Few questions are more challenging than "How did we get here?". That moment of discomfort when we find ourself in a predicament that appears to have suddenly occurred - a client has disappeared, the business is in a crisis, a relationship is going down the tubes. There are two immediate options that come to mind, to blame someone else, or, take responsibility.
The latter is more hard work but can yield phenomenal results.
As I write, much of England is in the midst of turmoil over the death of Baroness Margaret Thatcher and the newspaper headlines following her death ranged from "The Woman Who Saved Britain" (Daily Mail, April 6th 2013), to "The Woman Who Divided A Nation" (Daily Mirror, ibid.), to harsh attacks from the left-wing press such as The Guardian. There were parties celebrating her passing in working-class areas such as Brixton, while the Metropolitan Police is gearing up for a state funeral next wednesday on par with that of Winston Churchill.
Most interesting of all, her death has sparked up old controversies and rows as if this were 1988 all over again with people furious about her approaches to taxation policies, privatisation and social benefits. I want to say, "excuse me ladies and gentlemen..but that was 25 years ago. Maybe it is time to stop blaming, get over it and start taking some responsibility?".
Alas, it is easier to blame someone else for our misfortunes whether it is the government, the former boss, grumpy relative or estranged spouse. "If the recession hadn't happened, my business would have been better, my life would have been great, I could have been a contender, blah, blah blah".
Whilst it is easy to criticise others, how often are we guilty of being stuck in a blame culture? How frequently do we retell an old story about something that happened in our youth and use that as the basis for our current situation? The chaise longues of many a therapist are replete with people regularly replaying the past, and keeping themselves entrenched in the past as a result.
One approach to dissolving our current problems and empowering ourselves in a new direction is to look to our modern situation lethrough ancient eyes. Leviticus tells of the Metzora, someone who is in a state of suffering that, the rabbis teach, has come about as a result of their actions and behavior (1).
"This is the law concerning the Metzora when he is purified and placed under the jurisdiction of the priest. The priest shall go outside the camp, where he shall examine the Metzora to determine that the [physical manifestation of the behaviour] (2) has been healed…The person undergoing purification shall then immerse in a ritual bath (mikveh) and thus complete [the first part] of the purification process. He may return to the camp, but he must remain outside his tent for seven days" (Leviticus 14: 1-8) (3).
Let's go ritualistic! We can do a contemporary reading of this which will directly apply to our business and to our life.
As soon as we take responsibility for a situation which we do not like, we are effectively becoming the Metzora. This is not about blaming ourselves or making ourselves wrong, but merely making the statement that we have the power to change things in our life. We are taking back our power rather than blaming somebody else.
The next stage is to invoke our "inner priest"; to ask where we need to change our behaviour and to question what we can do differently. We metaphorically - or literally - immerse ourselves in water which washes away our old behaviours and ways of being, and we spend some serious time reflecting on how we can act differently. The seven-day period is a metaphorical space to think about all of the many ways that we can use our power now that we have taken it back into our personal domain.
In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (1989), Stephen Covey talked about the then-groundbreaking idea of the 'circle of influence', looking at how the most effective people will primarily take the actions that will have the greatest affect. So, spending time complaining and moaning is unlikely to grow a bigger client base or improve a relationship, whereas actively networking or buying flowers may have a greater return on investment!
Today - as with every day - is an opportunity to take back your power, redeem unhappy situations and create a life of success.
HOW TO APPLY THIS IN THE BOARDROOM: Identify a currently unsuccessful situation and ask where you are retelling old stories that disempower you? Take 7 minutes (corresponding to the 7 days) and meditate, reflecting on all the areas where you can have a positive effect. Also, look at all of the situations where you are blaming other people. Make a big-ass list of all the times you're pointing the finger at someone else and start taking responsibility for the changes that you are able to make!
HOW TO APPLY THIS ON THE YOGA/MEDITATION MAT: Identify a situation which makes you unhappy and drop into a deeper meditation where you lightly hold this question and see which answers emerge: "How can I act differently?". If you have a physical injury or emotional discomfort, consider ways that you may have in some way contributed towards the current situation, or at least name some active steps that you can take to make some improvements. In a yoga posture, for example, you may explore what you are able to do in any posture, rather than focusing on what you can't do within the pose.
Based on Parshat Tazria-Metzora with teachings from Rabbi Matis Weinberg and Rabbi Dr Raphael Zarum.
(1) It is usually associated with negative speech (Lashon Hara).
(2) My own translation of this phrase
(3) Translation from Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan "The Living Torah"
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