Choose to cultivate a free, accessible inner allay called: Self-Compassion and a powerful act of kindness, conscious breath.
There is no greater time for self-doubt to take hold then during times of transition. Often, we meet this experience with the brave face of the warrior or the shield of the competent leader.
The Brave Face of a Warrior
Many of us are oriented to put on a brave face when we’re feeling lost, confused and afraid. More often than not in our culture, the masculine part of us has been poked & prodded to be brave and firm, when everything inside of us screams something quite different.
Transitions often activate cascading effects on our esteem and clarity. Uncertainty fuels our choices and we buckle down in our approaches and actions to “right our ships”.
The feminine approach of welcoming the space, greeting the emptiness with an open heart & curious mind isn’t our default.
Battles wage inside and out in our world today as change comes, whether we like it or not. There is a rising of awareness that how we’ve approached transitions in our lives, organizations & social systems need to change. And yet, the very nature of these types of transitions activate the fear response.
We’re on alert, we’re on the move and as we dodge and weave change as the new norm, our nervous systems rarely have time to regroup, rest & rejuvenate.
The Competent Leader
The context of our lives has been set up to strive for consistency, predictability & stability so much so that we’ve lost our innate nature to flow with life. To be open, present & flexible. We prize certainty, productivity and efficiency. I often wonder where efficacy fits in the structure of systems.
The bottom line has become money and getting more for less. We struggle with our to-do lists & strive to perform at our peak, constantly. We may speak values of cooperation, caring and kindness, and yet we have an inner conflict at play.
External demands are high for people. We seek to be seen at our best & fear that we may drop the ball. That others may see our imperfections & as a result link this to our character & or competency.
Our ethics & values often feel as though they run against the current of change. We intuitively feel what the “right thing to do is” and yet, we offer lots of sound reasons why we can’t. Our head & heart conflict. There isn’t enough time, money, we don’t have the political will, we’re not sure if it really matters, it’s too much, too complicated, the lists continue to grow. In our personal lives we see the advent of days, months & years that melt away as we’re busy living up to a standard and norm that we’ve long forgotten to ask if we personally believe in.
The donning of the brave warrior face & the drive to become and live up to being a competent leader can consume our waking hours. At night we return to our homes, tired and often met with another domain of doing that eagerly awaits our attention.
Then something happens. A job loss, a relationship breaks down, a health crisis with us or a family member and things feel suspended. Whether we experience this event as having been chosen by us or imposed, a transition is born. In the soup of the life of doing, a recipe of self-judgement, worry, confusion & doubt and often burn out lurks in the background.
Transitions demand pauses. They are designed to re-route, re-design and re-direct something. Whether in our relationships, leadership, work & service.
What prevents us from pausing? What prevents us from taking time to reflect, explore & design thoughtfully our what’s next?
Some say they can’t afford to (translation there isn’t enough time not money). Some fear if they stop, well, they may never restart.
Learning to BE with ourselves differently
There are lots of strategies & resources I could share with you here that would offer some direction. And today, I am inspired to share an invitation for something not taught in the mainstream of life. Self-Compassion and the powerful act of conscious breath. We’re all well versed in the value of acting & doing. Even wise actions that will help us cross the river of change and transition.
Transitions offer an invitation to turn in & to think deeply with our mind-body-spirit about where we are, where we’ve been & where we’re choosing to journey to next.
This turning in can come riding in on fear, self-judgement & self-doubt about perceived failures. Self-Compassion becomes a formidable allay to work with these. Breath helps us to embody a kind act of working with our mind-body complex so we have space inside to reflect and reconsider how we’re being with ourselves.
However, we’re not often exposed to skill sets that are focused on our inner doing, actually how we’re being. This involves learning how to BE with ourselves differently.
There have been many great works offered through the mindfulness movement & Brene Brown’s work on vulnerability & shame. Eastern traditions have permeated our culture in a positive way, helping us to reconnect with our holistic nature. These all have rich layers of wisdom to support the inner work for living a full, enriching life as we ride the wave of transitions.
Today I wanted to highlight two: self compassion & conscious breath.
Self-compassion is a great allay for transitions.
Self-compassion has been pioneered by Dr. Kristin Neff. Her work has been deeply important & continues to be in my own journey of living, leading & serving. For those who work in the caring & service fields, I have found it to be important work to engage.
Breath is a powerful act of kindness.
One simple act to support being with ourselves differently, is consciously working with our breath. It can be a powerful act of kindness to bring awareness and attention to how we breathe life in and through our body.
So many of us travel through our days, holding our breath. Like a balloon that gets fuller and fuller through the day, our mind-body system is engaged in a states of stress (fight, flight, freeze). A soup of chemicals and hormones flood out inner domain ready for the worst, and what breath we are engaged in is often shallow and limited. Oxygenation and blood is routed to the parts of us ready for survival.
Over time our capacity to think, let alone innovate and call up our creativity as things are in full-on transition decreases greatly. By the time we lay down in our beds at night, we’re simply exhausted.
Resources to Support Your Learning & Practice
These resources are great starting points to re-direct how you’re being with yourself at this time.
It’s time to educate ourselves and inspire new embodied approaches that empower our capacity to relate to transition.
As we travel our transitions, we must be willing to educate ourselves and open to experimentation. Check out this comprehensive article on breath. Within it there are powerful methods described and a good grounding into the power we have to collaborate with our mind-body & situation consciously. Breathing Techniques: A Guide to the Science and Methods
Pause & invest time to listen & reflect on this recent podcast with Sharon Salzberg & Kristin Neff PhD. In this conversation we learn about self-compassion, how it is different than self-esteem and we’re blessed at the end of the conversation with Kristin leading a 10-Minute guided meditation on balancing Compassion Burnout. PS. There are many beautiful free guided meditations to cultivate self compassion on her website, here.
Practice helps to embody a new way of relating to the natural responses that arise during transition. Consider experimenting with the practices offered in the above two resources + if you’re interested in having a breathing body on your phone, check out this free app to help practice developing greater coherence with breath throughout your day.
Business Case for Self Compassion + Conscious Breath
Our world needs more compassionate leaders. Leaders who are resilient & able to meet the suffering of change they see, possibly day in and out in their worlds.
As leaders in our life & work, if we’re struggling with our fear & failure in transitions, unconsciously, our impact in life will suffer. Not to mention us!
Compassion for self & other is in my experience the front & back of the same hand. Each of us have our own relationship with compassion. For some, compassion comes more easily with “another”, for others, it comes easily with self.
In my work with women leaders in the healing & helping professions, it is more often that they easily express and hold compassion for others.
It is challenging to sustain this focus of compassion in & for the world if we’re tense, fearful and holding our breath.
If you’re not sure where to begin, start with your breath. It travels with you everywhere you go!
And, a first step in shifting from the survival triad most women leaders in the healing & helping professions can get stuck in, is, stop traveling solo.