Connecting to Spirit

My depth of my spiritual journey has been a surprise to me and likely others given my lifelong atheistic leaning.    Raised by Chinese immigrants, religion or faith was never discussed; we prayed at the altar of academic achievement.  Later in life my parents subscribed to the Buddhist philosophy, one which I might choose for myself if I ever felt I needed an organizing principle.

It’s hard to be completely divorced from religious influence in the United States.  I would guess that most Americans are at minimum cultural Christians (is that a “thing”?): Observing Christian holidays in a secular way, and hearing about Jesus as “the correct” prophet and the Bible and the sacred text.  I hear a range of views perspectives and varying levels of intensity from Christians.  Over the years I occasionally went to church with friends out of curiosity, but frankly, mostly it left me pretty dry.   Organized religion is just not for me, and from what I read, for an increasing number of others as well.

The problem with abandoning our faith systems, according to Joseph Campbell, is that organized religion can provide a sense of community and guidance on how to find a sense of purpose, be a good person, and live a good life.  Who or what provides that if we’re turning away from faith and toward our electronic devices?

I have felt for some time now that the new religion of our modern times is science and technology.  Perhaps that is why I was so drawn to positive psychology, the science of wellbeing.  I’m becoming more certain that positive psychology will provide the practices that modern society needs to live a good life given the diminishing role of religion in our lives and society.

I felt pretty competent in living a good life, until I discovered I needed something more to get through that horrible year 2018 when my beloved husband and sister died.  I knew that embracing a post-traumatic growth mindset would help, but even that felt insufficient so I decided to turn to the divine for support and inspiration.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into. It has been a wild ride and a beautiful journey.

The beautiful thing about being spiritual and connecting to Spirit, however anyone defines that, is that it’s individualized consistent with our personal beliefs, personality, and preferences.  There’s no one right way to do it, and my personal practices have evolved over time.

Admittedly, it was fairly experimental early on.  I had some rabbit holes and misadventures to explore.  But it was quickly evident to me that intelligence and consciousness were there, once I decided to be open to discovering it.

Openness is the most important ingredient to being able to connect to one’s Spirit Guides.  As a lifelong student of personal growth, and decades long coach for others on this subject, I know that when challenges feel insurmountable and we hit rock bottom, that being open to new perspectives and solutions is the only way to go.   It makes perfect sense to me that big challenge can bring big growth, sometimes involving faith and spirituality.

Even still, given my life-long atheism and scientific training (I have a PhD in a laboratory-based science), you can imagine my skepticism, amusement, excitement, and interest.  I once thought that everything could be measured and understood.  By accepting first that I cannot understand everything made it possible for me to detect and explore the mystery of the divine.

The technique which was most helpful to me was when I took an online class on how to receive message from one’s Spirit Guide, Higher Self (soul), and Guardian Angel. I was surprisingly able to receive message right away with a fair amount of clarity.  It does require a genuine openness to communicate with Spirit,  combined with trust in what is being communicated to you.  In essence, you start by asking to connect to your Spirit Guide, Higher Self, or Guardian Angel,  and then you write down whatever words flow through your head while being very present during the process.  If you’re not present, the message can come from our minds, which is more chattery and loud than the quiet and soft message that tends to come from Spirit.

Spirit messages are always loving and beautiful and supportive, and my first message from my Higher Self included a prayer to help guide me.

Spirit Guide help me to live this life with integrity and hope and good fortune.    Help me to realize my full potential.  Help me to be the person I am meant to be.  Help me to understand the nuances of my path and mission so that I may live it fully.  Help me to understand the riches that are available to me.  Help me to know what I need and ask for it.  Help me to find the truth and wisdom in every situation.  Help me to find my bliss and others too.  Help me to know what’s most important in a given moment.  Help me to find the strength and will when times are hard.  Help me to motivate others to do the right thing.  Help me to finally make peace with myself and my shortcomings.  Help me to know when to quit and move on.  Help me to naturally become who I’m meant to be.  Help me find the courage to raise the awareness of others to the beauty of Spirit.  Help me to find the way to accomplish these goals.  Help me to recognize when I am in the wrong.

