Photography helps to instill a beginner’s mind

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The normal response when you deal with a situation that is familiar to you, is to assume that you know everything about it. As you do this, you cut off and exclude so much information (and potentiality) that exists without you knowing it.

Many old relationships become rigid and stale because those in the relationship feel and believe that they know everything about one another. The belief that ‘I know exactly who you are, what you are thinking and how you are feeling’, inadvertently creates restrictions and limitations in the relationship as time unfolds. In the process, the relationship loses its generative ability to create new insights and understandings. Conversations grind to a holt and it seems that there is nothing new, different or more that can be said.

Going to the same place (location), time and time again, and to walk away with a different perspective has been the gift of landscape photography.

My photography has rekindled my beginner’s mind.

The challenge when dealing with sameness, is to notice the small changes that are unfolding (or have unfolded) over time. These offer the seeds for new knowledge and deeper understanding of the evolutionary complexity that exists. 

Being open to a new experience in the same old place (or in the same old relationship) requires the zen attitude of having a child’s mind when dealing with what you may believe is ‘the familiar’. The beginner’s mind has no assumptions, no preconceived ideas about how things should or should not be. Instead, it allows you to be open to the ongoing changes that are unfolding right in front of your eyes.

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Yesterday and today

A couple of days ago, the dramatic, over-night change in the weather reminded me of the nature of quantum transformation.

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Yesterday, the conditions of spring
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Today, the conditions of winter

The contrast between the yesterday and today photographs, visually highlights the nature of quantum change. All of the conditions, premises, perceptions and patterns have changed.

Due to the speed of the change, shock, disbelief, surprise and/or amazement are some of the reactions of those who witness this transformation.

When a person has undergone a transformational change, all assumptions, perceptions and the premises on which one makes decisions, will change. It becomes impossible to see or experience the world in the old way. In short, one sees the world from a totally new perspective. It is a reset that catapults one onto another level.

The eyes find it difficult to see or perceive slow change. In nature, for example, animals keep still as a way of camouflage so as not to be seen. The eyes are able to detect movement, but find it difficult to see stillness, especially if this stillness continues in time. In order to see still objects in space, the eyes need to make small movements themselves.

So in essence, the eyes need movement (either internally or externally) to see.

Due to the seemingly uneventful process that unfolds in everyday ordinary life when slow change occurs, the mind loses interest or gets distracted in the process. It does not pay attention to the small changes that are unfolding. While this is a natural mental phenomenon, it can create problems further down the line if the small changes accumulate in a destructive way and are not dealt with. This non-response usually results in crisis, which has a built up energetic power to activate the possibility of a positive transformation. This transformation will only manifest, however, if one has the courage, determination and openness to examine the premises and assumptions of the old worldview that may have contributed to the decay. Taking ownership for the old, supports the emergence of the new.

Practices such as meditation, tai chi and conscious mindfulness help train the mind to keep noticing what is unfolding in the present moment. In so doing, these practices help you become aware of the small changes of life that are unfolding right in front of you. Being able to see the subtlety, simplicity and beauty of these small changes (or movements), is as meaningful as when one witnesses or experiences significant transformational change that results in surprise, shock or amazement.

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It has been a long winter road

Being in a box

I was sitting alone in a coffee stop in Frankfurt reflecting on my participation in a workshop on business coaching. I was busy examining a work dilemma that I was having that was embedded in (a) the philosophy that underpins helping others and (b) the paradigm of thinking that directs and organises information flow in how one interprets human behaviour that unfolds in an interpersonal context.

I was deeply wrapped up in thought as I looked out of the window of the coffee shop.

A tiny, yet bright light shining in the distance immediately caught my attention. It was a light that could be easily missed, if you were not looking in that direction. There were many other competing visual and auditory distractions around me; traffic lights, people and cars passing by, laughter and chatter as people enjoyed their coffee, and the familiar sound of the machine grinding the coffee beans to produce the addictive auroma of the coffee to be served. Any one of these processes, at that specific moment, could have diverted my eyes away from the reality of the existence of this tiny source of light.

