They all showed up

all six of them for my 10th birthday, sweaty and red faced from playing tag.  Barone’s pizza grease dripping from our faces. Wild and happy. He came stumbling up the driveway, the undigested pizza in my stomach threatened to show itself. I stood and smiled. He tripped past me up the porch stairs, threw the door open, struggled not to fall while his shoes came off. The hot garbage stench as his foot released from 12 hours in railroad boots punched me in the nose. He was slurring and screaming, wanting to know what the hell all these kids were doing in his house. Running to my room i cried, for barely a minute, taking a deep breath before returning outside to play again, telling them my dad was sick, not to worry. He wouldn’t make it for the singing.

Gandhi and the art of Business

As leaders we have been conditioned to think that our job is to come up with a brilliant strategy, share that vision with the team and let them at it, all the while “managing performance” to ensure accountability along the way.  We chug along accepting things as they are until business results don’t meet.  Usually a diagnosis is given as to the problem, people aren’t working hard enough, they aren’t spending enough time with customers, the data isn’t in the right format and doesn’t come often enough, etc, etc… and a prescribed regimen to change certain behaviors is mandated.  

It sounds good, but it rarely works.  We try to change too many things at once and most don’t stick.  Most obvious is that leaders don’t model that behavior that they expect.  I have seen this time and time again in my 15 years of experience.  A leader tells the team to spend more time with customers but continues to demand reports that force the team to be behind a desk crunching numbers.  I leader sends the team to leadership training or provides them a coach, but doesn’t participate in the training themselves or demonstrate the behavior they expect in others.

If you want to start to see real change in your organization, start simple.  Follow Gandhi’s lead, and be the change you want to see in your organization.  

 

 

Fear and truth

As leaders we have been brainwashed into thinking that acknowledging or showing fear is a weakness.  The pack will smell your weakness and expose it.  Naturally, because of this, when fear comes up most of move away, sometimes all out run away. We all know that feeling, whether your mouth goes dry, your hands get clammy, you get a knot in your stomach, our brain is registering fear and we move into fight or flight, it is how we are built. If our instinct is to run away, to avoid, we are often missing a big opportunity. To learn something about ourselves and to potentially dissipate that fear by meeting it head on.  Pema Chodron says that “Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth.”   Our fear, whether it is a big presentation coming up a work, having to give someone difficult feedback or that spider in the corner, is telling us something we need to pay attention to. As leaders showing vulnerability, admitting to fear and overcoming it is way more inspiring and impactful than pretending it doesn’t exist. Next time that feeling creeps in, stop, take a breath and sit with it, even for a minute. Examine it, lean into it – is it real or perceived?   What is the worst case scenario, play it out and you may notice the closer you get the farther away it feels.  Experiment with sharing that fear with others, showing your human side.  By opening and sharing people can sense your authenticity and trust increases.

Open to life as it is, not as you pretend it to be.

Jewel in the Poop

I love buddhism, I really do – discovering it and learning to meditate saved my life, more than once. The problem is it gets a bad name- some people, who aren’t very familiar or show some interest, assume that it’s not for them because they can’t do it, they can’t sit still for hours or clear their minds. They perceive the practice to be for a special few who are able to experience flowers and sunshine – they think that when buddhists meditate their minds spontaneously clear of all thoughts, TA DA! Rainbows appear!! The term “the jewel in the lotus” gives the impression that meditators are somehow surrounded by fields of lotus flowers and hit the jewel lottery jackpot, all blissed out. It is an image problem, a PR problem, a communication problem in general. The other perception seems to be that it is all doom and gloom, suffering, and lots of long talks about dying and emptiness. It sets the wrong expectation on both ends of the spectrum.

For me, the cultivation of self awareness and awareness in general is much more akin to trudging through a sewer and tripping over a boot only to have my face smash into the poop, as I put my hands down into the gook to push myself up I happen upon a diamond ring that fell through the sewer grates. And lucky for me, now that I have taken my head out of the proverbial crap I can see that the ladder to get out isn’t far.

Ok, maybe that is a little dramatic, and even misses the point a little…after all, the point of practicing is to uncover your own jewelry in all that poop, not someone else’s. It isn’t all fun and games, and it isn’t all doom and gloom.

