What follows is the introduction to a book I have been quietly working on since May of last year. I’ve been holding back from sharing it (which feels more vulnerable than this naked photo shoot ever did!) but am now ready to start putting it out into the world. Respectful feedback very welcome. Feel free to leave comments on this blog post or to email me through the contact page on the website.
Living, leading and writing from “presence”
We live at a crucial point in human history, one when many are practicing (with varying levels of success) to live a life of “presence.” This simple word contains within it the solution to all problems and yet its meaning is very simple: to be present is to drop identification with the thinking mind (or “the ego”) and to become the awareness of what is. Practicing presence we step out of the dream of conceptual thinking – one that has had humans in its grip for several thousand years – and into a new stage of human consciousness.
So many already know that the dysfunctional manner in which humans operate no longer serves the survival of our species or the planet. But to “know” in ones mind is very different to the knowledge that comes with an initiation into presence. One moment we are “asleep”, trapped in a maze of thoughts, beliefs and conceptual schemes and the next moment something occurs that words can never fully capture. In that instant we become channels for a potential new world, joining the ever-growing tsunami of women and men who are “awakening”.
The first moments of awakening are often exhilarating; we discover unforeseen dimensions of our relationships, the world and ourselves. We feel free. But all too soon doubt and depression creep in as we struggle to put our newfound knowings into practice. Many of us feel too sensitive for a world that cares so much about economic growth and so little for the wellbeing of humans, animals and planet. We aren’t sure how to make a living whilst acting from our hearts and our passions. We feel like aliens amongst people who often don’t understand why we cry at the suffering of trees or rivers or people we have never met. We start to wonder if perhaps we are naïve or even crazy.
To be clear: you are crazy and you’re not. Both are true. Even though we are awakening, you and I are not separate from this world that places inanimate objects over living, breathing beings. We remain to some extent, part of the madness, ducking in and out of sanity and insanity. One day we see clearly and the next we are blind. One minute we remember and the next we have forgotten all over again. One moment we feel ready to take on the great task ahead and the next we feel isolated and in despair. The great majority of us – enlightened masters aside – are in between times, in between stories and in between two worlds. All around us lies the destruction and devastation of the way we have been living but in our hearts, in our wombs and in our wildest dreams a new world is growing. As someone else once said, on a good day we can hear her breathing.
The words that follow are from one human as she struggles to emerge from the cocoon of spiritual sleep. Each section begins with a moment of “presence” in which I attempt to ground myself in the present in order to access the wisdom that lies beyond my mind. Rather than simply skipping over these moments, I chose to include them in the text, both as a reminder of what it means to be an embodied being and as a nod to the infinite void from which all creativity arises.
And speaking of creativity…
So much of what we “produce” as humans comes from the need to survive (or to earn money, which is often the same thing) or else is an attempt to prove our worth, our intellect or our specialness. Our egos, it would seem, need this continuous validation in order to motivate them to keep producing. But what happens when we leg go of the ego-mind and allow creativity to come from elsewhere? I had no plan when I began these pages. I did not set out to write something I could publish, or even to write “a book”. Instead, following the impulses of my body, I would sit down each day, settle into presence and then type out whatever wanted to be written. If nothing came I would do something else; I tried never to force it. The reason for this is simple: if we are to evolve past our minds (and our egos) then we must allow ourselves to produce (and to live) from a place beyond those minds. For me, that place is most easily accessed through being with my body in the present moment.
The successes and failures detailed herein are “mine” but they’re not unique. So many are trying to become embodied, to discover our purpose and understand how it relates to economic survival, to build loving, trusting relationships, to parent wisely and to create conscious community. The mind says “it’s all about me” but the body/heart/whatever you want to call it, knows better.
Still, if you’re anything like me, finding a way to be with this new knowledge and still engage with the broader world has been a challenge. The awakening process seems to hold within it a deep desire to reject the entire world of form, the world that gives us false choices - choices that can only ever lead to yet another blind alley of suffering - and we get so caught up in rejecting that it takes great courage and awareness to begin to say “yes” again. How to move from trying to control this world to joyfully playing within its bounds is one question that emerges within this text. The current worlds of politics, science, business and academia are based on asserting that we are right and the others are wrong, of trying to sway others to one’s own point of view, which is of course the correct view. These worlds are often not welcoming places for people who refuse to make anyone else “the bad guys” or place responsibility and blame on others.
This book is not designed to convince you of anything or to give you any answers. It’s also not here to fix you, save you or to make you into anything other than who you already are. It’s not full of interesting facts and it’s not even a collection of my opinions; this is in fact an attempt to let go of my attachment to opinions. I’m also not sure if anything at all that’s written herein is right or not, I only know it’s what got written when I sat down and opened myself to the writing process. Sections of this text came from my mind – you can probably ignore those parts – and the rest of it came from something beyond my mind. Hopefully there is a piece of you that knows how to take what feels true and leave the rest.
If you came looking for answers then you can bet that it was your mind that put you up to it. The mind comes up with all kinds of problems, which then need to be fixed. Of course then we need teachers to teach us how to do those fixing things and if we get good enough at those things then we might get paid to do them. We might get to be an expert, a leader or even a hero.
Embodied leadership: we don’t need another hero
The world is ready for an entirely new kind of leader. One who knows themselves intimately, cares for this world deeply and has faith in the capacity of humanity to transcend who we are today. One who can practice presence in the midst of chaos.
These leaders don’t claim to know all of the answers but they are ready to ask the right questions, tear up the old blueprints and join hands with others to search for entirely new solutions. They aren’t looking for scapegoats or whipping boys, refusing to make any individual or group of people into the problem They are emotionally intelligent and comfortable with uncertainty. Moreover, they aren’t afraid to dream of a world with flourishing ecosystems, thriving communities and a daily existence that is much more joyful than the one most of us currently experience.
It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from or how much education you have, that leader is you. The only qualification is that you care and are ready to lend a hand.
The first time I experienced this kind of leadership in a political context was during the Occupy Wall Street protests in the autumn of 2011. An activist since birth, Occupy marked a distinct departure from the politics and protests I had practiced previously. It was the first moment that I felt hope, unity and the power of collective love in my body. Although the impact of Occupy on social, political and economic structures was not measurable by standard metrics, within my being its impact felt vast because it was the first time that I felt – not thought, not believed, not hoped – that change was possible on a societal level. It was also the only time (outside of recovery meetings and women’s circles) that I have witnessed the power of a collective container to alchemize those within it. Occupy turned a lot of lead into gold and a lot of “ordinary people” into leaders.
Acting as a leader in these times is not about being better or smarter or stronger than others; you don’t need a PhD or to read the New York Times. You don’t even need to be an adult. Rather than billing ourselves as “experts” a key characteristic of these leaders is an ability to be with uncertainty, and to live the questions. The mind thinks that if it is smart enough that it can predict and control the future and yet that which lies beyond the mind knows better. Today’s leaders need the willingness to take the next step (and the next) into the unknown. This requires incredible resilience and a willingness to live with the heartbreak of repeated failures and disappointments. It also necessitates access to an extraordinary tribe; unlike the hero of old, this kind of leader rarely chooses to go it alone. Knowing the power of vulnerability to transform even the heartiest ego, we are not afraid to express emotion, to admit our pain and to embrace our faults. We are not perfect; instead we are attempting to be our whole selves and to allow others to be the same.
This world is hungry for you to be a new kind of leader: an embodied, authentic, messy-as-all-hell but with a heart-the-size-of-the-sun kind of leader.
Are you ready?
I’m not sure if I am or not but I think I’ll give it a go.