My leadership development in this first year has primarily focused on healing and connecting with myself in new and profound ways. I have gone deeper into certain practices, such as mindfulness, meditation and journaling; and I have tried new practices such as Tai Chi, piano lessons and Indigenous plant medicines. I have attended retreats, conferences and workshops, read books, listened to podcasts and worked with life coaches. This has been an amazing first year and I am filled daily with an incredible gratitude that I have had this opportunity through the Bush Fellowship to pursue these endeavors, experiences and opportunities to expand my consciousness, bring more healing to myself and those around me, as well as enhance my leadership skills!
One of the things that stands out for me and also surprises me is just how powerful the automatic response wiring in my brain is, and how strong the habits of the mind can be. I knew before starting the Fellowship that old habits and patterns take a lot of time, practice and self-compassion to change. Intentional practice has shown me that there are so many layers to the wiring, and it goes very deep. Although I have experienced that it can be possible to make profound changes in an instant, I have found more often than not, old patterns and habits I thought I had “worked through” continue to crop up in new and unexpected ways. I used to be really frustrated by this, yet my journey this past year has shown me that rather than these being a “set back”, they are really opportunities to go deeper and to learn even more about myself and why I do what I do; to uncover what has been submerged in the subconscious for so many years.
Another thing that has surprised me is that some of my values are changing. As I have gained clarity around purpose and what is truly important in this life, some of the things that I used to think were really important, (such as getting degrees and titles to gain “validation” to do the work I want to do to make the changes I want to make in this world), have begun to lose their pull, and a desire to be authentic and open to new possibilities has taken it’s place. This doesn’t mean that I’m not still working towards my PhD, it’s just that I see the completion of the degree in a different light. I realize now that I’m not in a holding pattern, waiting to get the degree to really be able to make a difference. Rather, if I lead everything I do, being a mother and partner, a student and a community worker, by being in the moment, with love and authenticity, then I am fulfilling my purpose and making a difference right now.
I am also learning about the difference between “knowing” something in my head, versus “understanding” it in my heart and body. Real understanding comes through experience and practice. For instance, I “know” in my head that striving for perfection and approval of others is really detrimental to my health and wellbeing. However, at a retreat I was at recently we did the practice of Shodo, which is Japanese calligraphy. When they gave us the instructions, we were told that it wasn’t about performance or perfection, but rather the purpose was in being aware of the breath and energy that we put into the Shodo stroke “in the moment” we make the character. I knew in my “head” that it wasn’t about performance or approval of others, but when it was my turn to make the character, I was frozen with fear. All the old tapes began to buzz through my mind: “What if it isn’t good? What will people see in my Shodo? What will it tell them about me?” I became acutely aware that so much of the “performance” mentality I have had all my life was around proving I was good enough, lovable, and worthy. I had believed if what I did was good and perfect, then people would see me as good and accept me. As I stood at the paper with the brush in hand, the person helping with the ink looked at me and said, “Breathe”. I looked at him and realized I had been holding my breath, paralyzed by feelings of fear and inadequacy. I took a deep breath and completed the character. The next day doing Shodo got a little easier, and the next day a bit easier. My lesson in this was that when I allow my fear and feelings of inadequacy to permeate my work, not only will my work suffer, but I am not able to be authentic to myself. However, if I give my full energy of love to whatever I do in the moment, then I will never be disappointed with the outcome, and I will be acting in congruence with my being and who I really am. It is about the energy that goes into our breath each moment; it is not about perfection or approval.
Connection and relationships have always been important to me in my life. What I am realizing through the experiences I’ve had and the practices I’ve been doing with my Fellowship, is that what I (and others) really crave in relationships is authenticity, vulnerability, non-judgment and love. This looks and feels like a very different way to connect than what I am used to. Because for so many of us in our early lives, we got the message we were not good enough or lovable just the way we were, we began to put on masks, armor and facades in an effort to be more acceptable to others, and to protect ourselves. For me, this looked like not sharing my thoughts and emotions for fear I’d upset or disappoint someone, shutting down and dissociating when I was hurt or emotionally/mentally wounded, and working hard at everything to gain approval and self-worth. Through my practices of mindful awareness I have come to see patterns of communication I’ve held that are triggered by emotions (like irritation, frustration or hurt) that are harmful to my relationships. Without my practices of mindful awareness, I would not have noticed this because I would not have been in tune with my body to notice what was coming up for me at any given moment. I have also found that when I make the space for myself to be open, vulnerable and authentic through love in my relationships, it creates a new energy in the relationship, which generates the space for the other to join me in vulnerable authenticity and love. This helps our relationship to go deeper and be more meaningful. Having a new depth in many of my personal relationships, has made me painfully aware of the inauthentic and surface relationships I experience from time to time. I know the more I practice authenticity every day, the less often I will experience these inauthentic encounters, even with strangers. I have found that the power of change is best expressed through authentic and loving connections with ourselves first, and then others.
