Saturday, May 14, 2011

Review: The Soul of Leadership 2

Some Basic Images

Deepak Chopra today
As I age I believe that images become more and more important for us, more important even than words.  Some relevant images that come to my mind here are (i) Map and (ii) Ocean/sea/Wave.  Why these images here and now?  Why are they relevant?  Well, I recall them for two reasons.  I was re-reading or perusing yet again two of Professor A. C. Grayling's books, The Reason of Things and The Mystery of Things.  I find the learned professor's short musings on topical subjects in these books inspiring and easily read after a cup of afternoon tea.  In one of them he adverts to the great Socratic dictum that "The unquestioned life is not worth living."  My erstwhile lecturer in philosopher way back in the late 1970s Fr. Paddy Carmody, M.A., M.Phil. used to render this saying as "the unexamined life is not worth lving."  Later I heard another interesting twist on this ancient wisdom which went: "The unlived life is not worth questioning."  Now I think both these exhortations are worth taking to heart because they require us to think about life, to reflect upon our experiences, and to take some action as a result of our reflections.  In this way, Grayling tells us that we equip ourselves with a map to explore the territory of our lives.  Here, then, is my first image: Equipping ourselves with a Map for the journey which is our lives.

My second image is that of Ocean/Sea/Waves which capture the idea of the mystery of life.  Indeed water in the form of Ocean/Sea/Wave is essentially an image of the psyche or soul because of its mysterious nature and because of its depths.  Here is Deepak Chopra describing the soul in terms of this wonderful image:

When I talk about soul, I'm not referring to soul as defined by any particular religion, although all the great spiritual traditions acknowledge its existence.  I believe the soul is an expression of the underlying universal field of consciousness.  Your particular awareness, or soul, is like a wave in the boundless sea, unique for a brief moment in time before it falls back into the larger entity from which it emerged.  At the soul level you are seemlessly connected with everything in the universe, to the silent domain from which all matter and energy spring.  (The Soul of Leadership, Rider, 2010., p. 4)
Chopra reminds us again and again in this wee book that essentially the journey that any leader takes is one of expanding awareness.  Indeed, this is essentially the aim of all good therapy as we have described it many times in these posts in Still Point.  The soul itself has complete awareness because as our learned author points out in the above quotation it is essentially an expression of the universal field of consciousness.  Consequently, our soul can perceive every aspect of a particular situation.  However, as Chopra wisely points out "ordinarily you don't access it because of your own inner obstacles.  We see what we want to see - or what our biases and limitations encourage us to see.  On your journey to inspired leadership you will learn how to remove these obstacles.  When you do, what was once difficult will become effortless, as your soul clears the way for you." (Ibid., p. 9)

Four Levels of Perception:

Later on in this book our author informs us that there are four levels of perception and that a true leader is able to perceive at all four levels, but mainly acts on his/her ideas, hunches and vision having put all four into action.  Chopra argues cogently that when we look and listen fully to anybody or any situation, we involve our whole body, our mind, our heart and our soul.  This is the way he summarises or sketches this insight into this dimension of leadership:

Body:  The stage of observing and information gathering.
Mind:  The stage of analysis and judgment.
Heart:  The stage of feeling.
Soul:  The stage of incubation.
Once the leader has gone through these four stages his/her vision will emerge "as the true expression of who you are, and it will be founded on deep understanding." (ibid., p. 16)  I believe the first three stages above are easily understood by any sensitive person.  However, the fourth needs some elaboration or explanation here.  This stage is all about letting go and waiting no matter how long that takes.  In other words it takes time for any vision to incubate.  Here are the words of our guru Chopra on the nature of incubation:

Tree in TCD, April, 2011
When a vision is incubating, it goes into a deep and invisible space.  A profound and infinite intelligence nurses your vision, adapting it to your needs and the needs of everyone around you.  You have gained access to something greater than yourself, whether you call it the higher self, pure awareness, or your connection with God.  If none of these terms workd for you, you might want to think of the soul as "who I really am."  (Ibid., p. 17)

Friday, May 13, 2011

Review: The Soul of Leadership 1

A Book to Wonder at:

Rome by carriage, Maggio 1, 2011
Being a book lover I have many books to wonder at, perchance to read, pore over, consider, contemplate and even meditate upon.  As a young poor boy, books provided the sole window into wonder for my young impressionable imagination.  Like all good things, the wonder still lasts to this day.  I really don't know where I'd be without books?  Then again, as a meditator and would-be Buddhist, I realize the silliness of the last question here.  After all, the literal answer to that question I posed is nothing but the one syllabled word "here!"  This reminds me of yet another wonderful book, "Wherever you go, there you are!"  Now, that's a Buddhist title for you.  However, it was after all a mere rhetorical question seeking no answer!  The book I wish to consider in this post is The Soul of Leadership: Unlocking your potential for Greatness by Deepak Chopra (Rider, 2010)

