Leadership is Not a Position

I’ve recently jumped into the vast sea of MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) and signed up for a class on leadership. It’s started off great and, as intended, lead me to reflect on what leadership means to me.

I believe that leadership is not a position, but rather a behavior. It’s an activity independent of position.

Great leadership engages people in potentially difficult change by addressing directly the tensions that arise from that change in a way that moves the team or organization forward through a cycle of learning. Most importantly, great leadership helps create a safe container for expression and for learning to occur.

Receptivity and Presence are important to great leadership. Receptivity involves listening, asking questions, receiving people as they are, and taking things in stride. Presence is about creating and holding a safe space for others. One of my favorite managers, Yasmine, is now a dear friend. Yasmine brought out the best in me by asking questions and soliciting my ideas and opinions. She spoke honestly and directly about good news and bad. She removed obstacles and buffered us from distracting tensions beyond our control. Working for Yasmine I felt confident, capable, motivated and valued. She embodied presence and receptivity with great strength.

What is required when exercising leadership is recognizing when resistance or tension is present, creating and holding a safe space to work through that tension, setting a context of holistic, integrative, and adaptive learning, and, like Yasmine, having the compassion, courage and skill to be engaged with those you are leading.

What does leadership mean to you?

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Thoughts on a Windy Day

2011-04-07 Liminal Space (Rumi's Field) (low res)Does movement beget wind or wind beget movement?

Elements play music together – fire, earth, and water – but wind makes it so the music can be heard. It is the voice of creation. It is the sigh of surrender, the howl of agony, and the whisper of unconditional love. Wind carries seeds to new destinations, facilitates pollination, and ignites the ingredients of life.

Wind is Cupid in the love affair of life. Wind introduces the spark to the wood, and the flame is born. Wind carries the flame to earth and transformation follows. Wind was there in the beginning, as the first breath that fanned the fire of creation. Wind will be there at the end to carry it all back to The One.

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Balance is not a Permanent State of Being

blog 2013-09-24Just two days a year, one in March and the other in September, the length of the day is equal to that of the night. This occurred this past Sunday, September 22nd, and is called the equinox, from the root “equal” or “equilibrium.”

In the northern hemisphere, Sunday marked the last day of summer and the start of autumn, as we now experience fewer hours of daylight, while in the southern hemisphere spring has arrived.

This momentary equilibrium is part of the cycles of the year, the cycle of the seasons. It is the threshold between seasons – a good time to reflect on the meaning of balance and harmony – and to be reminded that balance is not a permanent state of being, but instead found in temporary moments present in the many cycles of our lives.

As we mark the change of seasons, allow yourself some quiet time to honor the balance of the seasons this week. You might walk a labyrinth or stroll through a park. Notice the rhythm of your breath, the balance of in-breath and out-breath. Contemplate the signs of the changing seasons, walking in balance. Begin today by simply being open with gratitude to the brief moment of balance in the rhythm of light and dark that we call day and night.

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An Energy Work Hypothesis: The Cosmic Sea

Earth Traveler - LauraEsculcas.comOne of the problems of writing about energy work is that the people who believe in energy work often treat it like it’s magic. Yet if it works, then it follows that there must be an explanation – a mechanism or model – that helps us understand how it works. On the other hand, the conservative among us will tend to discount anything that doesn’t fit into our current existing model by calling it superstition, asking for proof, or claiming that we’ve tricked ourselves in to believing it works – a type of placebo effect, if you will. But there are still things that science can’t yet explain.

In fact, there is no absolute ‘truth’ in science. A scientific hypothesis is an educated guess based on observations. A hypothesis can be disproven by experiments (observations), but it cannot be proven to be true. So I’m not going to try to prove to you that energy work really works.  Instead, I invite you to be open to a hypothesis and be willing to accept the possibility that energy work functions throughout the universe in a very specific way. I will postulate an energy work hypotheses and then you are invited to experience for yourself if this hypothesis holds some potential truth for you or not.

In exploring the topic of energy work, it’s helpful to look at where energy originates in the universe. It is known from the first law of thermodynamics that energy can be changed from one form to another, but it can never be created or destroyed. The question that thermodynamics does not answer is this: Where did that original energy come from and what was its original form?

