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.

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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?

Hohentwiel Castle
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.

Frightened baby hyena
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.

Soften the eyes and extend the gaze

Elite athletes will tell you how important it is to have ‘good body language’ during competition.

Under stress, the energetic system of the athlete tends to tighten and rigidify. In extreme cases of stress, the athlete can get immobilised and stuck at critical points during the competitive contest. This hinders the spontaneous movements that are required to execute complex physical actions. In such cases, there is greater possibility that the visual system misjudges the movement and distance of the ball and/or the movements of an opponent.

When dealing with stress during competition it is important that the athlete learns to (a) soften the eyes and (b) extend the gaze.

In stillness: Two klipspringers extending their gaze
In stillness: Two klipspringers extending their gaze

Many years ago, I did a night walking exercise with Dr Ken West (who specializes in sports vision). Before the walk, I learned that there were two types of photoreceptors in the retina, (a) cones, that were condensed in the centre of the retina, and (b) rods that covered the rest of the retina. The cones were responsible for color and daylight vision and provided us with our sharpest vision, or highest acuity of vision. The rods did not detect light as sharply as the cones did, but were more sensitive to low light levels than the cones were. Finally, there were many more rods than there were cones in the retina.

From a sporting perspective, the cones are used to focus eyesight in a concentrated way (watching the ball), while the rods are used for peripheral vision (broader awareness of the surroundings). Of interest, I established that the reaction time for spontaneous action of motocross racers at the start line was significantly quicker if peripheral vision was used (as opposed to focused vision on the start gate). The fundamental reason for this difference in reaction time is that the cones are linked to conscious thinking, while the rods are associated with the unconscious (which bypasses logical thinking).

During the night walk, we had to utilise our rods (peripheral vision) to navigate our way. The purpose of the night walk was to activate the unconscious and stimulate creative thinking (via the use of peripheral vision). While asleep that night, I had such vivid dreams, that to this day, I can still remember them. My friend, Ken, also reported having vivid, unusual and intense dreams.

Precision in action: A green backed heron striking a fish
Precision in action: A green backed heron striking a fish

During stress, intense focused vision tends to gets over-activated, which in turn, tightens the visual system. To soften the eyes, the athlete needs to go into peripheral vision at times when there is no activity or concentration required. In cricket, for example, the batsman can go into peripheral vision between the balls that are bowled. This helps the eyes to relax and also stops the mind from thinking too much or too logically.

The eyes can help improve the body language of an athlete. When dealing with failure, an athlete’s body tends to cave in, with the head and shoulders dropping (indicating heaviness). As this unfolds, the vision is directed down, almost in shame. This sinking sensation in the body can be countered if you look up or extend the gaze. By looking up, I don’t mean staring up into the heavens, but rather lifting the gaze. As you do so, the eyes lift the body as well as the spirit.

An elite athlete needs a visual system that is alert and relaxed in order to perform optimally. Softening the eyes by activating the peripheral vision and extending the gaze into the distance will help the athlete to achieve this.

The story that is revealed in the eyes

On a physiological level, the eyes absorb visual sensory data, which then gets interpreted by the brain. This interpretation is a complex process and is influenced by many factors such as experience, beliefs, assumptions and social conditioning.

I have come to understand that there is so much more to the eyes than just their physiological aspect. The eyes are the ‘windows to the soul’ and reveal the most inner thoughts and feelings. They are constantly communicating, without the necessity for a word to be spoken.

A young, talented hockey player was telling me how well she was dealing with the stressful demands of competition. As she spoke, however, her eyes were telling me otherwise. They were filled with sadness and insecurity.

As she spoke, it was clear that she had learnt to put on a brave face and not reveal her true feelings. When I mentioned to her that her eyes were telling me a story of sadness, she burst into tears. After composing herself, she said that she felt relieved that her true feelings had been noticed. Since she was the youngest in the team, she was always concerned about what the older girls would think of her if she made a mistake during a match. This was starting to affect her emotionally and impact on her performance, resulting in her constantly feeling stressed and insecure.

Your eyes are also the director of your energy flow. They are connected to your intention. While this is linked to goal setting or creating a vision, it is also connected with what you notice in your experiences.

There are an infinite amount of possibilities and perspectives that can be seen in any situation. There may be times when you get stuck in some detail, which in turn, negates you seeing another perspective. While this is a natural phenomenon, you should consciously guard against becoming rigid in your focus. The eyes need to be flexible as they explore the range of perspectives that present themselves. When feeling stuck, you may need to consciously remind yourself to look elsewhere in order to take in more of the complexity that exists in the situation.

In the mechanical world of things (where there are specific objects to focus on), the eyes can find a resting point fairly easily. In such situations, there generally is consensus about what is seen. In contrast, in interpersonal contexts, there is so much fluid visual information available for the eyes to absorb. The challenge is having to piece together snippets of behaviours that are unfolding rapidly in time. In such situations, the eyes scan for patterns of interaction in order to give meaning to what is unfolding. For example, a frown on a face, a sigh in a breath, a nod or turn of a head, a clench in the jaw, etc., need to be integrated visually, interpreted and given meaning. How this gets done is a subjective process, and highlights that in an interpersonal context, there is no such thing as a single fixed reality that the eyes will see. Depending on where you look, a certain reality will emerge for you.

Neutralising emotional turbulence as water falls

There are many spectacular hikes in the Black Forest in Germany.

On some hikes, you come across a beautiful waterfall. You always hear it before seeing it. The distant sound of the movement and rush of water draws you closer and closer. And then finally, it fully reveals itself to you.

Each waterfall is unique and has a dynamic personality that is determined by the interaction of the amount of water falling and the nature of the terrain that it is having to navigate over. In its movement down, the water is only answerable to gravity as it gets pulled along and down to a place that eventually offers some peace and tranquility.

