Posted on

Where being there for others can be a blind spot

In the individualism of much of western and westernising society we can get ourselves into all sorts of knots about our attitude towards the wellbeing of others. In an age when community is in retreat in the mega-cities of today, it can seem as if it is “every man for himself”, “me first”. Yet by contrast we expect a lot of others: witness the current expectation for getting good customer service. However it can be less easy for us to think of others and to put ourselves out for them. And when we do, do we do this our of genuine altruism, or is it really about a referral back to us ourselves and what we might get from the exchange?

One trend in the current Great Recession that has been very evident has been the increase in numbers who regard poverty as someone’s “fault” and that it is seen as a circumstance of their own making. Thus there is wide support for cutting “welfare” payments. This sort of swing is fairly typical of economic downturns, rather in line with a broader tendency to blame others (eg. bankers), find scapegoats (eg immigrants), become more insular (eg. in the UK, anti-Europeanism), and adopt a “pull up the drawbridge” seige mentality, to adopt an appropriately medieval military term. So, in terms of our concern for others, this might seem to be in retreat.

Yet, almost in the same breath, we might see all sorts of excitement and anger at perceived threats to human rights. In Turkey right now, there’s major unrest about this aspect of public life.

It’s hard to have it both ways, to expect things from others to ensure our continued wellbeing and yet to strguggle to give to others. As a coach and personal development specialist, I frequently come across the issues people have with their awareness of others, and in particular empathy. It’s a real blind spot for very many people, the ability to see another’s perspective, to put oneself almost in another person’s shoes. Daniel Goleman considers social awareness to be one of the  cornerstones of emotional intelligence, our ability to be aware of and appropriately use our emotions in the conduct of our lives and in our relationships. I do find empathy can be taught, that people become more effective in being socially aware and responding appropriately. There is a whole school of thought that people are not born with social awareness but need to be taught, for example, to be considerate of others.

One area in which this whole area can be most striking is the notion of service. As I have written elsewhere, service has strongly negative associations in today’s society, being linked with servants and an old social order now long past. We expect it of others, but we don’t find it so easy to give it. Yet, as a powerful tool in becoming more ego-less, service is extremely useful. Service from this perspective is about doing for others unconditionally, without any expectation of a reward, self-lessly. We put our own ego on one side and we be there for others. It is the ego that objects to this: “What about me and my needs?”, it complains. It is not uncommon for those helping for example on personal development retreats to find their egos being challenged in this way and what comes up is highly significant for their growth. One example might be that one person’s ego might actually be concerned about not getting attention for themselves, of feeling too much in pain themselves to be able to serve others unconditionally.

The notion of being there for others challenges us to look at what goes on for us ourselves. What do we need to attend to in us that we’re denying support for others? What deficiency is there that we need to attend to? This whole matter brings us face to face with how the ego, the limited or illusory self, is such a deadly force in today’s human make-up, as people like Eckhart Tolle, Steve Taylor, and others have argued. Inability to deal with and more on from personal suffering and know more of who we really are is a major stumbling block not just personally but in relationships and in how whole groups and nations deal with one another. When we make this paradigm shift, another’s pain becomes our pain too, to deal with and move on from our own stuff automatically invites us to extend this to others, since they are a part of us.

I run a program to help people rise above ego and know more of who they really are. Click here

Posted on 4 Comments

In memory of a very special person

I was very sad to learn recently that a major inspiration in my life, a very special person, has just died of a heart attack. Graham Browne led a very powerful program, Turning Point, that I attended at a very low point in my life in 1989 and it was through the work that followed that a very rapid transformation occurred for me. Many people have come out of seemingly nowhere to confirm what this man, with his fellow teachers, has achieved for them too.

It’s one of those very big occasions when people sense another turning point. When someone important for us like this dies, or for comparison a present or past leader or other major figure, we are likely to be very impacted and to stop and think very seriously about what the person has meant for us. How many of us for example had a sense of a major transition when Princess Diana died? It’s about what that person meant for us.

