It All Turns On Affection

Dear Ones,

Voilà! Summer is finally here in the Northern Hemisphere, with all its sun-dappled splendor and a good reason to linger outdoors, to welcome the season that the poet Amy Lowell calls “The very crown of nature’s changing year / When all her surging life is at its full.”

With summer comes an opening. As the temperature rises, we remove layers of protection and long for renewed emotional bonds with people and places we hold most dear. After what felt like an endless winter, It feels good to throw open the windows, to let in the sunlight and warm breeze. The heat is on, and it opens arms and hearts to what and who matters most. It is so much needed.

According to multiple studies, employees around the world are experiencing stress at an all-time-high level, and worry, anger, sadness, disconnection, oppression, and depression remain above pre-pandemic levels.

Even the artist Beyoncé, always perceptive when it comes to capturing social priorities, points out in the newly released and instant success “Break My Soul,” a cultural moment of burnout with capitalism — and corporate exploitation, and a desire to build meaning outside the grind of work.

There is a call for resonance, honesty, and integrity, to what feels good to our being, body and soul. A call to let old ways of being, thinking, moving, relating, and working die and dissolve into something nourishing for ourselves and the world.

As leaders, we know. When companies don’t pay attention to employee well-being, bad things happen — like performer burnout, decreased motivation, increased toxic behaviors, reputation damage, negative financial results, and high quit rates.

Do we want to answer the need of our teams to shift the pace and conversation around what work/business/life gets to look like, and feel like?

Here are two excellent articles from Harvard Business Review: This one highlights how to make employee care a permanent part of organizational culture, and this one provides concrete actions companies can take to better connect and support young employees.

Kintsugi

“Kintsugi symbolizes how we must incorporate our wounds into who we are, rather than try to merely repair and forget them.” — David Wong

When we see the amount of loss, disappearance, and grief, how do we not feel frightened and besieged by the world? Seeing the world’s precarious dynamics right now, and sensing the risks of breaking open into chaos, there is a lot to feel ungrounded, tired, pent up, fed up and scared.

There is no easy fix to the situation at hand; it requires a foundational shift that alters our current dynamics from the ground up. The invitation is here: This is our one and only life, so what do we want to tell people about it?

In Japanese Kintsugi pottery, gold is used to mend cracks. Breaks are thought of as precious rather than something to be hidden.
Instead of shutting down, what would it be like to open up and study the connections between the seemingly disconnected parts of our relationships with ourselves and with others?

We are living in a remarkable time that welcomes us to redefine a new way of being in the world. To train ourselves to be true practitioners of human wisdom and dignity in every moment of our life.

Let’s Take A Break

Summer is time for holidays. How about giving ourselves a break from urgency culture and finding a real horizon in our life? How about offering ourselves space and breath to listen and notice how our soul is moving at this moment, what it is asking us to pay attention to at this time?

Can we distance ourselves from what the poet David Whyte calls our “peripheral strategic mind,” the one that is always comparing, always competitive, always naming things too early, always bullying, always keeping the world at a distance?

Can we remove ourselves from our self-inflicted limitations and go on a peaceful pilgrimage of friendship toward our own life? And to meet our imaginative, creative, loving mind within, the one that connects, celebrates, and lives in deep alignment with our purpose for being here?

It is essential to any move we wish to make into the larger and more fulfilling life that awaits us.

Homecoming

Me I will throw away.
Me sufficient for the day
The sticky self that clings
Adhesions on the wings
To love and adventure,
To go on the grand tour
A man must be free
From self-necessity.

Patrick Kavanagh, the Self-Slaved

What could be found in coming to the ground in our body, in our life, in our circumstances, in our voice, in our gifts? To cast off all false selves, all the identities and stories we have created for ourselves and just sit, vulnerable in our mystery.

By making peace with our still partially known, always evolving, always growing self, we find this palace of hospitality we are longing for. And then, we become the architects of new places of hospitality in our relationships.

The July newsletter found its inspiration in the beautiful song, “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon and Garfunkel. Please, gift yourself with the ease and acceptance within the melody, the feeling of rising above the muck.

Bridges for Good

Oh, the distance between us,
Is holy ground.
To be traversed feet bare, hands raised,
In a joyous dance.

So that once it is crossed,
The tracks of our pilgrimage
Shine in the darkness
And light our coming together
In a bright and steady light.

Rafael Jesus Gonzalez, The Distance Between Us

Bridges are built to connect two worlds. They create flow, allowing us to travel between realms, ideologies, and personalities. With bridges we say yes, rather than withdrawing, separating, and saying no. When we cross a bridge in an unknown territory, we are led to otherness. Healing and communication are made possible. We enter in a state of curiosity, wonder and learning.

The willingness to build trusted bridges, and welcome authentic conversations, signals strength, character, and integrity. When we build bridges, we invite people in new paths to be seen, held and supported and to see, hold and support others. We repair human relationships, both personal and societal.

Effective leadership is impossible without effective connections. In the corporate world, it is absolutely mandatory to restore strained relationships, create possibilities for growth, and generate better outcomes for all.

However, a bridge can’t be forced. It must be made and maintained with intentional love and care, or its structure will not withstand the inevitable weather of life.

In order to build strong and durable relationships, we need to start within, to feel it. I can’t do anything useful if there is no I to do it. So let’s reconnect with our deep I.

Falling in Love with Ourself

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Derek Walcott, Love After Love

One of the main obstacles to building healthy relationships is the bullying voices inside us. We live in a culture obsessed with progress, spending so much time asking ourselves: How am I performing? Am I good enough?

As soon as we don’t feel like moving forward or progressing, we feel something is wrong and that we are failing, so we redouble our efforts. And here we are, searching for self-improvement at any cost and so fueling more harsh judgments, more shame toward ourselves, more fears of inadequacy.

