Doing the Work While Looking Away

There is such pressure to do everything full on and perfectly – including or especially the spiritual journey – that it induces guilt and even shame in people whose experience is more spotty. Like, most of us. It is the rare person who has an epiphany, an enlightened moment, the moment when everything makes sense now and forever, our life, habits and patterns forever changed. Some strive for it so ardently you can hear the strains of it as they talk about their spirituality, their practices, their connection to spirit. It has a ring of falsity to it and yet it arises from the pressure of perfection.

bandaged heartFor most of us the spiritual journey is more like fits and starts. The moment of clarity arrives through some deep spiritual experience – in a meditation, on a retreat, in the presence of great spiritual teachers – or in a mundane moment of living – doing the dishes, mowing the lawn, having a shower (since there is no one way that these moments arrive and no right way) – or in the moment of great life transformations like marriage, divorce, having a child, being with a loved one as they die. Gradually, over time, the epiphany or moment of enlightenment becomes a bit obscured and then more so by attending to life, relationships, work, demands on our time and attention.

And then, something brings our attention back to the moments of epiphany – days, weeks, months, maybe even years later. We are reminded that this is our path. Instead of turning to embrace it, we often give ourselves a hard time – the itty-bitty-shitty committee that sits on our shoulder – for having strayed away from “the path”, for letting ourselves be overwhelmed by life. We give ourselves grief because we don’t light candles every day, or meditate or have some daily ritual that would ensure our spiritual purity. We forget to allow ourselves some grace and compassion in the journey of life.

In a conversation with a friend and colleague who I coach, she said she feels like she is looking away from the work she needs to do. It is a thought that carries weight and heaviness – not just for her but for everyone of us who has had this experience. It occurred to me as I listened that we may also be doing the work while looking away. This does not need to be mutually exclusive. There may be many reasons why we look away.

We might look away because we are distracted. Life has a way of bringing us many distractions as we live into work, relationships, health, dreams. We might look away because it is too intense right now and we need a buffer. We might look away because our body, mind, heart and spirit needs time to absorb what we are learning and experiencing. Absorbing is also part of the work. Allowing is part of the work. Self compassion is part of the work. Finding our way – even or especially in fits and starts is part of the work. Remembering is part of the work.

It is not a straight line between the first steps or awareness and the next or last steps. It is a winding journey that brings us to many experiences. This is part of the reason I wrote my memoir, Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness. It details the fits and starts of my own life journey – the moments of epiphany, the moments of losing my way, the experiences of being drawn back to the journey of openheartedness – because it illuminates the journey of an ordinary person fortunate to have extraordinary experiences that keep reminding me I am human and I am a soul at the same time. It keeps reminding me to focus on the soul journey and not the human tragedy version of the same story.

It is easy to lose our way. It is also easy to find our way back – if we allow that this is all a natural part of the journey of life. And we can still be doing the work – or the work is finding its own way in us – even when we are looking away.

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Taking Whole: Building Authenticity With the Johari Window

Good leaders are often recognized for their qualities of genuineness and authenticity.

Authenticity is the quality of being real or true. The public perception of an authentic person is the same or very close to the “real” person – who they are in private or with those close to them. In the language of our Worldview Intelligence work we call this “taking whole“.

People who are authentic are comfortable with who they are, what they discover about themselves, their worldview and what shaped it, and they have a willingness to continually grow who they are. They know a lot about themselves and they are comfortable expressing who they are to others. They are also able to embody chaordic leadership or chaordic confidence which is growing increasingly important in today’s complex times and when we seek engagement of multiple voices to address the questions and issues at hand.

The Johari Window is a framework that allows us to practice better understanding of self and thus provides a means for any individual to evolve their own authenticity. The Johari Window was developed by Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham and was first used in 1955. It is as effective today in developing a broader self understanding as it was then.

The dimensions of the Johari Window are representative of an individual’s whole personality or psyche. The dimensions are: what I know and what I don’t know, what others know and don’t know. They are illustrated in the following matrix:

johari window

What is known to us that we show other people is Open. These are aspects of ourselves that we are consciously aware of and willing to freely share with others, thus these aspects are also known to others.

The second aspect is what we know about ourselves that we keep Hidden from other people. There will probably always be things we do not disclose to other people. Disclosure in and of itself is not the issue. The question is why are you not disclosing and how much energy is contained in keeping these things hidden from other people?