The beauty of Buddhism is the idea that your perfect buddha like self already exists, it is not outside of you, someone else can’t find it for you – you have to work through your stuff, cultivate awareness and hopefully get a glimpse of reality, just as it is. Not all rosy and pretendland, but imperfect and real, and the “jewel” is learning to see what is really going on – in your head and outside of it. To let things/people/time/money etc…come and go, just as they are – for we all know we can’t change other people, and we can’t make bad things that happen unhappen. We also can’t make the good things that happen last forever. Ebbing and flowing, the way life does – watching the waves wash over you and there you are, still standing – or at least getting back up.

Obviously, there is much more to the study and practice of buddhism and to the cultivation of uncovering the person you want to be (and already are) – for just this moment, in my mind, it is about uncovering the jewel in the poop, and maybe being lucky enough to take a shower after.

“No one can save us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.”

~Buddha

Do your shoes fit?

It is January 6th, the true first day of the new year for me. For three years I contemplated quitting my job, dreaming of working for myself, doing the work that I was confident would really make a difference in peoples lives and in the success of organizations. The constant lists of pro’s and con’s, the time spent shopping my ideas around, looking for validation some days and rejection others. My wife patiently rode the roller coaster with me, cloaking her fear when she knew I needed reinforcement that it was a real possibility. Fear and desire. If I strip away all the peripheral emotions and feelings that motivate my behavior I can sum it up with these two beauties. As time passed I realized I was looking for someone to make the decision for me, to tell me it was all going to be ok, that I would find clients who wanted real change and would pay for it so I could avoid putting our young family in the position of going into foreclosure and eating ramen noodles. I trudged through my job, day after day waiting for the answer. If you have read this blog before you already know how this ends, or in a way, begins. I left my job and started my own Company, today, is my official first day self employed. This however, is not the point.

I began to reflect on how I arrived at my decision and why I was waiting for others to make it for me. I found it was a habit of needing validation and recognition. Of not trusting my intuition. In a way we all do this – we look for someone or something to tell us what to do – our bosses at work, tv ads tell us what to watch, commercials tell us what to buy, magazines tell us what to wear and what to listen to. We even base our New Year resolutions off of what we ought to do rather than what we truly want/need to do. I realize I am generalizing a bit, but think about it…do you really want to lose weight or are you doing it to fit in? Do you really want to stop eating sugar or does it seem like something you should do? Are you really motivated to stop drinking starbuck’s everyday and instead make your own coffee? The answer may be yes. But what if the real change we wanted to make was a little deeper, a bit more vulnerable? What stops us from making those changes could be we don’t want to say them out loud, and so we say all the other peripheral things and we allow the perception or judgement of others to influence our livelihood. Or maybe we really do need and want to lose weight, but we don’t take the time to dig deep to understand what led us to being overweight to begin with. What emotions drive our behavior?

As my teach Lama Surya Das says, “no one can tell you if your shoes fit”. No one can tell you what will make you happy, what you need to change or what you are afraid of. Dig deep inside and trust yourself, make a decision and don’t look for recognition or validation, know it in your heart. Feel scared, embarrassed and excited. And commit to yourself.

My new year resolution is to admit that I want recognition and I want to have the answer in order for others to think I am smart and competent. Admitting those things will help me to work on shutting up once in a while, not having the answer, not trying to prove what I know and trusting myself. This will allow me to be kinder, less competitive, less defensive and a better listener. I may even learn something. The work is looking into where those habits come from.

Take a minute, look at your new year resolution, is it the change you really want or need? Are you expecting someone to tell you if your shoes fit?

Step back to step in and look at things as they are.

with love.

www.spark-shift.com

Unrooted

If you are like me, you have spent most of your life seeking security and safety. I studied in school to get good grades, to gain recognition from my teachers and the security that I could go to college. I studied in college to ensure some learning so I could get a good job. I got a job to pay my bills so i could eat and sleep and have a level of recognition and success in order to get the next job that would bring a little more money…and so on. As i reflected on my path in life I realized that most everything I did was a means to the next thing – all of those achievements were meant to make me feel safe and secure, either emotionally or physically. A+B=C except that then I wanted D and so the journey continued and continued, Z wasn’t ever the real goal – because once I was in the habit of seeking and achieving I didn’t know where to stop.

