When the S*#! Hits the Fan, What Colour is Your Raincoat?
The blow-up had been building for some time. It just needed the right spark to set off the explosion. Now, the shit was flying and if there was ever a time for some good protective clothing, this was it.
I don’t like conflict and I have a longtime pattern of trying to ease it, or sidestep it, or outright deny it. Perhaps it’s my Libran nature to look for harmony and balance in relationships. Or perhaps it’s a fear of disappointing others and receiving their anger. Maybe it’s arrogance–thinking my way is best and not wanting to listen to others. Most likely, it’s a bit of all the above.
As the executive director of my worksite, I had seen several issues building that weren’t being acknowledged. Some of them for years. Although I knew I needed to address the ‘elephants in the room,’ I had been unsure what to do. In the past, my uncertainty had made me passive and taken away my power. Needless to say, avoiding such simmering tension doesn’t work well when you’re in a leadership role and have to make hard decisions.
One day recently, the spark ignited. The stress came to a head in a staff meeting, where tensions ran high and I found myself being attacked.
Respond, don’t react
I could have easily slipped into my old patterns of avoiding conflict or getting defensive. Instead, I was able to lean into the tension, while remaining grounded within myself.
What had changed? The biggest thing was the opportunity to get world class training in seeing my own shortcomings and leaning into emotional tension.
For the past four years I have lived, studied, and worked at Clear Sky, a meditation retreat center. We live there under the direction of the founding teachers, Doug and Catherine Sensei. Clear Sky is an experiment in creating a modern monastery. Life there is a ‘living lab’, where we explore spiritual growth in a conscious community. We create systems and ways of being with each other, then we change them as needed. We learn to adapt quickly to change.
That’s why we also call life at our Clear Sky Retreat Center a ‘pressure cooker’. I can’t pretend it’s easy or pleasant all the time. But–just as with climbing a mountain it’s hard to appreciate how high you’ve come until you stop and look down–so too it’s by recognizing how I respond differently to conflicts or crises at work that I see how much I’ve changed over the past four years.
Bringing mindfulness to work
By living and practicing in the living lab and pressure cooker that is Clear Sky, and practicing mindfulness meditation and karma yoga meditation, I have learned about how to make the best rain jacket for weathering the storms of life:
- Having my unwholesome communication and ego-defense patterns pointed out regularly. It makes it easier for me to see them and change them;
- A regular meditation practice that grounds and stabilizes me;
- Guiding principles and a clear vision that assist me in orienting to and responding to stress;
- And finally, knowing that there really isn’t a lot I can control, I do the best I can in each moment and learn to not be attached to the results.
Clear Sky operates on five basic principles. There was one that strongly applied during that staff meeting, “Communication Shapes the Spaces Where We Meet”. in other words, how we communicate will have a huge impact on how we can work, live, love, and play together.
Having had my communication patterns compassionately pointed out to me by my Teachers and fellow residents at Clear Sky, it made it much easier for me to see the poor communication as it manifested in the staff meeting. I could acknowledge my own, both past and in that moment, and also skilfully point out to others how their communication patterns had contributed to the problem.
From this–a week later in the next meeting–people acknowledged some of their patterns that had been unhealthy, and we all agreed to commit to consciously improving our communications with each other.
I recognize that part of being in a leadership role at work is showing and embodying the values and aspirations of our Agency. At Clear Sky, we do this. Daily, we state our commitment to being of service to all beings to help ease suffering. One way we do this is by compassionately challenging each other to support mutual growth. Now, this doesn’t mean that everyone always likes it, or is immediately open to what they hear. Yet, we all do our absolute best, including learning to communicate more skilfully.
At work, my position as leader sometimes puts me at odds with individual team members. I have learned that discussion and inclusion are important, and yet sometimes decisions get made that people may not like. If I can be clear about my motivation, and give my best effort, this will bring the best results. After all, there are too many variables in the world to believe that I have much control over what goes on. I can do what I can, and then trust that the universe is unfolding as it should.
In the staff meeting, then, I could also acknowledge that people’s comments and reactions were coming from their fear of change. And I could do that without giving up on the guiding values.
So what colour is my raincoat?
My raincoat can be multi-coloured. It can be the crystal clarity of clear vision and purpose. It can be the red of wholesome speech. Or the rosy-peach colour of lovingkindness, as I hold space for people who are in fear or anger. And I have learned that wearing this raincoat, I can lean into conflict, being aware and patient with my old patterns of avoidance, while practising the fresh ways of being that we are forging and refining in Clear Sky’s living lab.
Thanks to all my teachers, especially Qapel and Sensei, Clear Sky’s founding teachers.
May it benefit all beings!
Edited by Andy Rogers & Ava MacLean
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