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The Freedom To Be

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There is a story I wish to tell, except I do not know the story. It could be your story, my story or anyone else’s story. It does not matter. All human stories are essentially the same. The characters and settings differ. The pursuit remains the same. Happiness.

I heard from him and others that he had a humble background. Faced difficult financial conditions in the early part of his life. I really do not know the details. They are not even necessary for the story I have to tell. Yet this part of his life is crucial. For he made up his mind one day he would have enough. Not only for himself, but also for his family. He was particularly close to his younger sister. His father sat him down one day and told him “She is your responsibility. You have to take care of her.” Those words went deep. Very deep. The son became the father.

He started his career in the ranks. He was good at selling. They said he could even sell a refrigerator to an Eskimo. He was hardworking, sincere and led from the front. Over time, he rose in the ranks. His colleagues and juniors always looked up to him. He was someone who could be trusted. He was and would always be there for them. After all, he was the father. Then salesman, boss or friend.

One day his sister gave him an idea. To start a Company. It does not matter for this story what that Company did. Like all companies, it sold some product or service. He liked the idea and left his high paying job. As he had always done in life, he began again from the scratch. Humbly. A small room and five employees. Just as himself, his employees had humble beginnings. He could not afford to employee MBAs. He did all there was to do himself. He not only did it himself, he showed others how to do it. Gradually the Company grew. He was a conservative leader. He painstakingly added one brick at a time. It was a gruelling process for him and others. Yet they did it. They knew there was no other option. They all knew what it was to be humble. The only way out was hard work and sincerity.

As the Company grew, something else happened, which neither of them realised.

He became their father and they his children. After all, he had picked that card of destiny that said one word. Father. All other roles of guide, caretaker, supporter, protector, provider and nurturer were a subset of that primary role. Of course, he did not know any of this consciously. In his own mind, he ran the Company professionally. He adhered to the Company policies just as anyone else.  He led from the front. He could not ever imagine being unprofessional. Little realizing that the heart of professionalism is little about complying with policies and rules set by your own self. Professionalism is an adult state, not a parental state. An adult will set clear roles and responsibilities based on agreed terms and conditions. An adult will allow others to take their own decisions within the boundaries of their role. An adult will hold others accountable for not meeting their targets. An adult will explore options collectively. An adult will make clear choices and communicate these choices clearly, leaving no scope for ambiguity. An adult will hold another adult responsible for his own growth, even though as a leader he may provide the conditions for that growth.

Just as what happens with most family run organizations, the company became a family. He was the father and they the children.

They were efficient employees. Hardworking and sincere. They did exactly what they were told. Rarely questioning, rarely disagreeing, rarely thinking for themselves. They had lost touch with their own capacity as individuals to think and feel, independent of him. Hence, the question of expressing their own true selves never arose. Whenever they tried to make some feeble attempt, he convinced them why his thoughts made more sense. His explanations were comprehensive.

Sometimes he lost his temper and shouted. When costly mistakes were made. Perhaps that scared them further, to voice themselves. They called him Sir. Out of respect. After all, they owed him everything. They had learnt from him. Earned from the Company that he had created. Had gradually risen from their humble backgrounds from their earnings in the Company.

They also craved for his attention and approval. Like children wanting the only parent available to take notice of them. They did all they could to get his approval and to be close to him. Sometimes even fighting amongst themselves. It lead to jealousies. Allegations of favouritism were made against each other. Of course all this, was not voiced. This was the undercurrent of the Company. On the surface, they were one big family. Which they were. The father and the children.

As the family grew, things were beginning to get unmanageable. He could not be everywhere and manage everything, like he had done earlier. He designated some of his close employees to take charge of operations. They had grown with him. With the company. He wanted them now to manage and lead, so that he could look at things more strategically. Yet the most essential quality of a leader is to think independently. To constantly be in touch with his feelings. To communicate as an adult. How could they? They had never done any of this. They had always been children. He simply could not fathom what was blocking them. Little realizing his own role in their story. The father creates the children. It is never the other way round.

By now, he was at his wit’s end. The Company had grown in capacity and in people and there was no other leader, other than him, to manage them. What was he to do? He did not believe in getting new people in senior positions. He believed in grooming people who had stood the test of time with him. Who had given their sweat, blood and tears for the Company. Yet they lacked the capacity to lead independently. He hoped to groom them in time. Not realizing that the need was not of grooming, but of allowing children to make their own choices. Reap the benefit or pay the consequences for their choices. For themselves and for the Company.

This is where I enter the story.

Nothing in life is a coincidence. Yet life is made up of coincidences. I met him through a friend. It was for a project she wanted to do and requested me to help her. We interviewed few employees across his organization and presented the information to him. Everyone loved him. They disliked the managers who came between him and them. After all, it was a patriarchal set up. And everyone wanted be close to the Head of the family. To be like him. And to be liked by him.

