The year theme continues, but I’m taking it up in other blogs….

Thank you for coming to the Year of Abundance and Faith.

This remains my theme for 2011 and I’m working with it in a number of ways.

But I’ve decided to stop blogging about it here.

However, I write for two other blogs and I have no doubt the theme will crop up in each of these:

See & Connect (my professional blog)

Dancing All the Way (a regular exchange of letters with a good friend)

Thank you, again, for coming to this page.

Peace and love.  Veena

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Going Grey – opening up opportunity

Increasingly, I’m finding that my theme for the year is totally entwined with everything I do in life. This means, for example, that my professional blog posts all seem like they could equally be postings for this site. Just now I wrote about the value of ‘Going Grey’  when it comes to decision-making. I was focusing on big public policy decisions and social activism. But this extends to life generally: we often move through our lives seeing everything in black and white, placing our experiences and conclusions into simple, clear boxes. It all feels so much easier that way. The thing is, while in the short term it seems easy – in the long term it is actually making our lives harder. We are now in the second half of 2011 and a really important lesson for me is that by ‘Going Grey’ I can expand my sense of abundance and faith and open up my opportunities to flourish. I can also make my life easier.

What does this mean ‘Going Grey.’ Well, for starters – though I hadn’t made this connection when I first started writing – it does describe the state of my 41 year old hair. But that’s not very interesting to anyone. Yet, the metaphor is relevant – ‘Going Grey’ represents the aging and ‘getting-wiser’ process. Of course, we can literally go grey without being any wiser. Whether or not this is the case all depends on the choices we make.

The most significant choice is whether we choose to be aware. Awareness is at the heart of ‘Going Grey.’  In particular, I’m referring to awareness of our values, beliefs, prejudices and assumptions. All of these guide how we behave. I’ve come to realize that I open myself to abundance when I’m behaving as consciously as possible – and in line with what I call my ‘ethical’ values – but they could equally be called my ‘spiritual’ values. If I strive to think, speak, and act in conjunction with a commitment to being respectful, responsible, honest, loving and fair the world will expand before me.

How?

Well, in being guided by my spiritual values, I behave in ways that open people up not only to who I am, but also to themselves. As a result – in our states of expansion, we can connect in imaginative and nurturing ways that support our creative energies. We can move along together or we can go our own ways – informed and nourished by each other’s energies.

‘Going Grey’ can help us approach our relationships in this way by encouraging us to question our selves and each other. Often we start with an answer – a judgment, belief or perception and our actions are informed by the answer even without having any sense of its legitimacy. If we play in the grey lands, we react to our answers by questioning them – giving our selves and each other a chance to reflect and expand. For example, I made a new friend recently and I’m finding myself making all sorts of assumptions about them – taking a certain comment or behaviour on their part, interpreting what it means and then responding in accordance with my interpretation – a very black and white approach to inter-personal dynamics. This approach closes people off and limits our potential for enriching connections.

What if, instead, I responded to the comment/behaviour by asking a question to help me understand its origins?  What might happen between us? How might it open us up, as opposed to closing us down? Going Grey – beginning with questions rather than answers, and opening up a whole new world of opportunity.

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Let it shine!

Well, well – I haven’t posted for a month!

It happens, and now I’m back.

And I have a story (forgive me if you also read the Dancing All the Way blog – as I’ve double dipped with this post):

I’ve got a friend who has been working as a ‘barista’ at an outside coffee stand – in rain and shine. The days start early and involve being on your feet, smiley and chirpy all day. When I first met her, she was frustrated by this job – this ‘F*&%!’ job as she called it. In fact, she almost left it for another job. When she told her employer about her plans to go, he revealed how much he valued her and then cut a deal that met their respective needs – but it is still a tough job. And it is a job that isn’t exactly commensurate with her intellectual abilities. She has a Master’s in East Asian Art, speaks fluent Mandarin, and is herself a talented painter.

But the job pays the bills. And bills need to be paid, while she sorts and sifts through what she wants to do in the next few years. Ideally having work that both pays the bills and makes use of her artistic abilities and knowledge.

The other day, I saw her after work and she was a bit giddy. Here’s what happened -The coffee stall is in front of a Church. Someone from the Church was waiting for his coffee and overheard someone mention that my friend is an Artist. He asked her if it was true – and she said yes and then somewhat flippantly ‘Would you like to exhibit my work?’ The Churchman replied enthusiastically ‘What a great idea – let’s talk more about this, perhaps we can exhibit your work and focus some discussions around it?’ This is, mind you, without even knowing that she seeks to connect art and spiritual engagement.

