I am in a coaching session with Andrew (not his real name). Andrew is a senior strategist and policy advisor in the finance sector. He is deeply committed to helping global financial institutions transition to protocols and practices that give us a chance of avoiding climate catastrophe. He is very experienced, highly sought after, and extremely busy.
Andrew is also extremely tired.
As we check in, he describes how tired he is. How he is emailing work stuff late at night. And how, although he knows this is not good for him, he seems not to be able to stop. Taking time off just means there is going to be a bigger pile of work for him waiting on his return. And that’s stressful.
I notice his tiredness. And I notice his resistance to and judgement of the tiredness, what Arnie Mindell calls ‘the edge’. The edge reflects a belief system that blocks or limits us from expressing another side of our personality, a different possibility in life.
We could explore this edge, learning about the resistance and the judgement. But instead, today I am interested in the tiredness. I am interested in this brief glimpse of Andrew lying on the sofa all afternoon. So, we give that some attention. I ask him to just tune into the tiredness, to give it some space.
The importance of rest and relaxation for leaders and activists
Eyes closed, he relaxes in his chair. I ask him to notice his body and follow whatever is happening there and really allow it to happen. Neck relaxing, his head tilts forward and he slides a little toward the ground in his chair.
We follow this process with words and images too. Andrew describes this like, “being soaked and gravitationally pulled into a warm bath”. Resistance is still there – that the bath will swallow him up and drown him. I notice this resistance, give it respect and promise it that we will not forget it. And say that we will not focus on it for now.
Andrew becomes deeply relaxed. He describes being in a state of ‘surrender’ and feeling ‘oddly safe, stable’. A key feeling is that he is “held by something … like two cupped hands gently holding me and pulling me backstage, behind the curtain.”
We follow these feelings, and images.
Asking him to stay with whatever is going on, and particularly with whatever is most valuable and nice for him as he relaxes more, I ask, “who or what is this? What is it that is safe, stable, deeply relaxed and is gently held and supported backstage?”
Andrew says that it is a meadow.
Leadership and the natural world
I am surprised. In my mind meadows are not contained or held in hands. But that is my inner process, my associations, not Andrew’s. And his makes total sense, to him, right now.
It is a meadow.
The meadow is held by the ground and the sky. It exists in a state of natural effortlessness. There is gentle activity as the wild grasses move in the breeze, and yet no effort or struggle whatsoever.
I take on the role of Andrew as his more usual, stressed out, endlessly active mode, while he more fully becomes – the meadow.
We have a sweet, gentle and tender conversation. It takes the meadow a while to understand Andrew. He is so different, with his late night emails, his frantic endless projects and activity.
Andrew tells the meadow he would like to visit it. The meadow says, “yes”. It is a touching and softening moment for them both.
And then, the surprise…
The meadow says that it needs Andrew to visit it.
Something shifts. Something settles, and a deeper relationship is formed between the two.
Andrew needing to visit and lie in the meadow is one thing. Perhaps we might have expected that. But the meadow needing that too is quite another. There are not words to explain why. But there is a definite truth here. A truth that touches the heart.
Our inner struggles mirror our outer work for change
Later we reflect together on this experience. Andrew talks about how he knows he needs time in nature, to rest, recuperate, to ground and be held. But he resists this part of him, pushes it away, as do so many of us. I mention that this is his process – that the entire experience arose simply from us paying just a little attention to his tiredness in the check in. Instead of ignoring it and pushing it away. That’s all. Just listening to that led us to this beautiful sweet dialogue between meadow and man.
Andrew says that it is helpful to have permission to spend time resting with the meadow. That although he knows on one level that it is valuable, there are also many inner judgements and beliefs that it would be not productive, not valuable, a waste of time in a world that needs saving.
It is good, he says, to know it is ok.
I suggest that it is much more than ok. That to lie, relaxed in the meadow is a powerful act of leadership.
I find that people’s personal process is often a mirror of the systemic work they do in the world. In other words, the inner struggle or personal tension (in Andrew’s case his struggle between continual activity and resting in nature) is a mirror of tensions we work with out there.
Professionally Andrew is trying to get the industrial growth model of economics and finance to honour and value the natural world. He is trying to move global financiers’ attention away from merely chasing numbers; towards a system that can value what is not easily counted, and yet what is vital for life.
And in this engaging, committed, expert professional struggle, Andrew finds reflected his own very personal inner challenge.
New leadership requires new Being, not just new Doing
Can he really honour the meadow, when there is so very much to be done?
Can he really allow himself to be held by the grace of earth and sky, when there are deadlines, budgets and targets?
And to the extent that he does, he will start bringing the meadow into the boardroom.
The butterflies and insects will flutter and fly around his presentations, beyond the rigid boundaries of right angled slides.
His reports will be suffused with the sweet essence of yarrow and wild clover.
And this will make a difference.
It really will.
So, should you pass a meadow sometime in spring or summer and glimpse, as you pass, a bespectacled banker lying in the generous and tender embrace of the earth, please know that this is an act of leadership as courageous and conscious as any you are likely to witness.
And if you do, please consider then finding your own meadow, forest, mountain or stream. And finding your own courage to visit and pay respect.
You need it.
The meadow, forest, mountain or stream needs it too.
And this will then be part of your own leadership.
And it will make a difference.