The prevailing cosmological model in science is the Big Bang theory. While clearly the Big Bang is a model describing the transformation of energy at the birth of the universe, as a creation model it does not adequately explain a variety of conditions found in the universe today. As Ervin Laszlo states in his book Science and the Akashic Field, “the laws of interaction based on the transfer and transformation of energy…do not adequately explain why an excess of particles over antiparticles was generated in the Big Bang.” He writes, “The three dozen or more physical parameters of the universe are so precisely adjusted that together they create the highly improbably conditions under which life can emerge on Earth and evolve to progressively higher levels of complexity.”

This casts doubt that the universe arose by a force of randomness as proposed by the Big Bang theory. Instead, Laszlo suggests, the universe may have been born in the womb of a prior “Metaverse.” Ancient Chinese philosophers called this Metaverse Tao. According to the Tao Te Ching, “Tao is empty yet it fills every vessel with endless supply.” Thus it is said that everything comes from the emptiness and returns to the emptiness. According to Laszlo, it’s possible that the universe has been born many times over, and that with each successive creation the parameters were tuned more finely until the universe was able to produce life.

This hypothesis that the original energy of the universe emerged from a vessel or womb called the Metaverse is not new. In ancient Hindu mythology, the Ocean of Milk is said to surround directional space and separate it from non-directional space. The Ocean of Milk is equated with the Gnostic Pleroma, or as Richard Leviton writes in The Encyclopedia of Earth Myths, “the realm of absolute, unruptured light.” The Ocean of Milk, sometimes called the Void, the Unknown Darkness, or the Womb of Being, is “the repository of all potentialities,” and when the Ocean is churned, creation precipitates. In a ceaseless cycle of creation and dissolution, universe after universe rises out of the subtle-energy womb, the Metaverse, only to be absorbed again at the end of each cycle. Yet the memory of preceding universes is preserved in the Metaverse and in-forms the creation of subsequent universes.

Laszlo describes the quantum vacuum as a“virtual-energy sea” or a “quasi-infinite energy sea,” and identifies it as “the foundation that generates all things without itself being generated by other things.” The physical vacuum of space, writes Laszlo, is a cosmic medium that transports light and sound (photon-waves and density-pressure waves), thus the unified, physical vacuum is effectively a cosmic plenum. On the surface of this plenum, modulating wave patterns coalesce, consolidating into lasting forms, as Laszlo puts it: “micropatterns structuring into larger patterns within a common wavefield.”

Essentially these larger patterns give rise to forms we recognize as galaxies, stars, planets, oceans, land, plants, and more – including our own bodies. A fundamental organizing principle of the energy work hypothesis is Laszlo’s Akashic vision: “matter is but a waveform disturbance in the quasi-infinite energy- and in- formation-sea that is the connecting field, and the enduring memory, of the universe.” Laszlo calls this connecting field – the sea – the Akashic field.

The 13th century Sufi mystic Rumi wrote a lovely poem called Straw and Grasses that captures this image quite well. Here is a translation by Coleman Barks, from his book Rumi: The Book of Love.

There is no reality but God, says the completely surrendered teacher,

who is an ocean for all beings.

The levels of creation are straws in that ocean.

The movement comes from agitation in the water.

When the ocean wants the dry stems calm, it sends them close to shore.

When it wants them back in the deep surge, it does with them
as the wind does with grasses.

This never ends.

 

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A Lesson from Santo Antonio: Let the Path Unfold

Santo AntonioThis week Lisbon celebrates the Festival of Santo Antonio with street parties, grilled sardines, parades and more. Known as St. Anthony of Padua and the patron saint of missing or stolen items, St. Anthony was born in Lisbon in the 1100′s. He ended up in modern-day Italy accidentally. He left Portugal hoping to follow in the footsteps of five Franciscan missionaries who had been martyred in Morocco. Apparently, he couldn’t wait to join them by serving God as a martyr himself.

But sometimes the path we choose for achieving our greatest desire is not the path God intends for us. On the journey to Morocco, St. Anthony became so sick that the ship had to turn around in the direction of Lisbon. But as the story goes, the ship was blown off course by a massive storm, only to make landfall in Sicily. From there he eventually ended up serving God not as a martyr but by preaching and teaching as the first teacher of the Franciscan order.

St. Anthony’s story is a good reminder that we may be clear on our desires in life, but that our path is not always of our own choosing. It’s just like trying to find your way in the streets of Alfama, the neighborhood in Lisbon at the heart of the Santo Antonio festivities. Alfama is a confusing maze of tiny steep streets and staircases, and the best way to get where you want to be is to aim in the direction of your goal and just walk, making turns this way and that while you figure out the path as you go.