It is impossible to be truly authentic if we fear other people knowing certain things about ourselves. We have all made decisions, choices or taken action in our lives that we regretted, are embarrassed about or just wish we hadn’t done. It is part of human nature, part of the growth process. Sometimes we don’t want other people to know because we are afraid they will think less of us – possibly because we think less of ourselves. It could be because we have identified ourselves with what we perceive to be a failure instead of recognizing that failure is an action from which we can receive feedback, as discussed in The Wisdom of Failure article.

Sometimes we keep things hidden because we feel like an imposter, or maybe we feel shame about something we did or something that happened to us. Other people tell us what a great job we are doing and yet we feel like we do not deserver the praise or accolades. We keep our fears and uncertainties to ourselves.

When we keep things hidden because of our fears, this takes energy. As long as it takes energy, it detracts from our ability to be truly authentic. If we don’t disclose things about ourselves, simply because they don’t seem relevant anymore, then this doesn’t have the same quality as those things we are afraid to disclose. It does not consume the same energy. In the right circumstances or for the right reasons, we may disclose these things about ourselves and feel perfectly comfortable doing so.

It is not whether things are hidden or not that is problematic, it is the amount of energy they consume in staying hidden and whether fear of disclosure is the motivator for keeping them hidden. Once I began to learn the story of my birth mother, after finding out later in life that I had been adopted, I understood fear was a big motivator in her life.  She was afraid of being found out so she kept many of her stories hidden, not to see the light of day until after she died. She did not disclose her past, that she was married or that she had children and she lived every day in a new constructed life in fear of being found out. So much so, she never told her own adopted daughter when her birthday was.  “Fear and worry are the interest paid on trouble that never comes. They shut the door on what more is possible – love, forgiveness, ease and the rewriting of stories of our lives that could instead be lived with grace and empowerment.” – Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness, p 208

A third aspect is Blind. This is what we don’t see or know about ourselves, but others see. This includes what we imagine to be true of ourselves that others don’t see. For instance, we may imagine ourselves to be a great leader, but if you ask people around us, they may not see evidence of this.

The blind category may include things we genuinely don’t see about ourselves and there may be things we are somewhat aware of but don’t acknowledge or don’t want to see. Just before my first divorce, I was going through a very difficult time in my life and was very unhappy. I covered it up by being very busy. I didn’t know how unhappy I was, I was afraid to see it. Some of the people around me were aware of it, however they were unable to broach it with me because I was not ready to hear it. Later, when I was ready, I was shocked to hear how many people could see so clearly what I could not or would not see for myself.

Asking others for feedback is a sure way to shrink our blind aspect. We can do this informally by asking friends, family members or work colleagues we trust. We can do it formally in our work or learning environments through the use of feedback mechanisms like 360s.

The final aspect is Unknown. This is what we don’t know about ourselves and what others also don’t know about us. Because it is unknown, it is impossible to know exactly how big it is but we do tend to shrink it over time, especially if we are consciously on the path of growth and self awareness.

This information resides in our unconscious. Sometimes it is revealed to us by something that happens, sparked by events or situations, outcomes from choices. It could arrive with a new Aha! It could be uncovered through work we do on any of the other three aspects. By revealing a bit of ourselves to others, we open up a discussion that may provoke some other information to come to light. By taking in what other people are willing to share about what they see, we may also trigger some learnings in the unknown quadrant.

One other way to discover the unknown is through the mirror principle. The mirror principle is a tough concept for most of us to understand when we first hear it. It basically says that whenever we have a strong reaction to someone – positive or negative – it is because they are mirroring something back to us about us. We are like them in some way. This is fine for most people when the reflection is positive. It is much more challenging when we consider the reflection to be negative. The mirror principle gives us some of the most valuable information about ourselves if we are open to receiving it.

One area of my life that had been completely unknown to me and many around me for decades, is my gift to see spirit and work with energy, which I write about in Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness. Although I have always believed in energy, spirit, reincarnation and the existence of other life forms, I always thought only very talented and gifted people could access that information, not everyday people like me. When I was first told of my gifts and even when I first experienced them I rejected the information as not being plausible. As I grew to accept and be more curious about these gifts it began to shrink the Unknown aspect of the Johari window and invited me into a deeper exploration of things I did not know about myself. As I began to speak and write about this aspect of who I am, it shrunk this window more and grew the Open window.