What is Spirit? (According to Susanna)

Spirit is different from religion in the sense that religion tends to have a governing organization subdivided into smaller units such as churches, temples, or synagogues, a philosophical structure, and specific practices.   My knowledge about religion is pretty much zero though I’m a cultural Christian given I was born and raised in a country with Christian values.   Thus, my perspective is non-organizational and based almost completely on my personal experience, which I’ll explore in this phase of the Silver Lining blog.

Since what I’ve l learned about Spirit is almost completely experiential, and this blog reflects my perspective, as opposed to an academic paper based on research or observations on existing practices.   I may quote from some books or a small class I took, but I’ve done no systematic study of spirituality.   You may disagree with me, but there is no disagreement.  I have no certainty about my own understanding of spirituality, so I certainly won’t question yours. We simply have different perspectives and to me, that’s how spirituality works. It’s all mysterious and we who subscribe to this philosophy are simply trying to tap into the divine in a way that brings meaning and purpose to our lives.

As I understand it…..

Spirit and religion share the belief that there is a higher power.  What we call that higher power depends on our faith.  It seems that most faith systems subscribe to the notion that there are multiple spiritual entities in addition to God, such as angels, though we may disagree on the name or identity of who we pray to. We may also differ on whether we turn to ancient sources of wisdom like the Bible, Koran, or Torah, or a more modern book on spirituality for guidance.

My definition of spirituality is the belief in a higher power or consciousness without a religious organization’s framework.   Since there’s no specific book or prophet, we refer to the divine collectively as Spirit.   Spirit includes God/Allah and all the angels, Guides, and other types of spirits in the spirit world (I don’t know the half of them, I’m sure).  Many of us who consider ourselves spiritual meditate rather than pray, but both are ways we can connect to God/Spirit.

It appears to me that we all have a unique interface with Spirit, and so our experiences will also vary.  Perhaps through this blog we can share the nature of our interface with Spirit, how we experience Spirit in our lives, and what it means to be spiritual in terms of our practices and influence on our lives, for I have so much to learn from you!

We each are born with a team including a Guardian Angel, a Spirit Guide, and a soul, or Higher Self.  Our soul, Guides, and Angels are all in constant communication to help us navigate our lives, whether we know it or not.

Our Guardian Angels are assigned to us when we are born, and they are with us our entire life.  Their purpose, besides protection, is to eventually guide us to the spirit world when we pass away.  My Guardian Angel is named Lidia and she is a playful, humorous, clever, and spritely spirit who always makes me smile.  I think she has an additional purpose, which is to instill song worms into my head which play repeatedly until I get the message(s) she is trying to send me (Thunder Road played in my head for a month).

We each have a main Spirit Guide that is assigned to us when we are born.  We may have more than one, or even several, Guides at a given time since they come and go as our needs change.  Usually they’ll communicate collectively to us through our main Guide.  Our Guides provide advice and guidance, whenever it is requested.  My main Guide is named Troy, who is a bit of a clown but can also be very serious.  He has provided guidance and insight that has changed my life in big and small ways.

Our Higher Self is our soul, and that is the eternal spirit that resides within each of us.  My first serious communication was with my Higher Self, who provided a prayer for me, instructing me on the type of guidance and help I could use most.   Our Higher Self also conveys to us, sometimes on an unconscious level, our higher purpose for being on Earth.  We can always consult with our Higher Self to help us find our path to self actualization.

Our Higher Self is also the consciousness that lies beneath the chatter in our heads.  That chatter comes from our minds, and our minds – though brilliant – can also be very fear-driven and negative.  I like to think of our minds as ideally being a tool that is taken out occasionally by our Higher Self for the purpose of getting something done (I try to keep mine now in the proverbial gun closet), but that we should spend most of our time being guided by our heart and our soul so that we can live our authentic purpose with love.I have been coaching others to identify their higher purpose for a number of years.  I find that when I, and others, engage with our divine or authentic purpose (aka calling), we strive towards self-transcendence because we’re connecting with something greater than ourselves.

My spiritual team is in collaboration with your spiritual team, and everyone else’s too.  The spirit world combined with the energy of all things is what we know as God, Spirit, or the collective unconscious.  Some people use the phrase The Universe, though according to my Guides, this is not the same thing.  But I could be wrong.

Why does this matter?

