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Maria Gonzalez Blog
Mindful Leadership

When in Doubt Open Your Heart

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There are times that we are at a loss for what to say or what to do.  Someone may be telling us something that may be painful to them and perhaps painful for us to hear.

The habitual tendency may be to change the subject, to make them laugh, to distract them.  These may be the only strategies that come to mind.

But, there is an alternative.  The greatest gift you can give another person is to listen with an open heart.  So when in doubt open the heart.  Just listen to what they are saying and do nothing.  It may happen that you are spontaneously moved to wish them well or send them positive thoughts.  That is what it is to experience compassion.

It may equally occur that you are just present, just still, just silent.  It takes great courage to listen to someone’s pain in that way.  There is great wisdom and great strength in that silence.  There is a peace that comes with deep silence.  That is the silence of an open heart.  And in that opening of the heart you are contributing to healing…healing the other person and healing yourself.

You see, because we are all one, whatever you do for another, you do for yourself.

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Meditate This! A Podcast on Mindfulness & Mindful Leadership

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I hope you are well and enjoying the beginning of summer.

Recently, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Peter Falker and Jason Hollander, who are from Minnesota and New York City, respectively.  Peter is an entrepreneur in the investment business and Jason is in public affairs at New York University.   They are two very interesting and funny guys who are intrigued by Mindfulness, discovered its benefits and wanted to share it with the world.  Jason and Peter have chosen to communicate Mindfulness in an accessible and down to earth way with humour and insight.  So, they created a Podcast called: Meditate This! In their words, the aim is to “interview some of the world’s experts on the art and science of living mindfully—through meditation and other means. Neuroscientists, psychologists, philosophers, authors, entrepreneurs, and artists will give their take on what it’s all about”.

In our interview we talked about Mindfulness and Mindful Leadership, including how it benefits our lives, as well as, the corporate benefits.  And most importantly, we discussed how to apply Mindfulness in our everyday lives, both personally and professionally.  You can check out the interview which is in two parts:  https://meditatethispodcast.squarespace.com/gonzalez

They have also interviewed a number of other people including, Richie Davidson, a world renowned neuroscientist and pioneer in Mindfulness research, as well as Sharon Salzberg, best-selling author and meditation teacher.  Here is the link:  https://meditatethispodcast.squarespace.com

You can also download the interviews on  iTunes

At launch they received an unexpected shout-out from Deepak Chopra!  How great is that!

I hope you enjoy these Podcasts as much and I do, and if you do, spread the word.

Have a great summer.

Best,
Maria.

 

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An Act of Kindness Can Change the World…

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An act of kindness can change the world…especially your world.  There are few words to describe the impact of such an act.  It may be random; it may be deliberate.  The act may seem small.  But, we never know whose heart we touch and the impact we have.  And in so doing, what we may not immediately realize is that with each kindness, we are creating a “reservoir of happiness” within ourselves.  Our Spirit knows when we have done something for another, been kind, been of service, and the only possible outcome is happiness.  It is a joy that wells up within the being and can not help but be shared.  Because what else could one possibly do with happiness?  In fact, when we share happiness it grows.  And as we share it, the world we touch changes and our world changes.

Thai Life Insurance has created a beautiful commercial that illustrates this perfectly.  Words are unnecessary. The message is crystal clear.  My suggestion is to meditate as you are watching.  Be fully present and aware, to the best of your ability.  And in so doing, you will witness an incredible Mindful leader!

https://www.youtube.com/embed/uaWA2GbcnJU

I would like to thank Daria Love for passing along this link.

 

 

 

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How to De-Stress: Don’t Let Your Ego Rule Your World

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Allowing your ego to dictate how you think and feel can be an enormous source of stress.  But what does that really mean?  And how does that happen?

The ego is not who or what you really are.  The ego is merely a combination of habitual patterns that have evolved over a lifetime.  These patterns dictate how you think and feel moment by moment.  They create enormous pressure because they cause you to live up to expectations that may make no sense or be in any way useful.

Here’s an example, some around you may think that having a particular car or a certain size of home is important.  In fact, that view may be so prevalent that you consider it to be true.  It may also be that certain positions or organizations are considered to have greater status, or certain schools for your children may be more desirable.  Certain vacations may seem a necessity, and the list goes on.

The point is not whether any of this is right or wrong.  That is irrelevant.  The point is that if these things matter to you only because others think they are important, but you are potentially ambivalent about them, then that is “the ego ruling your world”.  And that, over time causes great stress.  It may cause you to move further away from what really matters to you.  Then suddenly you wake up one day and don’t know who you are.