It was a light that only lasted a couple of minutes, just before the sun moved below the horizon.

The light was coming from a cross on a church, reflecting the rays of a sun that was about to set. While I do not belong to any one specific religious denomination; for me, the cross symbolises peace, tolerance, compassion and wisdom.

A bright, tiny light in the distance

Once I had noticed the light, I couldn’t stop looking at it. Its strength, power, significance and magnetism far surpassed its size.

As I looked at it, I was catapulted out of my internal debate. A clear meaningful insight about my dilemma was being transmitted by this tiny light. The insight bypassed my intellectual reasoning. Its magnetism ‘pulled’ me out of my previous train of thought. Instantaneously, I felt that I had been transported into an emotional and intellectual space where I could move freely between the opposing poles of the dilemma.

I immediately felt out of the box.

I felt free from the constriction that the dilemma had imposed on me. There was relief, coupled with a feeling of emotional strength.

As I continued looking at the tiny light in the distance, I was struck by its authenticity and beauty. In exploring my feelings further about the workshop that I had participated in, I realised how much courage it takes to be transparent and authentic in an interpersonal context that may be quick to define and judge you according to who they think you are (or believe who you should be).

The river Main separates the beautiful urban skyline of Frankfurt (representing the mechological powers of man) from the ecological rhythm of a gorgeous golden sunset unfolding behind a church.

A dualistic tension can emerge between the mechological and ecological approaches to understanding and solving human problems. As I moved out of the box, I felt free to jump in and out of each paradigm. This liberation offered me a wider and deeper perspective of the dilemma that the clash of mechological and ecological thinking can cause.

As the sun set, the tiny light still shone brightly in my mind as I left the coffee shop and made my way to the airport.

Enhancing quantum performance

I am constantly being asked questions about the psychology of performance and the ‘state of mind’ that is necessary to ensure success in competition.

Many athletes adopt a mechanical approach to their mental preparation. Specific goals are set which the athlete then strives to achieve. While this sort of approach offers structure and clarity for the athlete, I feel that it only taps into the logical part of the brain. Further, this approach is outcome based and does not embrace the fluidity and ever changing nature of competition.

Exceptional performance that catapults the athlete onto a new level requires an added dimension that incorporates an approach that taps into imagery and creativity. This approach is based in a philosophy of quantum thinking in which mental energy is seen as having properties similar to water, where multiple levels of thinking are integrated into a holistic focus.

The nature of this approach is nonverbal, intuitive and story-like in which ideas generate powerful meaning that the athlete can connect with. In line with this way of thinking, photographs, images and/or meaningful stories can help crystalise mental energy that will help the athlete reach higher levels of performance in a spontaneous and creative way.

On a recent walk I took three photographs that best illustrate ideas regarding the integration of three mental processes, that if one taps into, will assist the athlete during the unfolding process of competition.

Three inter-connected mental components form the holistic model that embraces quantum thinking. These three components should co-exist and be utilised at the appropriate time, depending on the nature of the challenge that is being encountered:

  1. The optimism and joy of a dog on a walk
  2. The alertness of a cat ready to pounce
  3. The freedom and flow of a bird in flight

In a conversation with an iron man triathlete, I was explaining that it was necessary to remain present in the unfolding moment of competition. The three dynamics mentioned above, are ever present during the race.

There needs to be an overall optimism in the way that one approaches and deals with challenges, particularly in the tough, down periods of a race. Remaining connected to the joy of a dog on a walk supports the athlete at times when doubts, despondency or fears creep in.

A cat that is ready to pounce is in a proactive state of readiness. The alertness of a cat helps the athlete deal with the unexpected. To be successful, it is important to trust your abilities and to respond immediately and spontaneously to a threatening or challenging moment. In order to respond in such a way, the athlete needs to be in a concentrated state of alertness, where nothing is taken for granted. Nothing should distract the athlete from the present moment of focus.

