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Maria Gonzalez Blog
Mindful Leadership

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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The Agenda with Steve Paikin – Panel Discussion on Mindfulness and Mental Health

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This week, I was invited to be part of The Agenda with Steve Paikin of TVO, for their show on Mindfulness and Mental Health. We were four panelist including Dan Harris, the ABC correspondent, who has embraced Mindfulness as a strategy to manage anxiety and in the process discovered a great deal more.   Also, on the Panel was Kelly McGonigal a psychologist with Stanford University, and Jeff Warren, a journalist in Toronto and author of Head Trip.

We discussed the impact of Mindfulness on our lives, on mental health, on ambition and professional success and much more, including a Harvard Medical School Study on Mindfulness, which Jeff and I participated in, a couple of years ago.  It is a positive thing that we can start having dialogue about the positive potential that Mindfulness can have on mental health, and how we can empower ourselves to make a difference in our lives.

I hope you enjoy it.  You can also follow the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.


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The Importance of Self-Forgiveness

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Typically when we think of forgiveness we think of forgiving others.  But, the most important form of forgiveness is self-forgiveness.  It is only in forgiving ourselves that we can ever hope to forgive others who we believe have hurt or harmed us.

It always starts with ourselves.  There are so many big ways and small ways that we do not forgive ourselves.  At times it may be behaviour or thoughts that may cause us shame.  And in this shame there may be guilt.  And following from that, we may not forgive ourselves.

But, there is a more subtle aspect where lack of self-forgiveness comes into play.  Perhaps if you are an overachiever or a perfectionist, your standards may be so high that it is impossible to consistently succeed in your eyes, and when you fall short, you blame yourself.  Blame is very unforgiving.  It is judgmental and rigid.  It presumes it is right and there is no room for the compassion required to forgive self or others.

Then there are the judgments we hold of others.  Often having judged someone else, we have a sense of discomfort or guilt that follows.  And shortly, thereafter, we may turn that guilt towards ourselves and what follows is lack of self-forgiveness.

When this happens once or twice it may not be clearly evident or impactful.  But over a lifetime this lack of self-forgiveness accumulates and causes us harm.  It prevents us from fully realizing our potential.  You see, when we are not worthy of forgiving, we may not be fully worthy of good things coming our way.  It’s very insidious.  But, soon we may find ourselves not achieving goals we desperately hoped and worked for.  We may not get that job we thought we would get.  We may not keep a relationship that matters.

Deep down what has happened is the “feel”, that is, the emotion that has been left unresolved has dictated our lives.  When we are aware moment by moment, we begin to see what arises in the mind and especially the emotion in the body.  And this is the key to unlocking any unresolved issue.  And all there is left to do is to have the depth of self-compassion required for self-forgiveness.

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Awakening Only Happens in the Present Moment

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The only possibility we have to awaken, is right here, right now.  It can only happen in this moment.  That is the key reason that this moment is sacred…this moment and every moment.  But, so often we wait for this moment to pass and long for a future time or for the past.  In so doing, we miss life.  The past is merely a memory.  And the future, at this moment, is but, a fantasy.  So, all we ever have is this moment, right “now”.

In fact, it is our resistance, the pushing away or the craving for something different, that causes us to miss the moment.  Once this moment is gone, it is forever gone.  So, if you are with your family, friends or colleagues and you are not really here, you have missed this opportunity, forever.  You may suddenly realize that you no longer know the people around you…and all because you were not really there with them.  You weren’t present.  You were in your head.

So how do we awaken?  It can seem so illusive.  But it is not!  We awaken by being committed to paying attention to everything, moment by moment.  It requires being both present to what is going on around you in this moment, and to what is going on within you, so that your attention is not derailed by emotion.  To do that, notice when emotion arises during an interaction and make sure not to get locked in your head with unnecessary chatter.  Just come back to this moment and notice the emotion.

When you are walking outside, just notice your environment, the buildings, the nature, the sounds.  Just be right here, right now, and when you notice you are distracted, come right back to the moment.  Do this gently and with patience.

In time, you will notice that you are able to penetrate deeper and deeper layers of the present moment…and that is what it is to be Awake.

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May Everyone Experience the Blessing of Easter Every Day

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I have always been fascinated by Easter and it is my favourite holiday.  For me, Easter is about crucifixion and resurrection and infinite potential.  And these possibilities are there for us every moment of every day.

