Fine Tuning Engagement

After taking a break from my usual ‘fun’ exercise classes for a more intensive, targeted regimen, I was so grateful and relieved to be back in yoga class this weekend. I love the really tangible benefits of yoga – the deep stretching and the strength building. I’m sore in ways that never seem to happen with traditional weights or exercise classes.

Best of all is yoga’s mindfulness practice. For those of you who may not be practitioners, the goal of yoga is to be deeply engaged in these poses that, on the surface, often look quite easy. While in the pose, you are supposed to focus on each of your muscles to make sure they are in the right position and appropriately flexed or relaxed, as the case may be.   For example, your hand(s) and foot/feet are generally supposed to be parallel to the length of the mat, your hand engaged, palm pressed flat to the floor, your feet engaged without gripping your toes to the mat, and your quads also engaged, lifting your kneecaps. You’re also supposed to deepen the stretching poses at any given time, so if they ever feel easy or comfortable, you’re not doing it right (my apologies to any really serious yogis out there for any inaccuracies, I’m still a relative novice).

In other words, if I’m not sweating, disheveled, and feeling like I just ran a marathon by the time I leave, then I haven’t really been doing my job.

However, the temptation is to go to some effort to get dressed in the yoga gear de rigueur, get out my nice mat, and to make it look effortless.   I can float through the poses and feel accomplished, without really exerting myself. I might have a sense of accomplishment when I leave when in reality I just went through the motions. I can leave looking fresh and still stylish and reward my ‘efforts’ with a cookie or splurge on a latte. In truth, the only person I’m really fooling in this case is myself.

Yoga is just like life. I can go through the motions, making sure I ‘look good’ as I do so, or I can Lean In, a la Sheryl Sandberg.   Where am I not challenging myself? Where am I settling or coasting while telling myself I’m accomplishing something? Where am I avoiding pain and therefore avoiding benefit and growth? Where am I literally just posing through my life as I’m missing the best parts? How am I using that complacency to actually pat myself on the back?

It’s hard work and it ain’t always pretty. But I know I’ll come out of it stronger and more resilient and flexible as a result.  Namaste.

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The Self-Awareness Paradox

I love to read articles on leadership and positive psychology, especially the ones with the lists of what to do and not to do (apparently I’m not alone since they’re so prevalent). I’m usually looking for new ideas on how to do something better, especially something I feel I can integrate and implement.

It can likewise be satisfying checking off the things I am already doing. “Listen with empathy.” Check. “Communicate upwards.” Check.   “Be inclusive.” Check. However, as I tick through those lists, I have this vague, uncomfortable feeling that maybe I’m ticking off stuff I shouldn’t be. I feel that I’m a good listener and inclusive, but am I really?

This is the paradox of self-awareness. By definition, if I have poor self-awareness, I don’t really have a good conception of certain aspects of my behavior and thoughts and how they affect or are perceived by others.   I believe I have pretty good (far from perfect though) self-awareness.  Indeed, I will always have blind spots and – like everyone – a tendency to over-estimate my qualities and virtues.

However, I have good BS consultants. When I say to Chris, “I think I’m pretty good at X,” he’ll either laugh uproariously or concede, “yes, you are.” My BFF is the same way (but thankfully, without the laughter). I don’t really know a good way around this self-awareness paradox except consulting with a loving and wise advisor.   Even this is not perfect because everyone has different opinions and perceptions, and what might work for some may not work for others. And my consultants are wildly biased in my favor. That being said, I also don’t have to be all things to all people, but I do at least want to measure up in the eyes of those that I respect the most.  If I fail that sniff test then I know I have an opportunity for growth in that area.

I don’t feel badly about this personal challenge. This is the nature of the human struggle and I’m no different from anyone else in this respect. Having the humility and openness to even question one’s own self-concept is a great start and an ongoing practice.  The joy is in that journey of growth, not in the belief that I have arrived at some idealized and false sense of who I should be.  Having faith in the value of our journey of growth is something I can check off with confidence.

Karmic Balance Sheet

I believe in karma. Maybe it’s hopelessly naïve of me to think that some kind of reckoning happens somewhere, sometime, based on how we live our life and whether we’re good to our fellow man. Some believe it happens in the afterlife, but I believe it happens right here on earth during our natural lives.

This notion is hard to reconcile when we see a**holes who are successful, enjoying the fine life, while many good-hearted people struggle to pay the bills.

We know that money does buy happiness, but only up to the point where our basic needs are met.  Above that, happiness depends on our personal characteristics rather than our external circumstances.   Therefore, being materially successful is no guarantee for happiness or a sense of wellbeing. In other words, material wealth is not a good surrogate measure for success if defined in terms of emotional, psychological or spiritual abundance.

If we view success from an emotional perspective in terms of whether we have love, friendship, meaning and purpose, or a sense of peace and satisfaction with our lives, the karmic balance sheet makes more sense. If I wrong someone, even if I don’t acknowledge it to myself, I sense this injustice on some level. The Arbinger Institute says I will tend to create conflict to justify my actions, and negative emotion results.

Carrying negative emotion and creating conflict creates further problems that manifest in my own life. For example, I know when I’m grumpy, especially if I don’t acknowledge it, things tend to go wrong, people tend to resist me, and I tend to get more frustrated and angry. Though I may have gotten that sale, job or promotion and thus the sweet new BMW at the expense of someone else, I will in some manner pay the karmic price.

Disconnecting our definition of success from material wealth provides a currency that balances justice in the world. Good prevails. Doing the right thing pays off. Good people “win” because they sleep with a clear conscience and enjoy a sense of peace, meaning and purpose. Changing our definition of success means that we value what is most important, including recognizing the unsung heroes that actually help make the world a better place.

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Profits and Loss (photo source)