What If? We Start Questioning
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The Eagle Newsletter — March 2022
How do you feel today?
It’s been a heavy, strange, and often devastating start to the year for many.
What dark and difficult days these are, as we watch the Russian invasion of Ukraine unfolding in real-time. Our humanity is shattered in front of the Ukrainians, the Russian protestors, and everyone facing the violence that’s inherent in leaders who practice power-over politics versus power-with or power-to. Like so many of you, I’ve felt soft skin, vulnerable, sad and scared. My heart hurts for the families whose lives will never be the same.
For some of us, this invasion awakens memories of wars we’ve survived. For some of us, this invasion harkens back to stories of war we’ve heard since we were little. For some of us, this invasion is happening on land that our family has called home. In any case, it’s not an easy place to be, but a traumatic one that needs to be acknowledged and taken care of.
To guide you in becoming a trauma-informed leader, you can read our edition “Healing to Re-Engage the World” and download our infographic that summarizes the essential information about post-Covid trauma as well as guiding principles to be trauma-informed.
When We Still Need to Endure
“God, Grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the Courage to change the things I can, and the Wisdom to know the difference.” — Reinhold Niebuhr
As leaders, we need to pay attention. Companies are porous ecosystems; moral distress needs to be heard and helped as well as risks for misconduct mitigated.
There is no question that we are in the midst of global upheaval. No matter where each of us falls on the ideological spectrum, it’s clear that we are navigating some very challenging terrain. In times like these, the tendency, as humans, is to affix blame, to assert that X, Y, or Z will provide absolution (who hasn’t been guilty of this? I know I have), to claim the moral high ground.
Blame is the world’s greatest excuse at the moment. It enables us to remain limited and small without feeling guilty. But we’d be wise to remember that problems are never solved at the same level of consciousness at which they were created. And to remind ourselves that we are blaming because we choose to blame. This is true, no matter how justified the circumstances may appear. It is not a matter of right or wrong; it is merely a matter of taking responsibility for our own consciousness. It is a totally different path — to freedom, to see that we choose to blame rather than to think that we have to blame.
Yet, frustration has grown after two years of isolation and disruption that have damaged life and contributed to a long list of societal ills, like rising mental-health problems, drug overdoses, and “all kinds of bad behavior” like customer abuse of workers, student misbehavior, vehicle crashes, and violent crime. People are frustrated and angry, and those feelings are fueling social disengagement and its deadly consequences.
The world seems more unstable than ever, and we still need to endure. Sometimes it feels that we cannot bear one more minute of it. Sometimes it feels that we want to keep our eyes closed, creating boundaries for ourselves so that we can’t move. And sometimes it feels like hiding in our anger, fear, and still beliefs, with our pointing fingers, our victimhood, our righteousness.
The Courage Within
“This, my dear, is the greatest challenge of being alive: To witness the injustice of the world, and not allow it to consume our light.”
It is not an easy place we are all in. We are so afraid to look at what is hurting us inside, that we would repress, suppress or escape rather than face it. Unfortunately, negative emotions don’t go away because we stop thinking about them; they accumulate and seek expression through psychosomatic distress, bodily disorders, emotional illnesses, and disordered behavior in interpersonal relationships.
A part of us grasps the familiar, no matter how painful or inefficient it is. The psychiatrist David R. Hawkins explained that “our self with a small ‘s’ actually enjoys an impoverished life and all the negativity that goes with it: feeling unworthy, being invalidated, judging others and ourselves, being inflated, always ‘winning and being ‘right,’ grieving the past, fearing the future, nursing our wounds, craving assurance, and seeking love instead of giving it.”
But as we get caught in our anger and misery, can we ask: Is it really worth my misery? Is the price I am paying worth my own precious life?
The poignant question of How should we live? is one that many of us have been asking. Emerging from deep within us all, we are asking for a response that soothes as much as it resolves.
Grace comes from the unique power found in moving up from the places of un-growth and looking into the heart of reality. Yes, there is always a possibility to raise up and out. It means waking up. It means being aware. It means taking responsibility for healing our lives and owning ourselves. The power is ours. The choice is ours.
Here is a gift for our tired souls: a poem from the late John O’Donohue: For One Who Is Exhausted, a Blessing
Ready to Be Accountable — For Our Negativity and Smallness
“Inner disarmament first, then outer disarmament.” — the Dalai Lama
What the pandemic teaches us is that we don’t need a greater quantity of life. What we really crave is elevation to a higher quality of existence. And, the fastest way to move from the bottom to the top is by telling the truth to ourselves and to others.
So let’s meet the creep inside us. If It’s nice to hear that peace, happiness, joy, love, and success are intrinsic to our human spirit, what about all of the anger, sadness, despair, vanity, jealousy, anxieties, and daily little judgments that disrupt our sense of internal peace?
“The shadow is anything we are sure we are not; it is part of us we do not know, sometimes do not want to know, most times do not want to know. We can hardly bear to look. Look. It may carry the best of the life we have not lived.
In knowing our own darkness, we know what another’s darkness can release. We learn to forgive and to love.” — Marion Woodman
The main stress to the majority of us is not due to external stimuli but to the pressure of our own suppressed emotions. Maturity comes from dealing courageously and honestly with our internal terrain, acknowledging that we have negative feelings as a consequence of our human condition, and being willing to look at them without judgment.