Nothing certain has come of this – and one mustn’t count eggs before they are hatched. However, when she told me his story, I said ‘Well, maybe you are starting to experience the value of this job!’  And then I posted on Facebook something to the effect of ‘You just never know how A is connected to D.’

My friend’s story illustrates for me the importance of being in the moment and the abundance of the moment by being awake, aware, and alive. Had she been going to the coffee stall and focusing on how miserable she thought the job was and been grumpy to customers, well (a) she might get fewer customers (b) she wouldn’t have been talking with them about her art and (c) the Churchman would have never got the idea of having her exhibit.  But she did go with a smile and up for chat, which shared her abundance with those around her – and as a consequence, her interactions were richer and brought out the abundance of others, e.g. the Churchman is only just wanting to set up a permanent exhibition space, so this is all new. A young artist probably seems like just the perfect connection for him.

In talking with my friend, I remember thinking: wherever I am, go out and shine because you never know what will come into the light -what I might see in myself and others (and vis-versa).  Being present with our abundance is a hugely powerful light – let it shine!

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Connecting with our ‘plenty’….

This week, I’m thinking a lot about abundance. This is mainly because last week I was working with a client and in the process I saw her open up. This is a huge gift – watching someone unfold before you.  When I think about it, I think about how – like many things in life – committing to abundance begins by recognizing it within ourselves.  What do we have within us that we are not seeing?

For example, in helping this client prepare for a challenging meeting, we looked at the issue of invisibility. She sensed that when she entered into the room, the person she would be meeting would be focused on his own importance and render her invisible. So the question was, how can she ensure he sees her. I asked her to think about other spaces where she feels visible and to consider how that happens – what allows for her visibility. She considered that her ‘day’ job involves making herself highly visible to others. With that in mind, she decided to go into the meeting wearing that hat  – being the person she is most of the time in her organisation. We effectively re-framed the question from ‘How do I get him to see me?’ to ‘How do I make myself visible?’

Notably, because it was a conversation about challenging issues, her initial temptation was to go in there and be aggressive – but is that really making one’s self visible? It is making one’s anger visible – but aren’t we much more than our anger? If we reach out to people in anger -and only anger – we run the risk of that becoming our connection with them. This can be highly constraining – they will not see us outside of our anger and we are put into a box: ‘The Angry Person’ or ‘The Stroppy Woman’.

Opening up others and the abundance of what we might create together begins with opening up ourselves – seeing and connecting with our own ‘plenty.’ I think I had an experience of this myself the other day. I was in an all day meeting which I had entered in a particularly relaxed and upbeat mood. As a result I was very much myself and not only was I visible to others, I found it easy to make connections. At the end of the day, someone who had met me for the first time at that event said ‘Good to meet you. I really like your energy.’ I loved hearing that – he was effectively saying ‘I see you’ as far as I’m concerned – because what he saw was my creative, joyful, playful self.

This isn’t to say that he saw me as entertaining. The subject for the day was an intense, thoughtful one. I vocally sought to push others and myself to be challenging and robust in our thinking. However, I didn’t do it as a bully or as someone trying to demonstrate my authority. I did it as a friendly colleague which meant that it brought out reflection and creativity – rather than resistance or push back – in others.

And this is what my client experienced last week. Equipped with her own sense of visibility and abundance,  a state of mind not reliant on what anyone else says or does, she went into the meeting able to be light and connect easily. With a connection made, they talked about the challenging matters with the frankness that was necessary. The meeting was a huge success. I have no doubt that her connection with her own abundance – with her ‘plenty’ – was a key factor.

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All winners – a test of faith?

Last week I mentioned this idea of ‘zero-sum game.’  I’ve come across it a lot in my work to tackle discrimination. In fact, I was in a government meeting once with a senior official who said ‘So what we’re saying is we need to get thousands of ethnic minority individuals into work – which means thousands of White people will have to get out or stay out of work’. This is an example of zero-sum game mentality: for some people to ‘win’ others have to ‘lose’.  So much I can say here – heading out into various directions. But right now – for the purposes of Abundance and Faith – I want to look at the relevance of faith to the zero-sum game.