Many athletes go into competition with a definite, structured game-plan having specific outcomes. While this may offer the athlete security, the challenge during competition is to be able to adapt and be flexible to change. Trusting your instincts and being able to change strategy at critical moments of the unfolding process is a skill that champions possess. If the mindset is too rigid, the athlete is likely to hold onto a game-plan that was formulated before the start of the race, but may no longer be working due to changing conditions and/or opponents that have found a way to neutralise or defeat you.

In summary, the table below captures the holistic, and integrated mental state that will offer you the best chance of a quantum performance:

Aligns you to:

Counters:  

Dog on a walk

Optimism, Joy, Support

Despondency, Fear, Stress

Cat ready to pounce

Alertness, Concentration, Discipline, Stillness

Lethargy, Complacency, Distraction

Bird in flight

Flexibility, Flow, Freedom, Creativity

Rigidity, Tightness, Limitation

The column of counters highlight the mental challenges that negative energy activates. If you are feeling despondent during competition, then tapping into the theme of walking the dog will help you. If you become aware that you are getting too tight or rigid in how you are approaching the challenges, then linking to birds in flight will offer you the necessary flexibility of movement to navigate around the obstacle.

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Each new day begins with a sunrise, that brings light and warmth.

A new beginning or a new way depends on new insights that help direct your energy into a new direction. The model above does not only apply to elite athletes that are constantly working on expanding their expertise and skills to master taxing challenges in the heat of competitive battle.

A client of mine revealed that she was aligning herself to the themes of freedom, fearlessness and joy, as part of her change process, in how she wanted to live her life going forward. She stated that she wanted to better utilise and embrace opportunities that crossed her path. Such is the way to lead a more fulfilling life where your light can shine in its own uniqueness.

Rest, hold hands and appreciate

Life is movement.

We are on a journey, traveling to where…?

There may be times when we feel alone as we question the meaning of our quest.

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We strive and compete. We seek recognition and status. We rush as we guzzle time in our frenetic desire to accomplish.

We are afraid to stop in fear that others may pass us. This fear drives us to push harder and to increase our pace.

If crisis or illness stops your movement, you are probably feeling exhausted. It is time to take stock. Maybe a change is required? You may need to examine the pace, direction, intention and meaning of your journey.

While planning, perseverance, desire, honesty and meaning will help you reach your destination, it is important to consider whether you can sustain your efforts and whether you are truly happy doing what you are doing. To assist in this regard:

  1. Walk the dog
  2. Stop, sit, look up, and appreciate the broad vista
  3. Hold hands

‘Walk the dog’ is a metaphor to remind you about an attitude. A dog on a walk is totally absorbed in the present moment as it explores the environment with joy. There is no such thing as a depressed dog on a walk.

Sitting on a bench to rest and to look at the broad vista that extends in front of you, helps you keep perspective. Stopping and looking up, gives you an opportunity to notice and appreciate the beauty that exists before your eyes. This helps to nourish you emotionally and to regenerate your energy as you continue your travel.

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It helps to share the journey with a partner. Anyone who observes and supports your movement is considered a partner. Having a partner, seems to halve the effort and worry during difficult times.

Holding hands when you are walking can be done physically, emotionally and/or mentally. Holding hands keeps you balanced and helps regulate your pace and provides a context where another is connecting to you energetically. Holding hands is a loving gesture.

A mother is always the first to hold your hand as you begin the journey.

Dedicated to my mother, Mimi. Her abundant generosity and kindness helped ease the burden of many a traveler.

Shine your light in winter

Growth is not possible during a severe winter. The predominant concern for all living things during this period is one of survival.

