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Maria Gonzalez Blog
Mindful Leadership

Inspiration Requires Stillness

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Have you ever noticed that it is in those moments of stillness that you experience the greatest inspiration? Inspiration arises only in the “gap”, in the gap between each thought, and in the gap between each breath. But we so often clutter our minds and fill up our time, so that there is no stillness and no gaps. And as a result, we feel stressed, frenzied, at times out of control.

The reason is simple.  It is the “Stillness” that nourishes us, that recharges our battery.  In essence, the gaps that are created with this stillness enable us to discover who and what we really are.  From this place true wisdom becomes evident.  We may, at those times, find answers not only to our deepest questions, but also to our most pressing professional and personal issues.

As it is so well stated in the poem Fire by Judy Brown, what we need in order to flourish and grow is space, the gap, and the stillness that is ever present.


What makes a fire burn
is space between the logs,
a breathing space.
Too much of a good thing,
too many logs
packed in too tight
can douse the flames
almost as surely
as a pail of water would.

So building fires
require attention
to the spaces in between,
as much as to the wood.

When we are able to build
open spaces
in the same way
we have learned
to pile on the logs,
then we can come to see how
it is fuel, and absence of the fuel
together, that make fire possible.

We only need to lay a log
lightly from time to time.
A fire
simply because the space is there,
with openings
in which the flame
that knows just how it wants to burn
can find its way.

Judy Brown


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How We Know What Isn’t So

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Ignorance, confusion and delusion collectively are one of the hindrances that impede success.  Essentially, this hindrance describes “how we know what isn’t so”.  The mind is rarely comfortable not knowing. Additionally, it attempts to create patterns and certainty.  It wants to be able to predict.  By doing this, the mind thinks it will be more comfortable, secure, stable, and confident.

Yet, this comes at a cost.  And the cost is that we may believe what is not so.  We may make decisions with inaccurate information.  Our judgment may be impaired because we have jumped to conclusions.  And we may go for a long time, if not forever, living with limiting views about ourselves and others, just because we “know what isn’t so”.

There are two ways to counter this hindrance.  The first requires you to become increasingly comfortable with “not knowing”.  When you find yourself needing to make a decision and are pressing for a quick answer, practice just allowing yourself to be still and to “not know”.  Let that gap between stimulus and response widen. And in that stillness you will be amazed at what arises.  In that “not knowing” will come a Knowing, which is far deeper and more profound solutions will arise.  This takes practice.  So be patient and trust that a deeper wisdom is available to you.

Another way to counter this hindrance is to become increasingly aware that everything is impermanent and to be okay with that.  Our striving to create certainty actually pushes away our ability to be in the present moment.  We are uncomfortable with what is and as a result we are constantly trying to create a “better now”.  Since this is not possible, we live life in memory about the past or fantasizing about a better future. We get caught in what could be or should be.  In so doing we miss life because life only happens in the present moment.  If you miss the present moment (the only moment there is), you miss life.

You can start working with impermanence by noticing how everything arises and passes away.  The morning comes and goes.  The year begins and ends.  You are praised, you feel good and that passes.  You wake up not feeling well and later on in the day you feel well again.  The reality is that nothing remains the same and if you observe carefully, without trying to change the present moment, you will notice that good times come and go, and bad times come and go.  When things are not pleasant, some might say, this too shall pass.  But in reality, it is more accurate to say this too “is passing”.  Moment by moment everything passes.  This can be very liberating knowing every moment is a fresh moment.

Much more on the topic of impermanence in future blogs.



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Stress Impacts Everything…Including the Markets!

Anyone who has experienced stress in their lives (and who hasn’t?) knows the impact it can have on the body and the mind.   At minimum, we know that cortisol levels increase and with that, a general state of uneasiness and unwellness.  We also know that if stress is sustained for long periods of time, it impacts overall health, as well as, performance.  And as a leader, you know that your stress can impact your team and the entire organization.

What we didn’t know, until now, is the impact that traders’ stress levels have on the financial markets.  A recent article by Reuters UK describes a study of City of London traders and of the effect of cortisol on behaviour.  The research was led by Dr John Coates, a former Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank derivatives trader, turned neuroscientist.  What they found is that high levels of the stress level cortisol can induce “risk aversion”.

As the article states, “the findings, turns on its head the assumption that traders’ appetite for risk-taking remains constant throughout market up and downs, and suggests stress could in fact make them more cautious, exacerbating financial crises, just at a time when risk-taking is needed to support crashing markets.”

According to Coates, now a researcher in neuroscience and finance at Cambridge University, “Any trader knows that their body is taken on a roller coaster ride by the markets. What we haven’t known until this study was that these physiological changes – the sub-clinical levels of stress of which we are only dimly aware – are actually altering our ability to take risks.”

I have written at length in both previous blogs, as well as, in Mindful Leadership, about the impact of physical sensations in the body, that drive behaviour.  I can’t overemphasize the importance of being aware moment by moment of these sensations.  By being aware of the sensations you are more likely to know when you are becoming stressed.  These can become early warning signals that can help you put a strategy in play to mitigate unwanted behaviour that can spiral.  And if you’ve missed the cues, it is not too late!  Awareness at any point will enable you to catch yourself and get back on course.

