WHEN PERFORMANCE MEETS ALIGNMENT
At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.
T.S.ELIOT, Four Quartets
A BETTER LIFE
Everybody wants a better life. It takes a strange person to say: ‘I long to create a miserable future for myself. I hope my children’s lives are blighted. I would like to eat rotting scraps, fall out with my friends, and live where the quality of life is going down the tubes.’
We may define a better life in different ways, but it is part of our humanity to prefer to grow and develop, fulfil promise, and to enjoy and become more.
Preferring pleasure to pain is a given. When things have been rough, we may give more attention to lightening the burden of pressing problems than to realizing hopes, dreams, and aspirations. But whether we steer by the wake behind us or are guided by the stars, our preferred direction is progressive.
Of course, not everything we do has positive consequences. Sometimes it looks as if people make choices that will take them further from fulfilment rather than bring them closer to it. But all that we do is ultimately in the service of some positive intention, however unfortunate the choice of means to satisfy it.
So strong is this thirst for a better life that, not only do we each attempt to satisfy it personally, but many people make their living by helping others improve their lot. Great numbers of social workers, therapists, and counsellors help people overcome obstacles in their lives. And an army of coaches and consultants are busy helping individuals and organizations define and achieve goals. Teachers, lecturers, and trainers work hard to help people develop new competencies. A large part of the work of the medical profession, managers, administrators, civic and political leaders consists in helping people overcome difficulties and realize new possibilities. Every doctor and nurse is part psychologist, every teacher, part counsellor, every business leader, a coach, every priest or religious worker, part counsellor, and every politician, something of a consultant.
Even in our personal relationships, we often find ourselves an informal midwife to some difficult choice or transition. The same holds for families, where parents and grandparents facilitate the growth and development of their children and grandchildren, often long after the child has become an independent adult.
Yet the process of development and how to support it is of such mystery and complexity that it takes committed professionals years of practice to feel they have a model of sufficient richness, depth, and subtlety to accompany others at difficult times in their lives with ease and confidence.
Approaches to the process of development vary so much that it is difficult to reconcile them. At one extreme, for instance, we have approaches to ‘brief therapy’ aiming for rapid solution to specific challenges. At the other, we have the notion of years of analysis to understand and realign the deeper structures and fissures of the psyche.
Our aim in these pages is to provide a practical framework for supporting the process of development – both for those concerned with their own development and for those who want to facilitate the development of the individuals and organisations they work with. We offer an approach to development that is simple, yet comprehensive, and sensitive to the different layers of development – whether negotiating change or supporting the more subtle processes of growth.
WHEN PERFORMANCE MEETS ALIGNMENT – THE ART OF LIVING
While our backgrounds in training, coaching, consulting, and mentoring predispose us to emphasize the professional side of personal development, there is a real sense in which this book is ultimately a handbook in the art of living.
Our aim is to help those who would like to enhance their effectiveness – and those who help them – be more successful in their chosen domain in a way that is respectful both of personal needs and the demands of the context. We would like this book to help people become more dynamic and capable, but with wisdom.
Many inspirational books and seminars aimed at those hoping for success encourage imbalance, stimulating people to squeeze limited resources, without respecting the wider ecology. In these pages, we envisage something more wholesome – a way of being that supports successful action, while in accord with the pattern unfolding in the wider world.
We would like people to enjoy peak performance in a context of heightened well-being. This is the key to the art of living.
The art of living presupposes an intimate synergy between ‘performance’ and ‘alignment’. Performance points to the realm of action. Whoever we are, we realize ourselves in large part in and through what we do. But the quality and effectiveness of our actions depend on our relationship not only with ourselves, but also with our context.
If we only emphasize performance, we are likely to be imbalanced and out of synchrony both with ourselves and with our context. If we only emphasize inner alignment, we are likely to be disengaged and ineffectual.
When performance meets alignment, what we do nourishes and fulfils who we are, while our being infuses what we do, ensuring grace and effectiveness in execution.
There is a great difference between our performance meeting our alignment and the reverse. When alignment meets performance, we have the ability of an accomplished actor to assume a role with conviction. In real life, when alignment is made to serve performance, substance is lost. Alignment in that sense precedes performance.
If there is a dearth of great leadership in the world today, it is because performance is king. Marketeers and presentation specialists are more adept at bringing alignment to performance than the reverse. Media savvy politicians have become the rule rather than the exception in many countries. As a result, patina prevails and substance is missing, to the detriment of principled leadership almost everywhere.
