he towered over her; in his hands he held a gift bag which he gave to my mother; it was filled with cards that his own mother had made and he was offering them as a gesture to say sorry for all the noise that his team was causing.

Astonishing isn’t it?

My mother came rushing up to my study. The look of pure joy on her face was priceless as she excitedly showed me what had just been delivered.

And boom? My preconceptions were smashed. This gently giant had set me straight. Who was I to pre-judge the workers outside? That negative thought of one of them berating my mother was quashed. I was filled with gratitude and an overwhelming sense of relief.

Yes the noise continues, yes my father is still very ill and yes, my mother’s Alzheimers progresses. Change is constant, but that one small, unexpected gesture of kindness has spread a warmth over my parents that is extremely powerful. My father had one of his best days in weeks and my mother is filled with newfound energy and focus.

There is no magic answer to dealing with change, to dealing with ageing parents and to overcoming life’s big and small testing moments. However, there is are some things we can do to make transitions easier and that is looking for the positive, delighting in the unexpected, not judging others and not letting negative thoughts swirl around our heads. In my book, Fierce Reinvention: A Guide to Harnessing Your Superpowers for Entrepreneurial and Leadership Success I delve into how you can overcome the tendency to pre-judge and avoid the negativity trap.

Get Ready for Fierce Reinvention

I’m excited to bring you news of the availability of my book Fierce Reinvention: A Guide to Harnessing Your Superpowers for Entrepreneurial and Leadership Success. The book is about behaviour change; it is a guide to the higher, transcendent level of leadership, compassion and fearlessness required to grow our humanness and stand tall against the tide of technological change and corporate disengagement swirling around us.

Launch date has been set for October 2nd, 2017; the pre-release paperback is available right now on Amazon; if you prefer to read it electronically, the digital version is on pre-order at all your favourite bookstores – Apple iBooks, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, to name a few; if you are a Kindle fanatic, the pre-order will be available in early July as they have a 90-day limit on pre-orders.

This book has been a two-year journey of love and passion for me triggered initially by my sudden cardiac death experience and, in the last 8 months, bookended by my father’s fierce fight with stage IV cancer.

I’ve grown in every moment of bringing it to fruition: sharing many of my thoughts with you in bite-size chunks; crystallising the operating system we use at EXOscalr into a more scalable version that can be implemented by anyone or any organisation and, thereby, progressing towards my moonshot goal of impacting 2 billion people by 2025; learning the intricacies of publishing in 2017 and comparing it to how it worked when I was in the industry in the 1990s – my takeout is that while still nascent and overly complicated, self-publishing rocks.

We will be working on a range of fun marketing and publicity activities as the campaign around Fierce Reinvention gathers steam. I would love to hear your thoughts on activities we could include in the campaign to get the book out to a wide audience.

I want to give a shout out to Linnae Pienaar for being the first person on the planet to buy a copy of the book. That’s her in the picture above, at home in Japan, proudly holding up her copy. Thanks for always being fierce, Linnae!

The website for the book is at fiercereinvention.com and I look forward to sharing more news with you over the coming months.

How Gently Seizing the Fierce Risk Can Surround You With Love and Improve Your Work and Personal Relationships

This post is about growing your humanness and spirit through constant metamorphosis and reinvention.

We are ready for reinvention when we become aware of the constraints of the chrysalis we have been living in. This awakening is accompanied by the realisation that it is time for us to extend beyond the capsule of self, the pod that has defined us; it is time for us to reinvent ourselves and, transformed, take off for expanded horizons.

Our egoic thoughts, our limiting beliefs and our behaviours form the capsule’s walls. While these may serve us in our earlier phases of self-development there comes a time when we need to move beyond them; this time is marked by our exposure to an expanded reality, which may be through a single catalytic event like a death in the family, the loss of a relationship or job or even your own near death experience as was the case for me; or this widening of our reality may be a more gradual process, hardly noticeable at first, but as we expose ourselves to more and more of it we open up to a greater and more faster flowing reality, much like a small drop of water that is initially flowing on the back of a leaf down a slow moving stream and, as that stream joins the more turbulent waters of a larger river, the drop slips off the leaf into the wider waters; the drop is now far more vulnerable, but has also opened to a much greater canvas of possibility.

We take on what I call ‘fierce risk’ when we have greater and greater exposure to unknowns, to danger outside of our control and to the possibility of loss; by letting go of the familiar, foregoing our sense of security and not holding onto comfort-generating, past experiences this fierce risk empowers us to feel more and more alive. Breaking out of our chrysalis and embracing our fears takes a special kind of bravery and courage that is wrapped up in a sensitivity to our surroundings; this situational responsiveness is beautifully encapsulated in the word ‘fierce’; it is not about ferociously cutlassing through the walls of our cocoon; nor is it about blindly stepping into the future; this is about living each moment as if it were our last, without filters, zero constraints and openly aware to the risks that come with doing so and being comfortable with the uncomfortableness that may arise.

Fierce risk requires of us that we be fiercely present: we are unconditional in meeting the moment, no ifs or buts, no regrets or wishes, however small, should sway us or hold us in check. When one of your staff enters your office and you are fiercely present they can tangibly feel your focus. When your young son asks you a question at the dinner table he can feel when you are there for him, as his father, and not lost in processing deadlines, emails and meetings.

In this contemplation I want us to think about the benefits of seizing each moment gently and with the openness of fierce risk. Our creature comforts and habits make this a hard thing to do; we identify with our capsule; we are attached to the pod that we live within; our egoic nature habituates control as a counter to fear; we strive for what we think we need; we hold onto what we value and what gives us security; we forage and scramble for fleeting happiness and avoid pain; death is perennially a taboo topic.