Link between Leadership and Soul

You will notice in these ruminations here a clear link with Coehlo's little masterpiece which I reviewed in the post immediately prior to this one, as that too, to my mind was also about leadership.  When one gets to know oneself in a profound way - and I have already adverted many times in these posts to Carl Gustave Jung's contention that getting to know oneself is a perilous and dangerous business because in the task of integrating the shadow side of self and all those subpersonalities (often shown in the masks we wear) we have to undertake of journey of taming out own monsters (fears) - one truly opens oneself up to the task of being a leader to others on the journey to self-knowledge.  Here, let me recall a claim, attributed to Nelson Mandela but whose provenance lies elsewhere, that we are ourselves "afraid of our own greatness!"  This is a thought that is at once frightening, true and most profound.  Plumbing the depths and scaling the heights of the psyche were never easy activities.  Here let me remind my readers of the great lines from the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins:

O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who ne'er hung there.  (poem, No Worst, There Is None) (See this link here: GMH MindMountains )
Historically, then plumbing the depths gives us a metaphor for one way of exploring the psyche.  One could also contend that the mountain or height metaphor is equally valid as an approach as it takes the opposite directional metaphor.   I do believe I first encountered the notion of height psychology in the work of Viktor Frankl.   Now, depth psychology (or height psychology as scaling the mountains/cliffs is as dangerous as plumbing the dark depths), from a German term (Tiefenpsychologie), was coined by Eugen Bleuler to refer to psychoanalytic approaches to therapy and research that take the unconscious into account. The term has come to refer to the ongoing development of theories and therapies pioneered by Pierre Janet, William James, Sigmund Freud, and Carl Jung. Depth psychology explores the relationship between the conscious and the unconscious and includes both psychoanalysis and Jungian psychology.

Let me quote a few sentences from Deepak Chopra here as regards soul-work and leadership which sum up the central philosophy of his recent book: "Everyone who has a soul, which by my definition includes us all, has the potential to be an inspired leader.  When you change on the inside so that you draw on the unlimited wisdom of the soul, you become a leader without needing to seek followers.  As you put your vision for a better world into tangible form, they will find you. " (Op. cit., p. 2)

I have always liked the books of Deepak Chopra because they are at once profound and very easily accessible.  To manage to achieve both these aims is a feat, nay a miracle, in itself.  Also I love Chopra's propensity for acronyms and mnemonics to help his readers process and assimilate his thoughts.  He gives the following rather unique acronym for LEADERS in the first several pages of his book:

L = Look and Listen: He tells us to do so as objectively as possible, and to remain true to all our senses and feelings.

E = Emotional Bonding:  Here we clear away our own toxic emotions, or truly have dealt with "our own shit."  I should imagine this is on a par with the empathy recommended by Carl Ransom Rogers in his person-centered counselling.

A = Awareness.  Here what Chopra is getting at is awareness of all the big issues and questions in my own life like Who am I? What do I want from life? Or as the dying rabbi said to his followers in that old rabbinical story: "always question your motivations."

D = Doing:  All leaders must be action-oriented.  Be a do-er as well as a be-er.

E= Empowerment:  The soul's power comes from its own self-awareness.  Such self-awareness is never threatened by the opinions or comments of others.   The leader empowers the team and him/herself at one and the same time.

R = Responsibility:  Responsible leadership means having the courage of one's convictions to "walk the walk as well as talk the talk!"  Chopra goes on to add that the leader's greatest responsibility is to lead the group "on the path of higher consciousness."

S =  Synchronicity: This is a hard concept to get one's mind around, and it was one very close to Jung's heart, and one which I discussed in these pages before where I defined synchronicity as the experience of two or more events which occur in a meaningful manner, but which are causally inexplicable to the person or persons experiencing them. (See this link here: synchronicityTQ ) Chopra gives another good definition of it, which I like greatly, viz:

[Synchronicity] a mysterious element from the underlying universal field of consciousness that all great leaders harness.  [It] is the ability to create good luck and find invisible support that carries one beyond predicted outcomes to a higher plane.  In spiritual terms, synchronicity is the ultimate ability to connect any need with an answere from the soul. (Ibid., p. 5)

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Book Review: Manual of The Warrior of Light - Paulo Coelho


Paulo Coehlo
As a book lover there is a veritable ocean of possibilities from which to choose.  I always seem to come across a gem of a book quite regularly, and Paulo Coelho's Manual of The Warrior of Light (Harper, 2002, Brazil, 1997) is a lustrous and sparkling one indeed.  I read it recently on holidays in Calabria and finished it in a couple of hours as it is a very light but inspiring read.  In essence, like all Coelho's books, it is a spiritual manual which could be read as a course in leadership or an inspiring manual for living life as authentically as possible.

