Friday 20 May 2016

Reflecting on meditating

I am just back from a pilgrimage in France: walking from Notre Dame de Paris to Notre Dame de Chartres (some 70 miles) over Pentecost weekend. There is much I could say about this: the beauty of these great Gothic cathedrals is worth several essays; the beauty of the Latin liturgies and accompanying plainchant is worth several more; and the walk in between, 26 miles or so on each of the first two days, and the remainder on the third, offers material for several more.

But the aspect I want to focus on is the link between meditating and the professional work I do; and not least the Thinking Environment approach I have been going on about recently.

I have blogged about meditation before (here in relation to Emotional Intelligence, and here as a sort of progress report on my own practice - and that post contains links to earlier ones on the same topic). But I think it is worth returning to the subject, not least as I find that I keep returning to it in my own thinking. And you can imagine that on the paths between Paris and Chartres there was plenty of time for reflection and meditation.

And one of the things that struck me was this: that in order to do what Nancy Kline advocates (and I have blogged about this previously, on several occasions) one must foster a particular approach to attention, that is at the heart of her approach. 

On the one hand, you must attend fully, generously and with complete commitment to the other person. The quality of your attention is truly generative of the other person's thinking. And at the same time, you must attend to sustaining the other features of the thinking environment: ease, equality and so on. And you also have to attend to the process: where is the thinker up to, and what is your most helpful response once she reaches the end of her current wave of thinking? And to do all of that requires the ability not to pay attention to yourself and your thoughts, feelings and responses in the interim.

It seems to me that meditating develops precisely the qualities necessary to accomplish all of that. The capacity to let go of all the noise in our own heads is one of the first that is developed with a regular practice of meditation. Following that, we acquire the discipline to direct our attention to where we want to direct it. We also develop a profound ease with silence; and in my experience, discomfort with silence is one of the most frequent reasons that people find true listening so difficult. And if our meditation is based on a religious practice, the notion of giving time to God, then we also develop the necessary generosity with our time that supports this type of approach, and quickly learn how time 'given' in this way is in fact time that nourishes us, and is repaid many times over.

Wednesday 11 May 2016

A Question of Authenticity

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago (here) that I am trying to grow my @ShiftingStories twitter account, not least with a view to publicising the book in the run up to the launch, in the hope of shifting a few more copies. That seems a reasonable and sensible thing to be doing.

However, something else happened that made me realise the need to manage the boundaries and ethics of promotion (and particularly self-promotion) with great attention. Someone I don't know sent me a request to connect on Linked-In. Normally, I ignore these or turn them down, or if I am feeling nervous about whether it's someone I have met and forgotten, send a note asking when we met.

But this time, because growing my social media presence is on my mind, I accepted. I then got a message back, quite friendly, but very much about promoting this chap's business. Not too bad, but not quite the spirit of the thing, I think. But then, and this is what grated, he endorsed me for five skills: executive coaching, leadership development and so on. Yet, to my knowledge, we have never met, still less worked together.

All of which made me feel that this was somewhat insincere - untruthful even. And worse, that by accepting his initial request, I was colluding with this dishonesty.

The irony, of course, is that following this blatant flattery, I am much less likely to do business with him than I would have been if he had left it at the straight promotional plug - which at least had the virtue of honesty. Apart from anything else, why should I believe those quoted on his page as endorsing him?...

And that gives me pause for thought about how best to promote my book. Overt promotion is I think absolutely appropriate. I have written and published it for a reason: I think I have something of use and interest to say, and I want people to read it. Growing the book's Twitter account very deliberately seems appropriate too: it is transparently an account for the book, and it is in the nature of Twitter to connect with people you don't know. But there is clearly a boundary, and I think you cross it once you start feigning interest in things or people you are not interested in, and that you are way over it once you start giving feedback on people you have never met (or books you have never read, come to that).

Of course, I may be doing the chap an injustice: I notice we have several connections in common, and it may be that they have all been singing my praises to him, so he feels he can endorse me with total honesty. I would like to believe that, I really would. But I have my doubts...

Sunday 8 May 2016

Attention Must Be Paid

I am increasingly interested in the effect of attention. It is, of course, one of the qualities (and possibly one of the most important components) of a Thinking Environment, according to Nancy Kline (see here for my various reflections of Nancy's work).

But at present, it is another effect of attention that has caught my... attention.

For some time now, I have been doing some voluntary work, supporting a young lad who is perceived to be at risk of dropping out of, or at least completely disengaging from, formal education.

I visit him every week, and sit and chat; often while he is entertaining himself playing a video game, and so on.  The idea, I think, is that over time, we will build sufficient rapport that I may be able to exert some gentle influence over him, with regard to his studies...

But so far, I have concentrated on getting to know him, finding things to bring along that he will find interesting or entertaining (anything from magic tricks to my air rifle...) and so on. I have deliberately not weighed in on the subject of his school work (or even his school attendance, which is patchy), as I have judged it too soon.

So I was surprised to hear that at a case conference about his situation, the school was reporting a marked improvement in his attitude, and were attributing that to my visits.

I replied (to the organisation that organises this voluntary work, who were at the case conference) that it couldn't be anything to do with me, as we had not discussed such issues yet. But they were of the opposite view.  They said that in their experience there was frequently a marked improvement in attitude and behaviour, once a young person started to receive regular and reliable attention from an adult, regardless of what, if anything, was discussed.

All of which reminded me of this quotation from Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman.

Attention must be paid: not a bad aphorism to remind ourselves of on a regular basis...