Heart of a Leader

Leadership Matters

Archive for the tag “Presence”

What did You Say?

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Do you have the tendency, when you hear someone telling you something they have already shared, to speak or at least think, “ You already told me that”? I do. Last Saturday afternoon, my wife and I were exploring the back roads of our area. She was telling me a story about someone we knew and my response to her was, “You already mentioned that to me.”

In a flash, I realized couple of things were happening. I mentally noted that I knew what she was going to say and I stopped listening to my wife about half way through her story. Not so good, if I’m committed to having a great relationship with her. In fact, this type of “checking out” isn’t a very useful approach whether the person I’m talking to is my wife, friend, co-worker or customer. In all cases, I am not “listening” to the person so I have disconnected from them. I’m sure they realize that I’m not present.

We are so polite in our culture that we don’t ask, “Were you thinking of something else?” when we sense someone we are talking to checks out. Without this feedback, we are often unaware of the impact of our habit of shutting down our listening.

We also deny ourselves a clearer understanding of what they are communicating. We have decided that hearing something one time is the same as full understanding. I know I feel this way at times, yet it can’t be true.

When I’m not fully listening to someone, I have a number of other things going on. I might be thinking about how to respond. I might be thinking what they are saying is either stupid or great and get lost in those assessments. I might just be thinking about dinner. Whatever is going on, it’s unlikely that I really heard everything they were saying.

Why not listen again? Maybe I’ll learn something that allows me to connect with them in a more meaningful way. Maybe I can find out how to be of true service to them, rather than wondering how this conversation is going to benefit me. Maybe I’ll just show them some respect.

So when you think that someone is about to repeat a story you believe you already know, consider how you can connect with them more sincerely and how you just might learn something of great value, both to you and them.

Thomas

A reminder to stop thinking!

I was at the American Airlines ticket counter last week trying to change my ticket so I could return home a day earlier than planned. I thought that I could go standby for the flights and fly without a fee. That thought was immediately popped by the ticket agent,who, I can readily say, was a very pleasant woman oriented to being helpful.

She said that there was the possibility of paying a $150 fee and using the ticket I already had. She then arched her brows as she scanned her computer screen and said it didn’t look good. I noticed that I immediately was filled with thoughts of all my recent problems with American. I was getting up a good head of steam to tell her all about it. After all, they owed me some special favors, didn’t they?

As I was watching the irritation and righteousness roll in, I realized what was happening. I was on the verge of jumping into a very old pattern. “Oh,oh”, I said to myself, “this approach won’t be very useful.” So I shifted my attention to feeling appreciation and love for the ticket agent. I shifted my gaze and put my attention on the ticket agent next to her, felt appreciation for her, and continued moving my attention to all the people I could see.

I began to feel calm and knew that everything was going to be just fine. The righteousness went back into its shell and I was humming to myself. In a few minutes, the agent smiled and said everything had worked. I could get on a flight that left within 2 hours and I’d be back home by early evening.

I was reminded in that moment that my best thinking often creates such a mess – and its avoidable. I smile as I write this posting from my seat on the airplane knowing I’ll soon be home with my beloved and boys a day earlier, and with no drama necessary.

New Day – Letting go of the Past

As I reflect on this day, I see how often I refer to the past to make decisions about the present. Much like living through looking in the rear view mirror. What is it that I feel I can glean from this perspective? What am I afraid of in the present moment?

The answer is clear. I am afraid I will make the same mistakes that have been part of my past. In a flash, I realize that by being focused on the past, I will always repeat it.

Only by allowing the past to fade away and bringing all my attention to this moment do I experinece today in its full brilliance.

For now,

Thomas

What’s In a Name?

Once again, our four-year old Michael shows what an amazing teacher he is. We have recently moved from suburbia to southwestern Wisconsin. This has been a dream of my wife and I for some time and we are very content with our move. As with any new location, we are finding some of the local peculiarities that people may have forgotten to mention the sixty times we visited the area.