A Mindful way to deal with this to examine your “wants” or “requirements” in life and say, “does this matter to me”?  Am I doing this for myself?  If others did not consider this or that important, would it still be of interest to me?  And as you ask these questions, pay attention to the message your body is giving you.  Does the body become happy and excited, or does it feel burdened?  By listening and watching the body you will become increasingly aware of who and what you are, and what matters most to you.

And that means that “you rule your world”, not your ego.

 

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How to De-Stress: Take Time Each Day in Stillness

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The ability to de-stress each day is an important ingredient in living a richer and more fulfilling life.  But, most people find de-stressing a real challenge.  There is so much to do and so little time.  Consequently, the thought of de-stressing seems more like a luxury than a necessity.

But, in reality it is a necessity.  If you don’t de-stress regularly, you may find yourself unable to be at your best, to be effective, and to be creative.  At worst, you will find yourself ineffective, exhausted and unwell.

Think of yourself as a battery.  If a battery goes low, it doesn’t perform.  So, in order to enjoy life to the fullest, to sustain high performance and to be resilient, charge your battery each and every day.

One of the most effective and simplest ways of doing this is to “take time each day in stillness”.  It doesn’t have to be a great deal of time.  If you take 5-10 minutes of complete stillness each day, you will experience an enormous difference in your life.  You may wish to sit on a park bench or sit in your garden.  The outdoors can be very energizing.  But that may not always be possible.  You may wish to be indoors and in stillness admire something of beauty, like a flower, or a piece of art.  Or you may wish to just close your eyes wherever you are and simply be still.

You will notice that the more you practice stillness the more you will experience the calm that is within all of us.  With greater practice you will begin to hear what your heart wants to tell you.  Those gentle whispers that are so important for our well-being are only heard in stillness.

 

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Live Each Moment “as if for the first time”

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In the last Blog I talked about living each moment “as if for the last time”.  In this Blog, I would like to suggest living each moment “as if for the first time”.  Now these two notions are by no means in conflict. They are two sides of the same coin and come together in the “present moment”.

When you experience each moment as if for the first time, you assume nothing and you are open to everything.  In essence you are open to any and every possibility.  Everything and everyone looks fresh and new.  You don’t anticipate that someone with whom you have challenges will challenge you.  You are just present to what is.  You don’t expect that this rose will smell like every other rose.  You are just present to what is.  You don’t expect this walk or drive will be like every other walk or drive.  You are just present to what is.

And when you are present to what is, you are, in fact, living each moment as if for the first time.  In meditation we call it “beginner’s mind”.  Which means that no matter how many years you have been meditating, you approach every meditation with a fresh view, as if you had never meditated before.  And that fresh view, that presence, will bring you more joy and peace than you can imagine.  This happens because you experience life with wonder.  It will open up possibilities and solutions to issues that were previously real stumbling blocks.  All that, because you will see things with fresh eyes.

And then you might behave more like your dog who is so excited to see you each time he sees you, whether you have been gone 5 days, 5 hours or 5 minutes.  To him, the joy of seeing you is “as if for the first time, every time”.  This is an expression of true wonder and awe.  Albert Einstein made this point beautifully when he said,” The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.  It is the source of all true art and science.  He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause and wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead, his eyes are closed.”

So next time you enter into a conversation, be fully present and truly listen…assume nothing.  Next time you walk down a familiar street, or any street, just walk, look and listen as if you have never been there before. Allow yourself to be amazed by being present.  And in that presence you will see things you have never noticed before…as if your eyes had suddenly been opened, just because you have allowed yourself to be there “as if for the first time”.

 

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Live Each Moment “as if for the last time”

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The next time you go for a walk, walk as if it is your last walk.  The next board meeting you have, be there, as if it is your last board meeting.  The next time you speak with a colleague, speak as if you will never speak with them again.  The next time you share a meal or a cup of tea with a friend, do so as if it will be the last time.

The next time you look into your spouses eyes, look as if you will never see them again.  The next time you play with your child, do so as if it will be the last time.  The next time you walk or sit with your dog, do so as if for the last time.

You get the idea….  How would you like to experience each moment, if it was the last moment of your life? That question is worth pondering.

But no matter how much I ponder, there is only one possible answer.  I would like to be fully present, fully alive, fully AWAKE!

This notion of “the last time” is not pessimistic or improbable.  In fact, it addresses the law of impermanence. No matter how much we think we are in control, or how much we try to be in control or to control, the reality is that, other than our behaviour, we control nothing.  Despite our sophistication we have no idea when we will take our last breath.  We have no idea when the music will stop.

So knowing this, make your best effort to be right here, right now, each and every moment, with whatever you are doing and whomever you are with.  Don’t waste a moment.  Each moment is precious.  It can never be bought, sold or recaptured.  Each moment is a gift!

 

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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.

Fire

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
grows
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.


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Read the complete Reuters UK article

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