How many of us have attacked portions of our life with a vengeance, when we fully believe that our weakness or inabilities, our neediness or our failures are the reasons for our suffering? And, if only we could be free of them, we think, then we would enter into a state of perfection; all would be well, we would belong, welcomed finally.

Do you see how it becomes very challenging to cultivate a feeling of compassion for oneself in an atmosphere of self-judgment and hatred?

One of my dearest friends, Sharon, used to remind me, “Laurence, give yourself some grace. It is OK to move downward or sideways, to sometimes regress, and at other times to hold still and don’t move.” She is so right. From seeing self-improvement as a mandatory correction for our perceived defective self and self-compassion as a weakness, a form of judgmental indulgence, we too often get stuck in toxic perfectionism and again face the peripheral strategic and very impatient mind.

Can we remind ourselves for one second that every one of us knows loss and defeat, loneliness and failure? We hurt and harm others, are hurt and harmed by others.

Can we remind ourselves that Planet Earth is not Planet Perfect? It is the Beauty Planet. As the writer Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes reminds us: “Wherever there is beauty, the predator shows up” … who must and will be defeated.

How?

By making the choice of not closing our hearts to the world and not going into self-protection as a way of life, we find the courage to fully accept our human nature and rise up. each in our own way.

What would it be like to welcome a state of generous, compassionate curiosity to our suffering? To bridge all the parts within, especially the unseen, unloved ones, as worthy as the comfortable ones we use to define us in front of the world?

Can we remind ourselves that the recipe to transform the bitterness of our hardships into medicine has always been kindness and mercy?

Befriending Our Life

You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” — Buddha

I believe we can, and we must. By giving up our muscular agendas of self-improvement and stopping resisting what is, we can start to befriend our life. Let’s stop building ourselves against others. We don’t often get to decide who or what shows up in the “guest house,” as Rumi says, but we can cultivate an atmosphere of curiosity and receptivity.

When we deepen our capacity to welcome what is, what comes, whoever arrives at the interior door of our life, we mature. The author Francis Weller explains that when “we slowly relinquish the harsh program of ridding ourselves of our outcast brothers and sisters for the sake of fitting in, we simply set another place at the table.”

What costs us the most in our relationships is the idea that we need to pay a price in order to belong. How destructive this idea can be for oneself, thinking that one has to exile one’s true self in order to be accepted.

In order to create, find, and belong to welcomed communities, warm containers, trustworthy teams, and loving partnerships, we first need to belong within. Remember our own hospitality. When we start drinking from our own well, made of respect and care, of worth and value, it filters into our whole being like a blessing.

Treating ourselves well is critical if we want to build harmony with other fellow human beings. Love is about giving, understanding, caring and all qualities that arise when we can look at another in an egoless manner and act in his or her best interest. How about extending the practice to ourselves? From self-love arises a mission to communicate our needs, set boundaries, and make active commitments that help both people feel nourished. With love, we care “out;” with self-love we care “in.” Both are needed.

Heal yourself, not just so you can thrive, but to ensure that people who cross your path in the future are safer from harm, asks the poet Yung Pueblo. To create the necessary safe and healthy relationships in our lives and workplaces, we need to stop hating ourselves, practice self-love and use the medicine of self-compassion. When we recognize the hurt and the roots in us, when we are capable of healing, we can do the same in our relational lives. We remain open and available to life. It is the gift of a generous heart, where everybody counts.

What We Need Is Here

“If I had to write a book on morality, it would have a hundred pages, and ninety-nine would be blank. On the last page, I should write: “I recognize only one duty, and that is to love.” — Albert Camus

It is not the learning, but what we do with it that matters most: our choices, our actions, our ability to pause, and the way we engage ourselves and others. The abundance we seek comes from opening our eyes and hearts to see that within us and between us, we possess countless gifts and resources. All we need is the wit and the will to name them, claim them, and pass them around in ways large and small. That’s called interconnection, co-creation, and, of course, community. Without it, we perish. With it, we thrive.

Here is my invitation: Let’s regain our own stewardship by living a life with integrity, by regaining a strong sense of self with backbone, fortitude and self-compassion, and by being fully present to own oneself and one’s capacity.

The choice is always ours.

Facing darkness and choosing light is the most profound calling of all. Let’s be leaders of light amid our shadowy times.

I will leave with the beautiful poem “Cargo’’ by Greg Kimura.

You enter life a ship laden with meaning, purpose and gifts
sent to be delivered to a hungry world.
And as much as the world needs your cargo,
you need to give it away.
Everything depends on this.

But the world forgets its needs,
and you forget your mission,
and the ancestral maps used to guide you
have become faded scrawls on the parchment of dead Pharaohs.

The cargo weighs you heavy the longer it is held
and spoilage becomes a risk.
The ship sputters from port to port and at each you ask:
“Is this the way?

But the way cannot be found without knowing the cargo,
and the cargo cannot be known without recognizing there is a way,
and it is simply this:
You have gifts.
The world needs your gifts.
You must deliver them.

The world may not know it is starving,
but the hungry know,
and they will find you
when you discover your cargo
and start to give it away.

As always, I thank you for taking the time to do this reading with me. I am so grateful to journey alongside you. Please feel free to drop me a line at laurence@stratandshield.com with ideas, suggestions, or comments.

Your presence is my purpose.

Be safe and be watched over until we meet again in August.

With care,

Laurence

* To accompany our Eagle in summer, we placed him in the Vincent van Gogh masterpiece Olive Trees with Yellow Sky and Sun (November 1889). You can learn more and see the full painting here.

* I borrowed “It All turn On Affection” from the American novelist Wendell Berry.

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Laurence Duarte

Head of Strategy with innovation on the brain and a focus on creating safe and thriving business environments.