October Fest. #15. Inner Calm

My first business was an environmental protection business. Our mission was to change the culture of the world by protecting people from air-pollution. This included industrial hygiene where people were working in environments that had noxious gas and dust fumes that could cause them harm and, the exhaust waste from large industrial plants. The mission was very clear. It was a global business specialised in changing the culture of those people who were responsible for the emissions from manufacturing. After some period, the business was flourishing but I was not.

My purpose it seems, had swung from measuring the well-being of people we affected to how much profit we made on an annual basis and how big my house was. As this business morphed into a classical for-profit business, the measure of success became its profitability and yet at its core was my mission to change the culture of the world and those who polluted it.

Up until this time I had no enemy. But as the business grew I became obsessed with the resistance people had to creating a clean environment. I became obsessed with the mindset of leaders who would sacrifice human life in order to save a few dollars in production. And this led to me becoming my own worst enemy because in fighting against an external enemy, I started to fight against myself.

You see, at the beginning I simply had a purpose a mission to create a cleaner environment. I didn’t consider people who had the responsibility to make a profit enemies. I’ve worked within the boundaries of the environmental act and therefore the standards set by those in government who have to balance the emissions standards they set and the commerce of businesses making a profit and employing people. It is a difficult balance for governments to strike. But the more abscessed I became with my business the more these governments seem to be sitting on their hands. And this is one of the great challenges of becoming adept at something. You suddenly realise the potential that can be achieved compared to what is the current standard and it makes you dissatisfied.

When we are single and we get into relationships we see the gift of a relationship but after awhile we get used to it and the relationship becomes the default. It’s easy to experience love through yoga or meditation and suddenly feel that the relationship has great potential that is not being realised and become dissatisfied with it. It’s the same with a job. You start the job as a inept individual but very quickly become good at what you do and then suddenly you become better at what you do then the job will allow and you suddenly become disgruntled because people around you are not performing as well as you could. I guess this causes some people to change jobs. But this pursuit of trying to become adept at something and then becoming dissatisfied because you’re not living the full potential of it has a downfall.

The downfall would be dissatisfaction. Recognising the potential in something does not necessarily trigger the necessity for action. It might simply be like a battery stored energy. Recognising your own potential to run faster or make more money does not always trigger the need for action. Sometimes it is really good to just sit and understand and no potential. The ability to do this does not come cheap. It usually comes at the expense of some adventure one goes on only to find that at the end of it living at the borderline of one’s own full potential is not necessarily the wisest place to live.

Changing the culture of the world is such an adventure. Every time something changes it releases and reveals a new potential. Eventually my business had to be sold because of my own frustration with not fulfilling the potential of the business. At this point I decided that I did not understand the human condition well enough and I needed to know a lot more before I embarked on my next adventure. So I went back to university to study behavioural science. Under the instruction of the university the best way to do that was to specialise in behavioural science throughout the course of an MBA. Which I did. But to be honest about it, which I was to the Dean of the school, I knew more about behaviour before I went to that two year full-time MBA than I did after it. Behavioural science from an academic business point of view is a narrow focus. It focuses on the topic of leadership and motivation and tries to emulate models that are compartmentalised and not real.

My mission however, to change the culture of the world around the environment was still fully charged at the end of the NBA. At this point I built a consulting firm to go out and change company cultures. This business, as did my environmental business started off with an incredible mission but bit by bit became commercially driven by necessity. Balancing these two sides of business was an incredible concept for me, because my personal values are not about absolute wealth but more about social change and cultural development. But those I employed, and those who eventually partnered with me in the business to make it successful, had a single pointed focus on profit. Of course they did, it was a business after all and that, is the core of business for most people.

Again, the more adept I became at culture change within organisations, including first nation in Canada, federal government agencies, fortune 100 businesses and many smaller manufacturing companies, the more frustrated I became between what we were actually achieving and what was potential. Reconciling this difference puts one into a battle either between ourselves and the client or between ourselves and somebody within the business we are home. But ultimately like the environmental company as soon as you have an enemy you call the opposition, which in the case of culture change is the current status quo and those who are hellbent on protecting it, you begin a battle between two sides of yourself. A battle that exists outside of us just lights the flame on the battle that lives inside of us. And there is nothing worse. When the enemy becomes external it is simply a reflection of the enemy that we considered to be internal.

A great example of this is, as I took on the mantle of learning yoga in order to understand the human condition better there was a part of me that was stiff and very stuck with emotional baggage and a part of me that became an adept by sitting with and learning from great teachers. My ability to implement the potential of myself and my body became a battle and the enemy was me. The more I learnt in yoga and the more I practice meditation the more I learnt that I was not able to be good enough to be the person I was imagining in the yoga book. And, there was always somebody nearby me who was actually doing what I read about and so that potential was staring me in the face but my body was also signalling through injuries and pain that it was not going to achieve those levels of potential. Ironically, the more yoga I did the more I hated to be me and tried to change it or fix it through excruciating yoga practices to transform my stiff old body.

