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Maria Gonzalez Blog
Mindful Leadership

Taking a Pause on November 11th

I always think of November 11th as a time to pause and be still, not just at 11:00am, but, all day.  When you do, you realize the enormity of this day.  We are pausing for so much.  First and foremost I feel gratitude and respect for those who have sacrificed so much.  My gratitude, extends to those who through the ages have fought for the hope of a safer and more peaceful world.  Now, that may sound like a political comment, and those who know me, know that I do not make political statements.  So, I would encourage you to here these words from a different place, a deeper place.

That gratitude I just mentioned extends beyond those who fought.  It goes to their families who also sacrificed a great deal in having to live without them.  Then there are those who have come back and experience the pain and effects of war every day.  And, that is the first layer of November 11th.

But, there is much more.  On November 11th I always pause and reflect on the pain humans cause one another, other beings and the planet as a whole.  We don’t pause enough to reflect on that.  If through the ages we didn’t and hadn’t caused one another such pain and suffering, there would not be such a need to pause and reflect on this day.

When we practice Mindfulness, hopefully we are pausing to notice our behaviour and our thoughts all day, every day.  And by catching ourselves, by purifying ourselves of our patterns, we start to cause others less pain, we walk more gently on the earth, we see all creatures as part of us.  We no longer see a division between ourselves and others.  We know we can not possibly harm another, without harming ourselves.  This then evolves to experiencing compassion towards others.  True compassion always includes action, to relieve the suffering of others, in some way.  Without action, there is no true compassion.  Without action, compassion remains intellectual.  By allowing it to remain at that level we can turn away and forget, so that the pain does not really touch us.

Add to this compassion with action a healthy dose of wisdom.  And, when we aspire to live each moment with compassion and wisdom, everything changes.  That is the pause the world needs.  A pause that includes the realization that “I” need to purify and clear “my” patterns, so that “I” cause no harm.

This is hard work.  It requires a real commitment to being with our own pain, so much so that we have a full experience of it.  Having that full experience washes away our hurt and that paves the way for us to not cause others pain and suffering.  It all starts with each and everyone of us taking responsibility to do no harm based on our old wounds and to see that we all have the power to heal ourselves.  No one else can do it for us.  And, in so doing, we contribute to healing the world.

That is how I experience pausing on this important day.

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True Awakening Requires a Balance Between Compassion and Wisdom

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There is no real awakening without deep compassion. One may have insights and wisdom, having “entered the Stream” (traditionally the initial point of Awakening). But, if wisdom out paces compassion, there can be a serious imbalance. In fact, wisdom without compassion can lead to cruelty. And compassion without wisdom can play out in life as a bleeding heart and ineffectual.  Neither is true Awakening.

If one aspires to Awaken, compassion is critical as a starting point. One of the reasons compassion is a good place to start is that it can encourage humility. An imbalance where there is too much wisdom for the amount of compassion present, can deeply ingrain arrogance. Arrogance is very difficult to purify.

If you wish to develop both wisdom and compassion in equal measure, then it is worth paying special attention to both aspects, in both your formal practice and your Mindfulness in action.

As an additional step, you can examine your thoughts and actions through the litmus test of humility.  Are you clear moment by moment that all your deep inspirations, your creativity, your great ideas, comes from the Universe?  Otherwise stated, are you clear moment by moment that what makes you special, unique and effective is the result of your ability to be a clear and open vessel, receptive to the wisdom and compassion that flows through you from “Stillness”?

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Chicago Tribune Article: Zen Commute Can Take You to a Better Place

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I was recently interviewed by Alison Bowen of the Chicago Tribune about how to experience the daily commute with greater ease. She called the article: Zen Commute Can Take You to a Better Place.  I hope you enjoy the article.  http://trib.in/1OjO8CO

As you know, Mindfulness is a skill that can be cultivated.  And, with continuous practice it merely becomes a way of experiencing life.  This progression can be described as a continuum.  Without realizing it, you begin to live mindfully, regardless of activity.  In time, you find that whether you are performing a simple task, such as walking down a quiet street, or a complex task, like driving in rush hour traffic, you can be fully present and aware.  Then, as you become more and more “Awake”, all activities are experienced exactly the same.  Over time, it is possible to experience rush hour traffic, in a snow storm, with great ease.