By recognizing our anger, frustration, fear, sadness, or stress, we can learn to avoid a build-up and control a lashing out down the road. Of course, retaking control of our emotions at their height can be difficult because our already negative feelings can convince us that others are deserving of our wrath. But if we consciously look for healthier ways to express what we feel, we can both safely dispel our pain and use the energy of that pain to add value to our lives.
If we act rather than react, we can become effective agents of positive transformation. When we channel our frustration or feelings of stress into creative thinking and proactive exploits, we are more apt to discover solutions to the issues that initially left us stymied.
For example, anger and sadness can become the inspiration that induces us to dedicate ourselves to bringing about the change we wish to see in the world. Fear can be viewed as a signal that we need to reexamine our circumstances rather than a cue to flee; we may gain new and unexpected insight into our lives.
“Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer
One benefit of meeting “the creep inside” is that it often makes us familiar with our shadow side. From this side, we meet the repressed thoughts, feelings and concepts about ourselves that we do not want to face. It makes us more human, more compassionate, more accepting and understanding of ourselves and others.
And We Start Questioning…
“Always the beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question.” — E.E. Cummings
We tend, as humans, to look at the world through the context of our experiences, conditioning and blind spots. And we may feel threatened if we are being asked to question our cherished beliefs or our perception of reality.
But what if? What if we start questioning? Morality, the French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir reminded us, “resides in the painfulness of an indefinite questioning.” A willingness to question everything, even things we are sure we are right about, can shake us out of complacency and reinvigorate our minds, opening us up to understanding people and perspectives that once were alien to us. This alone is good reason to remain inquisitive, no matter how much experience we have or how old we get. In the Zen tradition, this willingness to question is known as beginner’s mind, and it has a way of generating possibilities we couldn’t have seen from the point of view of knowing something with certainty.
With a commitment to stay open and inquisitive in our own individual lives, we start understanding our fabric, we start looking for the truth for ourselves, instead of blindly allowing ourselves to be programmed, whether by our negative inner voice or by our belief system. There we can choose to stop. We can choose a different direction.
Instead of being judgmental, we can embrace curiosity in our questioning. The essential point is to become aware of what we are buying into, what we are accepting daily. Let’s look at what we programmed with and begin to question it, disassemble it, and let it go. Does this program, thought, feeling, inner voice control me? Exploit me? Extract my money? My energy? My loyalties? Harm me?
“What for?” becomes our life leitmotif. And we make sure our beliefs are actually our own and not a story that’s put on us by somebody else. We take charge of our mind instead of handing it to the television set, the newspaper, the social media, the neighbors, the conversations in the subway, the chance remarks of the waitress, the garbage in and the garbage out.
It leads to inner security and self-esteem. It leads to humility. We see where our opinions come from, and how they change as we get deeper and deeper into any given subject or situation. We become more open-minded; we are admitting that we do not possess all the facts, and we are ready to change our opinions as the situation unfolds.
Questioning is what keeps our minds supple and strong. “My way or the highway” leadership generally creates a restrictive and uncomfortable atmosphere. We all know someone who refuses to budge on one or more issues, and we may have our own sacred cows that could use a little prodding.
Questioning is the acknowledgment that we don’t know, that we don’t have the answers.
It opens the door to growth and development. In questioning, we can find the simplest kinds of love that go on in every human relationship in the form of thoughtfulness and consideration. Caring to question makes the other person feel complete and secure with us.
In our leadership apprenticeship, it is a gift, as we start welcoming, enabling the newness inside and outside of ourselves.
Questioning is a gateway to growth, change and maturity. It is how we create a safe place inside and outside for the work to be done. Whatever is nature. Real understanding comes from within. With a mindset of curiosity and acceptance, we ask questions; big questions shape our strategy, small questions shape our day-to-day activities. When we question, we open the possibilities to fresh, new and beautiful insights. Nearly every revolutionary change in the history of human progress came about because someone questioned some time-honored belief or tradition, and, in so doing, revealed a new truth, a new way of doing things, or a new standard for ethical and moral behavior.
To question better and open up dialogue, here is a small video from the most famous enquiring mind of all times, Socrates, and his dialectic method.
Don’t Forget the ❤️
“Not sure if you got the memo but we are not competing anymore. We‘re appreciating and uplifting each other instead.” — Young Pueblo
Still. We’re funny beings, we humans, always trying to sort things out with the mind, swinging the pendulum from one end to the next, when it’s the heart that holds the key: compassion, understanding, care, humanity. This, of course, applies to our personal lives as well. The need to update and innovate, especially with regard to our perspective. The world can only see us as we see ourselves. How can we be beautiful if we don’t know who we are? Our epoch is inviting us to dig deeper, to explore the root of what’s unfolding and our thoughts on it all.
What becomes increasingly important is what we are becoming, not what we have or do. Everyone has the opportunity to contribute to the beauty and harmony of the world by showing kindness to all living things and, thereby, supporting the human spirit.
They say the heart is the most magnetic of all the organs, far more so than the brain. And love, the highest frequency.
So let’s not forget our beating hearts. Sending Love again, always, forever.
Do well, be well, stay well, love well and be watched over until we meet again in April.