An Act of Love
“Being fully present to what is, without judging or evaluating or wanting something different, is the most basic act of love.” C.W. Huntington, Jr.
All of my work, whether at the individual, team or enterprise-wide, whole system level, is about change, growth and development. It’s exciting and at times, daunting work. Each of us human beings have our own orientation to change. According to personality data, many of us don’t welcome or enjoy change, especially when it is goes hand in hand, as it often does, with an ambiguous future state.
There are a few folks who are wired for change. They welcome it, and sometimes pursue it because they actually relish it (even, when it isn’t necessary). But in research, this shows up as a minority of our species.
When I think about accepting things as they are, I think of it as a vital part of any change that can’t be skipped. And when I invite clients to become more fully aware of the current reality, it is because I don’t think any real change happens without a full understanding of what we are really, already in the middle of. Through accepting the present moment, I am not advocating that we surrender, accept our fate or give up. In fact, for me, accepting reality, being open to what is really happening in any system, is the first step to any worthwhile change or development journey, from quitting a bad habit (smoking) to transforming an organization, or any other large, complex system.
When confronted with the need for change, the most difficult thing for most of a us to do is to allow ourselves to accept reality, what is actually happening in the fullest sense. Instead, we often spend a lot of energy “defending the fortress” (e.g., strategy, products, structure, talent choices), especially if we had a big part in deciding or creating them. And this “fortress”, whether still effective or not, has become “institutionalized” in myriad organizational habits of how we think, decide and communicate.
If we are not completely aware of what it feels like to be fully present to “what is”, it is often much more difficult to accurately assess and then creatively envision a more successful future.
Some of us ignore the need for change or shut down. A few brave souls, a.k.a., “change agents” spend a lot of energy battling the fortress. But in their frustration (“fighting” against systems is exhausting!), the way they go about it, can be ineffective. This is because their communication about the need for change is full of, subtle and not so subtle, judgement and blame. This can be experienced by others as arrogant, even when the change agent is motivated by deep care and a strong sense of responsibility (as they often are). Because we over-identify with the systems we have had a hand in creating, when a change agent boldly questions our work, it can feel insulting or like a personal attack.
This same process can also apply to our individual growth and development. We all hang on to some of our habits of leadership even when they may no longer be effective in our current lives. Many of our leadership mental models were formed early, growing up in our family systems. Though constructed when we were young, they still show up in our leadership decisions and behaviors many years later. Standing back to soak in reality, here and now, can be quite a revelation, if we let it in. And from this more open, accepting place, we can decide if some of our habits of mind and behavior are effective and productive in our current context.
At the team or organization level this process is more time consuming. You have to create a psychologically safe space where people can tell the powers that be what is happening. This step requires leaders pause the action, sit still, quiet the critic, allow, and even “accept” what they are learning. In this way, “being fully present to what is”, allows for deeper listening and understanding. At this phase, we have to suspend judgement and evaluation, and the yearning for something to be different (easier, simpler, more as we would like it to be). To really listen, you have to be open and curious and when practicing this, judgement and evaluation will only diminish the safety required to tell the truth.
Finding a way to accept fully what is, in this present moment, is absolutely an act of love. It says, without blame, or judgement, I accept you, I accept me, this situation, this difficulty, this mistake, and this joy of full awareness, in the midst of all of it, just as it is. And from this more generative space, the seeds of change are nourished and true creative transformation may flourish.
C.W. Huntington, Jr. (1949-2020) was a translator and interpreter of Sanskrit and Tibetan Buddhist literature. He was Chair of Department of Religious Studies at Hartwick College. His most recent book, What I Don’t Know about Death, was published this year posthumously,
Moira Clarke founded Leadership Consulting Partners 21 years ago to collaborate with leaders, teams and organizations to create more productive, effective, and human people systems and practices. If you are reading this to the end, and you find value, please say so and share with others on LinkedIn and Twitter. Thank you!
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Welcome to Moira's blog. I write a (mostly) monthly post about the work of building better work places: people strategies, systems, teams and leaders.