It is not easy to break down the walls of your capsule when so much of what you do on a daily basis is centered around strengthening them. These centering forces are either positively  or negatively aligned: positive forces include the need to control, the desire for fame, praise, recognition, success and the unquenchable thirst for pleasure; negative forces include the aversion to being blamed, avoiding pain and not recognising failure. Our pod is reinforced by the acquisition of more and more of these positive forces and the shedding of the negative ones.

What acts as a catalyst to our continued growth beyond our current capsule? What empowers us to break through the walls of our pod? Is there an event taking place in our lives that can act as a chrysalis trigger? Where are we sensing that trigger within our lives? Where do we find the walls of the capsule closing in on us? Where is the pod weakest that we may use this as a beachhead to break through?

Are you constantly trying to overachieve? Do you resent the behaviour of a member of your team to the point where you blame them even when they are not behaving ‘badly’. Do you fear the judgment of your peers. Do you self-medicate your stress with alcohol? Has you life partner walked out on you because you haven’t been present in the relationship for ages? Are you obsessively anxious about events you have little control over? These are all examples of the walls closing in on us. We can wrap ourselves in more tightly, keeping the outside world at bay, and ultimately give more power to the walls themselves; or we can see these things as triggers for us to step up, break out and begin to build a practice of being fiercely present and gently seizing the fierce risk.

A CONTEMPLATION ON FIERCE RISK

Picture your mind as part of the fast moving river we spoke of earlier.
Take a deep breath in and pause.
Open your mind and let the initial swirl of thoughts wash through.
As you slowly exhale, find yourself eddied out of the main current. You are close to the river bank and high overhead a willow tree’s branches and leaves offer you shade from the glare of the sun.
Take another, slower deep breath in and pause at the top of your breath.
As you breath out feel the air moving through you, feel yourself being more present within your body.
Now channel your thoughts and settle on a person who means a lot to you, someone who disquiets or excites your mind either because you are anxious about how they feel about you, you worry about how they may judge you or because you feel a responsibility or a duty of care towards them.
What is it that has been said between you?
What is it that has yet to be said?
How do you want them to judge you?
How are they currently relating to you?

Visualise your most recent encounter with this person.
What part of your ego showed up in this interaction?
What was your disposition, did any of your usual habits arise?
Was any fierce risk present in this engagement with them?
How would it feel to gently seize the fierce risk with them?
Would it feel like you are uncloaking from your old chrysalis?
Would it feel more open, more present, more vulnerable?

While your focus has been on a recent encounter with this person, think now about your next meeting with them. How might this be different without your current habits and egoic limitations?
In what way would fierce risk change how you relate to them?

One of the most powerful places for us to seize the fierce risk is in relation to the delusion of disrepute: we become self-absorbed with our unworthiness, we wallow in our reverie of shame, we are absorbed by our wickedness, we feel stupid and have a myriad of other self-deprecating thoughts. This delusion is particular prevalent when we deal with people who are important to us in our lives. One small comment from such a person at work can send us into a frenzy.

And so we opt instead to remain in our pod of comfort: what if I was totally myself and they didn’t like it? What if they pierced my veil and saw my doubts and fears? What would they think of me then, that I’m not worthy of my role, that I am not qualified to take on this position? This encapsulated delusion of disrepute closes in on us and is a powerful place for us to practice fierce risk. Instead of continuing the flow of such thoughts we empower ourselves to pause, to disentangle ourselves from them as they are simply thoughts, they do not define us.

Delve into these thoughts and feel out if by fostering them you are making them more powerful; picture what it would be like to cleanse yourself of these thoughts, do you feel a draw towards extending beyond them? If you do then you are ready to gently seize the fierce risk.

Focus again on the next time you are with this person of interest to you.
Imagine the place, the smell, the temperature, the sounds; visualise their eyes looking into yours, the expression on their face, the angle of their head; picture yourself gently seizing the fierce risk and opening to vulnerably being with that person; you are present in that moment without a need to control the situation.
Don’t allow any form of predisposed bias to intervene in this scene; if any past encounter tries to surface let it pass through you just as you let thoughts pass through your mind when you are meditating.
Try to see this person through fresh eyes, empty of any and all previous experiences;  as you do so take note of what you arises as if anew; seeing them as if for the first time what may you have previously missed.
As you allow fierce risk to enter this relationship and break through your chrysalis you will throw aside behaviours, filters and habits they may have prevented you from seeing the love in this person. That love is extremely powerful and can itself trigger you to find love in more and more people. This is the transformative power of reinvention at work. Let it lighten your life and the lives of all those you come into contact with.

Come back to the present moment and bring your fierce risk with you. Allow it to grow, from the size of a small, germinating seed as you break out of the bonds of your chrysalis and, over time, let it tower above and around you as you slip back into the waters of the fast flowing river of life.

Grow your humanness and spirit through constant metamorphosis and reinvention.

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As always, thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts. I do appreciate your continued interest in my work at EXOscalr and I love sharing my thoughts and insights with you.

The website for my upcoming book, Fierce Reinvention, is taking shape at https://www.fiercereinvention.com/. I’ll be making more announcements about the book soon!

I read all my email at rand@exoscalr.com and I’m also at +61 417 655 947 and  +1-650-529-4181. Feel free to reach out.

If you like what you read and want to get advance content in your inbox then sign up for my newsletter here: http://eepurl.com/bxGzD1.

Four Fierce Leadership Techniques to Self-Manage Stress Reduction

[Learn how fierce leadership can significantly reduce your stress and your response to it.]

Stress is an integral part of the modern workplace. When we harness it for short bursts of intense activity it can be positive. However, when it overpowers us it can ultimately become debilitating: our never ending task list has us stuck on a downward spiral of constant catchup mode and an “are we there yet?” mentality that breaks down our resilience and leads to burn out. We can counter and reverse this spiral by being fierce in our response to stress and changing both the way we process stressful experiences and how we get back to our baseline of equilibrium and openness.

