October 12, 2015

The Power of Leading an Integrated Life.


Are you spinning a thousand different plates every day? Are you feeling disjointed and disconnected? Are you feeling lost amidst the chaos of your life? I was, recently, and decided to do something about it.

I retired from an eight year career at the end of August so I could pursue the running of my own business. I also happen to have an eight month old baby. In the midst of my transition from working for others to working for myself, I realized that I was beginning to spin with an incredible amount of activity and was not feeling any sense of integration. Running my own business demands an awful lot of attention. So does having a tiny baby.

Historically, integration has meant many different things to many different people. But for me, as a practitioner of meditation, it is not about mathematics or the merging of cultures or the necessary unification of disparate elements. It is about “work-life balance.” It is about the nitty gritty of how we live a day.

Do we jump out of bed, not taking a moment to feel our body, already juggling the day’s many balls? Do we rush through getting ready for the day with foggy sensations, diving right into the maze of thinking before we have even had breakfast?

How do we start our work day? Is our to-do list so stacked that we are panicking before we’ve even started? Have we tunneled in so far to work that our partners become strangers, our children burdens?

Integration in this context is about being in touch with all the strands of our life. Imagine feeling fully present with whatever activity we are engaging in. What if we could feel the connection between family and work? Would it be possible to find more satisfaction in even mundane activities?

About a month after I resigned from my old job, I had completed most of the infrastructure for the business. I was spinning in place, trying to balance the needs of my baby and the needs of a new business. I needed to pause and discern what the next steps were. Reflection was going to be the key.

I remembered the technique of reflective collaging that I often teach my leadership mentoring clients. It was still warm out, the leaves of autumn just barely beginning to turn here in Northern Vermont, and so baby and I went out into the yard. She enjoyed stomping leaves and grass, while I allowed reflection to dictate the creation of my collage. I did not pre-think the collage, I did not plan where to put the pieces of colored paper, I just allowed it to unfold from a place of listening to how I felt.

I was able to draw out a picture of my life as it is right now. As I did so, I noticed I had excluded the most obvious piece: a large spinning wheel of activity, with many spokes and colors. I paused again, realizing that this frenetic buzzing wheel, representing all of my business activities, was disconnected from the ground. It was disconnected from my family, it was not connected to my home, and it left me feeling very overworked and ungrounded.

Over the course of the following week, I continued to practice the art of reflection. From contemplation a word often arises that helps to frame the coming period of time. This word represents a wish or an intention, an insight that can help to guide the new phase of life unfolding. The word that arose for me this time was integration.

Upon further reflection, I began to recognize that the spinning itself was out of fear and anxiety that my business might not fly. If I am too separated in my actions, there is no flexibility to flow with the shifting nature of things. If I focus only on business, for example, then when I am with my baby I stress out and am not present with her. This is very painful. Integrating the two parts of my day, however, means that I am not pulled away from whatever is in front of me—baby or business—and am therefore able to be present with things as they are.

Approaching the dance of life as one of integration can flip fear on its head. Stress is recognized and can begin to melt. The power of integration means that there is continuity. Being present with my daughter informs my business just as my business informs my presence with my daughter. This is very literal for me because the work I teach needs to be actually embodied by me in order for me to share it. If I am teaching others to embody their experience and be present in their lives, then my embodiment is an offering to my daughter, my husband, my home, my community. There’s a reason my business is called The Presence Point.

Integration can mean taking a deep breath and recognizing the interconnection and interrelationship between all aspects of our lives.

Pause for a moment and ask yourself: will this activity be of benefit to myself and others? Does my work support the flourishing of my life? Can I feel a sense of wholeness? Can I be present with each moment, feeling my body and mind in harmony? And if I feel disjointed, how can I shift so I begin to feel integrated?

By practicing reflection, we can engage in the smallest tasks of the day with presence. We can cultivate a sense of willingness to stay with each moment, recognizing the vastness of possibility. Encouraging a sense of integration for me means finding fulfillment by both enjoying my baby and also finding time to pursue my work. What does it mean for you?

It is up to each of us to weave together the strands of our own experience. Nobody else is going to do it for us.


Relephant read:

Doing Good while Doing Well: Right Livelihood Meets Shambhala Vision.


Author: Sarah Lipton

Editor: Travis May

Photo: Flickr/Jason Saul


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