IMG_1927Hold close your dreams, but let go of knowing what path will take you to them. Just start walking and let the path unfold before you. Be aware of where you are in your present situation compared to your desired destination and choose your next step informed by the present moment. And when stormy winds seem to blow you off course, remember that you don’t need to know the path when you trust the goal.

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Energy Work: Science or Superstition?

Wildflowers lauraesculcas collageWhen you hear the phrase “energy work,” what comes to mind? For some people, this phrase is about fuels and alternative sources of energy. For others, this means something less tangible like Reiki or energy healing. And to others, it just sounds too “new age” to believe. I have been all of the above at one time or another in my life.

While working on my masters degree, I have had the privilege of studying with some amazing teachers whose also happen to work with energy – people like Dr. Calen Rayne, whose practical methods helped me move from wondering what the heck energy work is to experiencing it for myself…and thus dispelling much of my skepticism. In my coursework, I’ve written a couple of papers touching on this subject, and over the next several blog posts, I plan to share a few of my thoughts on the subject of energy work.

One of the topics I studied recently was Feng Shui – the ancient Chinese art of placement – called the “science of sacred landscape” by E.J. Eitel, who studied it as a Christian missionary in China in the 1800′s. Feng Shui means wind and water, after the elements that best express the way that energy is understood to flow through the material world. In the afterward to E. J. Eitel’s classic book on Feng Shui, which was first published in 1873, John Michell writes that Feng Shui is “the art of perceiving the subtle energies that animate nature and the landscape, and the science of reconciling the best interests of the living earth with those of its inhabitants.” This is a good working definition for the fundamentals of working with energy, whether employing Feng Shui, traditional Chinese medicine, vibrational healing or other energy practices.

For his part, Eitel oscillates between calling Feng Shui a “system of superstition” and a Chinese natural science that preserves “a spirit of sacred reverence for the divine powers of nature.” Likewise, to the outside observer, energy work is a mysterious art that seems to flirt with superstition while dancing with the Divine. Yet at the heart of energy work exist fundamental organizing principles, the understanding of which unlocks the door of energy work for the curious and willing adventurer who possesses an open and compassionate heart.

Ancient Chinese philosophy, sacred geometry and sacred texts are among the many sources offering insights into these organizing principles. The mythology and cosmology of ancient and indigenous peoples is also rich with metaphors describing these principles. And, more recently, the work of scientists like Ervin Laszlo and Hans Andeweg put these principles in scientific terms: Laszlo with his integral theoretical model, and Andeweg with his pragmatic applied scientific practices.

All paths lead us to understand that energy work is about perceiving subtle energies that animate life and compassionately engaging in a reciprocal relationship with the healing power of God. Energy work opens a gateway for the Light to enter. So as I explore energy work here in the coming weeks, I invite you to remain as you are – a skeptic about energy work or not – but I also invite you to be open and curious as I have been about this surprisingly down-to-earth topic.

Blessings,

Laura

 

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Walk Your Way to Health and Beauty

Labyrinth-1It’s well known that stress is bad for your health as well as being one of the major causes of premature aging. Stress triggers the flight-or-fight response in our bodies, in which our blood is routed to muscles to support survival. Stress is a physiological response to extreme danger, but the body is not designed to sustain this response for long periods of time. According to Elle UK.com: “Stress not only affects our physical and psychological well being, it can also disrupt sleep patterns, alter your metabolism and upset your hormonal balance.” These are all contributors to premature aging. Knowing how to relax your body is key to returning it to a healthy, youthful, non-stressed state.

Research shows that when we relax, we experience decreased metabolism, heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure, as well as distinct brain wave activity, writes Karen Leland on WebMD.com. A stroll through a labyrinth can evoke the relaxation response, “a bodily state directly opposite to the stress or fight-or-flight state,” says Dr. Herbert Benson, founder of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and author of RelaxationRevolution. And when you relax, you move out of stress response and away from the causes of premature aging into a state of physical and psychological well-being.

It’s no surprise, then, that labyrinths have become a form of meditation for stress reduction and self-reflection, and even people who find meditation difficult often enjoy walking the labyrinth. This is because the labyrinth engages the body and the linear, analytical part of the brain in the logical progression of walking the path, which aids us to calm the flow of stressful thoughts that disrupt meditation. The added benefit of the labyrinth, says Dr. Lauren Artress, a leading force in the worldwide labyrinth movement and author of Walking a Sacred Path, is that it often brings about “a shift in consciousness from linear to the non-linear thinking, which allows deeper, intuitive wisdom and beauty to surface.”