The crucifixion I am referring to is the dying away of our ego moment by moment.  The resurrection is the rebirth we experience when we have freed ourselves from old patterns.  The infinite potential is the potential that exists in every new moment where we are fully present, to this moment.  And being fully present means not wanting this moment to be anything different than it is; to merely accept each moment with an open heart and an open mind.

In so doing, the Universe opens up for us, ideas come from seemingly nowhere, problems are solved with ease, serendipity is everywhere, and we feel increasingly at ease.  That is what it is to allow ourselves to die and be reborn moment by moment, anew.

This is true freedom.  May it be yours, always.
Happy Easter to everyone!

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We Crave the Peace, But Fear the Silence

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Most people are so busy, hurried, if not frantic, that they would say they are not at peace.  There is always one more meeting, one more phone call, more emails to answer…the commitments go on and on.  The expectation is that once all this is done, once you make enough money, once you get that new job, that new relationship, then you can take a break, sit and relax, catch your breath and enjoy some peace.

Unfortunately, that’s not how it works.  The problem with that view, which is prevalent in our culture, is that it is flawed.  It is believed that peace comes as a result of circumstances or external conditions.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Peace comes from within and only from within.  And that elusive peace comes from silence, from that place of stillness.  But, invariably what happens is that the busyness and frantic pace drives away the silence.  So much so, that we may no longer be able to find it.  Then when we slow down and take time off, we may become edgy and uptight.  We start to get close to the silence and rather than realize we have come home, we become fearful.  It becomes unbearable, so we look for things to do.  We turn up the music, go on social media, have a drink or two, have an extra brownie…all in an attempt to “escape” the silence.

Yet all along, it is the “silence” we need.  And the reason it is so important to make space for that silence is because that is where we can then abide in a state of enduring peace.  It is by making time for the silence that we regenerate and become most creative.  This is where all of the toughest challenges are resolved, not by thinking, but by abiding in that silence.

And what is that silence?  That silence is our complete and total connection to the sacredness of the present moment.  If we are truly present, moment by moment, we are constantly in touch with that silence.

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The Power of Life with No Labels

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What would life be like if we didn’t judge everything and label everything?  Quite simply, we would experience life with greater ease and comfort.  It would, in essence, be experienced as “freedom”.  It would be a freedom from the tyranny of our own patterns and our own biases.  It is these patterns and biases that rob us of a life fully lived and enjoyed.

Generally speaking, we don’t only label others or have biases towards others.  At the deepest level we label and have biases towards ourselves.  The result is that we do not reach our full potential as human beings.  If we can’t love everything and everyone, we can’t truly love ourselves.

But when we do, something magical happens.  We see all things and all being as they truly are: worthy of our love and compassion, beautiful in every way.

Now imagine if we experienced life this way in our families, our organizations, our communities…   We could indeed transform the world.

There is a beautiful 3 minute video that creatively illustrates this point.  It’s called “Love Has No Labels”.


On a practical note, you may wish to try this out.  For 24 hours, judge nothing and label nothing.  When you have a meeting with a colleague or your boss, just be present without judging or labelling.  When you speak with a family member or friend, do the same.  Just be present and listen.  See what a difference this can make.  You will likely hear and see things you may not have anticipated.  Be prepared to amaze yourself.

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Here’s an Effective Way to Create Inner Peace & Happiness

Have you ever wondered what it takes to feel true inner peace and happiness?  I am referring to the kind of peace and happiness that arises independent of conditions.  What this means is that you have these positive feelings without having won the lottery, without having received a promotion, or without having obtained any material thing.  All day long, you just feel good for no reason.

If this seems illusive, it doesn’t have to be.   One of the most effective ways to create this state of being, is to live life in an altruistic way.  Altruism is merely the desire for other people to be happy.  And when you focus on expressing this kindness to others, incredible things happen.  Suddenly, out of nowhere, you gain a sense of peace and happiness.  It just naturally wells up inside.

You may wish to try an experiment.  See what it would be like to experience “altruism” for 24 hours.  And, you might be amazed.