One of the easiest strategies to reduce and manage stress is to work with body relaxation and relaxing breath meditation.  Practicing this regularly will cause you to become increasingly aware of your body and any tension you may hold, and thereby enable you to release the tension.  This will bring about physiological benefits as well as, enable you to be a more effective.  I have created a Mindful Leadership App for smartphones, androids and tablets that can help you effectively reduce and manage stress with some simple Mindfulness techniques.


Google Play image

Read the complete Reuters UK article

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Unrecognized Aversion Can Impede Success

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The last blog dealt with the first of the 5 Hindrances which is attachment.  Aversion is the second Hindrance that can impede success.  Aversion is not merely the opposite of attachment.

Aversion is the fear of losing what you have, including market standing, financial resources, social position and status, or even an argument.  You become so fearful of loss that you make poor decisions.

Aversion often expresses itself irrationally, blowing things out of proportion.  A leader may see the company’s stock price fall for a couple of weeks and be convinced of the need  to completely change strategy.  On a personal level, someone who’s experiencing aversion, in its extreme form, might watch the stock market lose 500 points and think that a market collapse is inevitable,  that another Great Depression is around the corner, and that they and their family will be destitute.   If this reaction sounds far-fetched, believe me it’s not.  I’ve worked with clients who could barely function in the fall of 2008 because they experienced such great anxiety from this aversion.

It’s important to look out for the cues if you know you might be experiencing this Hindrance.  It helps to be aware of the thoughts you might be having.  And even  more importantly, notice the kind of body sensations that are arising.  If these sensations go unnoticed they will drive behaviour.  In fact, they will cause you to make poor decisions about your finances, among other things, in your life and your work.  So, look into the body for cues, for a tightness that might not have been there before.  Try to relax the body and with practice you will be able to create stillness, and in that stillness, you will learn what you need to know.

Sandra Pierce, The Bag Lady of Bay Street, writes about the fear of being destitute as a common phenomenon, especially in women.  You may enjoy her latest “Bag Lady Musings”: http://dir.richardsongmp.com/pictures/account-dennis.fox/bag_lady/bag%20lady%20musings%202014-01.pdf

Thank you Sandra for passing this along.

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5 Hindrances that Impede Personal and Professional Success

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It’s been a while since I addressed the “5 Hindrances” in a blog.  I have written at length about the Hindrances in Mindful Leadership and how they can negatively impact your life.

Over the next few blogs I’d like to take a look at each of them.

“Attachment” is the first hindrance.  Like the other hindrances, it is a mental state that impedes success.  Attachment refers to an unrelenting drive to succeed, to acquire, to compete, to control, and an inability to let go.  It can also be an unnatural attachment to beliefs, making it impossible to be truly open to the views of others.  You become convinced that you’re absolutely correct in your views and desires, no matter what they are, and then you set out to create conditions that will support these views.

When you are attached in some way, what you are attached to tends to define you.  It could be an identification with your house, your wealth, your position professionally, or your position personally, such as being a parent.  When this happens, your sense of self is shaken to its root, if the attachment is perceived to be threatened in any way.

This in great part explains why people have difficulty retiring, as their identity can be perceived to be in jeopardy; or the despair and emptiness that can be experienced when children don’t live up to expectations or move away from home; or when the market experiences a downturn and financial worth takes a tumble.  These are all examples of having been attached to something outside of your true self.  This can be a slippery slope because under these circumstances you are at the mercy of the outside world.  If others out pace you in some way that matters to you, you will experience trauma.

The only true peace is to become deeply rooted in who and what you really are.  As Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955), the french philosopher and Jesuit priest beautifully said, “We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”  (Thank you to Chuck Thompson for sending me the quote.)

When we forget that we are spiritual beings, we lose our compass.  We measure our worth my external measures, rather than knowing that we are always, intrinsically, Divine, and that nothing can change that.  The more deeply we can access the stillness within our being, the more we become aware of our true nature.  And it is only in knowing our true nature that we can be truly happy, regardless of conditions.

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A New Year…New Beginnings

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As the New Year begins I reflect upon the opportunity for new beginnings.  But in order for new opportunities to become available, old patterns need to be purified and released.  This purification increases the energy that the old patterns, old hurts, anger, fear, disappointments, sadness had taken away.  And as we free ourselves of the old, new possibilities arise…a new freedom comes to life.

So if an old “something” comes knocking, welcome it.  Allow it to show itself.  Infuse it with awareness and gentleness.  Love it…love it to death.  The irony is that as you love it, and hold it with tenderness, it dissolves and releases.

One of my favourite poems by Rumi says this beautifully.  It is called The Guest House.  I hope you enjoy it and that it inspires you to reach for “new beginnings”.

“This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
Because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.”


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Mindful Leadership Lessons from Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela has taught us a great deal. Many say that forgiveness is his greatest lesson.

