Plug Into Bliss Part 2: a dance of ever-renewing delight*
Last month, in Plug into Bliss, Part 1, I talked about how miserable British people have become, how the events of the last few years have had a profound impact on our mindset and how complaining, arguing and rudeness have become the habit and norm in our culture.
This culture of grumpiness and individual entitlement has been endorsed and exacerbated by the dreadful failure of political leadership in the UK. Boris Johnson who, after many scandals, including ‘Partygate’, was finally ousted from office 4 months ago for condoning a MP accused of serious sexual misconduct, openly and gleefully celebrates his ability to lie and get away with the lie. This was happening publicly as far back in his career as 1988, when The Times newspaper sacked Johnson as a reporter for inventing a quote. His behaviour continues to be one of ducking and diving with no sense of accountability, integrity or empathy for his impact on others. And, of course, others emulate his example: ‘If Boris Johnson can get away with it, so can I.’ If our leaders don’t care about being positive role-models and behaving with integrity, then why should the rest of us do other than go for a quick fix, short-termist option, based on immediate and disregarding gratification?
I have just watched the brilliant miniseries, Dopesick. It examines the horrific opioid addiction crisis in the United States caused by the painkiller OxyContin, a drug created by Purdue Pharma, owned by the powerful and profoundly cynical Sackler family, who consciously and deliberately created this tragedy for financial profit: ‘It aims to explore the scandal from the Sacklers down, opening with the development of the drug in the 1980s, to show how greedy bosses and avaricious sales reps were able to hijack the good intentions of doctors all over the country.’ Ed Cumming, The Independent.
My professional field is Authentic Leadership, based on great vision, values and purpose, and these examples of corrupt, abusive power matter deeply to me. The personal is political… and vice versa…and it matters as much who we are as what we do and say.
This is ultimately about the choice to be either our Higher/best Self or our base/ego self. These last few years have been a wakeup call to ask ourselves: ‘What kind of person do I want to be?’ I was working with a leadership group, a few years ago, and we had used various psychometric tools to assess the personalities and work preference styles of the individual members. I am always cautious when using these profiles. They show helpful data as to the personality and strengths we’ve developed to date, but they are neither the full picture nor the endgame. In my own on-going evolution, my profiles are now very different to when I began my journey!
At the end of the week, one individual showed me a photo of himself as a beautiful little boy gazing in awe out to the world. He said to me: ‘That’s the ‘me’ I was when I was little. How on earth did I become this cynical and negative person? I don’t want to be him anymore. I want to change.’ We subsequently worked together, and it took time and great focus, but he became the man who could look himself in the mirror with great respect and love, making courageous and authentic choices in his life going forwards.
Cascãd’s core question: ‘What makes your heart sing?’ is an invitation to look at what brings us real joy and passion. It’s also a fundamental question for leaders. The key task of a leader is to inspire and bring hope of a better future. If we are not feeling hopeful, if our heart is not singing with authentic positive energy, we cannot begin to inspire others to follow us. Like establishing trust, the essence of leadership, this is not something we can do/say to others if we are not ‘being’ it in ourselves. So, I call this the most dangerous question in the world. In our spirit of authenticity, we have to begin with being honest with ourselves and ask not only where are our heart is singing, but also in which aspect of our life it isn’t. Denial through forced jollity doesn’t work. Others see/feel through our front: there is a brittle, harsh and disconnected energy which is exhausting to be near. We become increasingly isolated, depressed, cynical and/or harmful to others as well as ourselves. The more power we have, the more harm we will inflict.
I name ‘What makes your heart sing?’ the most dangerous question in the world because it demands great personal transformational change. Whether we choose to respond to the call is our free will, of course, but, like Neo in the Matrix, the glitches only get worse.
In Plug into Bliss, Part 1, I wrote: ‘To counter this culture of grumpiness, we have to make a psychological gearshift, be disciplined to stop our own litany of complaints, and focus on moments of joy i.e., we need to unplug from misery and plug into bliss!
We all have a capacity for joy: psychologically we call this our ‘Free Child’ and it is the only place within us where we can experience a visceral, not cerebral, awe and wonder. We are born with this gift of joy but, as we grow older, we often internalise negative messages from significant others that form our inner ‘Critical Parent’, that judgmental, harsh voice which insidiously attacks our self-esteem. This cynical inner voice abhors and fears our ‘Free Child’.
Our Free Child loves magic, play, fun, dance, stories, comfort and touch. Keep asking yourself: ‘What brings me bliss?’ and ‘What makes my heart sing?’ Dangerous questions I know, but urgently needed and infinitely rewarding!’ Let these questions be your guide and let go of anything or anyone that does not.’
So, in keeping with this invitation, I followed suit to reconnect with my own Free Child. Here’s what I discovered:
My Free Child is very sweet, wise and gentle. She loves to play, dance, giggle and have fun. She loves stories in all forms: book, film, theatre, oral etc. She loves being cosy and she loves to be in stillness. She loves nature and being connected to the magic of the Universe. She loves harmony and is not fearful but very trusting and open and she loves and connects very easily. She sees the best in people and this brings her great joy.
I found it’s like a muscle I’ve not used for a while, and I kept forgetting to listen to her. As I explored this, I realised that my Free Child needs help from other aspects of myself to bring internal integration and wholeness. (See Eric Berne’s Transactional Analysis theory)
I transformed my inner ‘Critical Parent’ into a ‘Championing Parent’, my inner voice that protects and loves me unconditionally and is passionately supportive of me becoming my highest potential as a human being. And yes, she frequently tells me it’s time to switch off and go to sleep!
And I also realised my Free Child doesn’t know how to navigate the world with its pits and serpents. She is beautifully open and sees the best in others which is a very precious quality, but it is this naivety which can leave her exposed and vulnerable. It’s why so many, in reaction to emotional and psychological wounds growing up, choose to close their hearts and minds and become negative and cynical.
So, my Free Child also needs my ‘Conscious Adult’ to navigate the external world and make sense of the whole and big picture.
As I went further into my exploration of connecting to bliss, I realised that there is a big difference between the beautiful naivety of my Free Child and the richer appreciation of bliss that comes from the often brutal sculpting of alchemic experience and wisdom. In a Perspectives Post earlier this year I wrote: ‘It took the catalyst of isolation in that first lockdown to force me to own and show my vulnerability and my need for others in a way I have never really done before. I couldn’t have got through this pandemic without the extraordinary love and support of my family and friends but ultimately, I had to fundamentally change my relationship with myself… And out of this deeper and richer relationship with myself, my relationships with others simultaneously blossomed. All of us here are talking about love and how it took the intensity of the pandemic to force us into awareness of what really matters. As Thomas Cardone says: ‘The last year reaffirmed something that I’ve always known: that it’s our relationships that are important in life.’ And this pandemic has taught us that unconditional love can only start with the relationship with ourselves. Imagine a spring of water, ‘La Source’ in French, deep inside us. If we nourish this ‘source’, it will flow out to others and the world with such joyful abundance.’ The Arc
As I write this, my country faces a political crisis of our own making. Against that backdrop, who can blame us for descending deeper into the cynicism for which we’re known the world over? With so little light to guide us, positivity has become taboo. But amidst the bleakness and despair, one hope remains: that each of us can find the light within ourselves and nurture it into something powerful. I choose this hope, and I hope you will too.
Hannah Elizabeth Greenwood
*’A dance of ever-renewing delight’ translation from the Radiance Sutras by Lorin Roche. With thanks to James Rafael, one of my wonderful yoga teachers, who always inspires me: https://www.jamesrafael.com