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The Power of Gratitude

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Most of us know that gratitude is not only powerful, but, life changing.  But, why is this the case?  The answer is quite simple.  Gratitude is experienced in the present moment.  There is no pull and no push with what is happening in the moment.  For the period of time that we are grateful, we are “okay” with what is.  We are not trying to improve that for which we are grateful.  But rather, we enjoy and feel open to what is arising.

The state of gratitude then brings about a certain joy.  In this joy, we are then more likely to attract other positive experiences for which we experience gratitude.  This then becomes a virtuous cycle.

Two other realities are at play when we experience gratitude.  The first is that our own gratitude gives us a greater sense of compassion.  In that compassion, we experience an openness towards others.  The second thing that happens is that our wisdom deepens.  When we experience deep gratitude, we realize how wise it is to cultivate that gratitude.

When we cultivate gratitude, we deepen our ability to be in the present moment, and we experience greater compassion and wisdom.  Through this one strategy, we refine consciousness deeply.  And this makes us better partners, friends, citizens and leaders.

If you would like to deliberately cultivate gratitude and enjoy its benefits, you may wish to practice the following for 1-2 weeks.  Upon rising every morning, perhaps as you lie in bed, become aware and list all the things, people, circumstances, etc. for which you are grateful.  You can visualize then, list them in words in your mind, or do both, visualize and name them to yourself.  Then just go about your business.  At bedtime, do the same thing.  You may consider the same things you were grateful for in the morning or you may wish to consider the things you were grateful for during that day.  Then just go to sleep.

Within a short time you will likely start to notice a certain lightness and inner joy for no specific reason.  The joy just wells up from within and becomes a source of inexplicable energy and creativity.


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Gaining the Greatest Benefit from Summer

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We all look forward to summer –  the sunshine, the warm weather and the opportunity to relax.  But, unless we are very deliberate about the relaxation and regeneration, we may find that summer flies by and we are suddenly into the frenetic pace of September.  One of the issues is that we try to cram too much into a short period of time.  When we do this, we push away time for relaxation.

And when we don’t take the time to relax, one of the casualties is time for reflection.  Essentially, we drive away time to “do nothing”.  It may seem wasteful to “do nothing”.  But, nothing could be further from the truth.  It is when we take time to do nothing that we regenerate, creative ideas flow, and we feel more at peace.

Our drive to accomplish every moment of the day may actually wear us down.  So, by slowing down, we can become more productive when we are back doing what we need to do.

So this summer, you may wish to take time to smell the roses or the coffee.  You may wish to look up at the clouds and do what you might have done as a child…just contemplate the shape of the clouds and watch them move by.  You may wish to listen to the birds.  And you may find great peace in being still.

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Golf Is the Great “Purifier”

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Anyone who plays golf knows that it can be both exhilarating and frustrating not in a round, but on a single hole! It is a difficult game in the best of times.  Every round is different, every hole is different, and every shot is different.  This sounds very much like “every moment is a new moment” doesn’t it?  And it’s not hyperbole.

Golf tests us completely.  If you want to learn about your patterns and deeply reveal your beliefs, then just play a round of golf.  Jack Nicklaus, holder of the record for most golf Majors in a career, said that when he was playing well, he only hit 3, and at most 5, perfect shots in a golf round.  That leaves plenty of opportunity for potential frustration depending on your expectations and beliefs.

As we play we notice how we react to life in general.  We can witness how we behave when we are winning, when we are losing, when we are embarrassed or humiliated, when we are disappointed, when we are tired. Essentially, every challenge in life arises on the golf course.  And the way we respond or react on the golf course is generally how we react or respond in life.

If we have any shred of a perfectionistic tendency, it will become very evident.  Have you ever expected to hit a great shot every time you address the ball?  That sounds pretty perfectionistic and not an uncommon expectation by many.  How about control?  How do you feel when someone takes several practice swings…on every shot?!  Do you ever feel the need to ask them to “stop it”?!  The reality is that perfectionism and need for control are very big issues that get highlighted on the course.  Our resilience is another issue that becomes very visible.  How we come back from bad shots says a great deal about our resilience in life.