The phrase that comes to mind is ‘leap of faith.’ I find that for those of us pursuing a social democratic vision for society – rooted in egalitarianism, compassion, fairness, the promotion of well-being, collaboration and creativity – it can be easy to become dismayed. The dismay is rooted in the difficulty one faces in trying to imagine how we get from where we are now to where we want to be. We are, after all, talking about global systemic change and paradigm shifts in how we understand and shape economic, political and social relationships.

Part of what will sustain us is a leap of faith – an unswerving belief in its possibility, without the certainty of knowing how it all will unfold – but trusting that it will if we stay committed to living our truth in our present actions. People subscribing to the ‘zero-sum game’ view of the world are indoctrinated to believe it is the truth – the only way life is and can be. This truth tells them we are all competing against each other to be the best, to succeed to make it to the top; life is a game of winners and losers. And to be fair to them, that has probably been their dominant experience – in the family home, in school, on the playground, in the workplace. A vision of ‘all winners’ defies their imagination.

But what do I mean by ‘all winners’? I mean communities where our shared ethical values are being upheld and our fundamental human needs are being met – everyone is thriving. This, of course, sounds like utopia.  So perhaps it is better put: communities where we everyone is striving to ensure our shared ethical values are being upheld and our fundamental human needs are being met. In such a world we are all more awake, aware and alive.

In this world, we recognize that we have an infinite numbers of ways individually and collectively to thrive.  Many of these ways we can’t actually imagine. And that’s the point, too many people form the present only from what they know of the past. This in turns creates our future on the same old terms. Too many people believe the truth of the ‘zero-sum game.’  The question I ask: “How do we unlock imaginations – get more and more people see the world and their life differently, to wonder ‘How can we collaborate to create a better life for me and you?’ ”

Seems to me this is where that ‘leap of faith’ comes in – an unswerving belief in the idea that one person’s thriving can nurture – rather than be gained at the expense of – another’s. And vis-versa. I’m talking about a belief that we can actually live this way – acting to enhance the beauty of one another rather than always competing for ‘top’ prize – and all be winners.

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How are we moving?

I have an old friend – meaning we’ve been friends for nearly thirty years – and he is all about capitalism. Loves it – worships at its altar. At the foundation of his practice is the belief in infinite wealth. The US and the UK have huge economic inequality gaps. Extensive research, The Spirit Level, suggests that these gaps lead to the social ails, e.g. crime, ill-health etc, that plague both sides of the pond. Positive psychology professionals and their ‘new age’ spiritual counterparts see part of the solution in self-belief. Sometimes the new age spiritualist and the right wing capitalist can seem to be saying the same thing: ‘The wealth is there for you to have, just believe in your self and go for it.’  Gosh, this sounds a lot like a mantra for abundance and faith, no? So my question this week is: What is the gem in this space where new age spiritualist seems to meet staunch capitalist?  In what ways do we have a common ground from which  we can all learn about ourselves and increase our capacities to create a healthier, safer, more compassionate world?

Let’s start to break this down. I’m certain I cannot do it justice in five-hundred words, but I’ll take the first steps in this post.

Step one:   In simple terms, privilege versus fairness is often how a split is described.  In the story of ‘us’ versus ‘them,’ e.g. right versus left, capitalist versus socialist we often hear a story of money and privilege for the few versus struggle and strain for the many, and poverty and degradation for those at the ‘bottom.’

Step two:  One of the political challenges for progressive social change, e.g. closing the inequality gap, is the belief that we are in a ‘zero-sum game.’ I see this all the time, for example, when people are trying to promote equal opportunities in the workplace; there is a sense that for some people to gain a stronger footing on the ladder, others are going to start to wobble, and possibly lose their place. In short, people believe if we are going to lift some people up, we need to pull others down. This is in contrast to the belief of my dear capitalist friend who is certain there is enough wealth to go around – because we create it. In his world, everyone can win. But for many people – whatever their political persuasion – life is about scarcity of resources.

Step three: In come environmentalists (some, of course, who are my best friends) who are getting twitchy because they think I’m going to undermine their arguments that our natural resources are limited and we need to adapt our lifestyles to account for these limits.  They feel a resonance with the battle cry of ‘scarcity’ – or some of them do, anyway.

