Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Recession Blues: Finding the Joy and Love Amid the Misery

Poetry and song speak truths that are as necessary for our sustenance and survival as the facts of science and technology. The latter without the former make us zombies; living bodies without spirit. This is a prose poem on joy and love in the midst of the misery of recession.

Rich chords sound, colors dark and cloud-like as I search for a firm footing beyond the grip of negative emotions. Circumstances hover above like vultures, waiting patiently for me to die; but I keep on finding the next breath. My strength is gone; my resources expended. I am at the mercy of the generosity of strangers.

All but invisible, arrogance and ignorance keep me banging my head against the glass in a futile attempt to get free; not realizing that regardless of my circumstances, a change is still needed in me. The salt tears of self-pity and sentimentality only serve to further obscure my vision.

The change begins in me. Where does this sense of joy and humor come from in the middle of seemingly endless toil and setbacks. It rises up apparently out of nowhere. Perhaps it was a conversation with someone who told me about something good that happened to her. My situation hasn’t changed, but now I remember that good things do happen after all. Or perhaps it was just opening the window and letting some fresh air into the room. My emotional state and mental frame have changed.

As my perspective changes, I now see the tension that was causing my internal pain rather than experiencing that pain as the natural unalterable state of being. Now that I can separate myself from my pain, I can begin to make the internal adjustments that are necessary to get rid of it. Instead of anger and frustration, I now feel hope and optimism. Instead of suspicion, I feel generosity and love towards others.

Joy and love can’t wait for everything to be right in our circumstances. In fact, joy and love may be necessary preconditions to putting right the things that are within our ability to change. Joy and love are irrational and almost idiotic. They just spring up organically within us if we allow them; without explanation or justification. How do we explain the emotional richness of a piece of music or the smiling voice of a child? These help us to triumph over sickness and death and all the challenges in life.

Yes, we love manuals with tools and instructions that tell us how to…But sometimes, the only instruction is a dancer’s gesture. What does it mean? It either touches your heart or leaves you cold. Study your ancient texts and current operations manuals in order to learn how to love and to have joy. Still, it will take courage to take that step to make yourself vulnerable enough to experience them.

I’m Dr. Bernard Brookes. You can reach me at www.sopphia.com.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Wisdom of the Body: Health and Sustainability

The wisdom of the body keeps us connected to health, to the earth, to all life and its sustainability. The seven letters in the acronym SOPPHIA represent the seven dimensions of wisdom; seven sets of skills for success and fulfillment. SOPPHIA means wisdom in Greek, and wisdom is the extract that results when we boil our collective human experience down into simple practical lessons for achieving a purposeful and fulfilling life. In our emphasis on technological advancement and intellectual abstraction, we often neglect the wisdom of the body.

The H in SOPPHIA stands for Health, the skills and habits that we need to develop in order to be healthy in body, mind and spirit. The second P in SOPPHIA represents Presence; the importance of learning to be fully present in our life. Being present means being in the body; breathing, sitting, standing, moving, listening to the body. Health and Presence go together, and are connected to the wisdom of the body, which teaches us patience and the joy of just being. It teaches that limits can be overcome, with patience, persistence and discipline, particularly when driven by a purpose that is connected to who we truly are as human beings.

The O in SOPPHIA represents Others; the skills needed to relate to others well and to manage relationships. Usually we think of others as other human beings. However, this should also be extended to relating to nature and to animals. This is an important part of the wisdom of the body, recognizing that we are physical beings in an ecology including other forms of life and a natural environment that must be sustained, in order to sustain human life.

The wisdom of the body informs us that we can change our emotional and mental state from frustration and even panic to something positive by something as simple slowing our breathing and tensing and relaxing our muscles. It tells us that the sense of hopelessness that we feel in a particular moment may just be physical exhaustion and lack of proper nutrition, rest, and exercise. It informs us that we can find our second wind and continue to run with vigor. Ultimately, the wisdom of the body tells us that life and death form a natural cycle; and that we can face the prospect of physical death without dying spiritually from fear and hopelessness.

As humans we have a tendency to become so absorbed in our minds and technology that we believe, and begin to act as though, our bodies and natural environment are peripheral to our existence. This is evidenced in the epidemic of obesity among children and adults, and our numerous ecological challenges resulting from neglect of our interdependence with our natural environment. Listening to the wisdom of the body is a discipline that we can practice individually and collectively. As we do so, it will change our emotional states, our thinking, and our actions to move us towards better health and increased sustainability.

I’m Dr. Bernard Brookes. You can contact me about life and business coaching and consulting at www.sopphia.com.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Using Trust And Compassion To Get Past Glass Barriers To Innovation

Have you ever watched a bee or other insect wander into a room and become trapped by the concept of glass? I say that the bee is trapped by the concept of glass, rather than by the glass itself; because if it understood the difference between glass and air it could find its way back outside to freedom. Sometimes we are prevented from achieving our own purpose by the concept of glass. We have a misconception about the nature of the physical or social reality in which we are located. We are so certain that we understand our situation that we keep bouncing off the glass rather than accepting the fact of our ignorance. This glass barrier is an obstacle to innovation; to the generation of new ideas and the development and implementation of them to produce social and economic value; that is to impact our world. Innovation is one of the seven dimensions of wisdom in the SOPPHIA model of leadership development and coaching.