In Graham’s case, he was for me a very charismatic workshop leader who had a rare capacity to facilitate people’s process in a group such that he could identify exactly what was their “growing edge” in their personal growth. It was a brilliant example of insightful coaching in a group situation, well before the term was commonly used. Except that Graham’s work was more like therapy than what we might conventionally call coaching, although there is no clear or agreed demarcation. Rather like Fitz Perls’ “hot seat” approach in Gestalt, the work he would do impacted not only the person concerned but the group as a whole. Such is the power of this kind of group work. It is as if this person’s journey is our journey too. It was through watching Graham work that I was inspired to change my career from teaching and learn what I now do. What I learned and what I do isn’t the same. Graham’s skill was arguably unique to Graham, as each of us has their own style and way of working, although he very successfully trained his successors in his approach. I went my own way, but what I’m saying here is that it was Graham’s work that got me thinking.

I want to stress that it is very important to watch others at work and see how they do things. NLP would call this modelling. In turn you might then go on to explore and use other ideas too. I went on to study Gestalt, which also powerfully uses “in the moment” processing.

Graham also worked with the group as a whole from a Transpersonal perspective, and without going into detail, he accessed a whole range of techniques to help people to get in touch with and release emotional blockages and learn more of their real potential and of who they really are. It was during one of those processes that he led, a guided visualisation, that I had a extremely powerful spiritual experience, and it was perhaps this that has stayed as the most powerful moment I had in working with Graham. I had the enormous sense of God’s love beaming down, a great big massive ball of deep gold, vibrating with energy, with great strands of energy powering out all around, beams coming on every side of me, and such that All there Was was this deep, unconditional love. Everything seemed to dissolve into this love.

What more is there to ask for?

I feel tearful now, in a very positive way, remembering that moment, which seemed to go on for ever.

Thus can people be gifts for us, angels that come, as they come in many forms, and so did Graham that day.

So I thank him from the bottom of my heart, a true gift, acting in pure service, unconditionally, in love, for so very many evidently very grateful people. What more could people ask for?

So, let’s just pause and remember the gift of our fellow humans, and perhaps for yourself bring to your mind some special person who has been of service to you or helped you in some powerfully positive way, and give thanks to them, and give your love to them.

Om shanti.

Posted on

What gifts relationship can offer us

Here is another quote from Tolle, “Human interaction can be hell. Or it can be a great spiritual practice.” (from Stillness Speaks).

I’m reminded of Sartre’s great play, Huis Clos, in which several characters in the afterlife are locked in a room together and discover after a period of getting on very badly together that they are in Hell: “Hell is other people.” It’s a very negative conclusion on relationships, but one with which many would probably agree, at least if you are stuck with the “wrong” people.

Of course, the characters in this play are unable, or unwilling, to move on. They are stuck there. And people can get stuck in relationships they won’t or can’t move on from, either by changing the relationship or leaving it, or changing their perception of it. Relationship is also about letting go and moving on, which needn’t mean you or the other leaves.

However, it can also be a great spiritual practice. For one, it is a great way of experiencing the Oneness of life. This is one way that you can feel totally in love and totally at One with another. There are other ways, but this way is a great gift that is given to us.

And it works as a spiritual practice. There’s the need to sustain the path, to work on the bits that aren’t working and bring awareness back to the love that underpins everything. There’s the need to manage the mind, which can get hooked on some negativity in the relationship, and especially towards the other one. Then there’s the practice of letting go. The couple can get very heated around an issue and the most powerful thing at times can be to simply let go of and drop the issue. This is not to bury it, for it to seethe away and burst out again later. It is to simply and totally let go of it. And let go of pride, and the need to “be right” and to make the other wrong and the million and one other ways the ego can do its thing in a relationship.

There’s the opportunity to practice being present and aware, especially being really “there” for the other one when things are difficult for them, and be empathic and supportive, and to be in service to them, selflessly and unconditionally, without any expectation of reward.

Because you love them.

And to let go of being perfect, to experience perfection. To let go of “getting it right”, and fulfilling others’ expectations, and having expectations of another. Total freedom, by the surrender of freedom to be together and work together.

