From Purposeless Fear to Fearless Purpose

What a rich and beautiful evening! Last night, Stephane Leblanc and Jeanne Rahilly of the International Centre for Conscious Leadership gathered a wonderful mix of generous, thoughtful people to explore the role of fear in leadership, no matter what the context. The group itself might have been gift enough. But we were also held and inspired by guest speaker Bhaskar Goswami, who runs two companies as well as teaching yoga and mindfulness. I left the gathering with a head full of insights, a heart full of gratitude and a body filled with that rare, precious mix of deep peace and bubbling joy.

These are a few of the insights that stand out for me.

  • There is a difference between useful heightened alertness and purposeless fear.
  • We feel fear when we focus on an imaginary future “what if.” What if I fail? What if I get hurt? What if I lose my job? None of these scenarios is real, in that moment. Therefore, our feeling of fear is fundamentally a choice.
  • When heightened alertness turns to fear, our ability to respond to the situation diminishes. We lose our sense of flow. Our access to intuition is cut off. We fail to notice the full array of information available.
  • Therefore, even if our imagined scenarios may be valid possibilities, the choice to feel fear about them in that moment is not a helpful one.
  • Stress is a form of fear — and a particularly insidious one. Our society justifies stress, celebrating it as a badge of honor and a sign of our seriousness and responsibility. But, in fact, stress is simply fear of an imaginary “what if.” Stress from time pressure, for example, is really the fear that I won’t have time to finish — and that this will perhaps lead to some other negative consequences.
  • The alternative to fear (and stress) is two things: (1) present moment awareness and (2) equanimity — or curiosity, even — about the current circumstances. In the combination of these two states, we are open to our deepest wisdom and our broadest set of possibilities.
  • A useful shortcut to those two things is what Bhaskar calls “the Golden Frame of Gratitude.” “I dare you to try to be grateful and afraid at the same time,” he said, playfully. “You can’t do it.” In any situation, he suggested, we can ask, “What’s great about this?” Part of this practice is noticing that we’re always either thriving or we’re learning — both of which are worthy of gratitude.

At one point, Bhaskar explained that we learn things in one of three ways: (1) through inference, when someone tells us something; (2) through discernment, when we reflect on something and develop our own conclusions; and (3) through direct experience. What I especially appreciated about the evening was the opportunity for all three types of learning:

  • We heard from Bhaskar and from each other.
  • We had ample opportunity to talk through and think through our own reflections.
  • And most of all, we experienced fearless leadership in how Bhaskar led the discussion, with lightness, humor, easy responsiveness and generosity, and also with absolute clarity of purpose.

As we ended the evening, we each said a few words of gratitude to Bhaskar, Stephane, Jeanne and each other. And in one case, the word “grace” came up. I was struck by the connection between gratitude, generosity, generativity and grace — they must surely share the same root, I thought. Our practice of fearless gratitude is fundamentally a stance of generosity — toward ourselves, each other, our projects and the present moment. It is a means of inviting and even cultivating grace. And it is a powerfully effective pathway to creativity and generativity, enabling new possibilities to become manifest. How fascinating!

It was a joy to be so fully human with other kind-hearted souls. My thanks to Stephane and Jeanne for bringing us together.

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