Beauty advisor, author and photographer Gregory Landsman has worked with models for over 20 years, and although he has a talent for helping women look their best, he says that ultimately inner beauty is what matters, ”The truth is we don’t touch people with our looks, we touch them with the way we feel and acts of humanity.” So walk the labyrinth as a weekly practice and you just might walk your way into a less stressed, more youthful, intuitive and beautiful life.

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Love is Our Deepest Nature

In the beginning low resI have this vision of the universe as a place full of love and light, energy and passion, intention and abundance – all flowing to a rhythmic beat. We must be still and listen in order to connect to this pulse, this wave, this rhythm. And when we acknowledge its presence, we cannot feel alone. By whatever name we call it, this Love and this Light are the father and mother of us all. Love is our deepest nature, writes mystic John O’Donohue in his book of Celtic Wisdom, Anam Cara. We need to be still and let love discover us. He suggests what he calls a new art of prayer, though we could call it meditation or visualization or anything that sounds inviting to us: Close your eyes and relax into your body (try the body presence exercise to help get started). Imagine a light all around you, the light of your soul. Then with your breath, draw that light into your body and bring it with your breath through every area of your body. O’Donahue tells us that the body is the sister of the soul, so bringing them together in this prayer  acknowledges their interconnectedness and grounds your presence. It is a powerful way to be still and listen.

 

 

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What Attitude Are You Wearing Today?

Attitudes, beliefs, expectations…these are the clothes we wear day in and day out, rarely taking time to look in the mirror to see what’s hanging on us. When I notice myself saying things that include always, can’t, never, need toshould have, shouldn’t, impossible, and if only, I’ve usually become attached to some way of seeing the world or the people around me. When this happens, it’s usually time for me take off those old clothes and try on something new.

It’s just like shopping for a new pair of shoes to spice up an old wardrobe. I start by looking around for inspiration and then trying on a few items for size. I replace worn out expressions like “if only I had the time (or money, or talent, or courage, or you-fill-in-the-blank)…” or “if only I’d said this or that….” with something different – something new like: “I will make the most of the time I have by….”

When my attitude, beliefs or expectations are ill-fitting or worn out, I take the best pieces and cut away the rest.  I shop around, pick up something new, and reassemble my wardrobe. Combining all these pieces, it’s fun and easy to wear a new attitude.

Transformation

In a quilt I see a patch of blue gingham

and recall a summer dress that fit like a second skin

until with wear and tear and playful growing spurts

it was outgrown. A dress worn out from use, ill fitting,

no longer serves it’s wearer,

nor could serve another in its faded, ragged form.

So to the sharp, purposeful slicing strides of mother’s scissors,

the beloved blue summer dress yields itself

into measured scraps of faded blue gingham. Yet

combined with carefully cut scraps of other colored memories,

radical new patterns unfold

until a work of art full of beauty emerges

to wrap me warmly up in its new form. 

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Are You Just Singing Along?

Anyone with a dog or a cat knows that a mood or emotion can be communicated without words. With our coworkers, friends, and family, we often pick up on someone else’s mood. We learn to sense when to stay away from that guy two cubicles away because he’s grumpy today, and when a dear friend needs a shoulder to lean on. Moods emanate from people like music, reverberating in the space around them.

Have you ever been in a house full of people and felt the atmosphere change when one person, irritated over something, starts to complain and fuss? How long does it take before the whole house is full of irritated, fussy, complaining people? My guess is 10 minutes, maybe less.

So what happened? Somehow one person’s irritated tune spread throughout the house, and other people started singing the same song. When we tune into emotions such as anger, blame, resentment, suspicion, envy or guilt, we lower ourselves to an unpleasant frequency of discord and disharmony that attracts more of the same.

This can happen on a bigger scale in almost any setting – a classroom, a meeting, a store, a street corner, a church, a stadium, and more. It’s so easy to be swept up or swept down by the music. When it comes to mood, the tunes we play daily create our habits and reinforce a certain way of being.

Over time, your daily songs become the soundtrack for your life. As Jonatan Mårtensson wrote, “Feelings are much like waves, we can’t stop them from coming but we can choose which ones to surf.” Or which ones to sing. So take note of the tunes around you and don’t just sing along. Be sure you join in a song that serves you well – one that you’re willing to keep on singing.

 

 

 

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