Posted on

The generosity of spirit

Recent upgrade work to my website reminded me of the generosity of the internet. When I was working on my site, at one point I repeatedly hit snags and yet whenever I asked Google for the answer, out there on the net some kind soul had posted a rescue message.

Now, what really struck me was how there are all these incredibly generous souls out there who are willing to give their time and knowledge to help others. Yes, I know that the net was intended to be about networking and connecting, and that many also give in order to market themselves too. But it’s the generosity and willingness to share that hit me. There was I, and no doubt very many others, feeling rather stuck and someone was around to help. Now, isn’t that just great?!

It really says something to me about the generosity of the human spirit, our willingness to share.

Let’s think about that. When we give, we get back tenfold. When we truly give, others know it and reciprocate, even if just to give their appreciation. When we give, we open our hearts to others. The gesture of giving is hands held out, palms up, at the level of the heart. Others smile and open in turn.

When we hold back, and hold on to what we have, the flow shuts down, and the universe responds accordingly. They talk of meanness of spirit. The musculature tightens up, thoughts become more narrow, our systems contract, and the universe contracts, for us anyway. With these difficult times economically, many people must be tightly holding on for fear of losing. Powerfully negatively attracting stuff.

When we truly give, we express our love for others at some level. True giving is unconditional, with no expectation of reward. This is in the nature of being of service. There is no attachment to ego. It is a great way of experiencing egolessness. Here you let go of expectation. This is not about doing something at your own expense or any view about the deserts of the cause or the worthiness of the other person. It is unconditional.

And the thing about the spirit of it, the true meaning of it, the essence of it, is that it is from the heart, from the essence of who we are.

Thus when we give like this, when we are for example truly of service to others, there is a sense of pure joy, of being connected to our inner joy, Who we really are.

So, as spring approaches, and our spirits flow more outwards and think of ways to enjoy ourselves, now is a good time to “en-joy”, to connect with our inner joy. And one way to do this is by giving, selflessly.

So, start with smiling!

Smile as you read this. Yes! Go on, give it a go!

Smile….and really get into smiling. Really smile, for no good reason, just for the sake of it! I’m smiling as I write this. Yes, a great big cheesy grin. You might even have a small laugh! Let the smile get really broad (yes, I’m still grinning as I write!) and then breathe the smile down inside with the in-breath. Breathe it down, down to the heart centre, down to your centre of love and caring, and feel the heart centre warming with the pleasure of the smile. Notice the warm, generous, kind, loving sense that is there within you. Really notice what is always there. Allow your awareness to rest there a moment. You could call this your inner smile.

Now, when you go out to meet others, even if passing them in the street, remember your inner smile, and smile to them with this awareness, your awareness of your essence.

It’s a practice.

Remember, it’s unconditional, so don’t expect anything in return. If they look blank or surprised, or uncomfortable, or if they smile in return, you will at some level have impacted them, somewhere inside. Just be clear about your intention. The universe will take care of the rest.

And see what it’s is like for you, giving to others, if only a smile.

Posted on

Tied to how to look good

I noticed a certain conflict of loyalties in me on reading this article about the wearing of ties. As one male who hated “having” to wear a tie, and over the moon when finally large numbers of men in work decided to abandon the wretched attire, I usually find myself having strong personal views (to myself) about this aspect of the male dress code in more formal situations. So, I notice, do certain women.

I used to be aware of the potential irony in the word “tie” with implications of being tied to how to look good as conventionally perceived. But there’s more than one side to this matter.

As a coach, if I’m helping some man to enhance his impact in for example a business environment, then I’d be encouraging him to consider a tie. Particularly if someone is a manager and they need to raise their profile, then very often they need to attend to how they look as part of the impact-making. This often includes thinking about their style of clothes, the quality, the appearance, haircut, shoes and the overall, total look. Men can get a bit uncomfortable about this, certainly in the UK, especially when we get to colour-coding, because it sounds “feminine” to some. Yet anybody who has done this work on themselves will say, the result can make a major positive difference to how they are perceived, let alone the statement to oneself that one matters.