Mindful-awareness practices have also helped me begin to uncover root sources of triggers I have, emotional hurts I carry and limiting beliefs I hold. This awareness creates a space for me to pause and choose whether I want to continue in that moment with old patterns and ways of being, or if I want to do something different. This has been incredibly liberating, empowering and exciting! I have seen first hand the positive changes I can make in my life and relationships when I live and make decisions from a place of awareness and choice. Everything ultimately is a choice; but when my awareness stays at an unconscious level, choice is much more difficult to access. So it is through the practice of cultivating mindful awareness that the unconscious can become conscious, and choice becomes a real option.
Another practice I have begun doing is, when an opportunity arises that scares me, I choose to move into that fear and do the thing that scares me. I have come to know and understand that the fear is showing me there is some sort of a learning edge in it for me. Although it is never easy to step into doing the thing I fear, in practicing this, I have found it to be incredibly powerful and important to my personal and professional development and growth. Fear is my most powerful gate and it has kept me from reaching my full potential. I know that the more I continue to push back my gate of fear, the less it will control and limit my life. The times I have opened the gate of fear this past year, I have learned so much about myself and unearthed subconscious beliefs, which I have then begun to work on. I do not wish to live from a place of fear; rather I want to live from a place of love and power. The only way to do this is to face the fears as they arise head on.
I am also learning about my “limits” and finding ways to secure a better balance in life. Through coaching I am beginning to create criteria that will help me make decisions about what to do or take on, and what not to take on. Intervening in the pattern of my work and my “doing” addiction will not only help me create a better life balance, but also will model for my daughters and the communities I work in the importance of having this balance. I have started to integrate this new criteria into my calendar and thought process when deciding to commit to something or not.
A recent understanding that came about through a coaching call that has surprised me is around the challenge I face in making long-term healthy behavior change. As I came to recognize my deep-seated fear of disappointing others, one of the layers in this fear is if I don’t think I can be successful at something, I won’t even try it, or I will avoid it. Since I haven’t been successful most of my life in making and maintaining healthy behavior change (like eating healthy, getting regular exercise and enough sleep), my self-efficacy in these areas is pretty low. I have see these changes as all or nothing, success or failure. Instead, I need to remember that in these lifestyle/health changes, every time I make a healthy decision, even if it’s just one decision or for one day, that is one day of investment in myself, and an investment in myself is NEVER a mistake. It is always beneficial. I do not have to be perfect and I will not always make the right decision. But each good decision towards better health for me is an investment made into my health reserves, and that is a good thing.
Over this year as I have begun shifting from a “doing” to a “being” mentality and lifestyle, I am beginning to see the value of reflection and integration in order to go beyond the experience of “doing” something, whether it be a seminar, retreat, reading a book, etc. In order to make the learning really meaningful, and move it from a “doing” to a “being” thing, reflection and integration are critical. I have done a lot this year with and through the Fellowship, and although I have done some reflection and integration, I am feeling it will be important to slow down the “doing” experiences, and generate more opportunities to be and integrate all this powerful learning I’ve already had. I know it will be important to be more selective about what I choose to do for my experiences in year two, so they fit with my newly developed criteria for balance, and also allow for adequate reflection and integration time.
I never could have imagined or planned for the experiences, opportunities and powerful learning I have had my first year as a Bush Fellow. To say this year has been transformative would be an understatement! I know that if I can lead more often from a place of authenticity, love and vulnerability, being fully who I am, that is what "success" looks like. In order to do this, I must continue to uncover, understand and love my pain, darkness and fears, so that I can bring conscious choice to my life, which will open up new possibilities and potential. I have truly come to understand this year that real leadership development is not about going outside ourselves, but digging as deeply into our core as we can to understand who we are and what drives us, so we can decide with consciousness how we want to proceed and lead.