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Meditations on Patience, Tensions, Relationships and Seeing Everyday as a Learning Lesson

January 6, 2017


‘We tend to think of meditation in only one way. But life itself is a meditation.’ Raul Julia

‘What is within us is within everything. Once we understand this truth, we step outside of the parameters of our individual self and come to realise the power that is within us. This shift in awareness is a very simple step that has profound consequences.’ Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

‘We are all living in cages with the door wide open.’ George Lucas (paraphrasing Rumi)

‘When you judge another, you do not define them you define yourself.’ Anon

Depth psychologists refer to the ‘small self’ and the ‘true Self’ within us, which relates to what other practitioners such as Maslow and Barrett refer to as the ‘ego’ and the ‘soul’.  In this Meditation we shall be exploring (amongst other things) the relationship between our ego and soul within us, and how this ego-soul dynamic influences the quality of our relations with others.

The ‘small self’ is our ‘ego persona’ which has been developed through our experiences, learnings, education, social conditions and acculturations. It pervades our daily waking consciousness and is there to help us deal with the challenges and opportunities of everyday life.

That said, it can actually hinder us, and regularly does, as it has a tendency to dominate our daily awareness to such an extent that it can suffocate our ‘true Self’, in-turn undermining the potential for our deeper essential nature (consisting of our unique creativity, wisdom and love) to shine through us. This is because the ‘small self’ seeks to protect us and keep us safe, but in so doing, it keeps us ‘small’ as its natural tendency is to react to change and tension in a defensive way, seeking protection and security. Yet change and tension bring the opportunity for transformation and learning if we so choose to embrace them responsively rather than reactively.

{NB – As an aside, there is interesting research by leading neuroscientists suggesting that the nature of our left and right brain hemispheric awareness can contribute to an already overly dominant ego-awareness i.e. if we are more predominantly influenced by left-brained awareness we focus in, mechanise, reduce and polarise situations, and this polarising tendency comes with a heightened sense of separation of self from other, heightened oppositional mind-set, and heightened ego-awareness, which then crowds out the more relational, embodied, kinaesthetic, somatic, intuitive, soulful awareness of the right-brain hemisphere (which is more open to the wisdom of our heart, gut, deeper bodymind and Nature).  Put simple, we are more centred, open, authentic, creative, wise and compassionate when we have a more balanced left and right brain hemispheric awareness then when we are more predominantly in left-brained awareness.  Modern culture, digitisation, reductionism and materialism exacerbate left-brained awareness according to Iain McGilchrist and other leading neuroscientists, heightening an already overly dominant ego-awareness within an increasingly individualistic culture. This tendency is actually undermining our personal and collective potential as Homo sapiens – Greek for ‘wise beings’.}

During our life-experiences we have picked up habituations, patterns of behaviour and judgemental projections that form a part of our ego-persona. Also, during our life we have attempted to deny or suppress mannerisms and feelings because we find them unsuitable for the ego-personification we seek to portray in order to fit-in and be accepted by our ‘tribe’. These suppressed aspects form what psychologists sometimes refer to as our ‘shadow’ – aspects pushed out of the light of our daily consciousness into the shadowy depths of our ‘unconscious’ yet still influencing us through our emotions, reactions, and interactions in often uncontrolled or partially mediated ways.

We react to situations with well-trodden habits. The more our behaviours are ingrained in us the more difficult they are for us to acknowledge and transform. While these well-trodden behaviours may give us a certain security and consistency in our persona, they can undermine our personal development. They can also undermine our relations, as our defensiveness, judgemental perspective, impatience and reactivity actually undermine the potential for synergy that could result from relational tensions as we go about our day-to-day.

Hence, our personal development is intimately entwined with our communal and societal development.  No man is an island.