There are four self-management methods we can use as fierce leaders to reduce stress and change our response to it:
1. Transforming your narrative and renaming;
2. Consistently accessing your internal guidance system;
3. Easing yourself into the pressure; and
4. Shifting rewards to different behaviours.

Transforming your narrative and renaming

On retreats I like to use an exercise to show the prevalence of narrative and how it can influence and impact our decision-making, performance and well-being. There are usually around 40 people at this session. I choose 9 volunteers, divided into 3 teams. The first 3 are going to start the exercise and the second and third teams are asked to leave the room for now. The first 3 are given a set of blank post-it notes and tasked with labelling 5 items within the room. They must then each create a narrative around those items based on how they’ve labelled them and share that with the rest of the attendees, other than with the teams who are still waiting outside the room. The second 3 are then invited to rejoin the group and create their own narrative based on the first 3’s set of labels. They are then asked to be 100% more positive and upbeat and then they are tasked with renaming the labels on the 5 items according to their new emotions. The 3rd team is then invited into the room and asked to create a narrative based on the upbeat labels team 2 has applied.

This exercise demonstrates three things. Firstly, that it can be random as to how we name things and situations we encounter. And that everyone may see the same thing, but give it a different name. Try another simpler exercise: go for a drive with your partner and identify 5 things on your drive for each of you to name. Get them to write these down. Are any labelled the same? How about all 5? The following day ask your partner to be fierce, take a few deep breaths and rename these 5 items, while you activate your fight or flight mode and rename them yourself. Do you see a marked difference?

Secondly, the retreat exercise demonstrates that the names and labels we apply to things, experiences and perceptions and the narrative that we generate as a result can significantly influence much of our subsequent actions and behavior.

Thirdly, and most importantly, this exercise demonstrates that by choosing to rename we can transform things and ourselves.

Consistently accessing your internal guidance system

Leadership is partially about being able to analyse complex inputs on a constantly shifting landscape and making impactful decisions within sometimes severe time constraints. This is a foundational skill for leaders. Fierce leaders re able to build on this skill by creating a strong internal guidance system that includes their principles and values, but also takes into consideration the goal, mission and purpose of their organisation and the meta-landscape within which their organisation is operating. While this guidance system is not rigid, fierce leaders parse their decisions against their system to ensure that it is directionally correct. When a leader has access to all the information on a situation and can take their time in coming to a decision then it may not seem so important for them to check in with their guidance system. However, leaders are seldom presented with all the information and have to make decisions under immense time and external pressures, such as competing interests wanting to ensure a decision is made that suits them. These are the times when fiercely adhering to a strong internal guidance system can be essential.

Fierce leaders are more likely to provide consistently sounds decisions and set compelling strategies because they are clear on who they are and on why they have showed up in their role.

Easing yourself into the pressure

How do you currently dealt with high pressure situations? Most people amp themselves up and let their evolutionary fear mechanisms take over: they tense their muscles and jaw, narrow their eyes and breath shallowly to conserve oxygen and energy; they try to focus in on the threat instinctively believing that by doing so they will be tackle it head on and dissipate it quickly. It may seem counterintuitive, but fierce leaders don’t let evolution take over: they relax their muscles and jaw, open their eyes wider and take long, slow and deep breaths: they consider the wides array of factors impacting on a situation. Essentially, fierce leaders ease themselves into the pressure. This affects the situation dramatically: by opening up instead of closing down they release some of the pressure around that event, which gives them clearer headspace within which to make decisions and take action.

Shifting rewards to different behaviours
A high pressure situation that demands our attention and decisive action can be a catalyst for us to revert to default habits. We can modulate the impact of a habit by unpacking it into its three core elements: the trigger, which catalyses it – in our example, a high pressure situation; the constitutional habitual behavior itself – how we react to the high pressure situation; and the reward we receive for presenting this behavior – the high pressure situation is diverted. Directing our attention to each of these elements separately gives us more power of choice. We may not like the behavior that is triggered by a particular high pressure situation and undertake to not let it be triggered in the future. While it is true that whatever we pay attention to and become aware of will begin to change, focusing on the trigger is not sufficient to bring about meaningful change in our habits. This is particularly true in the modern workplace where leaders face a constant barrage of high pressure situations and their is no respite from trigger events during which we can take the time to shift our habits. However, we can make meaningful change happen in real time by focusing on the third habitual element: the reward, and shifting it to a different behavior. Consider whether the reward you are getting is leading to outcomes you want for your business and yourself. If not, this is a sign that you should make a change in reward-behaviour placement.

Karen is slammed with meetings preparing for year end. At the same time she’s dealing with leadership counterparts at a company that is merging with hers, and they are becoming a little tricky. Matthew is a senior member of her team, but in the last month things have not been going well for him as his sales team has lost two big accounts. He also has a penchant for barging into Karen’s office unannounced.

It’s a Tuesday morning and she is having a meeting with the merger company CEO in an hour and is grappling with some of the intricacies of the deal, when Matthew walks in and interrupts her train of thought. He blurts out that they have lost a really strategic account. This is like a red rag to a bull. She doesn’t see the worry lines on his face, nor does she hear the nervous quaver in his voice. All she sees is an object of intense and immediate frustration and a focal point for her to direct the anger that has been building up since the merger began a few months ago.

She blasts Mathew, telling him she is extremely disappointed with him and asking how he could have let yet another monumental disaster happen. She doesn’t wait for an answer. Did he not know how difficult this would make her bonus discussions with the board in two weeks? She stands up from her desk and ushers him to her door, shouting down the corridor for him to fix the situation by the end of the day or polish his resume. She slams her door closed knowing full well that the entire office has heard her outburst. She pauses for a moment, smiling inwardly and rewarding herself with the thought that she has yet again shown up an employee and is still in control.

