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Maria Gonzalez Blog
Mindful Leadership

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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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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