There may be moments – no matter how brief – where we sense the deeper nature of our ‘soul’ shining through when our ego-persona is either rarefied or overwhelmed due to a rupturing circumstance, a vision or peak experience, a bolt of inspiration, or an easing and ungrasping of our ego-awareness through contemplation, meditation, exercise, relaxation, trance, hypnosis or sleep.

This can feel like a ‘home-coming’, and is a very natural part of who we are. The more neuroscientists understand our neurology, the more we can relate this psychological shift to biological shifts such as head-heart-gut entrainment and enriched inter-hemispheric inter-relationality of the left and right brain hemispheres enhancing the natural flow of intuitive, somatic and emotional awareness into the analytical narrowing-down rationality of the left-brain.

As we sense into and develop our ego-soul dynamic through personal ‘mastery’ we can encourage our daily awareness to move beyond the incessant desire of the ego to run the show, in to a healthier ego-soul dynamic. This allows our body-mind to improve its natural coherence: we shift from a dis-embodied grasping and reactive attention into a more embodied, receptive and responsive experience of life, and with it a shift from dis-ease to well-being as we learn to open up to more of our ‘true Self’.

Certain techniques and practices can help enhance our ego-soul dynamic. This mastery allows our deeper truer nature to emerge more and more into our lives while our ego-persona adjusts to this personal developmental process (what Jung famously called ‘individuation’).

Ego-Enslavement –> Soul-Emancipation

We human beings are essentially social, empathic, sensitive creatures. Hence, we cultivate our development through the relationships we take part in during our lives.  And so, learning to enhance how we relate in more soulful authentic ways with others is an essential aspect of our personal mastery.  Often the most challenging or intense relations provide the richest learning and development for us if we so choose to learn from the tensions the relationships provide. This requires courage, practice and determination to seek to transform ourselves in ways that our ego (or ‘small self’) can perceive as a threat to us, as it means letting go of tendencies and habituations we have developed in order to protect and enhance our ego-persona as we grew up.

This ability to open up to our deeper humanity and embrace relations with others in more human ways is at the heart of today’s tumultuous challenges.

While we face a multitude of crises – of resources, of pollution, of social inequality, of ecological degradation, and so forth – underpinning these is a crisis of relations – a crisis in terms of how we relate with ourselves, each other, our neighbourhoods, the world, and our sense of place and purpose within this world.

To use psychological jargon, we face an existential crisis of how the ego and soul relate with each other within us and through our relationships.  How we each learn to deal with this, is on-the-one-hand a very personal existential crisis, and yet also on-the-other-hand a very social and global existential crisis. It is of primary importance to anyone seeking to become an effective leader or change-agent.

There are many signs of this existential crisis undergoing a metamorphosis: the rise in awareness and interest in mindfulness and contemplative practices, and the increasing take-up in ecologically and spiritually aware business practices, the increasing recognition in IQ/EQ/SQ and extended epistemology within leadership development, for instance.

What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls the butterfly.’ Richard Bach

We are personally and globally re-engaging with the timeless wisdom of Nature, i.e. learning to sense into our deeper nature while learning to live authentically through our relations with our selves, each other and our more-than-human world.  This is THE epic challenge of our times.

Life is a rich milieu of relations, and the quality of our engagement in these relations is the learning-forum for us in embracing this epic challenge of our times. Each day offers us a multitude of chances to embrace this epic challenge through our own learning and development.

‘This world requires the creative tension of opposites, and it is here we can see the miracle of multiplicity. Unity is not the miracle; the miracle is in the diversity.’  Rashed Feild

At the heart of how life works is the wisdom of reciprocating synergistic energy that impels organic growth. This is what György Doczi refers to as ‘dinergy’ (his own word created by combining the Greek dia – meaning ‘across, through, opposing’and energy). In other words integration and differentiation are co-creative. This goes directly to the root of one of life’s paradoxes concerning why at every turn we find tensions. The creative communion between these seemingly opposing forces is what induces growth and breathes life.  Without tension there would be no life.  Our quality of engagement in the tension is what determines the quality of transformation, growth and learning that spawns from the tension.