Yet, it’s interesting that the blessed tie comes up. As I said, I hate them, but then that’s my stuff, a product of being in an English boarding school and “having” to struggle to tie a tie using separate, heavily starched collars that were so stiff they made my young “unhardened” neck very sore in the icy, unheated conditions of the spartan environment in which we lived – to “make men” of us. I guess it went with all that stuff about “character-building”, which for some people was a powerful euphemism for being thoroughly emotionally deprived. So, despite years of conformity in the world of work, I secretly harboured a desire to burn every tie I had, rather as women at one point were symbolically burning bras. When some time later I got into personal development, then a tie became an instrument of English class-based suppression of my emotional life force, that middle class, buttoned up and tied down thing! Of course this was really my under-expressed rebel side coming out, but that was the rationale. So, once male liberation finally arrived in the form of the open-necked shirt and suit or more casual gear, I was right there.

I also, as an aside, remember on one workshop an old school friend turning up with his boater (a certain kind of straw hat), which he invited me to stamp on, which I did with much glee, as bemused fellow-participants looked on, not at all getting the symbolism. This is a distinctly tribal issue, by the way!

However, as I said, it is interesting how style and body language work. My wife, bless her, takes a totally different view and repeatdly tells me I look very good in a good, quality suit and tie, tall, slim, elegant, etc, etc. And in the world out there, there are situations where wearing said tie has an impact, as stated above. For example senior managers in the civil service wear them as standard, and when seeing a minister it would be compulsory. There are organisations I can go into where all the top management wear them, and it is one thing that distinguishes them. People in customer-facing situations in banks will do likewise. If you are somewhere where you need to influence another positively, especially in power situations, the tie helps. The power of body language extends to the clothes you wear and the total effect. If you want people to sit up and take notice of you, consider the tie.

So, as the article referred to at the start points out, if you’re a politician seeking to get out amongst “the people”, then an element of “dressing down” is an option. It’s more democratic and “relaxed”. But in power, you wear a tie. After all, you need to be taken seriously. It’s such a powerful statement.

It reminds me that there are times where discretion is the better part of valour and that one’s own stuff about one’s appearance can be put on one side in the service of the greater good. Which of course also goes therefore with the advice one gives, which in the end in this case is a question of being of service to another for its and their own sake.

So, guys, hang on to that tie.

Posted on

When are you authentically in service to another?

For many people a seemingly guaranteed turn-off word is “service”. It’s as if there’s an immediate filter at work whereby what people hear is “complaints”, “awkward” or “difficult” customers, people getting unpleasant, dealing with customers services at call centres and being held on endless call queues and phone menus. You name it, there’s a negative.

In fact the word that jumps out for me in that list is “difficult”. People so easily get labelled “difficult”, as though it’s their problem. We don’t see that there may be other factors at work too, including our own attitudes towards “such people”. However, the idea of being in a service role can switch people off fast.

Service has an old negative legacy associated with “being in service”, ie working as a servant, in former times. You can get a good idea of what that might have been like by watching TV programmes like Downton Abbey recently, although the aristocratic employers were probably more liberal in the European sense than many.

Today most probably think of service in terms of what a company may provide you as a paying customer, and many of us probably judge the business by the quality of what we get. However, it is seen as transactional, what I get for what I pay for, my entitlements and expectations. Those providing the service probably work within a set of agreed service levels, perhaps part of the deal.

So it comes as quite radical, or very old-fashioned, depending on your perspective, to hear the idea that service also has another meaning to some, another context. One is where service is given unconditionally, without expectation of reward, for the sake of it. Here, one gives service to benefit another as an act of love, generosity of spirit, because you care, to make a difference for another, not for anything you get out of it. So, strictly-speaking it is not transactional, although you might get paid for it, since the emphasis is on the selfless giving to another. It is called “selfless” in that the ego self is placed outside the equation. Instead service is to the greater Self, perhaps in that the same Self dwells in both me and you. In giving service, one is honouring the other person, pure respect.