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I was traveling (fortunately for me) one September day, when I called home to learn from my excited wife that our home was being invaded by asian beetles. These lady bug look-a-likes were pouring into our home from any crack that was bigger than a pin head. I am not exaggerating when I say pouring in. The windows and doors of the house were coated with these little creatures. Hundreds were making their way into the house, in fact, my wife resorted to using a vacuum cleaner to hose them up as they sneaked in through the doors and windows.

We found out that this is a normal occurrence each fall. We also discovered that a small population of these beetles make a permanent residence in your home until the spring.

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If this wasn’t enough, we also experienced the fly emergence. Flies are the fall companions of the asian beetles and anytime a door is opened, they invite themselves in for our hospitality. In addition to vacuuming beetles, we also had fly strips up in logical places, like light fixtures and ceiling fans.

Most of us were pretty annoyed with these squatters in our private space, but not Michael. Michael liked these little beetles. In fact, he liked them so much that he started calling them “Burts”. Like, “there goes a Burt up the wall”, or “look at that Burt on our dinning room table”. He even felt like the flies should have a name too, so they are Freds.

About this time, our 11 year old, Kamran was at the farm for the weekend. He is not fond of insects at all and these beetles were really annoying to him. When he heard Michael calling the beetles Burt, he stopped his normal complaining about the bugs. He started talking with the Burts in the house and his frustration with flies seemed to dissolve as well as he followed Michael’s lead and called them Freds.

This relationship with the beetles (Burts) and flies (Freds) continues into winter. There are still a small cadre of Burts enjoying the warmth of our home and when they crawl onto the table or land on our heads, we smile, invite them to go somewhere else and that’s that. Just yesterday, Michael came in to the kitchen holding a Fred and said with great reverence, this Fred died. I am going to take him outside now.

So what is the lesson of Michael? He has shown me that if I can identify personally with something in my environment that I might normally want to either marginalize or treat in an inhuman way, my whole experience changes. Rather than treating something as an anno

ying thing, I realize that it has value and should be treated with respect. Yes, even insects are living beings. They may not have a mind such as ours (actually, that may have some advantages at times), but they are still a wealth of mystery. How do they know when to awaken from their long sleep? How do they know how to find food and water. How do they find others of their own kind? Mysteries that I can’t explain.

Michael shows me that there is benefit in engaging these insects rather than being focused on their elimination. Even the death of a fly can be an event that is treated with reverence.

How does this play out in a broader context? I first think of the term “collateral damage” that is used by the military and politicians to explain civilian deaths and injuries in a military conflict. It can also be used to explain the displacement of people because of war. When I hear about collateral damage of over 1 million in Iraq, what do I feel? If I don’t have a personal picture of those who are affected, its not much more than words to me. How can I personalize something that I knowis not in keeping with my values so that I am aroused to action?

Thinking about the lesson of Michael, I know that I can use my intuition to have a sense of the people impacted. I can remember that they are mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, grandmas and grandpas. I can remember my grandparents or parents. It is in that moment that I begin to get a sense of the impact of what has happened, and I know I can’t stand idly by.

This awareness extends everywhere. Since I am a middle class white guy, how can I feel what its like to be poor or disenfranchised? I can talk to those who are and get to know their stories and from that understanding I can remember that everything is personal.

This is a beginning for me. I will continue to work with the lesson of Michael as I become more aware of the places where I act with inhumanity and change that behavior, as soon as I know it is happening.

I would love your comments on the lesson of Michael.

Until later,

Thomas

On Writing Well or How to Do What you Love and get Paid for It.

images.jpgI am a fan of Sharon Astyk’s blog. She offers a wide variety of wisdom on important global issues. Perhaps more important, she is a subsistence farmer, who offers wit and advice on how to live in a simple, more self-sufficient life. She is also an accomplished author of three books, “Depletion and Abundance: Life on the New Home Front” (Sharon Astyk), “A Nation of Farmers: Defeating the Food Crisis on American Soil” (Sharon Astyk, Aaron Newton) and “Independence Days: A Guide to Sustainable Food Storage & Preservation” (Sharon Astyk).