Tensions themselves are not just healthy, they are the driving force for evolution, diversity and emergence.

Differing opinions, differences in understanding, differences in pace or perspective, varying acceptance and openness to ideas, and so forth, are all a very real and important part of life’s rich tapestry.

Our ego-persona might wish that life was a plain sail, with everyone agreeing with us and saying things that concur with our perspective. And, to a certain extent, it is only natural to find ourselves getting frustrated, impatient, upset and mildly aggressive or defensive when we are faced with tensions. Yet, this can (and does) undermine our individual, social and global potential for greatness.

feedback nature 3

The first step in our mastery is ‘self-awareness’: actually taking notice of our selves when we are getting frustrated, impatient, tense, reactive or overly-excited is the all-important first step. We take notice, we pause, we sense into these feelings that are arising in us, and we observe these feelings.  Simple.

Simple, perhaps, but not easy; especially when we have well-worn habits of reaction.

Yet, without this first step of noticing the feeling emerging inside ourselves, we are but lost in the reaction – we are trapped, enslaved by our own personas. Our reactions manifest in our outer behaviour or we merely suppress these reactions while providing an artificial façade of acceptability. As a result the situation unfolds in a manner that is no longer in harmony with our deeper nature, as it is a reaction of our ego-persona, rather than a more masterful response of ego-soul attunement.  This reaction, pollutes or undermines our environment in varying degrees rather than enhancing it, we dance out-of-tune with life. We become life-denying rather than life-giving. Yet, this slip-up is learning in itself, if we have the self-awareness to notice our reaction and the affect it has on our environment, and perhaps later that day we take time to pause and reflect, sensing into what happened and the feelings that welled up within us. This can provide the insight for real transformative learning to take place.   In this regard, each day is our learning forum.

Step One – ‘self-awareness’: Notice the feeling of aggravation, fear, impatience, judgement, frustration or anger. Notice it within ourselves, within our body, sense in to it.  We can practice doing this when on our own, or with a partner, as we recollect tense situations and recall how we reacted, and within our body we can sense into the contraction and sensation that emerged within us.  The more we practice this sensing into the body, the more our self-awareness enhances. Simple.

The more we are able to sense when we are coming off-centre the more we give ourselves the chance to sense into what is going on within the body, and we allow the feelings that are being triggered within the body to become our friend, as they are informing us of something that is triggering a reaction in us.  Then, we do not try and suppress the feelings of impatience or frustration, but rather we go into these feelings inside ourselves, noticing them and embracing them, like an old friend.  This way, the feeling will not subsume us into the reactive behaviour it provokes (no matter how mild it may seem on the outside, e.g. interrupting someone hastily, or projecting our own fears or needs for acceptance on to the other person, snapping at someone with a barbed comment, positioning ourselves with an egotistical edge, etc.)

‘The purpose of spiritual life is not to create some special state of mind. A state of mind is always temporary. The purpose is to work directly with the most primary elements of our body and our mind, to see the way we get trapped by our fears, desires, and anger, and to learn directly our capacity for freedom.  As we work with them, the demons will enrich our lives. They have been called ‘manure for enlightenment’…To practice is to use all that arises within us for the growth of understanding, compassion and freedom.’   Jack Kornfield

Then comes the second step of mastery – ‘self-inquiry’.

Upon practicing self-awareness over and over, we start to notice our habitual reactions and patterns of conditioned behaviours.  Some of these will have been cultivated through our experience of life, perhaps for good reason to start with, e.g. to defend and stabilise us during harrowing times at school or at home as a child, or as we embarked on our first career steps. All of these habitual reactions will contain a blend of fear and love within them, e.g. a fear of being alienated or thought of as a loser is blended with a need to be loved and accepted.


