Finding Peace in Uncertainty and Change
“Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work, it means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.” – Unknown
I just returned from a teaching and book tour in France – one of my favorite countries. It was a time of intense energy and vibrancy in the country. I was there for three world cup games, the famous Paris Gay Pride parade, and the moments in between with music, beauty and experiences – like touring Paris at sunset in a Triumph motorcycle sidecar. What struck me is the way collective experiences can open us up to seeing more broadly, reminding us of our common humanity. We all danced together in wide boulevards during the Pride parade, and we sang, blew horns and shouted in the streets when France won the semi-final playoffs. Celebrations like heart-pounding parades and the global World Cup are unifying, with our individual worries and identities becoming secondary to what touches us emotionally and joins us together with broader meaning.
It works like that in companies, too. I returned for the fourth year to an inspiring client – an international high-tech company that is fueled by purpose and navigates rapid growth through acquisition by keeping their culture of entrepreneurial innovation front and center in how they communicate, promote, rotate and develop their leaders from across the world. Now that the company is being acquired, the backdrop of our program was one of navigating change, uncertainty, curiosity and hope. We had rich explorations of how training in attention, emotional awareness and meta-awareness (knowing what our experience is while we are having it) helps us. We practiced observing our thoughts, resistance, and sensing emotions (such as fear or excitement) in our mind and body so we could step back, pause, see clearly, and respond skillfully as the organization and our identities evolve into new shape.
Staying aware of the process while you are in it, and returning to a bigger “why” – the shared purpose (who are we serving and why?) is the dancing-in-the-streets connective tissue during change. It was a powerful set of working sessions and facilitated discussions, because we see that we are at the helm of interpreting our experience when we can step out of it and see reality with higher-resolution awareness. We shift from “this is happening to me” to “this is happening, this phase of life is here right now, and how can I adopt a wider perspective and take wise, skillful and compassionate action as I lead myself and others?”
It starts with the first step, the basic practice, of accessing inner calm. Peace is available when we bring attention to our breath: the inhale and the exhale, and we drop below the choppy surface waves to the serenity of the deep blue. This is the blue in our company name PurposeBlue.
Accessing inner calm by bringing attention to our breathing creates space. In this space, we can look at how we are interpreting a situation, we can bring awareness to our thoughts, see what we are believing, and shift out of automatic, habitual patterns and anxious, sometimes catastrophic thoughts. We move our attention out of the spinning narratives and into our body by breathing. We relax the tightness, allowing our body and our mind to let go, to accept and to expand. It is a mind-body exercise. When we are more relaxed, our breathing is slower and our mind and emotions can settle a bit. We can connect to our values (service? achievement? health? compassion? creativity? security? winning? kindness?) make decisions, and take action that is in alignment with what matters most. We become more conscious of how we are living and leading moment to moment.
Remembering our purpose, our bigger why, gives us the power of meaning and within the calm of the deep blue, it provides a rudder for how we navigate this wild and precious life.