A week later the merger is continuing to hound Karen and the end of year results are not looking good. She arrives back at her office at 7 AM after having taken a coffee break and finds Matthew waiting outside. She steels herself, fully expecting to have another outburst, and as she sits down behind her desk calls him in, “What now?” He tells her that he has managed to not only turn around the situation with the three clients that had threatened to walk but that his team has closed another large account. She relaxes her shoulders and thinks to herself that Matthew’s newfound abilities are a direct result of her outburst at him.

But then Matthew does something unexpected: he hands her a manila envelope telling her it’s his resignation letter. How will she explain to the board that not only has the company had the worst performance since she took over the reign, may not complete the merger and that she has also lost one of her star performers. She certainly hadn’t seen this coming and it was not the result she had been looking for when she shouted at Matthew.

Let’s break this case study down into its core habitual elements. Karen was under stress and was triggered by Matthew announcing the loss of an important client account.  The behavior this triggered was her shouting at him for not living up to expectations. The reward was that she felt powerful, in control and released some of her intangible frustration. It’s unintended and counterproductive consequence was the loss of a valuable member of staff.

Had she noticed the signs she would’ve seen that not only was he nervous, but he also was sleep deprived. This pointed to him caring a lot about the situation. But what she didn’t know was that Matthew’s mother had passed away the day before and the loss of the strategic accounts was due to a policy change that Karen had signed off on a month before.

        “Leaders are constantly one piece of information away from a breakthrough shift in mindset.” 

Had she known this she might have reacted very differently, but with a long history of similar outbursts and a string of disengaged and former staff it is unlikely that she would not react in this way with other people in the future. Instead of trying to prevent such trigger events from happening, she could have changed the situation significantly by shifting the reward to a different behavior such as feeling compassion towards Matthew.

By holding back her frustration and opening up to the situation more fully she may have noticed his elevated anguish and realised that something else was at play than loss of face or the fear of losing his job. Asking him how he was doing may have released a flow of emotion. He had intended to ask for time off to deal with his personal loss and wanted to not only tell her why clients were bailing, but also how he planned to turn the situation around. Giving him the opportunity to open up would not only have assuaged his anguish and fears, increased his engagement within the company and elevated her as a leader in his eyes, but it would also have made her feel good, in control and reduced her frustration and stress.  Matthew would have become a more trusted member of her team, something that she sorely lacked. Same result, different behavior and a very different outcome.

 

11 Reasons Business Executives Must Reinvent Themselves as Fierce Leaders

Over the last few decades there has been an accelerating growth in self-centred, exploitative management and dehumanisation in the corporate workplace. Recently there has been a silent revolt against this unprecedented epidemic as evidenced by the astronomically high levels of corporate disengagement, particularly amongst the newer generations entering the workforce. How can leaders reinvent themselves and adopt a more humanistic management ethos to counter this epidemic? It requires nothing short of becoming a fierce leader: creating an embodied practice of management that includes qualities such as respect, empowering leaders to influence for better rather than worse and ultimately this will create a magnetic attractor for top talent who reject outright working in degrading environments.

What does it mean to be fierce as a leader?
We know it when we see it in action: when I stood on the Grand Parade in Cape Town as Nelson Mandela gave his presidential inauguration speech in 1994 my eyes filled with tears. He embodied fierce leadership in every fibre of his being; his presence and poise in the face of decades of dehumanising behavior was unforgettable. But we also know it when we see it in the mannerisms of a board member or the attitude of an executive running a team meeting: they are fully in the moment.

The four critical elements to being a fierce leader
Fierce leadership requires us to train our minds.  This training creates a formidable practice so that we can deal with modern day business and our susceptibility to the following situation: as a result of being constantly subjected to the 24 seven pressures of work and despite our best intentions, our resilience can break down even in noncritical situations and we can revert to bad-management-autopilot.

However, there are four critical elements to building a fierce leadership practice that help prevent this type of autopilot from kicking in. We do need to constantly tend to our practice by nurturing and supporting these elements.  We should see these elements as both aspirational and practical and use our best efforts to work on being stronger at each one individually as well as together.

1. Altruism and humanity –
Seeing beyond our current office and role and being aware that we are part of something bigger than ourselves and our organisations gives us a capacity for much deeper understanding. It also increases our capability to take a serving stance through which we treat others as human beings rather than exploiting them as objectified resources.

2. Lucid clarity –
Dealing with what is showing up in the moment, what is here now as opposed to what happened in the past (“this is the way we’ve always done things around here”) or what is projected to happen (“if we can close this deal we will sell our products and more parts of the world”).

3. Imaginative openness –
Considering all angles and holding diametrically opposed points of view in our heads as we work through the implications of the choices we make is crucial. This requires both a highly developed imagination and ensuring there is sufficient spaciousness in our minds within which to explore, over and above all the clutter of a busy daily executive life.

4. Core focus –
Determining what we want to focus our attention on and maintaining that focus despite a myriad things trying to take us off task.

The benefits of a fierce leadership practice
As our practice grows we find ourselves:
* influencing more often for better than worse in not only the big impactful decisions we make, but also every minute of every day;
* becoming more focused and this lucidity of thought gives us the opening to deal innovatively with situations based on our efforts to deeply understand what they mean for us and others and compassionately realising the consequences impact of our choices;
* shifting our stance to lead by inspiration rather than expectation;
* finding ourselves considering others in their positions with more openness and respect
* becoming aware very quickly when thoughts aren’t true to ourselves and having the ability to redirect before we react
* more often exuding qualities that engaged people look for such as kindness and humour, and being more highly communicative – as fierce leaders we do this despite these qualities not necessarily being reflected in our organisational KPIs;
* finding ourselves getting more stuff done because we are more confident, have increased emotional intelligence, are more collaborative and have a greater ability to influence others;
* rejecting the negative narrative we may form around not being on 24 seven and being able to control when we communicate to only those times when we can be more actionable, considered and effective – this in turn frees us up to be more present in our daily non-work related activities such as exercise and family time and also frees up our people from following the bad precedent we were setting by, for example, emailing them at 11h30pm and expecting an immediate response;
* more able to be resilient and pause in any situation, no matter high pressured, and check in with ourselves how we are feeling about that situation before reacting – are we subject to any biases, is our response going to have unintended consequences, are we being mindful of all the variables at play;
* and at times of uncertainty when it feels like taking any action would be like stepping off a cliff, we are able to comfortably take that first step because we are capable of listening to our inner wisdom and trusting more completely in the unfolding without needing to always control or force what will happen.