The Power of Story

To tell a story, to listen to a story, to share a story is such a profoundly human thing. To listen to the real life story of another human being is a privilege. To tell your story to another human being is to reach out to the other, to say this is me, this is what I am about, this is where I came from, these are the ways I got here and there is where I am going.  Another marvellous book I read on holidays some four years back was On Stories by Richard Kearney (Routledge, 2002) who is Professor of Philosophy at Boston College and U.C.D.  As Kearney puts it therein, when you tell your story: “you interpret where you are now in terms of where you have come from and where you are going to. And so doing you give a sense of yourself as a narrative identity that perdures and coheres over a lifetime. That is what the German philosopher Dilthey called the coming-together-of-life …meaning the act of coordinating an existence which would otherwise be scattered over time. In this way storytelling may be said to humanise time by transforming it from an impersonal passing of fragmented moments into a pattern, a plot, a mythos.” (p. 4)  Our first woman president Mary Robinson pledged herself to listening to the stories of others in her inauguration speech way back in 1990 on December 3rd:

I want this Presidency to promote the telling of stories — stories of celebration through the arts and stories of conscience and of social justice. As a woman, I want women who have felt themselves outside history to be written back into history, in the words of Eavan Boland, “finding a voice where they found a vision.”  (See this link here: MR: Inaugural Speech
Coelho's Opening Story

Coehlo, like any good author tells a wonderful story in the Manual of The Warrior of Light  by way of an introduction to his book.  The story is really a very simple one, like all good stories.  It tells us about a small impressionable boy who is bewitched by the sea and by the wonderful stories of the local fishermen.  One day while walking on the beach he meets a beautiful woman who tells him about an mysterious island that was literally swallowed by an earthquake.  On the island there was a splendid temple with a wonderful bell which always rang out magical peals.  Then the sailors and fishermen tell him bewitching stories that if one listens long enough one can hear the peals of the temple bell from the drowned city.  The young boy becomes so obsessed with hearing the bells from the drowned temple that he forgets about his family and friends and often sits awe-struck down on the beach waiting in vain to hear the bells.  He begins to lose his friends who begin to see him as somewhat weird, and his parents begin to worry about him.

The boy becomes bewildered that both the inspiring words of the beautiful lady and the bewitching words of the sailors and fishermen are proving to be so untrue.  Finally, he gives up and turns away from the sea and decides to go back and play with his friends and be more open to his family.  Then as he turned back to the world he hears the wonderful peal of bells.

L. Carracci, The Transfiguration, 1594
A brilliant and wonderful story.  There is a similar one in the Gospels - I refer here to the transfiguration of Jesus the Christ on Mount Tabor (though other mountains have been suggested).  According to the Gospels, Peter, James, son of Zebedee and John the Apostle were with Jesus upon the mountain.  Now, the story is somewhat similar to Coehlo's as the apostles wish to build a booth or tent upon the mountain and stay there because the experience of the mystical encounter with God/Truth/The Father has been so enchanting.  But Jesus tells them that they cannot stay there on the mountain, that they have to go back down to the world and live real lives there in the very heart of the fray, as it were.  Coehlo's story is somewhat similar.  The little boy cannot survive by dreamily looking into the ocean of mystery, waiting to hear the elusive peal of bells.  Rather he has to go back to his family and friends, and no sooner does he decide to do so than he begins to hear the bells.  As a friend of mine says: "The mystic cannot stay on the mountaintop all the time!"  In fact, if he does he will lose all contact with reality and indeed with the very Truth that he has encountered on the mountaintop! 

And so the boy begins to hear the bells of the lost temple when he is fully involved in life, but is at the same time open to its enchantment, its wonder, its mystery and its enlightenment.  He meets the beautiful woman once again who directs him to write the manual in question which is this small but wonderfully wise book. 

Some Words of Wisdom

I will briefly outline here some of the words of wisdom I picked up from Coehlo's small book.