Now, what I am referring to are patterns.  Anyone can behave in a particular way on occasion.  It is when we typically respond in a particular way, that we know it is a pattern.

You also learn a great deal about someone’s values.  If someone cheats on their score, it is likely that they may not be completely honest on other issues.

We can also learn a great deal about positive qualities.  With some people, you will notice that they feel deep compassion when someone is having a difficult round and do what they can for that person, even if it is just sending a positive intention their way.  There is also the way people approach competition.  Some people feel true joy when they see a competitor hit a beautiful or very difficult shot.  Some are very encouraging of others no matter how they themselves are playing.

Now, you may have heard me speak of “purification” in the past.  In the book “Mindful Leadership”, I describe it as dissolving patterns that are not helpful in our lives.  We can do this deliberately through our awareness and presence of mind.  We can make this a habit, to diligently observe those things we don’t like about ourselves and very gently and persistently, through awareness and equanimity, wash away the patterns.

Through personal experience, I have come to the conclusion that golf is a fantastic way to purify.  As all of our patterns, sooner or later, will become evident as we play, we can make a commitment to make golf a Mindfulness practice.

It takes true Mindful leadership to witness our own actions and reactions, moment by moment, and with equanimity, courage, and honesty, we can purify that which gets in the way of being the best we can be.

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Never Underestimate the Power of a Group of Mindful Leaders

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“Sustainable Man” has produced a great 5 minute video entitled “How Wolves Change Rivers”.  It is an amazing story about how the reintroduction of a small number of wolves into Yellowstone National Park in 1995, inadvertently and unexpectedly, transformed the eco system, in less than 10 years.  The wolves were initially brought into the park to control the deer population.  Wolves do kill some animals, but the kind of benefit that occurred could not have been predicted.  Here is the link:


You may wonder what in the world this all has to do with Mindful leadership.  In watching the video I was reminded of the potential impact of Mindful leadership and its far reaching effects.  A small group of Mindful leaders can make a big difference.  As I watched the wolves, what came to mind was how deliberate and organized they were.   They set out to do what their nature led them to do.  And even a small number had an amazing impact on a huge geographic area.  Their behaviour had consequences beyond what anyone might have expected.

And that is what happens when a Mindful leader leads.  By being fully present and aware, regardless of circumstances, anyone who comes in contact with that person is positively impacted.  As a recipient of this leadership, one is able to perform beyond one’s expectations.  Then that same courtesy is extended to others: clients, colleagues, subordinates, etc.  It has a cascading effect that then has the same behaviour circle back.  In fact, it becomes the only acceptable way to behave.  There is a certain self regulation that eventually and naturally occurs.

This applies whether we are in an organization, a family, a community, indeed, anywhere where Mindful leadership is exhibited.  The impact of one Mindful leader is far reaching.  When are are treated in a particular way at work, we bring that experience to our commute, and then home, and then back to work.  You can see that when treated poorly, it infects everything.  When treated Mindfully, it is contagious, as well, in a good way.

Now imagine if an organization, family or community had many Mindful leaders.  Imagine the impact it could have.  No differently than the wolves that changed the eco system of Yellowstone National Park, many Mindful leaders, even if they are relatively small in numbers, could make big changes.

Now let’s imagine further, if we had several organizations with many Mindful leaders…  You get the idea.  Never underestimate how much power you possess as a Mindful leader.

(I would like to thank Sharon Sutcliffe for the wonderful video)


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Mindful Leadership Creates Winning Teams

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We can often find examples of Mindful leadership in sports, especially when we examine a winning game.  And we were treated to real Mindful leadership in soccer, in the Champion’s League final, between Barcelona and Juventus.

We witnessed excellent soccer from both teams.  Throughout the game most of the “9 ways of being a Mindful leader” were clearly visible.  Both teams were fully present, and aware; they were calm, focused and clear.  As they both missed opportunities to score, they would come back with equanimity, to the present moment, leaving the miss behind.

What was particularly remarkable was the way in which the Barcelona players supported one another, making the others succeed and in turn enabling the team to succeed.  There was evident unselfish and compassionate behaviour by Xavi Hernandez, their captain, in not starting the game even though it was his final game with the team.  Instead Andres Iniesta started the game as captain.

