The guest post is courtesy of Claire McKendrick.
Life is asking extraordinary things of us right now.
We’re being tested and challenged in ways like we perhaps have never been before.
It can feel uncertain, confusing, unpredictable; perhaps waves of fear, anxiety, grief, heartbreak, loneliness and loss.
There is so much shifting – in our social, political, cultural, ecological and economic systems, and more deeply in our values, identities, relationships, and how we make meaning and purpose in our lives.
How do we really make sense of and comprehend the enormity of this? How do we be with, and hold, the depth of emotions, and the shifting identities and losses we experience around us and perhaps within us?
There is of course a massive disruption, reorientation and change taking place.
The challenges for leaders at this time can be immense. How do we look after ourselves and our teams through this? How we meet these challenges in a way that allows for our systems and structures to adapt and reorient from a place of connectedness, to what is most essential, to what we value most?
Drawing on significant research on resilience, mindfulness and systems transformation; here are five elements of an inner journey that can support leaders to thrive through these times.
1. Grounding in gratitude
A gentle turning towards gratitude provides some spaciousness in the present moment. Not false hope or blind optimism, but an open and generous sense of gratitude for all that supports us, the strength and resources that we have, and everything that enables us to be right here, in this moment now.
Gratitude can release us from the grips of feeling uncertain, worried, confused, anxious and stuck. It can bring some space and freedom from this contraction. Rather than projecting fear, concerns, worries on external circumstances and events; an attitude of gratitude calls us to focus on our inner resources and our inner condition, rather than wanting something externally to change.
A simple way to try this is by setting aside some time to be in nature, and consciously cultivate the feeling of gratitude for all that’s around you – the air that gives you life, the ground that supports you, the sun that gives you warmth. Sense and feel gratitude and connectedness to nature through this practice. Build moments of gratitude into everyday life.
2. Cultivating presence
Once we have oriented in gratitude, it can be easier to find and cultivate presence. By cultivating our capacity to be fully in the present moment, we can more easily bring our deep humanness and all our capacities to connect and meet the needs of the moment.
With this alertness, or centred presence, we are able to meet the situation in a way that is authentic and connected. This presence is an emergent space where we can sense possibility and potential.
This requires shifts in our habits and patterns, being aware of and managing our immediate and habitual responses.
It’s helpful to find regular practices that bring you into the present in a way which resonates with you, and that you feel inspired or motivated to continue to experiment with. Research (most of this evidence is based on Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) shows that just 10 minutes a day of mindfulness practices is effective in cultivating presence. There are a plethora of apps and other online supports in this.
3. Regenerating through compassion
Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh was asked what is most needed in the world right now. What we most need to do, he replied, is to hear within us the sound of the earth crying. How do we connect and be present with the pain, suffering, grief, uncertainty and complexity, and learn together and respond; without being frozen, stuck in the enormity of it all, overwhelmed; or numb and disconnected to what’s happening?
Through compassion practices, we can deepen our capacity to be mindful not only in moments of joy, but also moments of great pain and sorrow. Through practice we can deepen our relationship with parts of ourselves, or others, that felt impossible before.
There is significant research showing the benefits of having a compassionate attitude towards ourselves when we experience difficult emotions. It increases life satisfaction, happiness, gratitude and optimism; allows more forgiveness of others and ability to take their perspective; and lowers anxiety, stress, depression and shame.
4. Strengthening the quality of our interconnectedness
One way we can better understand and embrace the complexity and interconnectedness of this time is to begin by recognising our own complexity and ourselves as a living system. Take a moment to fully sense into your own complexity – everything that you have access to in this present moment – your body’s system and what it knows from your head to your heart to your gut and everything else, all the emotions you have access to feel, thoughts, your culture.
Our lives are complex webs, and deeply interconnected with others and the ecology. In this complexity is relationality. The more we pay attention to this complexity and relationality – the more we are able to bring this systemic awareness to the challenges we face.
One way this interconnectedness can be sensed is in fractals and patterns that connect. What are the fundamental patterns that connect across systems? The more we come into coherence with this, the more we connect and come into resonance with and draw energy from the natural flow of life.
5. Letting go and finding flow
When we are grounded in our sense of being, in connectedness to those around us and the ecology, we find a clarity, confidence, presence and ease.
We can create the inner conditions from which we experience ‘peak moments’ when we feel life flowing through us, completely connected to the here and now. With this confidence, we find the courage to move forward, to follow our deeper sense of purpose, the meaning and inspiration that’s showing us a way forward.
If you would like to discover more about these five essential elements sign up to a free five week program, Being Deeply Human: A playbook for leading with presence, connection and wholeness in complex and uncertain times; delivered straight to your inbox.
Each day you’ll receive framing and inspiration, reflective, meditative and journaling practices to explore and deepen these fundamental elements. If you feel called, I hope you’ll join us.
“The sudden awakening to mandatory untethering from old structures comes with an invitation to be deeply human”
– Nora Bateson
Claire is also available for online support during COVID19. Find out more here
Claire is a highly-skilled, intuitive and purposeful facilitator, coach and consultant. Claire partners with public sector and purposeful organisations to build capacity and resilience; and to navigate a way forward through complex issues to deliver improved outcomes. Claire works with both the inner and outer game of leadership and system change identifying the new policy, strategy, processes, frameworks and systems to deliver desired outcomes – as well as building capacities, resilience, and shifting ways of working to achieve results.
This approach builds individual and organisational capacity to better diagnose and understand complex issues and co-create meaningful change. In so doing, Claire is proud to contribute to shaping a more inclusive, compassionate, healthy and thriving world.