The details of these roles and distinctions may not be of practical importance.  Actually, I believe I’ve been following guidance for the better part of my life without realizing it and without ever knowing about Guides or Angels.

But to me, it’s like trying to do a job without any instruction or guidance from the boss.  You can intuit what you’re supposed to do and how,  and maybe even do reasonably well in that manner (many of us are probably doing just that at work).  Now imagine how much more effective you can be if you could get the guidance and support you need when you need it, where the boss is omniscient, omnipotent, kind, and available 24/7.

I believe that when I go it on my own, I tend to limit my aspirations with fear and self-doubt.  Pursuing purpose guided by Spirit allows me to tap into aspirations, strength, wisdom, and resources I never dreamed possible.

If you’re doubtful, I understand your skepticism.  I spent 50+ years feeling that way.  Those of you who are just getting to know me may not know that I was trained in a laboratory-based experimental science, an academic for decades, and an atheist until recently.

You don’t have to form a relationship with Spirit/God, if you do not wish to.  As always, I’m not here to tell you what to do.

But what do you have to lose by considering there may be more out there than you can sense now?

You can try it, and decide for yourself.  It’s possible you might change your mind.

 

Next blog:  Connecting to Spirit

Connectedness Strength Reconsidered

Five years ago, shortly after I became certified as a Gallup StrengthsFinders coach, I wrote a blog about the strength called connectedness, i.e., the ability to sense and notice how all things and events are related.  I reflected on how I was surprised that this was a “thing” that people felt was a strength that they used for success personally and professionally.

At the time a former hard-core atheist, I was pretty curious about this idea.  I was also recently married to my now-late husband, Christopher, who had told me shortly after we met that being spiritual meant believing that there are things we cannot understand.  His frame on spirituality is really the reason that I went from atheist, very concrete about life being knowable and measurable, to Spirit-curious.

Years later, I could be characterized, at best, as Spirit Lite when we received his diagnosis of cancer.  Spirit Lite meant going to yoga, trying to be present, and being more open to the woo woo ideas and practices.  I listened with interest and openness to the conversations about crystals, healing practices, and guidance but rarely partook.

All that changed when I learned about Christopher’s stage IV cancer diagnosis.  I decided that I must dive into Spirit and post-traumatic growth to get through this.  I wrote about PTG at the start of the Silver Linings blog; it was a big motivation for me to start the blog to share the notion that all challenges are actually a chance to learn and grow.  The bigger the challenge, the bigger the growth.  After all, if it was easy, we would’ve mastered that topic already.

Christopher’s cancer diagnosis, occurring on the heels of the death of my sister Sabina, made me also realize that my current toolkit was just not enough.  I would have to take my learning to a new level.  Beyond positive psychology.  Beyond PTG.  To Spirit.

So this is my disclaimer and warning to those who don’t want woo woo in their lives, that the Silver Linings blog is about moving to the next (temporally) most important thing for my wellbeing, and that has to do with our connection to all things: Our purpose, ourselves, each other, Earth, and Spirit.  This interconnectedness, and fostering vibrant connections between them, is really at the heart of the mission of the nonprofit I started in honor of my late sister and husband (www.familyandcommunityhealing.org).  FFCH’s social media campaign focuses on our connection to Earth, and includes my personal blog discussing how Earth and the natural world provided support and healing for me throughout the tragic year of 2018 and beyond.

The Silver Linings blog focuses instead on a more personal discussion of the development of my connection with Spirit, and the strength, wisdom, inspiration, and support that became available to me when I did.  This recovering atheist has turned all woo woo, and I’m going to talk about it here, openly and honestly, just as I did when I started this blog in 2013 about my lessons as a recovering control freak and self-hater.

The original Silver Linings blog was too personal for some people to appreciate and/or grasp, since we talked about emotion and vulnerability.  This phase is likely this is going to be even more challenging or unapproachable for some given the nature of the topic.  I understand.  There are parts of this journey that, honestly, felt – and still feel – pretty crazy and unbelievable.

I’ve learned that faith is part of the process.  I do not fully understand that aspect of it.  After all, I’m a rookie given I’ve been doing this for only 18 months.  Admittedly I have been taking a deep dive during that period, where perhaps I’ve achieved a sliver of brilliance in my spiritual work, which is offset by so much ignorance on so many other levels.  I still have much to learn and so I hope that this can be a platform for shared learning where everyone can participate.