  • The Warrior of Light (WL) values a child's eyes because they are able to look at the world without bitterness.
  • The WL discovers that enthusiasm and training are not enough to win: what counts is experience.
  • A WL is never taken in by appearances, and makes a point of remaining silent when people try to impress him.
  • The moment he begins to walk along it the WL recognizes the path.
  • The WL realises that risk requires a touch of madness.
  • The WL continues to encourage others because that is a way of encouraging himself.
  • A WL knows that he has his faults.  But he knows, too, that he cannot do his growing alone and thus distance himself from his companions.
  • A WL knows that the battle is not the same as the quarrel.
  • Meditation: the WL knows that in the silence of his heart he will hear an order that will guide him.
  • A WL knows that discipline must always be linked with compassion.
  • A WL is like water because he learns to flow around obstacles.
  • A WL knows that diplomacy is very important because it is never war/battle at all costs.
  • A WL never picks fruit while it is still green.  This is the Shakespearean idea: "Ripeness is all" (King Lear, I think!)
  • The WL is as free as the clouds in the sky.
  • The WL is thoroughly committed to his dream.
  • The WL listens.
  • The WL is transparent in his actions, but secretive in his plans.
  • The WL rests but is alert.
  • The WL needs to play like a child.
  • The WL uses fear as an engine not as a brake.
  • The WL never forces things.  He is patient and he takes stock.
  • The WL never accepts what is unacceptable.
  • A WL always questions his motivations.
  • The WL listens to Lao Tzu when he says that we should let go of days and hours in order to pay mopre attention to the now.
  • A WL has no certainties.
  • A WL disposes of his emotional rubbish.
  • A WL knows that the fool who gives advice about someone else's garden is not attending to his own.
  • The WL does not try to be coherent because he has learned to live with his own contradictions.

Where is the Soul 36?

One of the early Caesars of Rome
Towards a Conclusion

It is about time I brought my musings on Hillman's and Ventura's joint book to an end.  Hopefully I will achieve this aim in this post here.

The Rigidity of Puritanism

What killed a lot of the initial enthusiasm for the promotion of Gaeilge as a nationally spoken language here in Ireland was the obsession of the language purists with correct grammar, proper pronunciation and the promotion of the dialect of one Gaeltacht area over another, forgetting that many people in the cities and towns outside Gaeltacht areas had a more neutral take on the language.  What I am getting at here is the rigidity of a purist approach to things Likewise in religion a puritanical approach to morality and indeed to doctrine often sucks the life and spirit out of a religion because paradoxically it crushes the human soul.  I'm obviously using soul in its more psychological/spiritual than religious sense here.  Puritanism is a fundamental rigidity in approaching all things connected with religion or morality.  Such rigidity, in short, stifles and smothers the soul.  Here is Hillman's take on the smothering and stifling nature of puritanism:

Freud's revolution was an attempt to deal with nineteenth-century European puritanism.  Then Jung and Reich did the same thing.  That is the root, psychotherapy is a revolutionary movement against puritanism.  And puritanism has reappeared in our time in all these recovery groups.  What you're recovering from is excess, and from desire - desire for drink, desire for smoke, desire for sex, desire for work.  (Op. cit., p. 216)
Guns and Dysfunctionality

It is a frightening statistic but true nonetheless that there are more guns in America than people.  It's not, then, that you or I is dysfunctional.  It's rather that the whole society, nay, the whole world is dysfunctional.  After all, this is what the like of Freud, R. D. Laing and many others have wisely maintained all along.

The World (Gaia) is Sick

Hillman goes on to argue that people are blind to the fact that the world is figuratively on a life-support machine or at least on dialysis to use another metaphor.  Instead those who attend therapy rather selfishly buy the three big diagnoistic terms thrown at them, viz., codependency, addiction and narcissism.  This is in line even with the modern literary theory of deconstruction where any descriptions we might use of a particular text are descriptions of us the readers, not of the text.  (See op. cit., p. 220)

The Reality of Death

I have long been of the belief that the big repression in modern society is that of the reality of death rather than the repression of sex.  It is basically fear that makes us as a society and culture repress death, and indeed dying.  We just ignore speaking about it, and when we do, our conversation and thoughts are all about our fears.  Why is this so?  Hillman argues that this is so because a modern take of death and dying is that we do so alone, whereas in more primitive cultures death and dying are always looked on as a communal experience, indeed one of the big moments, with birth and entry into adulthood, of life itself which they saw as circular and cyclic, not linear and final.  More primitive societies saw death as a communion with one ancestors, a way of connecting with those gone over to the spiritual world.(See ibid., pp. 224-225)

Conclusion: Focusing on Self versus Focusing on the World

The Fontana del Tritone by Bernini, Roma
Once again, I'm not so sure that I agree with Hillman where he contends that therapy leads to an over-preoccupation with the self.  However, I do admit that a wrong or twisted view of therapy could be interpreted as being so.  He mentions how the very nature of depression turns the person inwards upon himself or herself.  Then he goes on to state a little too boldly that "[t]he very focus that we do on oneself that we do in therapy is, per se, a depressive move.  Therapy could be causin g depression as much as curing it..." (Ibid., p. 231)  Now, undoubtedly this is a provocative and subversive contention, but one worth considering all the same.  Here, once again Hillman is at his gadfly-best.  Focus out on the world, our archetype psychoilogist seems to be arguing, and we will cease to be depressed.  Find the soul in the world and don't be preoccupied with self.  Again, one feels that Hillman is pushing things a little too far.  However, if we are good and authentic pusuers of knowledge and truth we will respect the great debater and questioner that is in both our authors here.