He decided to employ me as a consultant. My work partner and I decided to interview his leadership team and create a safe space for them to have real conversation for two days. They spoke about looking up to him, their optimism to lead, their jealousies and how people at large were not being managed well. A few employees spoke hesitatingly that they wished he were open to more perspectives. It was the first voice of a child wanting to be an adult with the father’s permission. Unfortunately, nature does not allow that. The child can only become an adult when he leaves home. To experience and explore himself in new circumstances. Allowing his own uniqueness to flower. Making his own choices.

Unfortunately, they did not have that luxury. They had to become adults without leaving home.

The two days began with us sharing what we had heard from them about each other. For the first time they saw themselves in others mirrors. He continued being the father. Encouraging, guiding, telling others what to do for their own betterment and the Company. This was what he had done since the time he had laid the first brick of the Company. It was what he did. Be a father.

Yet when I told him that he was not being professional, more a father, he denied it. With the force of all the explanations available with him. He repeated his explanations. And when he could not take the charge of being unprofessional anymore, he walked out of the room.

I wondered how this story would turn out.

Just as in most stories, a character mysteriously appears in the end and turns the tide, just when you thought that the ship would sink. It happened here too. His sister, who was never meant to be part of the dialoguing process initially, was included last minute, since she was the co-founder of the Company. She convinced him to come back to the process, no matter how difficult. He did.

As I said earlier, there are no coincidences.

As we resumed he continued being the father. Whenever we gave him feedback, he resisted. His body became stiff. His answers short and crisp. “I disagree. Yet I will look at it later.” Unfortunately, in human transformation there is no later. There is only the Now. The alive pulsating Now. Life happens in the Now, not later. If he did not allow the feedback to penetrate his heart Now, it was of no value later. Mind the trickster, fools us into thinking that it can transform itself, by analysing itself later. The problem is the mind. No solution of human transformation can come from the problem trying to solve the problem. Like a dog trying to catch its own tail. It was not his problem. It is a human condition.

By the end of day two, we were beginning to tire of giving him feedback. It was like hitting yourself on a brick wall. We decided to stop giving him any more feedback. It was beginning to hurt us. We thought this would not happen now. It will happen in the Now, but many nows later.

The last feedback session was his. Where we would read what others had to say about him. We read what they had to say. In the midst of great admiration and gratitude, were small hesitating voices. “We wished he listened others perspectives, we wish he was not stubborn at times, we wish we are not scared of his temper, we wish he did not say somethings personal at times.”

We asked him how he felt. He said, he felt that “why did they not tell him all this earlier”. He felt that “the show must go on”. He felt that “he could not afford to let this come in the way”. He felt “as a leader he could not allow this to impact him”. He felt after all “he was responsible for steering this ship and all who were on board it”. He felt that “if he let it affect him he would fail others”. He felt “he would fail himself, if he failed others”.

We pointed to him these were not feelings. These were thoughts. “What do you feel?” we asked once again.

Slowly he said one word “Disappointed.” Ah! We saw the first glimmer of hope. Like a small spark of light far away, when you are in a deep dark tunnel. We probed more. How strong was his disappointment? He said 3 on a scale of 1 to 5. That was strong enough. The spark became a small glow. We probed further. What part of his body felt the disappointment? He said the head. Ah! The glow became bigger. What was his head saying now…

We went deeper and deeper. The light of the Now becoming bigger and bigger with every step of the psychic excavation. Until, we came across two sides of him.

The Head.

The Heart.

We heard each one talk.

The Heart said, “I am love. In its myriad forms. In this heart I reside as the father

The Head said, “I am what society has made me. Conditioned by experiences. In this head I reside in the belief, “I cannot allow my vulnerability to show or break me. If I do how will, I fulfill my role as the father. The meaning to my existence.”

He did not say these exact words. This is how I heard them.

By now, the light had grown large enough and pervaded every corner of the room. An empty silence descended on those who were present there. There was no more to say. No more to hear. The silence completed everything. Erased all roles. Consumed everything. It was the Now, in its sparkling brilliance. The creative space from which all life springs forth. The fertile soil from which the first tender green sapling emerges, to greet the first rays of the morning Sun.

I would end this story here, for every story ends, when a new story is about to begin. Yet I cannot. For I witnessed a miracle. Which is why I got inspired to tell this story in the first. It touched me beyond measure. Like a small colourful butterfly perching itself on the palm of your hand in your darkest hour.

Towards the end, we requested each person to share their feelings on the two days of real conversations. Each one had extraordinary moments to share of deep insights and transformation. Miraculous as they were, they are not the miracle I am talking about. The miracle happened when we asked him to share at the very end.

I can see it happening even now, even as I write. In slow motion.

He said, “I will share with my eyes closed.”

And then…he closed his eyes.

He got in touch with his heart and spoke. His voice was soft. Searching. Looking for the right words to express his feelings, as best as he could. Slow and tentative.

And That was the miracle!

It gave me goose bumps. He had resisted us all through. As the father he had given advice to others all through. For the first time I saw the small innocent child in him speak. Softly and searchingly just as innocent children do. From pure feeling. Feeling lost when they have to use words to describe that purity to others.