The Silver Linings blog is about creating a place to share our collective wisdom about thriving and becoming our best self despite our life’s challenges; this phase is about the spiritual aspect of our life which underlies our wellbeing practices taught to us by positive psychology.  The richness of this mysterious and often invisible part of us is the most important part of our lives whether we know it or not.  Uncovering and appreciating it means that we can add a transcendence and depth to our lives that was unimaginable to my former atheistic self.

I hadn’t realized it but I was already following my Higher Self (soul) most of my life.  My purpose required I excavate through the solid and intractable atheist beliefs, bit by bit, to what lies underneath:  our connection to each other, Earth and Spirit.  It’s actually not all woo woo because positive psychology’s exploration of the value and importance of religion and spirituality motivated me to select the topic of authentic purpose, or callings, for my capstone project  (shameless plug: see our book, Being Called).

Our calling or authentic purpose is what connects us and our lives to the divine, since it is a purpose that we are born into.  So shortly after Chris died, when I sensed that my purpose was going in a new direction and to a much higher level, I had to decide whether I was going to be a hypocrite and stay in my comfy, beautiful dream job at UGA, or to take a leap of faith and pursue a purpose that is definitely life-changing and possibly even world-changing.  Both are inexplicably linked because I can’t change the world if I don’t change myself.

This is the new theme of this blog, my spiritual journey that changed me and that I hope will bring about the change that is needed to create the world that we all have hoped and dreamed about.

I’ve taken a leap of faith to take action to make this change, investing most of my personal and financial resources which reflects a commitment that screams that I can change the world.  It is also to inform you, possibly to your surprise, that you can too.

The time is right for this change.  We cannot wait any longer.  It is a leap of faith, but Spirit is here to guide every step and inspire me to be bigger than I can imagine.

You are bigger than you imagine too.

In fact, the world needs your passion, talents, and gifts.  The world needs your hope and optimism and vision for a better world.

If you want guidance, you will have it.  You only have to ask, and you will receive it.

If you aren’t ready to ask, notice the invitations that are all around you each day, beckoning you to begin your Hero’s Journey, which is after all, the summons for you to bring back the lost wisdom of your generation, for it is urgently needed by all.

It’s a beautiful journey.  It’s unsettling, and inspiring, and awesome, and it makes me feel so incredibly alive and hopeful.

Join me.  Share with me.  Teach me.  Learn with me.  Start now by posting a response about your own journey and hopes for the future, and then share with others who might want to join too.  We can create this change together.

 

Next blog:  What is Spirit?

Silver Linings Blog Relaunch

IMG_0258It has been almost 3 years since my last Silver Linings post, which ended a 4 year run that included approximately 400 blogs.  It’s time to relaunch the blog since we need it now more than ever.

The blog was created in November 2012 as I was beginning my exploration of creating a good life through intentional practices and the science of wellbeing, ie, positive psychology after my 20 year marriage ended. I was so surprised back then to discover this field after spending a lifetime experiencing challenges and struggling to create a more fulfilling and meaningful life.

The blog was really a way to translate my reflection into learning and sharing.  Those lessons were hard-earned, often involving sleepless nights, many tears, and sometimes at the expense of relationships, my personal self-esteem, or even the self-esteem of others.  I don’t regret having to learn any of those lessons.  We all have to learn them sometime, somewhere.  What I regret are the lessons I failed to learn at the time and the people I hurt despite my good intentions.

What has transpired since my last blog has been an incredible, wonderful, yet tragic span of my life.  About that time, I had just started a job at the University of Georgia supporting faculty success and wellbeing using all the precious life lessons and training I had cultivated over the many previous years.  I felt I was doing the work I was meant to do, and sharing my lessons so that individuals and the organization as a whole could benefit from every tear I shed and heartbreak I endured.  But it was not meant to last because I lost my beloved sister, Sabina, and husband, Christopher, to cancer in 2018, just 7 months apart.