Service done in this way is hugely challenging, but great personal development training. The challenge is that of the ego, since “I” in the ego sense cries out for attention, “What about me?!” As we are putting our egos on one side, that’s tricky. For example, what if the person you are giving service to is “difficult”? Well, the ego will very likely feel hurt and develop attitude. However, in true service in this sense, one puts such ego stuff on one side, and continues to give from the heart, unconditionally, without any expectation in return. So it’s a great training in learning to manage ourselves and connect authentically with the heart.

Someone who receives such service usually gets it, at some level. But you don’t expect that! It is unconditional. A real training in connecting with Who you really Are.

Posted on

Those who are like angels working selflessly to help others

Hidden in the news about rising unemployment amongst young people I saw a link to a charity that specialises in helping disadvantaged young people get a job through football, which I thought was inspiring.

It is not easy for a young person getting a job in our qualifications-and-experience-obsessed world. You might study for a degree, now at vast expense and with a debt overhang, and still not get into work in the area in which you studied. You might of course be in the majority who don’t go to university, and you might be a NEET, the acronym for those “Not in Education, Employment or Training”, for whom it’s very hard potentially. As many job seekers will say, the longer you don’t get a job the harder it can get, and it’s very demoralising.

It’s therefore worth taking a look at Street League’s website. Their focus is on helping NEET’s. What jumped out immediately for me were health and fitness, motivation, thinking and behaviour within a structure, purpose, strategy and tactics, and perhaps above all teamwork. Combine that with essential training in job search skills, one-to-one support and good presentation and you’d be much more likely to come across well at an interview.

What most inspired me about this? Was it the bright idea? Or was it the enthusiasm and motivation? Was it the hope being given to young people? Or was it the care and concern being positively directed towards a group that is sorely neglected in our society?

Perhaps it was all of those things, but most of all the last-mentioned. I also watched many times the TV program, The Secret Millionaire, where successful and wealthy business people go undercover to disadvantaged localities, find charities that work with people in these areas and given them support. In doing so the millionaires find themselves facing up to aspects of themselves that they hadn’t looked at before, their own wounds that needed healing that were reflected back to them by the people and situations they encountered. Again, so often these people meet complete angels working amongst these usually impoverished populations, generally quite selflessly, because they care, to make a difference in the lives of those groups.

Such generosity in so many ways, giving to others, selflessly.

The power of love.

Posted on

To those who act in service to others

Local to where we live in Wiltshire, UK, the market town of Wootton Bassett has since 2007 being honouring the fallen British soldiers as their coffins have passed through the town after repatriation from Afghanistan to the nearby airbase of Lyneham. Today they acknowledged closure on this seemingly regular process, since the repatriation has been moved to another British base.

From very small beginnings organised by the Royal British Legion, the honouring of the fallen by a silent presence along the road through the town has swollen to very large numbers and international coverage. My wife as a local British Legion chaplain has attended. This was a presence that was strictly non-political, with no comment on the merits or otherwise of the wars we’ve been involved in. It was simply a tribute to fallen soldiers.

Well before the first funeral cars left the airbase people would line the route. When the cars appeared along the middle of the town, assembled ex-servicemen and women would lower their flags in respect. The cars would stop and flowers would be placed on the cars. All this in complete silence punctuated only by the commands of those leading the ex-soldiers.

However, it is time for the people of Wotton Bassett to move on, and, some feel bring a happier energy back to the town. It is however fit perhaps to acknowledge their selfless act of service to those who in turn were acting in service. We might not agree with the wars, or war in general, but we can at least pay respect to those who gave their respect so freely.

Posted on

Being of service and not letting your self get in the way

The people industry no doubt relies heavily on those that are keen to make a difference for others. That energy and enthusiasm, that commitment to other people, that willingness even to put others before themselves, that would be the hallmark of the “people” people.

But how often have you have felt in some way uncertain about the motives of the helper providing the service?

