How Leaders Focus When Facing Negative Emotions
One of the reasons we do not face our goals is we shut down when we are faced with an unexpected barrier that we are unsure how to deal with. Creating any goal requires first an unperturbable focus, especially when emotions run high. We need to stay flexible and adherent to what is going on with us without losing sight of what we’re creating.
Current reality is not always nice to observe, but in the creative process, bearing witness to what is going on is essential to learning. Creating is learning. This is true because when you create a goal, you begin separate from what you know. You have to know where you are compared to where you’re going like an artist paints a painting. As a leader, you depend on visibility. If you’re the blind leading the blind that’s not good. As doers, we move through moments to get to the next moment. We miss the available comprehension in the present moment that brings insight, helps us see differences, and incorporate emerging opportunities and pathways which pull us through. Our visibility and comprehension are possible by understanding ourselves and what is going on by stopping and being present.
Self-aggression is when you believe everything you think. If you don’t see your voice of judgment, you violate your ability to see what is different than what you think. And yet the difficult feelings we experience about the future we think of, or the past we hurt from, these all originate from our stories WE HOLD TO BE TRUE. Stories are the concepts we hold rigidly of who we are, what others are, generalizations and persevering beliefs that make understanding things lopsided.
It disturbs us to live up to ideals of ourselves to offset our unwanted views. Positive thinking the future hurts us when we lie to ourselves as a survival skill that sets us up to be under-prepared and over-confident when things don’t turn out the way we expected. Our attempts to hoist super powers and human potential to dominate our deep sense of powerlessness or go with the flow. All of these are compensating structures that outlaw our ability to be flexible to learning to create a desired goal. Perhaps we can let go of predicting the future, and instead, create one.
A significant loss of heart is easy to fall into during key moments in creating your goal during setbacks that frustrate you with emotional tension. Creating is often called a love/hate relationship. Laziness is just a loss of heart to give up because striving and exertion wear you thin when victory hasn’t come yet. When you feel dragged down, unable to move, complacent, the tendency is to compromise the goal and question it. Lowering it makes the goal seem more workable to avoid discouragement. We may remove discouragement but still not create what we want.
Emotional tension is such a difficult inner enemy to work with because comfort and calmer waters are our survival instinct. Creating goals causes an imbalance. Anxiety is the sense of fearing the worst of the future you want. The sales person is anxious about rejection toward creating a big sales goal. To preemptively strike on the fear, the person pulls back, gets timid and brings themselves further away instead of making progress toward the stated goal. They externalize the fear by staying out of situations and avoiding them before it happens.
A struggle with one’s own fear becomes more consuming than what has to be done to meet the goal. Aggression is in the form of telling oneself a belief of what will happen. Psyching oneself out, the person is disabled to look at the source of aggression more directly and instead steps away from it. If they could stay, even though it is uncertain what will happen, the truth of the hurdle is it is a hurdle. Constraints and creating go together. Staying true to fear’s presence actually brings the person to become more creative. Getting to know the whole picture is what the discipline of “staying present” involves. You learn not to hold back and give awareness intimately to whatever is going on. You learn how to remain self-objective during tough times.
Depression arises from the refusal to follow inspiration to create the desired outcome when the individual neglects to act upon it. A deeper belief of powerlessness or worthlessness dominates their behavior. Staying present to depression is about not acting out or aggressing up it by attempting to be significantly powerful. Who but a person who must portray and convey their sense of power and control is someone who thinks they do not have it! Self-help and human potential are drawn from the belief that one has little power. Turning on mind powers is like a new drug…unlock the powers of the mind, and you can be a no limit person. These ideals attempt to awaken the giant within, affirm themselves with self-propaganda slogans of grandiosity and confidence.
The person attempting to affirm their importance is caught and trapped by ideals of themselves to be seen as important by others. Heroes love to be the lifeguards wanting to be called to rescue, except some heroes push people in first. And when their identity (opinion of themselves) drives them, failure cannot be used as an asset. Everything present is taken personal, especially the opinions of others. They become heroes to rescue others to avoid the unwanted belief they are cowards. Or they become nasty dictators to dominate and control others out of the unwanted belief they are less adequate than others or insignificant for some reason.
Fear is a concept of danger that suggests a need to control the outcome in some way. Dwelling in the present is outlawed by the threat of what could go wrong. When we act from the place of what scares us we neglect the chance to stay in tune with fear itself and see that fear is our way of lookout for the regard we have ourselves. Like a big bear, our fear warns us to find a refuge from what we predict will happen.
What would happen if you befriended the obstacles of fear, depression, and anxiety? You don’t have to like what is there, but you can meet it. In May of this year, one of my best lifelong friends took his life. It was the most different emotional passage of my life of 48 years. Every interior blast of emotions ebbed and flowed like turbulence on a flight that seemed endless, and yet, I could bear it. Practicing the principle of separation.
