September 1, 2020

Love (and Work) in a Time of Corona (Part Two)

Part One of this Love and Corona Blog described my journey from lying fallow (or paralysed by inertia) to being forced to dip my toes into the waters of ZOOM. It ended in a seemingly upbeat manner as I announced that I was ready to return to the world from my place of inner and outer refuge – I was back!

Those of you who know me well will not be surprised that what followed was not quite like that...

I found myself panicking about my lack of expertise in an online platform methodology (after all, I had researched and developed my own teaching style – of comfort – over 34 years). In the days that followed my 'being-back' announcement, I flipped between the excitement of a new purpose and a deep longing for the safety of my previous lying fallow state.

When I went on a deeply insightful and meaningful Vision Quest in 2014, I came away with a clear understanding of the pact I had made with 'the gods'. I would make myself available to serve a transformational human agenda in society through my teaching for as long as 'the gods' decreed I had a role to play. Now my rational self was saying that even though I had indicated that I was ready to be back, nothing was happening, so I could at last retire at 72 and not have to face this painful ambiguity that returning to 'work' was bringing up in me.

In Part One, I wrote of an interview set up by a previous EMBA student that I had enjoyed that had helped me move back into the world. Ah well. I should have known it was not so easy ...

The past student had first approached me around February and then disappeared. When contact was resumed several months later, we set up an interview with the CEO, which I have reported as going well. I rode the wave of excitement and submitted a draft discussion proposal for what I thought the leadership programme might look like. The reply of 'I'll get back to go by the end of the week' came about a month ago.

I felt irritated. I mean, I have done my inner work and am ready to rock-and-roll, so what's the delay? And of course I realised 'the gods' were being mischievous again. My inner ambiguity was being mirrored back to me from the outside world!

So I let go of this programme and saw it as further proof that the time had come for me to retire gracefully. However, my newly re-found friend Paul rubbished this interpretation and decreed that I was just waiting to be begged to return to work so that my ego would feel good!

Then some more past EMBA students decided to join the party and make contact with me. (Why did I ever agree to teach on this EMBA programme?)

I received an invitation to do a four-hour online workshop on the topic 'Response to Covid19 – The psychological impact on the workforce'. Seemingly giving credence to Paul's theory about wanted to be begged, I immediately accepted the invitation. And then woke in the middle of the night as my embodied brain cried out 'WTF have you done!'

The next morning, I described some of my dilemma on FaceBook and received some very supportive messages from friends. Ironically, two of the most supportive messages helped me find a path as they jarred and unsettled me. They said: 'You'll ROCK it' and 'Don't worry about four hours, you can wing it.'

And suddenly everything fell into place. My deep concern was that I really did not want to return to the pre-existing 'normality' of my very familiar teaching content and methodology. The huge challenge of these months of isolation must surely have been for a reason. I realised that I did not want to go back to life-as-it-was. I felt with great urgency that the five months of 'fallowness' should have heralded a new way of being. I knew that I could handle four hours online, and could both rock and wing it, but I was not happy with the whole situation. I want the future world to be different and I want to play an integral role in contributing to this rebirth. I had no idea as to how it should look – 'I don't know' was my common refrain – but I knew it should not be business as usual.

I sent an email to my hosts indicating that I was planning on withdrawing from the four-hour workshop, but that I wanted to talk to them first. I shared that I understood that my student's experience of me in class had led him to believe that I had something to offer his organisation, but I was not an expert on the topic and I didn't think the future world wants to rely on experts as much as it did before the lockdown. I thought the topic was wonderful in that it focused on personal health and self-care, and how organisations could assist with this. However, for me the responsibility has to rest with each of us to take decisions for ourselves and for our community. We ended up agreeing that we would change the brief and I would now run a two-hour interactive workshop during which staff would reflect on and share their own Cov19 experiences, and then brainstorm ways in which they were or could have been supported by the organisation.