If this speaks to you, for the next 24 hours, create an intention that you would like to positively impact the lives of everyone you encounter.  And then set out to do it.  When you are driving, let someone who wishes to enter your lane, go ahead of you.  Open the door for someone.  Buy a cup of coffee for the person behind you in line.  Buy a homeless person a cup of soup.  Hold the elevator door open.  When someone comes to speak with you, just listen.  Don’t rush them or try to “fix” anything, just listen.

The key in all of this is that you are to expect nothing in return, not even a thank you.

And then periodically throughout the day, notice how you feel.  You may even wish to try it for more than a day.  Creating a habit of altruism is life transforming.  The reality is that even though you are not intending to benefit, you can’t help but benefit.  That’s just the way it works.

Matthieu Ricard spoke beautifully about this in a recent Ted Talk.


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You’re Successful, but Are You Happy?

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I hear from so many people that they are undoubtedly successful by all external measures, but, they are not happy.  This appears to be, unfortunately, the malaise of our times.  These are unprecedented times of material abundance and inner poverty.  The response of many people to this unhappiness or unease is to accumulate more, to work even harder on exterior success.  It is as if focusing on the exterior (more toys, a bigger job, another home, etc.) will somehow compensate for the unhappiness, or emptiness they feel.

To experience true and sustainable happiness one needs to work on inner refinement.  True and lasting happiness exists only within.  In fact, true happiness is independent of conditions.  To say that one is happy, no matter what is going on, or what the circumstances might be, is true richness.  That is real success.  And this only comes from being at peace with oneself, being able to look in the mirror and like what you see.  There is a real inner beauty and peace that comes from having purified one’s habitual patterns, that get in the way of happiness.

And, most interesting of all, is that external success and inner happiness are not in conflict.  One can have both.  The key, however, is that external success can not come at the expense of inner happiness.  If the balance is tipped and external measures take over one’s priorities, happiness or inner well being, will soon wane and eventually disappear.

The sustainable strategy is to ensure that there is daily attention paid to inner refinement, in the midst of your work and life’s activities.  This could be formal mind training where you sit in stillness, or walking in nature, or spending time being present with music, etc.  It takes daily cultivation to be most effective.  And in so doing, you also become more effective in everything else you do.  You will find inspiration will arise naturally, and solutions to problems will spontaneously become evident.

Matthieu Ricard did a wonderful TED Talk on Happiness.  He is a French cellular geneticist turned Buddhist monk, who is also the Dalai Lama’s French translator.  He has been coined as the “happiest person in the world”, according to neuroscientists who have studied his brain.  Having spent over 120 hours in MRIs, his brain has been studied more than that of any other being.  He contends that happiness is a habit that can be cultivated and comes from doing significant inner work.


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Learn to Skilfully Listen to Your Heart

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One of the greatest desires I hear from people is the desire to discover their purpose in life.  The previous Blog discussed creating a vision for one’s life, and from this place, to live life “on purpose”.

But, how can you be certain that it is “your purpose”?  The answer is simpler than you might think.  To be certain that you are living “your purpose”, and not a purpose that someone else has defined for you, you must learn to skilfully listen to your heart.  This may or may not be a concept with which you are comfortable or familiar.  It takes practice and a willingness to open yourself to possibilities you may have previously dismissed.

Your heart will speak to you if you listen and if you ask.  The answers come in two ways.  One is through a feeling of happiness.  The other is through the experience of passion or great enthusiasm.  It’s that simple.  Any time that you think of or contemplate a certain direction in your life, notice if it makes you happy and / or if you are passionate about it.  If the answer is yes, then that may be your purpose for this time and place.  If on the other hand you feel dragged down by a particular direction, then it is likely not your purpose.

If you are not excited about a particular job, career direction, relationship, etc., but you continue to pursue it, ask yourself,  ”whose purpose you are living”?  Are your decisions being formed by others around you, family, competitors, friends, society?  By choosing what others consider important, you will not live your purpose.  You will be living someone else’s life.  And this will cause happiness and fulfillment to be illusive.

The way to start developing the skill of listening to your heart is to practice with small decisions.  The next time you need to make a choice, listen to your heart.  Notice what it is saying.  In time you will likely feel an actual sensation in the centre of the chest.  This sensation will carry with it an emotional flavour, one that is pleasant or unpleasant.  Learn to listen.  In skilfully listening to your heart, you are accessing your own inner wisdom.

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