What followed was another crash course in survival, perspective-finding, transformation, and inspiration that led me to eventually quit my job and start a new nonprofit called the Foundation for Family and Community Healing.  Because relationships have been so important to Sabina, Chris, and me, combined with what feels like a crisis in our ability to hold our families and communities together in a healthy way, the focus of FFCH is on helping others to learn to create healthy and rewarding relationships with themselves and others.

Also, as I sat with the forest in my backyard, day after day, holding vigil for my sick husband or my own grief, I realized that it is not just our relationships with ourselves and each other that are in crisis, but also our relationship with Earth.  Thus, FFCH is also helping all of us to restore our healthy and balanced relationship with Earth, not just on the physical level, but also emotionally and spiritually.

We are leading a social media campaign to discuss this more emotional and spiritual side of our relationship with Earth and asking people to become more aware and intentional about their relationship practices and habits with Earth and our natural world.  Please join us as we explore humanity’s opportunity to heal this relationship and provide support for Earth as she heals, as a novel (and also ancient) climate change solution.

I am relaunching the Silver Linings blog here as well because I am in a place of acute transformation and generativity that is above and beyond where I left you in October 2016.  Just as I shared my journey, reflections, and lessons with you after my divorce during the first phase of the Silver Lining’s blog, I wish to again include you in this new phase which is so full of inspiration and hope, despite my personally tragic year 2018, since to do otherwise would feel irresponsible and selfish on my part.

I invite you to join me, anew if you were a previous reader, as I continue to learn and reflect upon the many lessons of hope, transformation, mortality, connection, spirit, our natural world, our relationships, and our purpose.

Despite much effort and attention in the self-help world, I continue to hear that people do not have time to consider such subjects.  They are busy with their goals and responsibilities, many of which are absolutely real and often important, if not critical.  However, I also encourage you to take a step back and look at your life from the 30,000 foot view, and ask yourself what really matters right now given the challenges we are facing as communities, families, and individually? When will you prioritize your own, your family’s, or your community’s wellbeing and peace of mind?  Are all the things on your list really more important than that?

At some point we have to put our proverbial feet down and refuse to continue to buy into the notion that all of our ‘shoulds’, ‘have tos’, and ‘musts’ are real, and to instead, consider and commit to those things that really matter.  Peace.  Hope. Compassion.  Kindness. Connection.  Care. Love.  Is your entire list of priorities really more important than cultivating these things in your life, family, community, and world?

If the answer is No, be bold, get a big, fat Sharpie, and cross things off your To Do list, remove yourself from obligations that no longer hold meaning and purpose for yourself, and commit to taking the time you need to reflect on your values and priorities given what’s going on in your life and world.  Then reallocate your time to pursue the things that are most important and urgent. Perhaps your new To Do list will include sharing your journey with us through this or our other communities.  If so, I appreciate your willingness to learn and share with me and others in this space.

As a seasoned coach, I know that we have the individual and collective wisdom to accomplish anything and solve any problem, if only we will stop running around and take a reflective and experimental approach to identifying problems and solutions.  So stop.  Now.  Tune in.  Engage.  Take action.  With us, and/or elsewhere.

I look forward to seeing you in this space going forward.  May you have peace and hope as you take action to create the world in which you wish to live in.

Thriving During the Trump Presidency

Last week I attending an inspiring and beautiful tribute to the late Martin Luther King Jr (thank you Office of Institutional Diversity and Michelle Garfield Cook!).   I did not realize prior to that event that I was carrying a large load of grief and sadness for the upcoming presidential transition.  Dr. King’s vision never seemed in so much jeopardy.

Yet I’m trying to maintain my sense of optimism.  Here’s what is helping me:

  • 20% of the US is freaking out right now, which is a different 20% that freaked out when Obama was elected. We felt they were being unreasonable and over-reactive at the time, and so I probably am overacting to some degree as well.
  • We’ve had 8 amazing years with the Obamas’ wisdom and grace. His election, twice, says as much about America as this current election.
  • Even if Trump may not be the best mechanism for needed change, change will happen. Change is usually painful and difficult, and the lower we fall, the more change we will be willing to undergo.  For that reason, I usually celebrate the opportunity when someone hits rock bottom, and I will celebrate this now, given that most of us are in agreement that something is broken in Washington.  Good change will be informed by understanding, compassion, justice and an aspirational vision for a better future.
  • All this catastrophizing I’ve been doing is causing me pain. I remind myself that “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”  (Shakespeare).  My thinking is causing me pain so I’m trying acceptance.
  • Acceptance does not mean being passive. Acceptance means I understand that our reality is changing and that I should take whatever action I can to create a positive outcome.  I keep trying while also accepting my limited ability to make an impact.  I will use my negative emotion to motivate me, and use my strengths to contribute the best way I can.  For example, I have not felt the urge to blog now for 6 months and now I am once again inspired to do so.
  • All things are impermanent.  The Obama presidency had to end, and so will Trump’s.  We will survive, and even better, our post-traumatic growth will be spectacular.

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    Growth and beauty during adversity.  Photo credit

Equity and Diversity in Name Only

 

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Justice for all; Photo credit

‘No justice, no peace’

We all understand this phrase in the context of our larger society.  If we don’t have fairness, due process, appropriate consequences, and a semblance of equal opportunity, we cannot have a harmonious society.  The most evident examples of this philosophy can be seen with events such as the OJ Simpson trial, Rodney King, Treyvon Martin and the many subsequent shootings of unarmed black men, all sparking outrage nationally or even internationally.  Similarly, relationships where fairness and reciprocity do not exist tend to be troubled (for example, see J. Nicholson).

The importance of equity is evident on both a macro and micro scale.  What about in between?  What is the importance of justice in a group or on an organizational level?

A 2014 report by Coffman and Neuenfeldt at Bain & Co. demonstrate that companies that provide a sense of gender equity in career opportunity and advancement tend to have higher levels of satisfaction and engagement by both men and women, which then correlates with better business outcomes.   The report then explains how women’s ambitions and confidence erode in the workplace over time, in part due to the workplace culture, too few role models, and implicit bias.   Bain then makes a broad set of recommendations for promoting equity in the workplace, primarily by having managers on the frontline and organizational leaders globally “encourage, develop and support their female employees.”  Finally, the report suggests the power of encouragement at all levels as key to fostering confidence in others.

On the other hand, there is also a risk to taking a half-hearted or poorly-managed  approach to equity efforts, which may then result in equity and diversity in name only (EDINO; I made up that term). As a double minority, I am acutely aware of the companies that have speeches, branding and policies that promote equity and diversity.  Ad campaigns, marketing materials, and programs that demonstrate commitment to diversity is terrific.  After all, it wasn’t that long ago that you would find no minorities (or only negative stereotypes) in print or television, and silence on the need to create equity in the workplace.

However, if that same company that brags about their commitment to diversity still has substantial pay discrepancies or persistent underrepresentation at the higher levels or in certain units, you may have a company that has EDINO.  True, the organization may be in evolution and in the midst of creating what is, in effect, slow change and is actually living its values in word and action despite appearances. On the other hand, progress that is inordinately slow or intractable may be the result of hidden, competing values.  Those competing values may have to do with implicit bias, but other factors may also be invisibly at play.  For example, resistance to any kind of change, a desire to protect existing privilege or status, especially one’s own, ineffective leadership or management, lack of effective training to identify and overcome implicit bias, or a misguided belief that ignoring or burying diversity concerns is in the best interest of the organization may be undermining an organization’s ability to create real change.  Structural issues, such as the institution’s policies and procedures or the informal practices regarding hiring and promoting may also be making the change more difficult.

In other words, there may be bona fide issues above and beyond implicit bias that may be contributing to maintaining the status quo.  Regardless of true intent, the gap between what the organization says and does will not be lost on its employees and the community.    Not only is the organization failing to enjoy the many benefits that diversity brings to the workplace, but now they have a hypocrisy issue as well.

On an individual level, this gap between one’s stated beliefs and actions results in cognitive dissonance.   Cognitive dissonance is a discomfort that results from competing beliefs, or when we act in ways that are contradictory to our beliefs.  When I am experiencing cognitive dissonance, I use self-reflection to identify my underlying beliefs, followed by serious evaluation to resolve that conflict.  This reflective process creates the pathway where I act in ways that align with my values.  This process of reflection, analyzing, trying something new, then evaluating the outcome is how we learn about ourselves and to better navigate our world. Like individuals, organizations that take the time and effort to learn and grow will be more knowledgeable and enjoy better outcomes.