And so here I am, having spent 36 years under the illusion that I was escaping the uncertainty of my childhood for a certainty of adulthood, but as the saying goes, an object in motion tends to stay in motion. I ended up with the good fortune of having an excellent career, working for two very successful companies only to find myself still looking for that sense of security, that validation that everything was going to be ok. By working long enough hours and hard enough i assumed my boss, my company, someone on the outside of me would make me feel safe and secure. Fear crept in, and even though I had a beautiful house, a healthy family and enough money to pay my bills and enjoy life, I felt unsafe. I was in fear. In fear of not getting recognition, of not doing a perfect enough job – I felt shackled and indebted to the company I worked for. I had created the illusion in my mind that my job was the only way for me to create a foundation, to be sure things would be ok – so I lived in fear. And then one day, I realized that it was me, I was the problem.

Only I could make myself feel safe. The critical realization was that the feeling will never be static, that to feel safe i had to accept feeling afraid, feeling groundless, that one is not the absence of the other. I teach it everyday, but I never fully realized it for myself.

The buddha taught that when we can understand that there is no final answer, no stopping place, no sense of certainty, that when we let go of our sparring emotions and accept the ambiguity and uncertainty of life, we have attained fearlessness. Letting things come and go just as they are – good or bad.

So, I have let go of the illusion that my corporate job brings me security and I have stepped into the groundlessness of beginning my own company, one day at a time. I have entitled myself to the idea that doing what I love with the intent to empower others I will be ok. I now get to spend 80% of my time using my strengths versus about 20%. And just maybe my leap will help others uncover their own source of happiness and freedom. If nothing else, I can look my son in the eye one day and encourage him to go for it, to follow his dreams and I can say I did it and the world didn’t end. I will take it one day at a time. After all, I can always get another job – but I may not have the courage to take the leap again…

What is your leap?

“The everyday practice is simply to develop a complete acceptance and openness to all situations and emotions, and to all people, experiencing everything totally without mental reservations and blockages, so that one never withdraws or centralizes into oneself.”
—DILGO KHYENTSE RINPOCHE (taken from an excerpt from Pema Chodron’s -The Places that Scare You)

Check me out – http://www.spark-shift.com

Moths to a flame

We are all like moths to a flame, looking for happiness. Tempted by the feeling of fleeting relief only to further embed our bad habits. My tongue is all too pleased with the sting of a hot, salty french fry, satisfying in a primal way. The trouble is the next bite isn’t as good as the last, but I believe in the promise of the possibility, so i burn my tongue and add to my girth with another. And on I go, chasing the familiar relief of the first bite that can’t be matched. Only to further embed the habit loop, the well worn path in the deep recess of my brain that tells me this is going to provide relief.

Less obvious are relationships. A relationship begins, the intensity of the courting, the lust, all the firsts, they enrapture us and we are in the pleasure vortex. The phone rings and our heart races, we can literally feel the adrenaline coursing through our veins. Researchers say that falling in love is akin to being addicted to a drug, in the way our brains respond. Dopamine is released and that state of pleasure feels endless. And this goes on, in some cases for as long as 2 years. That is the point at which scientists say we have psychologically adapted to that state of being. We are an adaptive species after all, and are hard wired for variety. The first kiss, the discovery of all we don’t know thrills and drives us, and when the passionate love transitions to compassionate love we mistake it for loss of connection. The spark is gone, we feel like the relationship is “work,” sex changes, is more predictable. Somewhere along the way we were told that true love is easy – or at least I was. The key here is to stick in, to create variety and surprise, in order to stimulate our brains and keep the relationship fresh. It would be impossible to maintain the state of being of the first six months of a relationship, we would never get anything done much less be able to raise families. After all, it will be the same adventure with the next person, it is biologically determined that the lust will wear down, if not off. So revel in each moment accepting that feelings ebb and flow – where there is compassionate love there is a future. You just have to work at it a bit more.

For most of us this state of being is relatively harmless as long as we catch ourselves. At least it is relative to drug addicts and alcoholics, however it still gets in the way of our general sense of happiness.

So what? Is life then hopeless and happiness not a realistic goal? I don’t think so, for me it has been about accepting what comes at me, knowing that the pain and suffering, the crappy tasting meal or the bad cup of coffee all allow for the next moment to be appreciated. Without contrast we cannot feel happy or content.