In that moment the roles of father and son merged into pure feeling of The Child. Free of roles. Only pure feeling of the Now.

It did not matter what words he used. It did not matter what he said.

The miracle touched me.

The universal light of the Now permeated my being.

 ***

 

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“At times you can see where the inner compass is pointing but are conditioned to turn a blind eye to it. Perhaps along with the compass you need the guts to swim against the tide, have blind faith in the compass or sheer madness!”

That was a response I got on my previous article on the ‘Inner Compasshttps://creatingflow.wordpress.com/2010/11/07/32/

It reflected most other responses. It is one thing to know and another to have the courage to do it. This then seemed like the logical exploration for this article, as the sequel to the ‘Inner Compass’.

Does change happen to us or do we create change? What is change? How do we know we are changing? When is the right time for change? What is necessary for change?

I wondered where could I find a change expert at short notice to answer my questions. I gazed at the books lying on the table next to me. One book caught my attention. ‘Conversations  With God’ by Neale Donald Walsh. The author finds his questions answered by God. Enough answers to fill three volumes. Perhaps I could invoke a God of Change and get him to answer my questions.

I close my eyes and invoke Change.

I ask my first question.

ME: How do I know that you are the God of Change, not a part of my belief or imagination?

CHANGE: Isn’t that what God is?

ME: Huh! (after a thoughtful pause) But how can I trust you to give me the right answers?

CHANGE: There are no right answers. Just as there are no wrong answers. What makes you reflect and make conscious choices is perhaps right.

ME: Hmmm…Ok. Let’s get down to business then. My first question on change is what most of my readers are asking. We often know what is best for us yet we don’t have the courage to follow it. Why?

CHANGE: Fear of the unknown. What you know is a lit circle. What you don’t know is the darkness beyond. Most people prefer to be in the comfortable warmth of the circle, even if it burns them gradually. Then there are other times that people think they know, yet they don’t really know.

ME: What do you mean ‘don’t really know’?

CHANGE: Knowing is not different from action. When one knows by putting his hand into the fire it will burn, he chooses not to do so. It does not take courage to keep his hand away from fire. It is common sense.

ME: But life situations are never so simple. There are many factors and people involved.

CHANGE: True. Yet the final choice is between what gives you life and what takes it away. Does your life situation enhance life or deplete it.

ME: Like I said, it is difficult to give a clear answer. Each situation has its pros and cons. Things are never so black and white.

CHANGE: Yet people continue to be in relationships long after they have stopped nourishing them. Both at work or home.  Often it is an unwillingness to know themselves beyond who they currently are. They hold on to old tattered clothes, rather than expose themselves and wear fresh new ones. The old identity wants to survive at all costs.

ME: But isn’t that natural? The desire to survive.

CHANGE: Isn’t it natural to die too. Nature is cyclical. One season follows another. Life follows death. And death follows life. It is ironical that more people die because of their desire to survive.

ME: Hmm…I am touched. That’s a powerful statement….

CHANGE: Be with it. What touches you can grow. It has the seed for new life to emerge. What doesn’t will eventually perish.

ME: Can I ask you a direct question?

CHANGE: Sure.

ME: When is the right time to end a relationship that is not working?

CHANGE: There is no right time, just as there is no wrong time either. Moreover, relationships never end. They continue inside you.

ME: C’mon! Don’t be vague. Give me a straight answer.

CHANGE: Okay. Tell me, what is the most important thing in a relationship?

ME: Love, commitment, trust, acceptance…

CHANGE: And what builds all of that?

ME: I guess it’s built over time. Isn’t it? (reflecting) Why don’t you tell me what is the most important thing in a relationship?

CHANGE: Honest communication. When a relationship does not allow honesty to yourself or the other, perhaps it is time to give it another form. Like energy, relationships never die. They transform.

ME: And what about work?

CHANGE: When work becomes a job. It is best to change. Work is a creative expression of who you are. Anything less than that is something you do to earn a living.

ME: Are you saying that we all quit our jobs to follow our passion! Is that practical?

CHANGE: Most of you are not educated to follow or know your true self-expression. Your education prepares you for a job not life. In your compulsion to be practical like everyone else, you give up on your true self.

ME: Is there anything such as a true self?

CHANGE: True and false are words. What is real is your experience. Examine it closely. It will speak to you. Do you look forward to work when you get up? Are your relationships nourishing you? The answers to these questions can point you in the direction of your true self.

ME: That brings us a full circle. We began with knowing what is best for us yet not having the courage to do it. So what is the solution?…wait, I almost know what you will say “There is no solution. Life is all about choices.”

CHANGE: (smiles) Yes, and each choice has a cost and a benefit. I don’t think you need me anymore.

*****

ME: Hey wait before you go! I have one last question. Who are you really?

CHANGE: I am a part of you. The part that knows. Free of fear or confusion. I exist in every person.

ME: Then why don’t you guide everyone.

CHANGE: I would. However most people don’t really ask.

ME: Ask what?

CHANGE: Questions.

*****

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