“The opposite of war isn’t peace, it’s creation.”
–The cast of Rent
When I think about the fundamental reason why I do the work I do every day, the answer always comes back loud and clear:
So that people – the people I know, love and support – can feel more alive.
But what is aliveness exactly?
And why is it the holy grail for this somatics practitioner, women’s leadership coach and organizational consultant?
In a recent conversation with a group of colleagues, we tackled this very question. Among us were a number of practitioners who had been studying mindful leadership for over twenty years.
And yet… as each of us spoke, it became apparent that we had still barely scratched the surface of our innate capacity as human beings to feel – with absolute freedom – the full spectrum of sensations and emotions that should be our birthright as human beings.
Do I take this as an indicator that somatic practice doesn’t work?
More powerfully, I take it as an indicator that our species has a lot of unlocking, unraveling and healing still to do. The road is long. And the work can be confronting.
Allowing ourselves to feel – truly – as joyful, radiant, expressive, and alive as we did at five years old – is a path that could take a lifetime.
Check in with yourself for a moment, to see if this rings true.
Close your eyes if you like. Take a deep breath. Let yourself float back in time just briefly…
When was the last time you felt fully, deeply, and fully alive?
What were you doing?
Who was around?
Let yourself really feel it in your body. What were the sensations? The emotions? What were you hearing, seeing, touching, tasting? And were you enjoying it?
Perhaps it was just this afternoon, at a gathering of friends, watching your favorite sports team crush it on TV. Or perhaps it was much less recently. Maybe a good number of years ago: the thrill of your wedding day, the overwhelming sensation of love present at the birth of a child, or a rush of knowing delight in the moment you first fell in love.
When it comes to aliveness, it isn’t that we don’t get glimpses of what’s possible. Many of us do. But many of us also find these moments to be fleeting. Hard to re-create on purpose. And frustratingly far between.
Our capacity to tolerate these sensations plays a substantial role in orchestrating our experience. It influences how frequently we encounter them, how long they last, and the intensity with which we feel them. When we cannot fully tolerate them, we unconsciously turn them down, or move away.
In fact, many of us unintentionally take actions every day that block these emotions outright. (And sadly, many of us get rewarded by our family, friends and employers for doing so.) These embodied habits act like internal glass ceiling. They cap our ability to feel. And they cap our capacity for joy.
The good news is, I have found in over a decade of embodied leadership coaching that it is possible to raise the ceiling on our body’s capacity to feel them.
And (in the long run at least) it’s always good thing.
In raising this ceiling, we gain greater access to our own life-force energy – the creative fuel we draw from in order to build our lives, craft our work, and pursue our dreams.
But… how does this apply to my leadership?
These days, there’s a LOT of talk about stress reduction. “How can I stay centered and calm while getting even more things done?” Yet keeping calm and carrying on is not the key to inspiring leadership.
Rather, inspiring leadership is about producing an experience of true generativity with and for your constituents.
In order to “capture the hearts of your people,” you need to be able to feel – and lead with – your own. This kind of leadership Is about breathing more deeply. But it’s also about awakening the senses (yours and others'). Tapping into your shared humanity. Feeling good together. Coming alive… and inviting them to come with you.
Sounds lofty? Let’s make it more concrete. Take for example the (incredibly common) goal of increasing your satisfaction at work.
Over the past month I’ve had the privilege to coach a number of talented individuals who were in process of considering, or actually executing, a transition at work.
The majority of these leaders were already in roles that would be considered “successful” by the outside world – but something was still missing for them. And, at the level of the game they were playing, it wasn’t an easy thing to describe.
In our initial conversation, they would struggle to put words to the reason they knew it was time for something different, saying things like, “I just don’t quite feel…. alive…” And, while they were still considered high performers, they themselves knew that their capacity for impact had also decreased.
While the tug of the soul’s longing is a perfectly fine reason to go out on a limb and try something new, it’s a tough thing to articulate. And even tougher thing to build a job description around.
Imagine saying to your potential employer – “well I left because… I couldn’t feel myself anymore.”
And, “my primary criteria in my next role is to be “lit up” by my work – to feel like I felt when I was twelve years old and won the science fair (or… fill in the blank with your own moment of early professional glory).”
It may sound ridiculous, but there’s something both potent and incredibly honest about this longing. Taking heed leads to a deeper listening, and ultimately the kind of right-fit that dream jobs are made of.
The bravest, boldest and best leaders I have ever coached have been willing to surrender themselves to the call and take the risk to follow it. And it started with them allowing their deeper feelings of joy and aliveness to speak again... so that they could listen.
For some of these leaders, heeding the call did mean changing companies in order to get their mojo back.
But for others, simply raising their own “aliveness ceiling” revealed a dream job that had been hiding in plain sight at their current company – right underneath their nose.
Ok, I buy it. So how do I get there?
Every journey begins with a single step. The good news is, the number of embodiment teachers and somatic coaches are on the rise. New opportunities are popping up around the globe every single day.
If you are looking to make a long-term commitment to unlock your own spirit and develop greater access to your own sense of aliveness, just a bit of digging will likely uncover the path that is right for you.
In the meantime, I plan to continue sharing my own practice in the form of blogs, virtual programs, live events and collaborative, intensive retreats designed to help you keep uncovering the depth and beauty of what’s possible in this lifetime for you.
Tweet this: I want to keep my job AND my soul. #gutsandgraceleadership
If you’re ready to dive in immediately, here’s a simple (but not easy!) practice you can begin today. Set an intention to “take the lid off,” and let your aliveness pour through.
In your current movement practice,
(By this I mean… if you regularly walk, jog, dance, spin, swim, practice martial arts, ride horseback, ski… you name it…) start paying attention to the ways you cap, contain or avoid sensation.
When you feel the adrenaline start to pump through your veins, do you tighten up? Or perhaps you find yourself checked out – literally lost in thought – and have ceased to feel anything at all.
Take an intention to simply feel all of what’s possible. Notice what’s easy, and what’s hard. You may find that particular areas in your body do a lot of that work on a muscular level – your chest, your hips, your knees, your forehead.
Take a few deep breath and invite those parts to soften.
Spend a week getting to know what your “aliveness ceiling” is made of. Counter-intuitively, one of the best ways to start gaining access to more aliveness is to get really, intimately familiar with the ways you go on autopilot and shut it down. Be a detective of the how. You might choose, for example, one emotion or sensation you’d like to feel more often.
Truly, the sky’s the limit here – joy, passion, delight, inspiration, pride, love, even power – choose one that would really make a difference to you. Then, as you go about your day, notice when you begin to feel inklings of it course through your body… and notice what stops it.
And, if you don’t seem to feel it ever, turn your detective work to tracking the choices you make that lead you away from it rather than toward it.
Most of us have developed a number of unconscious, nearly automatic behaviors (and physiological responses) that work against our very desires. Whether you’re looking for more intimacy with your partner or you’re trying to land your dream job, catching those responses, and eventually letting them go, is a powerful first step.
Here’s to the path of discovery!
For more about Cultivating Joy, check out Chapter 1 of my book Guts & Grace: A Woman's Guide to Full-Bodied Leadership on Amazon.