The key for me has been awareness, cultivated through meditation. Catching myself in the moment, of chasing the pleasure and recognizing its futility – fully being able to appreciate an extraordinary moment for what it is and letting things come and go.

The next time you have a bad meal or are bored with your partner, let it be the foundation of contrast in order to enjoy the next moment.

“When any situation is desired by the pleasure principle is prolonged it only produces a feeling of mild contentment. We are so made that we can derive intense enjoyment only from a contrast and very little from a state of things. Thus our possibilities of happiness are already restricted by our constitution.”
~ Freud, Civilization and its Discontents, Standard Edition

CRAVE – Series 1 October 27th!

Join us and learn to uncover the habits that are getting in the way of the life you want. You will learn how and why we do the things we do, how are brains hold us back and how we can change them. You will learn simple techniques to cultivate greater self awareness and make the shifts in your life that will last.

October 27th
Subculture – 45 Bleeker Street
2pm – 5pm
Tickets below or at the door

http://sparkshift-efbevent.eventbrite.com

Bigger than this

I often live my life in a bubble, bumping around into other people’s bubble’s. My world is saturday morning pancakes and the smell of coffee breath tainted with last nights one too many beers and cigarettes from the commuter next to me, little dump trucks and dirt boxes, big city offices and the hum of white collar workers with low morale, toddlers crying because underwear must be worn and there hasn’t been time to practice liking the sound of the vacuum yet, hands in flour water and yeast yielding warm bread and hot garbage stuck to my shoe.

Maybe you are like me in that you float around in your life, mostly seeing things from your bubble, feeling the grind of your job more than the person next to you, your back pain hurts a little more than your neighbors, the rain even makes you a bit more wet than everyone else? And we all bump into one another, holding our breath and hoping the bubbles don’t break. Comforted by illusion of safety and warmth of the blanket of our self deception.

And then, if you are lucky, there are moments when your bubble bumps into someone else’s and you are breathing the same air, having to look at things from the space of their bubble, and a glimpse of real life tip toes in.

Life is bigger than this, we are bigger than this. My bubble had the opportunity to collide with so many at once that my reality exploded in an instant. Nothing makes this reality more clear than moments of birth and the process of death.

The danger is, that the moment trails away, the grief lessens it grip, the joy of birth turns into sleepless nights and spit up and the bubble slowly starts to reform. I am a better person, better off than I have been before for this moment that has lasted longer than the others. Suffering is universal, and it is experienced in degrees, if we can see suffering as a collective ailment, share in the pain, we can share in the glory, in the breath of life, it gets a little easier. There is so much more space and air in a bigger bubble, more room for freedom and happiness and for sharing in the unavoidable pain of life.

It takes practice, you may not be ready to burst your bubble completely, maybe start with joining one or two other bubbles, share in their pain, see life from their hearts, and slowly expand. The key is to be aware as often as possible as to where you are in relation to the rest of us – and make a choice, don’t float in your bubble obliviously.

Stolen with love from Eddie Vedder’s “Hard Sun” and words changed for the purposes of my intentions:

When I walk beside them
I am a better person
When I look to leave them
I always stagger
Once I built an ivory tower
so i could worship from above
when I climb back down to be set free
they took me in again

there’s a big
a big hard sun
beating on the the big people
in a big hard world

There’s a big hard love
that is bigger than us
in this big love world

Go on, go do it.

Intersection

my mind turns inside out and my heart unravels, an invitation to let go and just be – she is there and then gone, so willing to see – the truth that is exposed, warning and free – leaning in i hold her, whispering all i know – follow your breath, in your nose and out, follow it all the way, don’t look back, you will be ok. The pain will stay behind and the love will follow, lightness and ease – she relents and resists, banging her fists, tears streaming – why are you doing this to me, you promised.

Its ok baby, you can go now, don’t let the burdens of the past hold you here

the pain can flow like wind through the trees

the cancer overtook her – no hope for a cure, no treatment, just left to live the last moments void of pain. This beautiful woman, strong, gentle, vibrant mother of two – The intersection of suffering and pleasure is life, you can’t escape the reality. We sit with her, breathing and hold space for weeks…

5 bright sunny days pass and the rains began…

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