The four aspects of the Johari Window are fluid. They are not generally of the exact same size and shape. The more authentic you are, the larger the Open aspect and the more likely you are to continually find ways to expand it. Generally this is done through a process of disclosure and feedback, curiosity and learning. Not only do you become more authentic as you expand your Open aspect, you release energy that can then be used to your benefit and you create more peace and contentment for yourself. It is worth the risk to learn to be more open.

designing a loved life

Shame: Releasing Its Hold

I have been reflecting on shame for a couple of months now, how it sneaks up on you, robs you of your vitality, robs you of your voice.  How it feels almost impossible to reveal but liberating even just when you can begin to understand that it is at work.

Shame

Most of us, if not all of us, have experienced shame at some point in our lives.  The work of shame is so powerful that it can shut you down, deplete you of your energy, make you want to hide.  It works in partnership with the voice of your internal judge so the whole experience is amplified.  Sometimes it feels as though there is an antennae on your head, sending out signals that you are a person who has failed, that here is someone who wasn’t smart enough to figure out something, someone who misjudged a situation, someone who totally bombed.  It is particularly bad when the situation you misjudged, misinterpreted, misread, mismanaged is something you generally do quite well and may, in fact, earn your living by it.

This happened to me awhile ago now, in a public way with a client. That’s when I drafted this post and it has taken me this long to finish it and post it. It was the client’s end of the year employee appreciation day and dinner. They wanted to build on some of the past work and amazing speakers they have brought in. After a few conversations and meetings with the leadership team, that were full of promise, we decided to do something different for them – an appreciative inquiry to engage their large group in conversation with each other and in discovery of what they already do well to apply in other ways.

Aside from the wireless mic dropping on the floor and breaking open, it all seemed to be going well.  People seemed engaged and in conversation with each other.  We did a rapid fire harvest.  I ended with a lovely poem and added in Rule 6a and 6b – don’t take yourself so fucking seriously, don’t take other people so fucking seriously.  The CEO was speechless at the end but, in the moment, I didn’t understand why.

A bit later, someone else on the leadership team shared with me how severely the organization looks down on the use of profanity, even though it was meant in a lighthearted way, and I immediately felt bad. And not just bad.  The voice of my internal judge was activated and it gave me a very hard time – I should have known better, this is what I do – hold space for other people, sense into the dynamics of a group – how could I possibly have so misjudged the client dynamic – a new client that had started off with such a high degree of possibility.

Although I apologized to the client instantly, I became aware I could not find it within myself to talk about what happened – to anyone, not even my closest friends, not even my partner who is incredibly supportive of me in work and life.  That’s when I realized I was ashamed.  Deeply ashamed.  Shame shut me down and made me miserable – for days, weeks, even months.  It was reinforced and amplified when I got the feedback from the group, forewarned it was a “mixed bag”.  While that was true, it was easily the harshest feedback I have ever received from a group in all the years I have been in this work.  So, it was doubly, triply hard because I really should have known better.

All the little and larger things in my awareness that have not gone right or have not flowed over the last months and maybe even years were activated and then compounded upon themselves. Until I finally, finally found the words to share my experience, my shame, my personal self-disappointment, first with my partner, who just listened, who supported me, who did not try to downplay my own responses (whether they were out of proportion or not), did not try to make it better or to dismiss it and did not judge me; and then with other friends who are also colleagues in my business field.

It still feels bad when I think of that moment, when I cannot understand how I so clearly misjudged the moment, but the shame of it is no longer defining me, shutting me down or playing itself out larger than life, compounded by building on any other unresolved incidences of shame that might exist in my history – known and unknown, aware and unaware.  The most important thing is that it illuminated the power of shame to close me off and I know I am not alone – which is why I chose to write about shame.

I realize this shame is minor compared to the shame some other people assume or carry, unwarranted shame where they blame themselves for someone else’s actions like in cases of abuse, sexual assault, abandonment or other issues. Shame that keeps people in relationships that are not healthy, do not function well; shame that keeps people from reaching out for help because they are ashamed at finding themselves in the situation to begin with, because they blame themselves so completely they shut out sources of support. Shame that buries our stories until they become deep dark secrets instead of stories that naturally shape our lives and help us know who we are.

Brene Brown offers some powerful research on shame, its origins and its impact, sharing her own personal stories of shame and vulnerability, paving the way for so many others of us to share our own stories of shame and vulnerability so we can embrace all aspects of the stranger within, for each of us in our journey to openheartedness.

Who do you know who you might be willing to share a shame story with, or where might you seek professional support to do so, to release the hold of secrets and shame and shift the shape of how you show up in the world, to claim greater resiliency,  your power and your path?