With Juventus, even though by the 90th minute in the game, it was clear that they may not win, they never gave up.  They all played with heart, as if they were winning.  It takes tremendous Mindful leadership to be able to do that, to continue to pull together, to not blame team mates for not being ahead, and to continue to do their best, under the circumstances.

When individual members of a team whether in sports, business or any other endeavour are Mindful leaders, the team wins.  As Mindful leaders, each one knows when to lead and when to follow, when to support another and when to carry the load.  This is all done seamlessly, because in the pursuit of sustaining high performance, egos are put aside and the real prize is seen as the team’s high performance.  And by playing in this way, each member and the team become resilient.  There is a sense that others have your back.  And there is real joy and pride in excelling personally, seeing others excel, and seeing the team win.


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Soar and Glide Like the Hawk

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This morning I had the privilege of observing a hawk.  Hawks are some of my favourite creatures.  I think one of the reasons I am so awed by them is that they exemplify Mindfulness so fully.  In observing them we witness deep concentration.  They can stay focused for long periods of time.  We also witness great clarity about their objectives and their targets.  And finally, as they soar and glide, we see deep equanimity.  They are intentional, yet, they “go with the flow”.  They glide, surrendering to the currents high in the sky.  And they do this with tremendous grace.

There is a beauty in witnessing Mindfulness whether in a hawk or a human being.

As a leader, to exhibit these skills and qualities is inspiring to those who witness it.  What leaders model is what gets noticed.  And nothing speaks louder than consistency in behaviour.

Another quality we witness in the hawk is constantly being in the present moment.  There is tremendous power in this.  Opportunity only presents itself in the present.  The same applies to us.  The more present we are, the more we notice what may have previously been invisible to us.

And then there’s the calmness.  You can see how the hawk never looks hurried; purposeful, yes, but not hurried.  And in that calmness combined with being present, time slows down.  As time slows down, accuracy and presence of mind increase.  A hawk rarely misses its target.

As leaders, that calmness and presence are huge assets.  We see this in elite athletes.  The puck seems to “magically” find the net, skillfully guided by the skater who is experiencing the play in slow motion.  The basketball player appears to “magically” make it through a maze of players to sink a basket.

The same applies in every other professional endeavour.  The business leader negotiating a deal, suddenly present and calm, clearly sees how to best structure a deal about to fall through.

To observe nature is to see Mindfulness in action.


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What Does “Different” Look Like When We Are Awake?

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As we start to make living in a state of Mindfulness a priority, we begin to notice how judgmental we are and have always been.  This can feel uncomfortable.  In fact, we find it hard to believe that we judge everything!  Nothing is left unscathed and we can have the tendency to see anything or anyone that is different and unique, as less worthy.  And of course, the more we judge ourselves for judging everything and everyone, the more frustrated we become, thinking we will never be able to just abide in the present moment and accept what is.

But that, of course, is not true.  The most effective strategy is to be gentle with ourselves, to show some compassion for ourselves and our efforts.  And, as we lessen the grip of judgment on ourselves, we see that we naturally judge others less.

Then it gets really interesting.  If we keep up with our efforts, we will soon notice that not only have our negative judgments about others lessened, but that we begin to see others as beautiful.  Everything and everyone begins to have a beautiful, clear quality.  There is a feeling of acceptance.  Acceptance is not necessarily agreement.  It is merely that state that says we can agree to disagree and still respect one another.

And, as we continue along this path, in time, we can awaken; and soon, we no longer see differences.  In fact, everyone and everything appears to have the “same” beautiful quality.  We begin to realize that we are all “One”.  We know that at the deepest level we are all the same, we are beautiful and special.  And at the same time, we see that we are all flawed, and it doesn’t matter.  We become accepting of what we and others are.  We may even have a sense that we know everyone we encounter.  There is a familiarity because at the deepest level, we recognize that we have all come from the same place and go back to the same place. (more about this in future Blogs…)

The Dalai Lama in this short video talks about how at the deepest level, under it all, we are all the same, no matter what race, colour, creed, position, etc.



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