Individual fierce leadership can also rapidly activate a culture of being fierce across an organisation which creates a strong magnetic attractor for top talent.

In subsequent posts I will go into more detail on how to build a fierce leadership practice and realise its benefits.

How to Find Universal Truth through Emptiness

This is a spiritual contemplation on rebooting the ultimate universal program. Find a quiet space to read through it slowly, breathing deeply and slowly and let a feeling of deep peace come over you.

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The challenge many of us face is that we know too much to see the universal truth: the transcendent, fundamental and spiritual reality.

In order to be able to receive this reality we need to clear out our systems; we need to empty our minds. Using the analogy of a room, our windows have become murky with ego-induced fog and the dusty grime of past knowledge. To see the truth we need to open these windows and let the breeze empty out our memories, presumptions and thoughts; in modern technology terms we need to clear our cache and wipe our entire operating system before rebooting ourselves with the ultimate universal program. Only once truly clear can that same breeze gently carry the truth into us.

For many of us, our logic states that knowledge is truth: absolute knowledge is absolute truth. However, when we observe how we acquire knowledge we start to see the flaw in this logic: knowledge requires us to firstly observe something; secondly we need to understand what we are observing; and thirdly we commit that observation and understanding to memory and classify that as knowledge.

What we are then able to recall from our memories on any given topic is what constitutes our knowledge of that topic.

The challenge with this logic is that a memory by its very nature is from the past. Knowledge stored in memory is a recollection, it cannot be of the present. We start to see the fatal flaw in this logic when we realise that there can be no memory in the present, yet the truth cannot exist in the past. The truth exists only in the present; the truth flows and pulses continuously; the truth cannot be grasped and converted into knowledge.

Our minds are unable to comprehend this universal truth until we empty them of all structural layers; until we deconstruct the self-created constraints and societal barriers; until we cease our incessant striving to acquire more or to be something or not be something.

When our minds become empty, the silence creates the space for the universal truth to be revealed: the truth becomes comfortable within us when we are not trying to hold onto it and convert it into knowledge; by letting the truth be and allowing it to achieve equilibrium it becomes as comfortable within us as it is without. We become one with the universe.

To contemplate further on the delicate dance between emptiness and universal truth, I am sharing this beautiful piece by the Tibetan monk Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche, as translated by Erik Pema Kunsang:

The Mirror of Essential Points
A Letter in Praise of Emptiness

I pay homage at the lotus feet of Tenpey Nyima,
Who is inseparable from lord Longchen Rabjam
And who perceives the natural state of emptiness
Of the ocean-like infinity of things.

A letter of advice I offer to you, my noble mother Paldzom.
Listen for a while without distraction.
Staying here without discomfort,
I am at ease and free from worries
In a state of joyful mind.
Are you well yourself, my mother?

Here, in a country in the west,
There are many red and white-skinned people.
They have all kinds of magic and sights,
Like flying through the skies
And moving like fish in the water.
Having mastery over the four elements
They compete in displaying miracles
With thousands of beautiful colors.
There are innumerable spectacles
Like designs of rainbow colors.
But like a mere dream when examined
They are but the mistaken perceptions of mind.

All activities are like the games children play.
If started, they can never be finished.
They are only completed once you let them be,
Like castles made of sand.

But that is not the whole story.
All the phenomena of samsara and nirvana,
Although thought to be permanent, do not last.
When examined, they are but empty forms
That appear without existence.
Although unreal they are thought to be real.
But, like an illusion when examined, they are found to be unreal.

Look outward at the perceived objects.
Like water in a mirage
They are more delusive than delusion.
Unreal, like a dream or a magical apparition,
They resemble a rainbow or the reflection of the moon.

Look inward at your own mind!
It seems quite exciting when not examined.
But when examined there is nothing to it.
Appearing without existing it is nothing but empty.
It cannot be identified, you cannot say, “that’s it,”
Because it is evanescent and elusive like mist.

Look at whatever appears
In any of the ten directions.
No matter how it manifests,
The thing in itself, its very nature,
Is the sky-like nature of the mind
Beyond the projection and the dissolution of thought and concept.

Everything has the nature of being empty.
When the empty looks at the empty,
Who is there to look at something empty?
As it is illusion looking at illusion
And delusion watching delusion,
What is the use of many classifications
Such as `empty’ and `not empty?’

Whatever you do is all right.
However you rest, you are at ease
In the effortless and sky-like nature of the mind,
The vast expanse of awareness,
The natural state of all things.
This was said by Jetsun Padmasambhava
And the great siddha Saraha.

All conceptual thought constructions
Such as duality or nonduality,
Leave them to be spontaneously dissolved in themselves
Like the waves on a river.

The great demon of ignorant and discursive thought
Causes one to sink into the ocean of samsara.
But when freed from this discursive thought
There is the indescribable state beyond conceptual mind.

Other than mere discursive thoughts
There are not even the words `samsara’ and `nirvana.’
The total subsiding of discursive thought
Is the suchness of dharmadhatu itself.

Not made complex by complex statements
This unfabricated single sphere
Is emptiness, the natural state of mind.
Thus it was said by the Sugata.

The essence of whatever may appear,
When simply left to itself,
Is the unfabricated and uncorrupted view,
The dharmakaya mother of emptiness.