Metaphorically, I feel that we are in a global spiritual winter at the moment. This feeling is exacerbated by the way many political leaders are conducting themselves at present. Ethics have given way to lies, corruption and manipulation. In the process, trust no longer exists and hope fades quickly as the harshness of the winter reality hits everyone. Darkness descends, and the possibility of sustainable growth wanes as the system struggles to sustain the values of honesty, courage and compassion. There are many weak enablers that add to (and benefit from) the wintery conditions; running and hiding for shelter while looking after their own comforts.

Over the weekend, I was outdoors taking photographs of the snow, wintery landscape. In late afternoon, I walked passed a small field of dead sunflowers as the sun was trying to break through the dense cloud cover. As the rays gained strength and penetrated the cover ever so slightly, I felt light and joyful.

As I looked at the sunflowers, I knew that each one of them contained the seeds of new life. The potential energy of growth existed in the seeds that lay dormant during winter. Nature is self-generating and in times of winter, it is not necessary to lose hope in a future that is still to unfold.

As the sun broke through, I was reminded of how light changes one’s perspective. During cold wintery days, everyone hankers after light. Feeling the warmth of the sun, just for a couple of minutes, helps to lift the spirit.

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When reflections in the water are added to light, the snowscape is enhanced dramatically.

Walking in the wintery landscape in Germany over this weekend helped remind me of the power of light and reflection when interacting with others and dealing with challenging situations.

Shining one’s light in wintery conditions lifts spirits. Being emotionally light, honest, compassionate and courageous in one’s relationships brings warmth and hope to others.

Empower our children to be independent

We usually tell our children to listen to, and trust teachers and authority figures, without question (to be good and respectful).

But what if this teaching is at the core of the political leadership crisis that we are presently experiencing globally? Or what if it plays a part in the stories of sexual harassment and abuse by authority figures?

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Hohentwiel Castle

What do Trump, Zuma, Mugabe and al-Assad (to mention a few) have in common? In brief, they are egocentric leaders who have no ethical values in how they conduct themselves and lead their countries. They are bullies who never consider the ideas and perspectives of others. In fact, any perspective that may be different is considered a threat that needs to be nullified as quickly as possible. In the process, they are leaders that create conflict and polarize societies.

The sad story from a societal perspective is how these leaders manage to get into power.

It all starts with a promise – a promise of a better life (but only if you listen to ‘me’ and follow ‘me’).

The promise is conveyed in an emotionally, persuasive way to generate the necessary emotive energy that overrides rational and independent thinking. The promise has to first highlight what is wrong and bad about the situation that the people find themselves in at that moment. The promise then casts blame on all past leaders, as well as the historical processes, that have led to the present demise. Linked to this, the promise activates the powerful energy of fear.

The promise then offers an answer (or solution). In short, the answer is that the messiah has arrived who will singlehandedly change things. More importantly, the promise offers protection and care. In their seductive and fanatical rhetoric, these con artists sprue out simplistic solutions to complex human struggles.

Once in power, these leaders demand unwavering loyalty and obedience from everyone. No dissent or opposition is tolerated. At best, any dissonant will ‘be fired’, at worst, be tortured and killed. They re-activate fear, only this time, with them being the source.

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Frightened baby hyena

If we teach our children to be independent thinkers, to curiously question all things being said, to have courage to stand alone without harming others, to take responsibility for one’s actions, to take care of the environment and all living things, and to not fear any challenge that life may throw at one; we will raise individuals who will not get seduced and/or bullied by authority that only aims to disempower one.

Children need to learn that they have the necessary power to create a life that is meaningful and productive, despite the ups and downs that may occur. And if every human being endeavors to do so (and be optimistic in the struggle), there will be little or no need for an authority figure or political leader to protect one and/or tell one what to do and how to do it.

As a way to help prevent self-centered bullies from usurping and then abusing power, I feel that we need to have conversations with our children about how they relate to authority figures. In the process, our children will become more aware of the potentially harmful power dynamics that exist in such relationships.