Step four: Equally, some socialist lefties are starting to stamp their feet, too – worried that the positive psychology practitioners are overlooking structural barriers to life-improvement. They fear that individuals will be left to drown when the power of their ‘self-belief’  is buffeted by the power of ‘self-preservation’ alive in others. They fear that, in this power struggle, the drowning ‘self-believer’ will be understood to have failed because of his/her inherent weaknesses. They want each of us to have a greater sense of responsibility for the success or failure of others. Or, at least, some do.

Well, I’ll hit ‘pause’ now. I’m sitting here feeling as though I am describing a dance – all kinds of movement rooted in what’s alive in people.  And that works for my ‘new age spiritualist’ self – we are all in a dance together – we are dancers. Question: In this dance of destruction and creation how can we move in ways that support us – all of us – to grow?

Who knows what I’ll actually write about next week. But right now, I’m inclined to think I’ll carry on with describing the dance we are doing in the hopes that I can gain some insight into the ‘infinite wealth’, ‘zero sum game’ and other beliefs shaping our relationships with abundance and faith – shaping our behaviours, our creations, our lives.

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What is the gift of presence?

When it comes to abundance and faith, I’ve got a lot on my mind. I had an incident last week that threw me – was almost like a wake up call.  Sadly as with most wake up calls, it involved sadness, hurt, disappointment, and anger. At the heart of this happenstance was presence – or lack thereof. I’ve worked very hard over the last few days to turn this all into a learning experience – because I never want anything like it to happen again. I’m sure over the coming weeks, much of my writing will be somehow connected to it. But also, I’m wondering how the learnings from this social experience are relevant to the world of policymaking. Yes, I’m trying to return back to that topic. The question I’m toying with right now is: “How can presence or greater mindfulness help us to develop more effective social policies?”

Mindfulness is increasingly in vogue, including in social policy circles. The Chief Executive of the RSA – for example – mentioned mindfulness in his annual lecture last year, in the context of 21st Century Enlightenment. I haven’t really thought about it, but I guess ‘presence’ is a subset of mindfulness – or maybe a by-product. Anyway, it is presence that is front of mind for me.

In essence, here’s the happenstance: I had a new friend over for dinner the other evening. This was our second meeting. The first one took place at a party and involved a couple of hours of relaxed chatting. The other person, in fact, concluded the evening by saying I had a hugely calming effect on them. This apparently was no small feat since they were in a period of anxiety and stress. That was a few weeks ago. Last week, this person was at my house with another friend. The evening – to me – seemed pretty relaxed. But then it all went pear-shaped. A huge cross-communication took place.

The evening ended with this person leaving after a very uncomfortable exchange – you know one of those ones where no doubt much was left unsaid – or was said, but in ways that required a bit of digging and exploration to really discern what was being communicated. When I think back on it, I can see loads of openings to thoughtful, clear communication that could have been entered. However, I was really thrown by the sudden break/shift in connection that took place – so thrown, I wasn’t able to pause and reflect thoughtfully in the moment and seize opportunities to re-connect.

One particular aspect of that evening which interests me is how disconnected I was with what I was feeling, what the other person was feeling and how I was struggling to communicate honestly. In fact, at one point, I said something which was the opposite of what I was feeling. Have you ever done that? You want to go in one direction and than you say something that takes you a totally different way? It stinks, and is confusing and frustrating. But that’s for another posting.

So, what does all this have to do with presence? Well, I reckon that the evening we first met, I was very present. I was not thinking about what might happen at the end of the conversation – let alone beyond that. I was very alert to the other person’s body language, apparent emotions and mood. I was focused on them for no other reason but to be attentive: enjoying human connection. No agenda. No expectations. Just being in the moment (ahh, that old cliche). The second meet up, albeit subconsciously I think, I was less attentive. I was only half with the person. I  was instead mentally in the world of expectations, future-happenings, a ‘me’ agenda.

Consequently, here I was with someone who was still experiencing anxiety and stress and trying to talk about it. But I wasn’t really listening.  I was partially wrapped up in my own inner world which was, if I’m honest, full of nervousness, fear, anticipation, insecurity – all of which are connected to a mind absorbed with past and future rather than the current moment.

And so it is, that we hit a loggerheads of really bad communication, of tension, of frustration, of dis-connect. As I type, I feel like it is obvious how this is relevant to policymaking – you have a group of people coming together to create. Each of them comes with an agenda, comes with a foot in the past, a foot in the future – is anyone really listening to each other? Are people connecting in the ways that are essential for connection, creativity and collaboration? Hmmm, I doubt it.

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