On a metaphorical level, water falling can represent many things:

  • turbulence
  • rapid change
  • pulsating excitement
  • risk
  • chaos
  • conflict and anger
  • dynamic of letting go and holding on
  • giving up or losing control
  • trusting in life’s force
  • releasing resistance
  • seeking tranquility

If you are feeling emotionally unsettled, it helps to sit quietly near a waterfall and ‘feel’ the energy of the water cascading down. The rapid movement of the water resonates with your emotions, which helps to neutralise the inner turbulence that you may be experiencing.

If you are not near a waterfall, looking at a photograph of a waterfall for a couple of minutes can have the same effect. I have attached some photographs below. Choose one that resonates with you, and as you look, soften your gaze, breathe evenly and relax. And then let your mind go wherever it wants to move to.

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In a field of poppies

Recently, I was walking in a field of poppies taking photographs. Four photographs caught my attention.

Never ending sameness

Every poppy played a part in the wholeness. Never ending sameness created an expanse of beauty and highlighted that the group took precedence over the individual.

In team sports, for example, ‘We before I’ is a philosophy that helps teams create a cohesive focused energy that goes beyond the individual. Being part of a team may require an individual to be selfless at times. This will occur when an individual aligns him/herself to a meaningful group vision.

Tall poppy

The poppies tended to be of the same height. However, there were a few that stood out and were taller. Not many, but a few.

Many societies and groups demand conformity. They feel threatened by individuality. Being able to stand tall is necessary if you wish to fulfill your potential. However, this may not come naturally or easily. Learning to see yourself in your highest light and expecting more from yourself may require courage for you to walk your own path at times.

In context

In some photographs, the poppies clearly stood out and appeared to be bigger and more pronounced than their surrounding. In reality they were small and looked somewhat fragile in the field.

When looking at a specific piece of information, it is always necessary to understand the broader context in which anything exists. Context defines meaning and puts things into perspective.

Beauty in the light

There is a natural tension between individual and group needs. When this tension is integrated in a respectful way, an amazing beauty emerges that can never be anticipated. Light always shines through in such cases.

Seeking to integrate dynamic opposites is a complex challenge. This requires a systemic philosophy that embraces diversity and understands the inter-connected fabric of life. Extreme perspectives that deny or prevent alternative viewpoints results in division, exclusion, resistance and anger.

The tension that exists between globalization and nationalization (separatism) should never be examined in an either/or manner, but rather considered according to the philosophy of both/and. The self-absorbed, egotistical Trump is incapable of grasping this fundamental idea of both/and regarding any issue. He has decided to withdraw the USA from the Paris Accord on climate change and global warming. His decision highlights how self-centred, simplistic and archaic his worldview is regarding global issues.

Due to his narcissistic, bombastic and arrogant attitude (coupled with his lack of insight) more and more rifts will occur whenever he is called on to make a decision. Harmony and beauty will recede whenever he is involved in a process. Instead, more conflict will be activated as he feebly attempts to lead a Divided States of America that continues to polarize as time goes on. His biggest threat will not be an external one (such as immigration or terrorism), but instead, will be an internal one in which he will be the centre of a self-induced implosion as his own country fragments.

Moving into an uncertain future

In my previous article on vision and framing, I took a predominantly past-orientated perspective of how we construct frames around our experiences, and in particular, around our problems.

In this article,  I would like to focus on the power of how you can use frames to create and mold a meaningful future for yourself.

Walking into an uncertain future

By nature, the future is both uncertain and unpredictable. From an evolutionary perspective, a range of possibilities (outcomes) may exist in the future, but nothing is definite. However, the potentiality of these outcomes are influenced and determined by what has unfolded in the past and what is presently occurring in the present.

As part of creating a frame or focus for your future, you need to consciously prime yourself to move into your future with optimism. You can do this by activating an internal process that playfully entertains possibilities that have not yet materialised, but which you can see or imagine.

During play, children transport themselves into a new domain of experience through the power of fantasy and imagination. When next you watch children play, see how easily they are transport themselves into a ‘new place’ during play. Imagination is the vehicle for the transportation.

In consulting with elite athletes, I create frames for future performance through the process of visualisation. This helps to transport the athlete into the future in a way that conditions the mind to be prepared for an upcoming competitive event. An expectancy of how the future will unfold is very much part of the visualisation.

Meditation and mindfulness help a person mentally connect to the present moment that is unfolding. While these processes do not provide actual frames with which to guide you into your future, they paradoxically open up the future for you by asking you to carefully notice the present moment unfolding before you (be it on a mental, emotional or physical level). This heightens an inner awareness that assists you in dealing with life’s demands more effectively. As a spin-off, you will begin to feel more emotionally relaxed about your future, thus neutralising the anxiety that tends to get activated when dealing with uncertainty.

There are times, when I will sit and write a reflection about a particular experience. As part of the reflection, I will tease out what I have learned, as well as, consider possibilities of what else could have unfolded, or what I may have done differently to facilitate a different outcome. In particular, I look at my patterns of behaviour that may have blocked me from achieving what I had set out to do. This helps heighten my awareness regarding my own functioning, offering me alternatives of how to interact in the future. This is how journalling or reflective writing offers a frame of how to move into the future more effectively.

Finally, I believe that your perceptions of what you think your future may hold are determined by your philosophy of life (see my article on viewing life through your personal lens). This philosophy is self-recursive; connecting your experiences with your beliefs and assumptions in an ongoing, unfolding way. On another level, your personal philosophy also influences your anticipations and expectations of your future. Do you have a general feeling of optimism as you journey in your life? Do you see yourself as having the necessary courage to walk into an uncertain future? (See my article on being optimistic in the struggle).