All discursive thoughts are emptiness
And the observer of emptiness is discursive thought.
Emptiness does not destroy discursive thought
And discursive thought does not obstruct emptiness.
The mind nature of fourfold emptiness
Is the ultimate of everything.
Profound and quiescent, free from complexity,
An uncompounded, luminous clarity
Beyond the mind of concepts.
This is the depth of the mind of the victorious ones.

In this there is not an object to be removed
Nor something that needs to be added.
It is merely the natural
Looking naturally into itself.

In short, when the mind has fully severed
The fetters of clinging to something
All the points are condensed into one.
This is the tradition of the supreme being, Tilopa,
And of the great pandita Naropa.

Such a profound and natural state as this,
Among all the different kinds of bliss,
Is the one known as the wisdom of great bliss.
Among all kinds of delights
It is the king of supreme delight.
Among all the tantric sections of the secret mantra
It is the supreme fourth empowerment.
This is the ultimate pointing out instruction.

The view of samsara and nirvana as inseparable,
And that of mahamudra, dzogchen, the middle path and others,
Has many different titles,
But only one essential meaning.
This is the view of Jamgon Mipham.

As an aid to this king of views
One should begin with bodhicitta
And conclude with dedication.

Through skillful means, in order to cut off
The fixation of ego, the root of samsara,
The king of all great methods
Is unsurpassable bodhicitta.

The king of perfect dedication
Is the means of increasing the root of virtue.
This teaching is the specialty of Shakyamuni,
Which is not taught by other teachers.

More than this is not necessary
To accomplish complete enlightenment,
But less than this will be incomplete.
This swift path of the three excellencies
Called the `heart, eye and life force’
Is the approach of Longchen Rabjam.

Emptiness, the wishfulfilling jewel,
Is unattached generosity.
It is uncorrupted discipline.
It is angerless patience.
It is undeluded exertion.
It is undistracted meditation.
This emptiness, the essence of prajna,
Is the meaning of the three vehicles.

Emptiness is the natural state of mind.
It is the nonconceptual refuge
And the absolute bodhicitta.
It is the Vajrasattva who absolves evils.
It is the mandala of perfecting accumulations.
Emptiness is the guru yoga of dharmakaya.

To abide in the natural state of emptiness
Is the `calm abiding,’ shamatha.
To perceive it vividly clear
Is the `clear seeing,’ vipashyana.

The view of the perfect development stage,
And the wisdom of bliss and emptiness in the completion stage,
The nondual great perfection,
And the single sphere of dharmakaya
Are all included within emptiness.

Emptiness purifies the karmas
and dispels the obstructing forces.
Emptiness tames the demons
And accomplishes the deities.

The profound and natural state of emptiness
Dries up the ocean of passion.
It crumbles the mountain of anger
And illuminates the darkness of stupidity.
It calms down the gale of jealousy,
Defeats the illness of the kleshas
And is a friend in sorrow.
It destroys conceit in joy
And conquers in the battle with samsara.
It annihilates the four Maras,
Turns the eight worldly dharmas into same taste
And subdues the demon of ego-fixation.
It turns negative conditions into allies
And turns bad omens into good fortune.
It causes true and complete enlightenment
And gives birth to the buddhas of the three times.
Emptiness is the dharmakaya mother.

There is no teaching higher than emptiness.
There is no teaching swifter than emptiness.
There is no teaching more excellent than emptiness.
There is no teaching more profound than emptiness.

Emptiness is the `knowing of one that frees all.’
Emptiness is the supreme king of medicines.
Emptiness is the nectar of immortality.
Emptiness is spontaneous accomplishment beyond effort.
Emptiness is enlightenment without exertion.

By meditating on emptiness
One feels tremendous compassion
Towards the beings obscured by belief in a self
And bodhicitta arises without effort.

All the qualities of the path and levels
Will appear naturally without any effort,
And towards the law of the unfailing effect of karma
One will feel a heartfelt conviction.

If one has but one moment of certainty
In this kind of emptiness
The tight chains of ego-fixation
Will shatter into pieces.
This was said by Aryadeva.

It is more supreme to meditate on emptiness
Than to offer all the infinite buddhafields,
Filled with the wealth of gods and men,
To the sugatas and their spiritual sons.

If the merit of resting evenly,
Just for an instant in this natural state,
If it would take on concrete form
The element of space could not contain it.

Shakyamuni, the peerless lord of the Munis,
Threw his body into pyres of fire,
Gave away his head and limbs
And performed hundreds of other austerities
For the sake of this profound emptiness.

Although one fills the world with huge mounds
Of gold and jewels as offerings,
This profound teaching on emptiness,
Even when searched for, is hard to find.
This is said in the Hundred Thousand Verses of the Prajnaparamita.

To meet this supreme teaching
Is the splendid power of merit
Of many aeons beyond measure.

In short, by means of emptiness
One is, for the benefit of oneself,
Liberated into the expanse of the unborn dharmakaya,
The true and complete enlightenment
Of the four kayas and the five wisdoms.
Then the unobstructed display of rupakaya
Will ceaselessly manifest to teach whoever is in need,
Stirring the depth of samsara for the benefit of others
Through constant, all-pervading and spontaneous activity.
In all the sutras and tantras this is said
To be the ultimate fruition.

How can someone like me put into words
All the benefits and virtues of this,
When the Victorious One with his vajra tongue
Cannot completely elucidate them all, even if he speaks for an aeon?

The glorious lord, the supreme teacher,
Who gives the teachings on emptiness,
Appears in the form of a human being
Though his mind is truly a buddha.

Without deceit and hypocrisy
Supplicate him from your very heart.
Without needing any other method
You will attain enlightenment in this very life.
This is the manner of the all-embodying jewel
Which is taught in the tantras of the great perfection.
When you have this jewel in the palm of your hand
Do not let it go to waste meaninglessly.

Learning, like the stars in the sky,
Will never come to an end through studies.
What is the use of all the various kinds
Of teachings requested and received?
What is the use of any practice
Which is superior to that of emptiness?