By spending time at the end of each day – say ten minutes in bed before sleep, or ten minutes on the bike or in the car coming back from work – we can start to get used to self-inquiring into difficult interactions and tense moments during the work day just gone. In an ideal world, we start to make adequate space and time in our schedules to really go deep in this self-inquiry, for instance by going for a walk in nature or sitting next to a favourite tree or sitting reflectively each evening, but this is not always something our schedule allows.   The more relaxing and natural the space the better, as then we can be more gentle, nurturing and open with ourselves as we inquire deeply into the feelings of the day and what lies beneath these reactions. Nature has been proven to relax us and enhance our inter-hemispheric brain integration, and so a walk in Nature can help our ego-soul dynamic as we reflect and self-inquire.

We need to hold an attitude of gentleness and openness as we sense into our pains and fears.  In this way, we also learn to become gentle and open with others and their challenges. Deeper love, care and attention for ourselves helps us provide deeper care and empathy for others.  This helps us work through the perceived obstacles and tensions our relationships present us with – which are actually the very learnings we need to take on-board as we learn to embrace the greatest challenge of our time, our existential crisis of relations, starting with ourselves and our daily relationships.

It has often be said that two people working closely together and in a special way exhibit ‘soul resonance’, a being-to-being connection that can provide a powerful alchemy, not only in the ‘doing’ (outer manifestations of productive and successful enterprise) but also in the ‘being’ (inner manifestations of personal transformation for each other and others in their sphere of influence).

What so often happens is that we undermine these ‘soul resonances’ with our own ego-personas. We get in the way of what life is able to offer us, and so we spoil our own alchemy. We may do well at times, but other times things are out-of-synch and we often blame or project on to the other. This is human nature, and a very real part of our ego-persona, but is not actually what our deeper truer nature is seeking.

Our ego-personas are afraid of the personal transformations our deeper soul requires of us as that takes us into the unknown, in to unchartered and choppy waters, where our composure is cracked open for something greater to grow.

‘The very feelings that at first seem most threatening can actually promote deeper intimacy as two people learn to open more fully to life by making room for all our different feelings in a relationship. When we don’t fight these feelings, they gradually relax, and then we can learn to ride them instead of being carried away by them…If we can see the volatility of our feelings as a sign that a relationship is deeply affecting us and shaking loose old karmic patterns, we can let them arise and pass through us without condemning ourselves for them.’  John Welwood

Through our self-awareness and self-inquiry, we begin the arduous yet deeply rewarding journey of walking the path of self-discovery which brings with it relational authenticity, love and wisdom. It is this that transforms the world, and it is this that our humanity needs now more than anything.

‘There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.’ Morpheus, The Matrix

Some tips for helping us with self-awareness and self-inquiry as we go about our daily business:

  • Somatic awareness – our ‘soma’ is our body, the more we can be aware of the feelings within our body, of how we are standing or sitting, of our posture and any held constrictions or tensions, the more we bring our awareness into the body and out of the ego-chattering head. This provides two things simultaneously a) it informs us of the quality of our ‘being’ at that moment and so helps us give more attention to our being-within-the-doing b) it helps us become more present, taking us out of our ego-persona for a brief moment to sense into our body sensations, this allows more conscious energy from our body and soul to come into our ego-chattering head, and so heightening our presence, our self-awareness and our ability to be responsive rather than reactive to the situation unfolding around and within us;


  • Breathing – noticing our breathing, the quality and pace of our breathing, is a great way to bring our awareness back into the present moment even in the midst of a tense meeting. This subtle shift allows our perceptual horizon and conscious awareness to widen and provides an opportunity for enhancing our ego-soul dynamic in the heat of the debate. For instance, we can imagine the swirling spirally flow of air as it comes up through our nostrils and also as it swirls and flows down out of our nostrils again. The richer our imagination is in embracing the sensation and rhythm of our breathing, the better. The more we practice this, the more we affirm that far from this body-awareness being a distraction it actually enhances our quality of relationality and presence.