Where being of service to others can be particularly tricky is where we are not aware that our own stuff is skewing our behaviour.

For example, there are those who are unaware of their own neediness. They go into “helping” professions for the very best of motives, but outside of their awareness there is their own hole inside. The hidden need is to have that hole filled, by being appreciated, approved of, loved. However, it is denied and the need is projected on to others, who “need” their help, when actually they themselves are the ones who have need.

This is where self-awareness is so important. This is to become aware of where one’s own personal unresolved issues is motivating oneself in inappropriate ways. That’s not to say that the work shouldn’t be done. It is simply to suggest that being clear about where you (or I) are coming from, and learning to manage it, will very likely improve our work.

The helper can learn through self-awareness to notice when a personal issue is present, can “bracket it off” as Gestalt practitioners would say, or put it on one side, and deal with it elsewhere but not allow it to interfere with the work.

Using Eastern philosophy, we can “witness” the presence of our ego and let it go or step beyond it. Here, self-awareness is about being able to shift to the Witness level of awareness. As this is also about shifting to a high paradigm of awareness, we are also enlisting for the good of others those powerful positive forces that lies within us, Who we really Are.

Posted on

What does it take to be of service?

Well seemingly a lot more than many of us Brits are willing to do. According to recent surveys we’re well behind other countries when it comes to giving good customer service.

Not surprised?

Let’s put it another way, try doing it yourself? Fancy it? Just ask yourself. And if not, if you don’t fancy it, why not? Again, ask yourself. It can take quite a bit of honesty to come up with an honest answer, maybe admitting something about yourself you’d rather not.

In the link given above, one person puts it down to a residue of the old conflicts of the British class system, the dislike of being in service, in the sense of being a servant. Interestingly there’s a couple of TV series that were shown recently that have attracted a lot of watchers, “Downton Abbey” and “Upstairs, Downstairs”, both of which involve extensive coverage of life of people “in service” to the upper class in early 20th Century Britain. So, we apparently are fascinated by it but paradoxically disapprove of it.

Another, I’d suggest is a cultural dislike of doing things for another for what we might perceive as at the expense of ourselves. One is an inherent difficulty in doing things for others that hangs around, despite the best efforts of religion. But then, not so many are religious today. There’s also a strong contemporary “me first” sub-culture, which is very self-absorbed and focused on getting our own needs met first. Added to that, there’s been a recent swing away from popular endorsement of political policies to help the disadvantaged, in favour of thinking that people should do it for themselves. I suspect it goes with a recession mentality of “I’d better look after myself because others won’t do it for me” and a resentment of “foreigners” and “immigrants” and others who might be getting a perceived “unfair” or “undeserved” slice of the cake (eg allegedly come in and then living off benefits). The idea of doing something to help others, altruism, goes out of the window in hard times. It’s a bit like descending the levels in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: I’ll put self-actualisation on hold while I attend to my survival needs.

Being of service as understood as a manifestation of a higher order of development is however a very different matter. This is not “obligatory” service, or one injunctioned by say one’s parents, but something done selflessly. Being of service, as understood at the higher levels of consciousness, is where the ego is not in the way. It is in other words, ego-less or self-less. Service at this level is one where in serving another we are also serving ourselves since you and I are One. Service then is unconditional, without expectation of reward, for its own sake.

To do something for another unconditionally, to be of service, is hugely challenging: might you not for example expect someone to be grateful, or to say thank you? Or might you genuinely want to go and give up your time to help another? You might feel uncomfortable with that idea. Perhaps you might not like dealing with various issues or problems that might be going on for that person. Might it “make you” feel uncomfortable? After all, helping others puts us in touch with our own fears and anxieties: this might happen to me, so I’d rather not look at it. Or you might only do it if people looked pleased, so that you’d feel approved of and therefore OK. See where the ego gets involved?

Self-awareness here is the ability to catch your ego getting in the way and deal with it and let it go. So, for those of you that work with people, here are some useful lessons.

So, come on the Point of Awareness and learn where your ego shows up and how to deal with it.