Do not aim at many disciplinary costumes,
Such as carrying a staff, wearing braids and animal skin.
The elephant is already in your house,
Do not go searching for its footprints in the mountains.

Mother, meditate on the essence of mind
As it is taught by the master, the vajra holder.

This is the quintessence of the essence
Of all the eighty-four thousand teachings.
It is the heart substance of a billion
Learned and accomplished ones.
It is the ultimate practice.

This advice from the core of the heart
Of the fallen monk Jamyang Dorje
Is the purest of the purest essence
From the bindu of my life blood.
Therefore keep it in your heart, mother.

These few words of heart advice
Were written in a beautiful countryside,
In the palace of the spacious blue sky
That competes with the splendor of divine realms.

To the devoted Chokyi Nodzom,
My dear and loving mother,
And to all my devoted students
I offer this letter of advice.

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Surfing: An Altered State Inducer

I’ve been surfing for over 40 years and still love it. To me it is a fantastic way to build up brain waves conducive to entering an altered state of consciousness and especially acts as a trigger for getting into a state of flow.

It’s even been shown that just 5 weeks of exposure to surfing can dramatically reduce Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

I wanted to share with you this fantastic video shot at one of my favorite surf spots in the world, Wategos Beach in Byron Bay on the far north coast of New South Wales, Australia. I hope it inspires you as much as it does me and I look forward to seeing you in the line up!

MCTAVISH TRIM -FURTHEST UP THE BEACH 2017 from McTavish Surfboards on Vimeo.

Transcendent Near-Death Experiences : Key Learnings for Leadership and Engagement

Imagine for a moment what it would be like working in an organisation that is under huge pressures to grow, to transform itself and to beat the competition; an organisation that is mandated to do more with less and to do more differently rather than following the status quo. For many of us this is a daily reality. We can palpably feel the sense of urgency these pressures create.

Every moment of every day such an organisation is very likely to be under real existential threat: existing competitors are trying to grab our customer base and startups are gunning to make us irrelevant with disruptive solutions. Now imagine that your leaders not only fear organisational irrelevancy and death, but also fear their own professional and actual death:  these leaders are caught between the need to change and charge ahead and the paralysing fear of not existing.

Two main questions arise from this all too common situation: firstly, how can such leaders lead well when they are stuck like deer in existential headlights worrying that they could drop dead at any moment; and secondly, how can a person survive and thrive when they are working in such a company for such fearful leaders; how can people be expected to find purpose and meaning in their work; how can they remain engaged when they are working within such an environment of existential fear?

The short answer to both questions is that they cannot and the workplace surveys reflect this: big time. There is a paucity of purposeful leadership: by purpose I mean a goal that is bigger than our company’s results or share price. There is also a massive breakdown in staff engagement within the corporate universe.

To tackle this problem leaders need to be able to overwrite their fears; alter their reality and reinvent themselves; they need to be happier with greater overall life satisfaction, more in tune with a higher purpose and completely devoid of their previous fear of death.

This is not a trivial problem to solve for and the two overarching questions that emerge are: how can we as business leaders find a solution to this paralysing and very real corporate pandemic; how can we help our executives to deal with their fear?

The answer lies in confronting that which we fear most: no matter how uncomfortable it may feel, we need to stare death in the face. On the face of it this may not seem possible: how can we truly confront death without dying ourselves? Surely that would defeat the purpose?

There is an elegant solution: exploring death through the eyes of people who have been there and come back, exploring death through people who have undergone a near-death experience. Why them? Many NDEers no longer fear death.

In a study published in 2004 on near-death experiences and their impact on the  temporal lobe, Brown University’s Willoughby Britton made a startling discovery: people who had transcendent encounters during life-threatening events scored exceptionally higher on tests of overall life satisfaction than people who hadn’t. She referenced thirty years of research to show that while most people were negatively impacted and traumatised by their near-death experience, a subset who had experienced some form of transcendence had an atypical response: they exhibited off the charts happiness and life satisfaction, including feeling that their lives had meaning and a higher purpose.  By transcendence I refer to some experience that has the quality of being beyond the normal constraints we feel: linear time collapses; the well-defined sense of self dissolves; there is unity between the internal and external senses; there is reconnection back into a larger, collective otherness than the present life experience. Not all NDEers experience this transcendence, but a great many have.

Further research has demonstrated that this is not a one-off feeling that dissipates in the short to mid term. People who have undergone a transcendent NDE have had their brains permanently rewired so that they do not fear death. As long as a decade after such an NDE, those who have experienced it feel the same level of happiness, reverence and lack of existential fear.

Three years after my own transcendent NDE I can personally attest to this: yes, it took me a while to deal with the shock of my sudden cardiac death, there were moments of emotional turmoil along the way; yes, it took me a while to recuperate from my illness as only another major operation 10 months laterremoved the arrhythmia that had caused my cardiac arrest; but yes, I have absolutely overwritten and have no fear of dying whatsoever; and resoundingly yes, I have completely reinvented my life and have off the charts life satisfaction as I pursue a far greater purpose than my own selfish success or that of one organisation.

It would be impractical for organisations to only use transcendent NDE survivors as their leaders, but I would encourage dialogue with people like myself who are open to sharing our experiences and key learnings; people who are focused on improving leadership skills and helping executives to reinvent themselves with many of the traits that transcendent NDEers exhibit such as deeper compassion and wisdom.

There is also greater understanding of how to create an on tap emulation of the effects of a transcendent NDE and I encourage you to follow this growing activity more closely.  It is an area we are exploring at EXOscalr. There will be a lot to gain from having first mover advantage in being able to recreate altered states of consciousness.

How To Change Our Relationship To Negative Feelings

I want to share with you some thoughts around how we can change our relationship to negative feelings through meditation.