  • Tongue on roof of our mouth – simply placing the tongue gently on the roof of our mouth while we are listening to the other does two things simultaneously a) as we move our tongue on the roof we can sense the sensations, which helps presence us with body-awareness while easing our ego-grasping intensity of the moment b) it provides a preventative measure to our mouths opening and blurting out a reactive or impatient response or interruption, and so invites in spaciousness for deeper listening and attentiveness rather than a hurried half-baked reaction.


  • Heart and gut awareness – the more we enhance our somatic awareness, the more able we shall be in sensing in to the feelings, sensations and constrictions within our heart and gut areas. Pioneering neurobiology now confirms what mystics have known for millennial, that the heart and gut are powerful organs of perception directly involved in our sensing-and-responding of our environment and hard-wired to the brain. By sensing in to our heart and gut during meetings or conversations, we allow ourselves to access more of our natural intelligence, and also to sense into any feelings before they provoke ego-reactions or unconscious bias reactions.  This way we can also embrace each conversation as a continuous learning into our own self-inquiry, upon our path of Knowing Thy Self.


  • Inquiring, questioning, listening – The art of effective dialogue is in learning how to create a space for co-creative sharing, and an important step in that direction is in learning to listen effectively – not just to what is being said but to all the body language of the other and also to our own body language and feelings germinating within ourselves; to really open up beyond our reactions and judgements, to be fully present for the other – this is an art, and like any art, the key is in practice, practice, practice. The way in which we question and inquire can encourage the other to open up and share more, rather than closing them down or trying to get them to agree to our view or position. This is a shift from an essentially ego-dominated conservation to a more soulful dance. This kind of questioning and listening can also help us slow down our urge to react while paying attention to our own projections and habituations before they take hold of us. The art with practice becomes mastery, with each conversation helping us practice this mastery. Difficult situations (whether they be with a close family member of work colleague) can then be seen for the fruits of learning they may offer us if we so choose to see.


  • Grounding – often amid the busyness and stress of the day we become ‘ungrounded’ – not only off-centre but not adequately ‘connected’ to the ground below us. Through the simple practice of bringing our awareness into our legs, ankles and feet and then sensing the ground beneath our feet, we allow our awareness to consciously ‘re-connect’ with the ground below us, even if we are a few stories up in a concrete building.  Using our imagination, we can deepen this sense of grounding by imagining roots growing out of the soles of our feet into the floor below us and then through the structure of the building and its foundations, theses roots radiate deep into the soil and Earth below us.  This practice of enhancing our awareness of connection with the ground below us has a noticeable effect on us, and hand-in-hand with enhancing our body-awareness in general, it stabilises us and helps us move out of reactivity and more into a centred responsiveness.

Neuroscience shows us that lots of small practices every day are the best way to change our neural pathways and habits. Short bursts of ‘centring’ – say noticing our posture or focusing on our breath or sensing into our heart and gut or sensing the ground beneath us – say twenty times a day for a couple of seconds each time is the backbone of self-mastery.

It is through these small steps that we transform ourselves, and in turn, transform our environment.

As Mother Teresa profoundly said:

‘We cannot do great things, only small things with great love.’

Let’s finish on a Meditation question to regularly ask ourselves:

What are the challenges and tensions I am facing in this current relationship helping me learn about myself?

To explore ‘the new paradigm’ further, join the Face Book community here and for more on the Future Fit Leadership Academy visit and for Giles Hutchins’ personal website

Giles Hutchins  is a thought leader, speaker and adviser on the future of business and is author of the books The Nature of Business and The Illusion of Separation.  His latest book is Future Fit, watch a short 3 minute video about it here 


One Comment leave one →
  1. January 7, 2017 5:32 pm

    Giles, This is a wise piece you wrote. With a systems lens, you bring into the foreground the central need for developing soul wisdom in our world today. Thank you for this thoughtful and practical piece. Yours, Roy Reynolds, Atlanta, GA (USA)

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