One of Sharon’s recent blog postings moved me. As you can tell, she is a serious writer. In the posting titled, The Writing Life, Sharon offers one of the most thoughtful, helpful and inspirational pieces about doing what you.

I work with many folks who are trying to bring together their passions and purpose with work. They often complain that you can’t really do what they love and have a good livelihood. That’s not my experience and Sharon’s piece pokes a big hole in that belief.

Sharon’s personal story is about doing what she loves because it’s the right thing for her to do. She didn’t start out writing so that she would make a lot of money or to have lots of readers. She says that when she started blogging (she recently celebrated her 1000th blog posting), she didn’t know if there would be more than four people reading her blog.

Some will read Sharon’s piece and say she was lucky. I don’t believe in luck. I believe that Sharon is listening to that inner muse we all have. Some call it intuition will others may refer to it as sixth sense. This inner guidance is ignored by most of us because we have been taught that the only real source of direction is our logic of the opinion of others who know more than we do. I guess Sharon missed that lesson.

So whether you are a writer or someone who is wandering around with the question “how do I do what I love?”, this article will serve you well.

Until later,

Thomas


Yin and Yang – Profoundly Simple

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Probably you have seen this symbol before. It’s the Chinese symbol that is commonly referred to as Yin and Yang. As I was reading this morning, I was struck by a realization that everything that is definable is contained in this symbol.

All the experiences of life are either in the black or white. These experiences carry with them the seed of their opposite. We are living in a world that is filled with polarity. Say I am feeling happy. The sun is shining and the temperature is just the way I like it, the air smells fresh and the birds are singing. My emotions swell and my happiness soars. As it soars, the seeds of its opposite, despair, have been cast.

There will be a moment, maybe today, maybe a year from now, when I will feel what is commonly called the dark side. Like the Yin and Yang and its feeling of a wave, I will be fully tossed into my despair and sometime in that experience the seeds of happiness are sown.

A question may arise, “Well, what’s the point of happiness if it is invariably followed by despair?” Good question, for we have accepted that the ups and downs are inevitable. This “in and out” of the wave of our emotions comes from living outside the present moment. For the seed that is planted is a longing for something to continue. We like to live in the familiar. Even when I am in pain, I am often hesitant to leave its embrace because the next feeling is not known. I have made a friend with this darkness and I am afraid to walk away.

What would it be to just experience the moment. Not put any label on it such as, oh, this is good or this is bad or this is beautiful or this is ugly. What if I just feel the moment and not allow myself to label it or put it into a smaller box than is really fitting.

I can also see in this symbol in the fullness of anything that I encounter. For instance, if I am feeling that my current financial situation is totally desperate, this desperation is all I can feel. I can use this symbol as a tool and reminder. I can stop the depressing thoughts for a moment when I realize that all I can see of the Yin and Yang is black. I have come too close to see the whole picture. In my mind’s eye, I walk back until I can see both the yin and yang. I allow myself to see the wholeness of life and where this current moment fits in. As I watch my mood shift, what’s possible will be altered.

Seems simple, doesn’t it? What I find, over and over, is that life is profoundly simple, and it’s me that is running around making it complex and chaotic.

Until later,

Thomas

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You have to be Present to Win – Chopping Wood

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I am not going to engage the title of the new book  (You Have to be Present to Win) in this blog (I know that the phrase “to win” has many interpretations that create the potential for misunderstanding the intent, and that’s OK).

I am going to talk today about an experience I had early this morning. My wife, Sherry, and I purchase a woodstove in the late fall. We had been talking about this for a few years and Sherry was concerned that we have a reliable heat source if our power fails for some reason in the dead of winter.

The day the woodstove was installed, we knew we had done the right thing. It is a cast iron stove that has an exterior of soapstone. The stone is slow to heat (which took some getting used to for me); however, when it gets hot it stays hot. We have found that even on very cold days, we can heat to an acceptable level our two-story home, even though the woodstove is not in the best possible location for air circulation. But I digress.