Our aim in meditation is to form a different relationship to things we are feeling or experiencing. Initially this is true for us while we are in practice, but over time our objective is to expand this relationship into our everyday lives. Take for example a feeling of irritation we have at somebody for something they have done or failed to do.

What is your relationship to that feeling?

Are you stuck with that feeling, is it replaying over and over in your mind? This constant replay is a form of reinforcement. Neuro-plasticity works both ways.

Can you step back from that feeling? Start by recognizing it, deconstructing the various elements of that feeling into its constituent parts.

Can you now start to change your thinking about that feeling? Hold back your initial, troubled reaction to it and replace that with a sense of calm, a sense of spaciousness.

Does this create a space between their act of doing or not doing and your feeling towards it?

Does it help you separate out the act and the emotion it initially gave rise to?

We want to get to the point where we are no longer reinforcing the negative and instead are linking a difficult feeling with the deep well of open, untroubled awareness that exists within us. This leads to a relaxation of the need to react to a negative feeling and immediately disempowers that feeling.

We find ourselves less controlled by such feelings; we find ourselves less in fear of being in situations that may give rise to them and therefore less likely to avoid such circumstances. This is at the heart of being fierce.

And when we are more relaxed overall we find ourselves being less fatigued, more productive, more emotionally intelligent and we make more strategic decisions:  this is at the heart of being better leaders.

When we arrive at the understanding that we can change our brains through our minds, we empower ourselves to transform our lives.  

By peering mindfully into our lives when we meditate we can start to establish patterns and see what is transpiring in our personal, societal and work relationships. This leads to us seeing, sometimes for the very first time, when we are thinking negatively and inviting chaos by reacting emotionally to similar situations that repeat themselves at regular intervals in our lives. For example, we may find that at around two years into a personal relationship our voice of doubt gets louder and we become jealous and react in a relationship-destroying way, or we may find that there is a time frame in a job when the honeymoon is over, we become bored and we start negative behaviors that are career-limiting.

A Guided Self-Awareness Meditation

I’d like to finish with a guided meditation that focuses on embodiment: a great way for us to quieten negativity. In this exercise I will ask you to connect to a mindful awareness of your feelings both at a mental and physical level. I will ask you to go deeper and deeper into this awareness and lower any barriers that exist. I want you to feel that you are in a safe place from which you can delve further into this awareness and lower any barriers that exist.

The aim of this practice is to increase your awareness of the full range of embodied feelings that may arise and to be comfortable with them even if some of them feel uncomfortable. The stretch goal of this practice is to open your heart to feeling the strong connection that exists between all of us and the universe.

I suggest having your computer read this out to you at a slow speed. Alternatively, you could record yourself reading it out slowly and then when you are ready to do the meditation play the recording back.

Find a pose that is both comfortable for you and that also feels uplifting and relaxed.  If you can sit cross legged with ease that would be ideal. If not, try sitting on a cushion or bolster so that your body is slightly higher than your legs. Kneeling is also a good position.

If you prefer to remain active while meditating then go for a slow walk, preferably in a place that is relaxing to you. The aim is to come into some posture of stillness that doesn’t feel contrived. You are inviting your body to settle.

If you are stationary you can close your eyes to go more inward for this moment. Alternatively, and especially if you have chosen to walk, keep your eyes open, but shift your eyes downward to soften your gaze. There will be nothing visually important or interesting happening around you and by closing your eyes or dropping your gaze you will have more of an opportunity to connect to the imagery that may arise during this practice.

Gently start bringing your attention into one place.

Thoughts may continue to come from all over, they may continue to pull you in multiple directions, but start centering on your breath. Feel the passage of air entering your lungs and then leaving them.

When thoughts do pull you away, return gently to your breath and to the felt experience of being alive and present in your body. Feel your embodiment: in your legs, how you are sitting, the arch in your back, the angle of your head and through your hands.

Shift your mind from feeling your body conceptually to really feeling it at the physical level.

Gently allow yourself the pleasure of feeling your breath and your body as tactile physical sensations that are always in motion, rising and falling.

When your mind wanders, gently, yet fiercely, bring it back to your breath and your body, again and again.

Allow yourself to feel all the sensations that arise, both pleasant and unpleasant, familiar and unfamiliar; feel the movement of your breath; feel the rising and falling of your chest; feel the movement in the air around you and feel the air crossing the skin just below your nostrils; feel your skin and its contact with your clothing; feel the heat or cold; feel the dryness or humidity in the air; feel your contact with the ground.

Deepen your curiosity about your own experience and allow yourself, in this moment, in the now, to feel the full range of whatever arises: this may be pleasurable or it may be painful; this may be comfortable or it may be uncomfortable.

While you are allowing these sensate feelings to arise at an increasingly deeper level, keep bringing your attention back to centre.

The barrage of thoughts may start to slow, but they may also be sparked off in different directions by your physical feelings.

Continue deepening your felt presence, breath after breath, moment after moment.

Start to really feel your embodiment at a much more heightened level.

Allow other sensory perceptions to arise as you go deeper: feel your heart beating; notice your emotions; notice your overall mood – contentment, frustration, happiness, sadness –  and if you are around others feel the overall mood and emotions that are present in your home, in the office, on a train, on a plane.

Purposefully exclude nothing; opening your mind further and further and dropping any barriers that were in place or that instinctively arise during this meditation.

You are alone with your thoughts yet you are at one with the universe, you are in a safe place.

Feel everything that arises; feel the innate beauty in everything; feel the innate beauty in our humanity: in every possible emotion, sensation and thought; feel our shared humanity.

Go deeper still and feel our greater connection to the universe. Stay at that level and feel the wholeness that exists all around us. Exclude nothing, allowing yourself the deepest permission to just be, as you are, in this moment.

And now, bring your attention slowly back to focus only on how it feels to breathe.

Notice what is present for you are we conclude this meditation. Make a conscious choice to reengage with this present moment and the rest of your day.

Namaste.

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