We trust that the approach to development facilitation offered in these pages will not only enrich the work of those who help others grow, but in the process support the emergence of leaders of substance. This book is not about how to change people, but how to enhance performance through greater alignment. The approach to development we share provides a framework for those who want to lead their own lives in a respectful and responsible way. This is a prerequisite for leading others with respect and responsibility.
Since the essential unity of performance and alignment we emphasize here is the key to the development of principled leadership, it is central to the work of coaches, mentors, and all those who seek to stimulate performance in others, as well as for those who simply want to enhance their own mastery of the art of living.
A DEEPER PATTERN
From time to time, strange things happen. An odd coincidence, an unexpected piece of good fortune, or some fortuitous timing may surprise us. Perhaps, we enter a restaurant and there is the very person we wanted to meet or were hoping to avoid. Or the telephone rings just as we are thinking of an old friend, who calls out of the blue. At such moments, we may wonder: is this just an interesting coincidence or does it point to some deeper mystery, some hidden pattern to events?
We may join Baudelaire in a world of mysterious correspondences, as evoked in the following lines:
La nature est un temple où de vivants piliers
Laissent parfois sortir de confuses paroles.
L’homme y passe à travers des forêts de symboles
Qui l’observent avec des regards familiers.
Nature is a temple whose living pillars
Sometimes let forth unclear words.
Man passes there through a forest of symbols
That watch him with a familiar gaze.
Or we may wall ourselves in a fortress of rationalism, in which everything can be explained logically.
Both perspectives can be attractive. And both can lead us astray. One leads to the magical thinking of a child or simple folk, who have not yet understood basic principles of causality. The other kills the beauty and poetry of life, reducing our sense of the magical and sacred to a tedious rationalism in which moments of wonder become ‘mere coincidences’ or ‘just imagination’.
In the West, it is natural for us to take the perspective of the rational mind. We readily think of ourselves as separate selves, distinct from one another and from nature, able to think objectively about the world around us. Such thinking is important. The pathway from the infant’s world, mixed up with projections and fantasies about significant others, to the rational adult, who can think in a scientific way, is hard won and not to be lightly thrown away.
But, at the same time, we are not really separate from each other, nor from the wider world. We are inevitably part of a larger pattern. Poetry and fantasy, space for dreams and imagination, are vitally important. Our sense of beauty and wonder are not only essential ingredients to a feeling of fullness, richness, and deep enjoyment, they are portals to a special kind of sensitivity in which we connect to that larger pattern. They are part of how we come into alignment with the subtle currents of life as a whole. They are ways in which we become aware of how things are developing, so that we can intuit the appropriate response to them, and thus live with wisdom and discernment, choosing the best pathway of action and minimizing the mistakes that can so easily hurt both ourselves and others.
There is, then, we propose, an important middle way between rationalism and magical thinking – one that respects the majesty and mystery of life, without regressing to superstition and vapid pseudo-spirituality. That way involves becoming aware of what we call ‘the Way of Unfolding’, the pattern of transformation within, without, and among us.
The way things happen is important. There is a larger pattern to life. We are inevitably part of that pattern, in which everything is interconnected and everything is evolving and developing in its own way, within the whole.
The whole, too, is developing and evolving in and through its parts. Our own lives have a pattern, a coherence, and a timing, which makes each of us a story that is being told, a process with its own coherence and meaning, unfolding by itself to itself, in ways that we do not always appreciate fully as things happen. Our lives have a rhythm, shape, and pattern, which makes our own evolution and development as natural as the growth of a child to adulthood or the transformation of a seed into a mature plant. That shape or pattern often only becomes clear with hindsight.
From this perspective, whatever happens in our lives, in the normal course of events, is just as it should be. We and the world are perfect as we are, for we are just part of the general pattern of unfolding.
This would normally invite us to be very accepting of things being the way they are right now. And yet, an important part of things being perfect just as they are is our deep longing for a ‘better life’. We inevitably hope for greater happiness and success for those close to us. We wish for our world to become a ‘better place’, in which there is more love, and less struggle and cruelty.
Our longing for things to be other than as they are is also part of how things are as they are in this moment. It is part of the very process of unfolding that we observe in the growth of living systems, in the patterns of evolution in the natural world, and in the story of our own lives.
In our natural quest to improve our lives, to better the conditions of our family or our society, there is both an implicit wisdom and a lot of stupidity. On the one hand, we are simply manifesting and expressing life’s intrinsic tendency to evolve and develop, for order to arise and unfold on the edge of chaos. On the other hand, we can find ourselves swimming against the tide. Often, we do not respect either our own or nature’s rhythms and we discover that the things we want to change stay just as they are, while the things we want to remain constant, mysteriously alter.
