One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light but by making the darkness conscious. Carl Jung
“What most concerns you about the upcoming team session?” I asked one of my clients. I had been hired by the manager to help the team rebuild trust after a rather messy and complicated situation left many deeply hurt.
“That things will get really emotional and end up being worse.”
“That’s a pretty normal response,” I replied, “but surfacing those emotions in a healthy way will lead to healing and transformation for the team.”
My client looked skeptical but knew that not doing anything was no longer an option as people were avoiding each other and the morale was in the tank.
Dealing with those dark emotions we go to great lengths to hide is indeed uncomfortable. But hiding them leaves us depressed, anxious and stuck (and perhaps broke, overweight and alcoholic, depending upon what you do to keep them hidden!)
The next time you find yourself hiding from a dark emotion, take a moment, breathe, and:
- Surface the emotion.
- Name it.
- Experience it fully – where do you feel it in your body?
- Accept it as a part of being human.
- Ask yourself “What’s possible from here?”
- Consider developing a mantra, like the one I developed in the image above to help you move into those dark emotions.
A big thanks to Lisa Sonora whose 30 day journal challenge led to me developing this mantra and blog.
Transforming dark emotions is at the heart of my book, How to Forgive Your Boss. Visit the website and you can download the first chapter free.
As leaders we do need to look after ourselves and I know many who make a visit to the spa with girlfriends a regular self-care ritual, myself included. (Not to overly stereotype but in my experience more women than men do this.)
When one of my clients said to me that the spa just wasn’t cutting it anymore, I took real notice. In the conversation that followed she explained her desire to take stock of her life, and bring some new energy and insight to it.
This takes courage and reminds me how important it is to make time for inner personal development work. The spa, while a temporary reprieve, just doesn’t really cut it when your soul is yearning.
I’ve observed and personally experienced different approaches to loss over the years. Whether it is personal or professional, minor or devastating, it seems that those who consistently “numb” (whatever that might be – working, drinking, dwelling, exercising too much, etc) seem to get stuck, often regress and sometimes even bring about their own death, metaphorically and physically.
Those who engage in learning reinvent themselves, often creating meaningful legacies around their particular loss or just finding new meaning and energy in their lives.
Some would say that without loss there is no growth or movement, that it’s actually necessary in order to create or bring about something new. As I reflect on my life, I agree. Our challenge it seems is to know when to stop circling the drain and get on with reinventing ourselves.
Train stations make for amazing people watching. As I sit here in the Florence train station waiting for our train to Venice, I am struck by the difference between people who breeze through the station and those who struggle. Usually it has to do with the amount of luggage people have.
I spend months thinking about what to pack when I travel. That might sound overly vapid but since meeting my lovely husband, I have learned the true value of traveling light. It is simpler, easier and just generally less stressful, but it does mean that I have to carefully consider each item. If it doesn’t make me feel great, fulfill a need or serve multiple purposes, it can’t be packed.
This is a great metaphor for life as well. We need to stop dragging around some of our heavy “life luggage,” those memories, experiences and attitudes that don’t make us feel great, fulfill a need or serve multiple purposes. We need to make our journey through the train station of life a bit easier and more enjoyable.
While I definitely got the physical packing right on this trip, I have come face to face with some of my own life baggage that isn’t working all that well. And that is an unexpected gift of this most amazing vacation of a lifetime to Italy and Greece.
I’ve gone on several hikes in the past few weeks and have been inspired by the sheer beauty and energy of spring. On one occasion I came across a clearing of vibrant yellow and purple flowers. Eager to share, I pulled out my iPhone, fired up Facebook and was about to update my status with the photo when I read a few updates from others and before I knew it my upbeat, happy mood had started to dissipate.
What happened? I had robbed myself of the enjoyment of the moment by comparing myself to others. How crazy is that? It would be like comparing the vibrancy of the purple flowers to the yellow and determining a winner.
Comparison has been a thief of happiness in my life and it’s something that I realize may never go away completely. Asking why that is so for me is a fruitless search. Rather, I need to accept it and manage it through a regular practice, in the same way that exercise and eating right need to be regular practices.
I have found that doing some sort of journaling or, more recently, expressing myself visually, help me. And thus today’s visual 🙂
And what does this have to do with leadership? Barsh, Cranston and Lewis would suggest that understanding what gives meaning and happiness to our lives is a central tenet to being a centered leader.
I have been journaling off and on for over 20 years. I have a drawer of completed journals that I’m terrified will fall into the wrong hands. I have used journaling for many reasons – to make sense of situations, understand patterns, create my future, get grounded, practice gratitude, and most importantly come back to myself.
Every once in a while I pull out a journal and read through it. I am both amazed at the progress I’ve made and depressed by some of the patterns (negative mainly) that persist. I’m entertained by some of my goals (swear less) and intrigued by others (the mind map of my ideal partner). (By the way I did find him. I just had to leave the country but that is another story 😉
But I digress … this past week, I went to a session by Lynda Monk on journaling. Lynda did a great job of gently inviting people to journal, along with helpful tips and her personal experiences with journaling. The most insightful observation for me was around how “sticky” trauma or strong emotions can be to those in helping professions. Journaling is a way to release those emotions.
I found her 5 step Life Source Writing process particularly helpful. I would say I have mainly focused on the writing, reflecting and affirming so I look forward to practising the first 2 steps of arriving and relaxing. The middle of the model is my main takeaway, that journaling brings me back to myself.
I started using the radio alarm after being away on vacation and much as I love the CBC, I have to admit that listening to the doom and gloom first thing in the morning is taking a toll on my mental health. It reminds me of the spheres of influence model we often teach in our leadership programs. About the only thing any of us controls in this volatile environment is ourselves, what we watch, what we pay attention to, how we frame things, how we approach every minute of our lives. We might be able to influence others, but ultimately we cannot control anyone else and we certainly can’t control the weather, the economy, or whether anyone buys our consulting services. Letting go of what you can’t control is an easy concept in theory but amazingly difficult to practise. It requires trust that all will work out and not being attached to a particular outcome. When I am able to do this, I enjoy my life, am way less stressed, and I actually do better work.
Vacations provide the opportunity for hours of uninterrupted reading. While I have gobbled up escapist fiction like The Hunger Games trilogy, I also read a book that has had a profound impact on me, SQ21 by Cindy Wigglesworth. Wigglesworth suggests that we can develop spiritual intelligence as we can emotional intelligence, and the title of the blog is a concept she highlights. I think it provides the much needed missing piece to developing ourselves as grounded, non anxious and whole people and leaders.
My major takeaway has been the difference between operating from our ego self, which is the part of us hard wired to avoid pain at all costs, versus operating from our highest and best selves. Figuring that out is unique to each of us and where I’m at now in my own thinking is that my ego most often operates from scarcity and my highest self from abundance. In every interaction we can make the choice to act from ego or from our highest self. Simple …. but certainly not easy.