One of the pleasures of a woodstove is the morning ritual of chopping the kindling, organizing the fire in the belly of the stove, and then… bringing this potential for heat to life. What a joy to watch the fire catch the wood, watch it heat the draft and draw in the air it needs to intensify its heat so that it can sustain itself through the day.
This morning, our 10 year old was up early and I invited him to start the fire. I volunteered to be the one to wield the ax and chop the oak into the right size for building a great bed of coals.

I put on my gloves and grabbed the ax from the shelf on our sun porch. I searched through the woodpile to find the perfect piece of wood. I grabbed a number of pieces and, each time, my intuitive response was, “Not right.” Finally, I found a piece that felt perfect.
I propped it up vertically on the adjacent woodpile and put the ax in my right hand. Without a thought, and with a complete sense of peace and deliberateness, the ax came down on the wood with a single chop and a perfect piece of kindling flew off to the left. I continue this process of putting smaller and smaller pieces on the edge of the woodpile and chopping.

At one moment, my brain kicked in. It said something like, “Wow, this is easy, I wonder why?” That simple distraction changed the flow of wood chopping. The next downward chop missed the mark and bounced off the wood. This continued for a few more chops until I realized that I was trying to chop wood by thinking rather than feeling.

It was a moment of recognition about how many times I have entered into some area of life with singular purpose and the ensuing experience was either “hard” or did not turn out at all like my intention. Could it be that I was allowing my thinking to distract me?
Yep… thinking that is not deliberately engaged is distracting every time.

After I realized that “my best thinking” was making this wonderfull experience “hard”, I took a deep, deliberate breath and felt peacefulness return. I then finishing chopping all the wood we needed for the fire. When I brought it in to our young fire tender, he said, “Did you cut all that wood just now?” I smiled and nodded.
Life is easy when I don’t try to think my way through it.

How about you? Have you had experiences of “chopping wood” and found a lesson that covered your whole life? If so, I would love to hear about them.

Until later,
Thomas

What now?

Walking to the bend in the road

Where nothing is certain

I let go of my concern for tomorrow

And let the joy of today’s sunshine

Be the master of my experiences.

I have been reading and considering the question of how to be present in every moment and yet fulfill the requirement of modern living for activities like planning. In an instant, I realize that it is possible to plan and be present.

dreamstimeweb_23910 4How do I do that? First, what is planning? Planning is an activity that attempts to give us a course of action in the future based upon what we know today and what we anticipate the future will bring. In its own definition, it is an effort that approaches something this is unknowable for it is truly impossible to know the future.

What we can do with planning is to see if the trajectory that we anticipate is one that we will find acceptable. We can also get a glimpse of actions that may help us prepare of the future. Not necessarily a specific future but one that is filled with any possibilities. Planning can bring to light areas of preparation such as learning needed or provisions to acquire or activities to engage that lead us in a particular direction

couple reading a mapWhat is most important to remember about planning and being present is that a plan is only an approximate “road map”. We can use this to navigate, however, if we use it to be an absolute set of actions we follow, we have created a clear approach to live in the past. For the plan, once it is completed is a picture of how the future looks from the past. By following this picture as an absolute set of instructions we do not live in the present and we will always live less fully. For to live fully requires abandoning all plans in the present moment and looking anew at what life presents us and deciding anew how to act.

dreamstime_491121When I teach, I spend some time preparing myself for the upcoming event. Just before I walk into the room, however, I abandon all the plans I have developed and focus 100% of my attention on how I can teach what those call for today present. Sometimes the results are surprising.

A personal example from last year where i planned a teaching occasion with a team of educators I had worked with four months previously. A very careful plan had been developed to meet the needs their leaders said were the most important. In the early part of the morning, I asked the question, “So what’s new?” The response showed that there had been an event that happened over the past few weeks that was not only on their minds it could redefine who there were as a team. So we spend the next day exploring this new development and completely disregarding our pre-arranged plan.

Remember planning is about approximation and can never truly be our absolute guide if we want to be present and fully experience everything in our lives.

Until later,

Thomas

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