I began to see my ability to hold space for the rawness of the emotions as well as other tender parts of my heart that felt crushed and squeezed. Over days and weeks I was able to make contact with other parts of my heart that truly felt compassion for my friend’s suffering. Like steps and stages, I went from guilt and powerlessness to a wiser, relaxed sense of attention to the event. Everything I learned in being flexible, patient and present was tested. I learned that I could stay with an experience like this.
I remember it’s like getting my wife pregnant. The exertion of controlling when this will happen pushed away the possibilities, while just staying present and enjoying our intimacy when it arose brought her pregnant when I least expected it. Trying to exert a pregnancy with force undermined it, while letting go and being present to our intimacy naturally organized force to set the seeds for my wife’s pregnancy, which always came as an astonishing surprise, making it magical and meaningful. Creating is about first building an unforced space for new potential to live there. I often wonder whether our biggest danger is failure, or is it not understanding the reasons why something was successful.
The exertion in that moment gave me a sense of not giving up on my ability to be present right now. Here’s what grabbed me about this: As you stay with what is happening you find yourself in different places of strength. Moments of despair, discouragement, rage, anger, resentment—these seem like a signpost to moving away from these places due to the discomfort. But in the creative orientation, you practice the ability of “separation.” Rather than being the emotions, you observe your emotions. You stand in a different place in the room with what you’ve experienced and live next to it like a roommate living in a guesthouse. You vow to stay with the limitless quality of being aware such that you push away nothing, and welcome everything. And this is how I was able to work through the ebb and flow of the loss, confusion, intensity, and pain.
Your experience of these difficult states become more interesting when you remember separation. In fact the feelings capable of being experienced instead of grinning and bearing them. They are not enemies, but just a current reality beholding what is happening. There is nothing to push through, overcome, or the kind of striving we often hear. I think these efforts are used by people who lack the skill of separation. It is their default way of pushing themselves around to deaden the pain or run through the mud with everything you’ve got.
Exertion gone wrong sets you up for a dramatic turn to giving up—unable to move or do anything. Exertion gone well softens your edges to stay present with whatever arises. The insight of what to learn or do isn’t possible without the emotional currents brought on by the concepts and beliefs. The notion of turning this around was letting go of the ideals and concepts I held and start where I actually am. Life is what really brings the insights. Integrity (right exertion) is determined by how long you can stay with the ambiguity until something new, fresh arises to greet you. Time is the advocate, not the adversary.
Bad emotions, negative experiences, shitty moments don’t need to be seen as a problem story. They can be an opportunity story, or story-free, with no place for use. The learning is in not having to squeezing learning from everything, but to instead to accept things as they are without control or expectations. Any experience can be a basis for learning and seeing insights. Not every obstacle is an oyster with a pearl for you. But it is possible to survive the ups and downs and remain in a creative, receptive, flexible, and focused orientation on what you want to create. The thread in all reform is in choice and direction. Influencing ourselves can open new doors by exceptions to control everything. When you look far outside what you’re conditioned to see, what you see changes.
How to Apply
Start holding space decisively in the middle of things. Take full blown free days to stay away from business, to build attentive openness and relaxed attention to whatever might arise. Schedule 30 minutes of intentional silence at the start of every day, and build in 15 minutes in the late morning and late evening to keep the stance of relaxed attention. Be ready for anything, and expect nothing. Sit, walk, listen, live with as much openness, internal space and vacancy for bringing forth our best intelligence. If you stand like a hard tree, you will break in the wind, but if you’re flexible, you’re still standing when the storm blows over. No feeling is final. When you start to lose your flexibility of mind, take a time out for 30 minutes and stay calm, take ten deep breaths.
And ask, “can I stay with what is happening?” state to yourself: “It’s like this…” Then describe with full loyalty to report the truth to yourself the facts of what is going on. There is nothing wrong with feeling fear, having emotional difficulties, in fact, it is the first step to being a leader: to be a human being. You don’t have to centralize back into a “self”; in fact, there isn’t one. You will never really know who you are or hold any model of yourself that lasts. Forget it. Let go, let come. Place your trust in everything the future needs is given to you this moment. Don’t look in any other place for comfort than this.
The mystery is your greatest source of hope. The ego is trying to stop the directness of our experience. If you choose to play life from mystery, then you learn from an emerging future possibility as you walk, taking meaningful leaps into uncertainty. Like a freight train with conviction and faith, you lay down the tracks as you go. And it makes the scenery more interesting, inspiring, surprising, challenging, and amazing for you to meet and learn from.