The challenge we face is how to align ourselves with the deeper pattern of our lives, so that as much as possible we are at one with the story that is unfolding within and through us. Then, we can enjoy an underlying sense of peace, while participating fully in whatever is happening in our lives.
Life invites and impels us to learn. And the most simple, yet challenging, thing to learn is how to strike a balance between being receptive to the unfolding pattern of events in and around us, while proactively participating with energy and commitment in the shaping of that pattern.
The most comfortable relationship we can enjoy with the inevitable and irresistible process of unfolding lies in a fine balance between receiving and initiating. The Way of Unfolding means not getting in the way of unfolding nor being out of the way, but being at one with it, now receiving, now initiating, as fits, at the right time.
In Bali, where much of this book was written, this is called ‘dharma’. Dharma is the pivotal point between two opposite and complementary tendencies, the one strong and forceful, ‘Vishesh’; the other gentle and receptive, ‘Suksma’. To live in accord with Dharma is to fi nd that subtle
point of balance, where we are receptive, but not passive, active but not oblivious of the larger picture. This is Eliot’s still point in the turning world, the centre of life’s dance.
Dance provides a helpful analogy here. Some dancers say that, in a longer piece, they experience that the whole choreography unfolds in a natural and irresistible way. At each point, the body knows how to respond, because what happens is part of an inevitable flow. When the dancer is at one with this natural flow, the whole process is natural and effortless.
This is important, also, for a life well lived. The dance of life has a subtle and intrinsic choreography. All our learning and experience draws us towards a greater sensitivity to that choreography, so that we dance our own dance, while remaining an integral part of the larger ballet.
The more insensitive we are to the deeper patterns in the choreography of life, the more we experience our lives as struggle. We stumble in the dance of life. As development facilitators, this affects us in two ways. First, if we are out of kilter with the unfolding patterns of life, it is far harder for us to flow elegantly with the client’s unfolding. We will not be in alignment with the tempo of his or her development and will miss opportunities to support what is happening or expect more than what is possible at a particular moment. Second, we will be a poor example to the client of the kind of integration and alignment he or she may need to develop.
This book, then, invites a deeper alignment with the choreography of one’s life and hence with the subtle choreography of life as a whole, so that the development facilitator can be in alignment with the client’s unfolding, while also serving as a model of that alignment in the helping relationship.
Such sensitivity to the implicit choreography of life ultimately lies in a certain kind of awareness, in which we are both engaged as doers and actors, yet in a deeper sense a simple all-embracing witness to the patterns unfolding within and without us.
Awareness is subtle and elusive. It generally takes time to awaken fully to that simple, all-accepting, all-containing witnessing awareness. But its enlivening can be helped by the development of a number of, subtle and universal skills that can stand us in good stead, whoever we are, wherever we are, and whatever we do. The first key is through a greater sensitivity to pattern and how we pattern. This is in part the subject of Chapter One, in which we discuss the deep structure of pattern in general and introduce the notion of ‘generative patterns’, self-unfolding patterns present at every level of the natural world.
In Chapter Two, we go more deeply into the way unfolding manifests in our lives, through the interplay of the forces of change, our ability to learn, and the deeper, long-term process of growth. In the following chapter, we define the nature of change and consider how we can initiate and support it. Chapter Four outlines the key processes that are necessary to manage change fully and develop a higher kind of learning – multileveled thinking, multiple perspectives, questioning, and expanding boundaries. In Chapter Five, we consider the full development of these abilities as part of mature and deep learning. We return to the theme of pattern, considering how we can deepen our learning through perception and management of pattern.
In Chapter Six, we touch the limits of learning. We point to the ambiguous nature of skills, as both expanding our capabilities, while also enmeshing us in habit. We suggest that what we call the ‘Keys to Personal Mastery’ can stimulate growth, while deepening our alignment and enhancing performance. These keys to development presuppose a connection between inner awareness and the more active expressions of our thinking and feeling. The following four chapters each explore one of these keys, dealing respectively with attentiveness, reflection, discernment, and commitment. In Chapter Eleven, we consider how the Keys to Personal
Mastery working together enable us to engage fully and actively in life’s unfolding as it happens, so that we both receive and create the pattern of our lives, not only moment by moment, but also in the slower, less obvious process of growth and development. Lastly, in Chapter Twelve, we return to the notion of the larger connecting pattern and the overall process of unfolding.
This book itself has been intended to reflect a process of unfolding, in the flow of chapters, which can thus benefit from being read sequentially.
However, it is possible for the reader to follow his or her own pattern of reading and skip ahead in places, coming back to other parts later. Readers who like to have a sense of where the whole is leading might dip into the last two chapters, before returning to a more sequential reading.