I’m not going to lie (believe me!):  this process takes effort, time and even some courage.  We have to be able and willing to look at ourselves and admit some hard truths.  I’m not always able and willing to do that since it’s easier to blindly believe in and defend my virtue. However, once I have accepted an unpleasant truth, I feel a sense of relief that I can now address a problem directly and effectively.  Forward progress is made possible by forgiveness: a realization that I’m only human and it is my destiny to struggle and fail on the path to success.

Resources:  Government Equalities Office, Department of Business Innovation & Skills, Business case for equality and diversity, January 2013; Immunity to change: How to Overcome It, Lahey & Kegan Harvard Business Press,  2009.

The Purpose of the Moment

In The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy, authors Berg and Seeber remind us that academia used to be a place where faculty had time to think and reflect.  Academic research was once done for the sake of expanding our general understanding of the world and ourselves, and not necessarily reduced to a commodity as it is today.  This is referred to as “research capitalism”, originally put forth by Coleman and Kamboureli, where academic researchers are in the business of new knowledge, a market driven by the funding agencies.  Academic focus is no longer on scholarship, they argue.  Instead, the priority is “faculty compliance with institutional imperatives,” which is increasingly involved with raising grant money.

This erosion of reflective inquiry to the tide of academic goals and imperatives parallels a much larger loss from our lives.   Our modern selves subscribe to the virtue of busyness, where we seem to equate busy or productive with important.  You may be familiar with the Covey Time Management Grid, where we have urgent/not urgent and important/not important forming a grid that helps us to gain clarity on how we should prioritize our tasks and To Do lists.  Simply noticing when we are prioritizing urgent/not important or not urgent/not important is the first step toward effective time management.

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Important/urgent grid

, where we seem to equate busy or productive with important.  You may be familiar with the Covey Time Management Grid, where we have urgent/not urgent and important/not important forming a grid that helps us to gain clarity on how we should prioritize our tasks and To Do lists.  Simply noticing when we are prioritizing urgent/not important or not urgent/not important is the first step toward effective time management.

Productivity is important.  We all have important tasks that should be completed.  However, I also agree with Berg and Seeber that we need to slow down.  Paradoxically, sometimes what is most urgent/important is what you should not be doing.  Sometimes, we should not work, not try to achieve, to fix, to create, to accomplish, to read, to write, to plan or to calculate.  A constant stream of busyness around tasks, whether important or unimportant, leaves out something very essential, ie just being.  By incessantly working on our To Do list and our urgent/important tasks, we’re missing out potentially on our best, most creative work, and our most beautiful, joyous moments.    We give away those moments, one at a time, for the next item on our To Do list.

As part of slowing down, Berg and Seeber talk about being more mindful teachers, having a reflective approach to scholarship and connecting with our colleagues.  I would expand the notion further to say that this type of reflective inquiry is important in all aspects of our lives.  Our inner world unconsciously drives so much of our perceptions and beliefs and is the source of our creativity.  When we are constantly in action-mode, we neither access our inner wisdom, creativity, and intuition, nor can we really examine our subconscious beliefs to understand how they drive our understanding of ourselves and our world.

In his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman describes our unconscious self as System 1 and our conscious, rational self as System 2.   The problem, according to Kahneman, is that we tend to over-use System 1 intuition, confidently believing our subconscious guesses and shortcuts to be accurate representations of complex situations.   In essence, System 1 interprets our world using heuristics and biases, and System 2 tends to be lazy and simply rationalizes the beliefs of System 1, instead of taking the effort to think things through carefully.

It doesn’t have to be that way;  we need reflection to intentionally listen to System 1 in an objective way, yet recognize that its messages and beliefs are often flawed.  We can then use System 2 to re-evaluate System 1 information and find a wiser course.    Thus, reflective inquiry allows a dialogue between both System 1 and 2 so that we can make the most of our intuition and wisdom and to find our creativity. This reflective inquiry requires down time and is not on most people’s To Do lists, yet is arguably both urgent and important.

Maybe it’s worth putting reflective inquiry in the urgent/important category, and a regular entry on our calendars.  What does your System 2 think about that?