I would agree that his ability to forgive after having been jailed for 27 years is almost super human.  But, I would venture to say that his greatest lesson goes far beyond forgiveness. His greatest lesson, in my mind, is that he was able to overcome laying blame. In fact, where there is no blaming, there is no need to forgive.

Underlying blame is always anger. If we become aware of the anger, then we have a chance to catch ourselves before we blame. That is truly Mindful leadership.

And it takes two great qualities to be able to do this: the first is courage and the other is humility.  Mandela had both of these qualities in spades.

It is, in fact, these qualities that contribute greatly to peace, both within ourselves and with others.  And it is in experiencing inner peace where we experience true freedom.  There can be no peace in the world without us first experiencing peace within ourselves.

As we reflect on the true meaning of Christmas, where we aspire to peace on earth and good will towards all beings, may we always have peace in our hearts.

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a healthy, joyful and peaceful New Year.

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‘Tis the Season to De-Stress

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This time of year is typically one of the most stressful times of year for most people.  The days are getting shorter with less daylight, and in some places less sun light.  And as the end of the year approaches we create what, in some cases, is an artificial “end point”.  This can create a mentality that “everything” needs to be completed before the holidays.  Then there is preparation for the holidays, shopping, and for some, trying to see “everyone” they have not seen all year.

No wonder this can be such a stressful time!

In light of all the external stressors, it becomes even more important to consciously focus on de-stressing, if you are to maintain some inner peace and to actually enjoy the festive season.

Here are some tips that you may find useful:

1. When you notice your mind racing with the endless “to do” lists, immediately STOP and take a few deep breaths.  This act of breathing consciously with bring you right back to the present moment and help you get anchored right here, right now.

2. If you feel stressed or anxious because of a looming deadline, take 5 minutes to walk.  Now you may think, “I don’t have 5 minutes to spare, how am I going to go for a walk?!”  The answer is simple, just by getting up and allowing the body to move, you may gain perspective and break the stress cycle.  All it takes is 5 minutes.  You could easily waste more than 5 minutes worrying about the deadline.  And,

3. Take time in your day, as many days as possible, and ideally, every day, to do something for yourself.  It could mean sitting down and enjoying a cup of coffee or tea, without doing anything else.  It could be going for a short walk, perhaps a 10 minute walk at lunch time.  If you enjoy music, it could mean listening to one song without any other distractions.  Just listen to the piece of music with your whole being.  The average song is 3-4 minutes.

Then you can go back to what you need to do, refreshed.  Paying attention to deliberately “de-stressing” will enable you to be resilient in this hectic season, and afford you the opportunity to experience more pleasure, peace and happiness.

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To Be Impeccable Is to Be a Mindful Leader

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Of all the 9 Ways to be a Mindful leader, being “impeccable” is the one people consider to be the toughest.  In fact, some people have gone as far as to say it is unachievable.  I could not disagree more.  And I think it comes from a misunderstanding as to what it means to be impeccable in this context.

It’s important to remember that being a Mindful leader is not a game of perfect.  Some days we are more brilliant than others.  It is about intention, effort and constantly moving in the direction of being increasingly Mindful.

Being impeccable is not about being super human.  It’s about acknowledging that we are human with all our frailties and all our wisdom.  To be impeccable is to honour others, to enable their success, and then to celebrate it, to showcase their work, to admit we have made a mistake, to admit we were wrong, to stand up for ourselves when it would be easier to say nothing.  All this requires courage.

As a Mindful leader it is important to “get out of the way”.  When you give someone responsibility have the courage to not interfere and impose “your way” or “your will”.  Their success is your success.  So, stand on the sidelines to guide if required, to support if needed, and to showcase their work and celebrate their success when it is warranted.  That is what it is to be impeccable.

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When Feeling Stressed, Come Back to the Present Moment

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Being a Mindful leader entails the ability to come back to the present moment, time after time, until eventually, you are more consistently right here, right now.  This matters for many reasons.  The one reason I wanted to share with you today is that of managing and, in fact, decreasing stress in your life.

You will notice that the more present you are the less stress is created, thereby decreasing your overall stress.  The rest is about managing the stress that is unavoidable.

So, check in on yourself.  In all likelihood you will notice that when you are feeling stressed, you are in the past or worried about the future, perhaps about all there is to do and the little time available.  At these times, notice…just notice how you feel and what is occupying your mind.

Then, take another moment and become present.  Perhaps you can look out a window, take a short walk,  admire a beautiful plant or flower, listen to a short piece of music or watch a short clip such as the one below.  It need not take more than a minute or two..literally, to bring you back to being right here, right now.  And that minute or two can quite literally change the course of your day.

This is how we become better able to sustain high performance and become resilient, regardless of the circumstances.  Remember, there is only just this moment; the rest is memory or fantasy about the future.

I hope you enjoy the clip below; it is truly beautiful and a wonderful two minute interlude.  If you choose to view and listen, try to be as present as possible, thereby, making it a moment of true Mindfulness.  That is how you will increasingly train the mind.


I would like to thank Daria Love and Marion Hill for sending the link.

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