I had only just reached this equilibrium when my next EMBA lecture to the 5 000 (actually around 65 students) came around. This time I was ready to rethink ZOOM, and the starting point for my planning was to explore the new possibilities that ZOOM opened up for me and to consider how could I optimise these positives. I subsequently ran a deeply personal and reflective three-hour session on the topic of hinge moments using breakout rooms and targeted questions. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive and I was surprised at the spontaneous comments that spoke about the increased safety that participants had felt in sharing personal stuff at a deep level in the ZOOM breakout rooms.

South Africa then moved to a Level 2 lockdown and yet another EMBA student emerged from the past. Another interview - another proposal (thank goodness I still had the earlier one to work with!). Result: A Personal Leadership ZOOM programme for a team of around 30 people spanning 12 three-hour sessions over the next three to four months!

I really am being called to be back at work and the strange thing is that I feel unusually grounded as I contemplate this new programme which will take me beyond my existing comfort levels into the unknown.

What is going on?

In a strange way, I am extremely grateful for the enforced pause and disruption that the lockdown brought into my life. Suddenly all my comfortable taken-for-granted aspects about my work and income disappeared and I have been forced to go inwards and find a new alignment between inner and outer purpose.

I've recently started watching a programme called Political Hope by Charles Eisenstein and his first two lectures have really hit home on two crucial issues that articulate my new alignment with great clarity. He names the fundamental cause of wrongdoing in the world as being our separation from all others (human, animal and inanimate others). He claims that this leads us to adopt a mentality of war where we repeatedly invoke judgment to support and bolster our desire to set up categories of separateness.

One of my greatest comforts during this mid-winter lockdown period has been settling down in front of a beautiful fire, which I've built with exquisite and loving attention, and then cuddling up with Louise to watch an episode or two of a TV series. I'm struck by how often it is the theme music that stays with me for many days. I was particularly drawn by the haunting theme music of a British series called 'Unforgotten'. The song, entitled 'All We Do', is by Oh Wonder. It was only recently that I paid attention to the lyrics and intention of the song when I sent this YouTube link of the music to a coachee.

There is a beautiful circling back from this video on what it means to be human to Part One of this blog, where I realised the crucial importance of LOVE as what matters most to me. It all seems to be coming together and my commitment to the future seems clearer than it has ever been, both in my personal life and in my teaching.

I now have the beginnings of a basic question I need to ask when considering future work: How does this action/event/workshop serve in foregrounding what it means to be human?

This is quickly put to the test when a longstanding client asks me to re-imagine our existing annual leadership programme in a way that makes use of the internet as a learning platform. In my response, I'm almost carried away by the excitement I feel about my newly acquired ZOOM skills. I stop in time.

I have spent more than thirty years developing a transformational methodology that is aimed at disrupting taken-for-granted assumptions and beliefs. In many ways I have done this through a focus on developing an embodied emotional wisdom with the heart and body taking their equally valuable places with the mind. My ZOOM experiences suggest that I can adapt and use the platform to increases the playing fields of the mind.

However, this seems to be at the definite expense of the body and also of the interactive emotional interbeing with others.

I become worried that the killing fields of the human spirit will move from the workplace to the home as work relies on the distanced and structured interactions of ZOOM platforms where one is encouraged to raise an emoji hand before speaking. Home may well be one of the few spontaneous places left and where will we be learning the necessary skills for home life?

It's time to stop thinking and start doing. Enactivism posits that our intelligence is to be found in our actions not our thoughts. I can see that, despite all my previous learning, I am still looking for clarity about the way ahead when, in one of my favourite poems, Antonio Machado clearly advises that the path can only be laid while walking.

It is time to start. I have a new determination to do this walking with a measured pace that takes time to play with the nuances of each situation. There is no destination in sight (or in mind), but there is a clarity of purpose that asks me to serve those who approach me to work with them. I want my teaching to serve humanity in attempting to find a way to end our separatist views of the world. I want to encourage participants to join me in taking personal as well as collective and organisational responsibility for adding positively to the human and non-human spirit in the world and planet. I want to be part of a movement that encourages and assists a new form of leadership that shares this vision.

Let the new journey begin...