Trust and compassion create bonds of social opportunity, like the charge between neurons creates pathways for ideas, feeling and imagination. We can overcome the glass barrier through trust and compassion, which enable us to value and benefit from the ideas and perspectives of others; and which motivate us to share our own. You might respond that it is really self-interest that motivates us to cooperate with others to produce goods and services that create economic and social value. When we open the window to let the trapped bee out, we might just be interested in getting an annoying insect out of our space. But we know from both personal experience and from research that helping others produces positive emotions in helper.

One of the greatest challenges to innovation is not so much the generation of creative ideas, as developing them and bringing them into reality as services or products that produce social and economic value. This is a social activity, not the activity of a lone creative genius. Even in the conceptual phase, shaping an idea that has social potential, as opposed to a purely self-indulgent fantasy requires the engagement of the social world with the imagination. This is clearly true in science and the creative arts. For example, an artist such as Beethoven or Miles Davis or a scientist like Einstein, did more than create from their imagination, they interacted creatively with their contemporaries as well as with the works of those who lived before them, and then made a conceptual leap that was their own contribution.

Certainly self-interest and competition also drive us to innovate. But cooperation with others is essential to realizing successful results. Trust and compassion are necessary to form the bonds for team work and partnership, just as they are for friendship and love. When we run into glass barriers, and our conception of reality blinds us to other possibilities, trust and compassion enable us to accept the perspective of someone else, and encourage them to share possible solutions with us. Even in a work place where people are paid for their contributions, you can’t buy a certain level of engagement and motivation. It must be based on authentic trust and compassion.

Trust and compassion are built through practice. This includes the intentional practice of maintaining a positive emotional and mental state, and overcoming the fears and inhibitions that can limit our ability to experience trust and compassion. It means overcoming fears from past situations where others took advantage of us. It means being able to deal with the reality of evil in the world without becoming hardened and cynical. Maintaining a positive state also enables us to develop our gifts and skills, and to find our clear purpose. It also includes the intentional practice of building and maintaining relationships. Clarifying our purpose, developing our skills, and our ability for trust and compassion make our relationships both more enjoyable and more fruitful. With positive relationships extending in all directions, like connected neurons in the brain, we are more likely to overcome glass barriers to innovation, and the successfully realize our ideas and our purpose.

I’m Dr. Bernard Brookes, for coaching or consulting, you can reach me at www.sopphia.com

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Making Sense Out Of Chaos And Asking For Help

There’s certainly wisdom in the serenity prayer used by Alcoholics Anonymous, on the issue of individual responsibility and choice versus dealing with what is beyond our control. We’ll not be very effective if we don’t make this distinction between what we can control and what we cannot, and target our energies and efforts to the areas to where we can have an impact.

Achieving our purpose usually requires the involvement and support of other people, the application of other resources, and a particular arrangement of events or circumstances. We can clarify our purpose, and begin development of creative ideas toward its achievement. Soon, however, other people, organizations and circumstances come into play in order to continue on the path of innovation, resulting in a viable service or product that creates value for others, and therefore generates income. This is true whether we creating a work of art or engaged in a more pedestrian activity.

The sense of Assurance (or faith) helps us to be hopeful and positive about the things that are beyond our control. The discipline of being present helps us to enter into and remain in a positive emotional and mental state, which improves our judgment and our ability to make good choices about where to apply our time, energy and other resources.

Assurance also enables us to tolerate the sometimes painful tension between the vision of our purpose, and the reality of our distance from it. Maintaining awareness of both of these conflicting situations creates momentum towards resolution; that is towards the realization of our vision.

In striving to attain and remain in a positive mental and emotional state, how do we avoid the trap of hedonism; of separating pleasure and pain from an ethical foundation? That is, how do we avoid just pursuing feeling good while ignoring real problems that require attention? Clarity of purpose should help with this, because true purpose always has aspects related to values and ethics. The kind of purpose that generally inspires us involves someone or something beyond oneself; and producing benefits for others, not just ourselves. Yes, that is a value judgment. Part of being human is to make value judgments. I suggest we aim to make them inspirational and beneficial, rather than destructive.

It’s also important to know how to ask for help. There will be times when we’ve come to the end of our resources and can go no further. No matter how creative and brilliant our ideas, we’ll need other people to bring them into reality. We shouldn’t let the fact that we need help to realize our vision make us underestimate the value of what we have to offer.

We must remain present. Don’t keep looking over our shoulder at the mistakes that we’ve made; the poor or less than optimal decisions. We’ve made plenty of mistakes, and we’ll make others in the future. We can recognize the errors but let go of regret in order to be fully present, and perceive and grasp the opportunities and decisions of today. We can be grateful for whatever resources we have, even if it’s little more than our minds and bodies and the important people in our lives. That is plenty with which to face whatever challenges beset us.

In the middle of the chaos, there will be those things that still make sense. In music, for example, there are keys and scales, not just a bunch of notes played randomly. Once we find the key or scale, sounds that otherwise seem random make sense. There are keys and scales in life also, often more difficult to discern amid events that appear random or chaotic. Sometimes we find these patterns and become oriented more by feel that from logic, or rather from the logic of emotions and sensations rather than that of reason and thought.

SOPPHIA The 7 Dimensions of Wisdom is like a seven note scale that plays in the key of life. SOPPHIA, which is the Greek word for wisdom, represents seven sets of skills or competencies shown by research to enhance leadership performance: S - for self; O - for Others; P - for Purpose; P - for Presence; H - for Health; I - for Innovation; and A - for Assurance or faith. It can help organize vast and seemingly chaotic elements of life circumstances into understandable patterns related to skills that help you achieve your purpose.

I’m Dr. Bernard Brookes, for coaching or consulting, you can reach me at www.sopphia.com