Sport also provided me with an opportunity to condemn myself for being less than my ambition. When I took up ocean kayaking as a sport I took it up because it was so relaxed and such a joyful thing to do. But the more adept I became at paddling and ocean kayak fast, the faster the kayak I bought, the harder it became to paddle in a raging Sea, the more the sport challenged me and my capabilities. It was a never-ending battle between who I was and who I could be if I was able to be as good as somebody else. I had teachers and good kindness all around me in the kayak world but I was always comparing where I was to the potential of where I could be. Now this is a really great quality because it means I’m always aspiring to be better. But it also means that I can never really relax in that activity. I’m always thinking to myself about a new kayak or a new paddle or a new technique or a new adventure or something.

All this was taking place under the auspices of human development. But about 20 years ago I started seriously enjoying the trips taking people to the Himalayas of Nepal. And then it started to become a different reality because if we tried to live our potential in an environment that will not allow it we die. Acclimatisation requires some acceptance of ourselves as we are. Acclimatisation is not an enemy. Nor is it predictable. So Edmund Hillary, the first man to climb Mount Everest, or maybe the second we’ll never know, got altitude sickness when he came to visit Nepal relatively low altitude for the 50th anniversary of the summer Ting of Mount Everest. It just goes to show that acclimatisation is a very unpredictable thing. And with this little game between ourselves and our cells, there becomes a realisation of a friendship that needs to take place between who we are and who we would like to be. If who we would like to be, in this case acclimatised, becomes more likeable than who we are then we set up a battle between the future body and present one. This battle is a war within our own mind and actually takes this into the deepest state of ingratitude possible.

So there is no crime in having an awareness of our potential and we can call that our vision of the future. There is no problem with being adept at your job and wanting to do better. There is no argument with the fact that every goal you achieve will birth a new goal. Actually two. But there is a problem when that potential person, ourselves, is a preferred version of ourselves than the one we currently have. There is a problem when the business we want to build becomes better than, in our imagination than the one we currently have. There is a problem when the career we think we’re going to have by changing jobs to another company is going to be better than the one we currently have. There is a problem when we think the relationship we will have when we improve things between ourselves and our spouse is going to be better than the one we have. The problem becomes that we develop a war within ourselves between two opposing forces. The reality of now and the possibility of the future. It bursts in gratitude. And in gratitude is responsible for most mental and emotional health problems, along with failure in most of the things we attempt to do.

In the course of taking more than 1000 people to the Himalayas of Nepal over a period of 35 years I have spent every waking moment preparing those people I take for the walk. I have invested heavily on documentation and videos to demonstrate the process of acclimatisation so that they each can take responsibility for themselves. But every single trip people make the same mistake. They see their own potential at the top of the hill, sitting in a beautiful Nepalese cafe drinking a cappuccino coffee with a chocolate cake made in the true German style. They see a warm bed and a shower and plenty of sitting down with taking the weight off their feet. And so suddenly where they are starts to look really ugly compared to where they want to be, their potential. And as soon as this happens they start to move up the mountain faster than the rate of a climatisation that would be healthy for their body. We often underestimate how long these hills are in Nepal and sometimes they rise over 800 m in altitude before they descend to the camping place for the night and so they exceed the bodies ability to acclimatise. (Usually up to 500 m a day but only 300 m a day for sleeping). The result of this is headaches, blurred vision, difficulty breathing and many more side-effects that are extremely unpleasant and require retreat back down the mountain exactly back down the path they’ve just been on until the body finds an altitude where it can recuperate.

And this is exactly what happens to us in life if we don’t love where we are more than where we are going to be. If our relationship is not magnificent right today with all its fights and disagreements and problems and challenges and difficulties and we think that going on holidays will make things better we have embarked on one of those journeys that will take us into the past and make things worse rather than better. But if you try to tell people who are planning a holiday in order to make their relationship better that their relationship needs to be seen to be not broken before they go on a holiday they will laugh. And maybe that laughter is on them rather than on the relationship because they’re setting up an enemy. They’re setting up an enemy which is the existing relationship that they want to beat by going on a holiday and creating a new relationship with the same person. Leopards don’t change their spots no matter how good the holidays are. If we can’t appreciate what we’ve got the way it is we will never have it the way we want it.

And so I continue to change the culture of the world by changing and helping people appreciate who they are before they go running around trying to change it. I help people change the culture of the world by helping them see that what they wear and what they do and what they think can be transformed to make who they are magnificent. This is in stark contrast to the in authentic approach of trying to emulate or imitate somebody. The question I ask people over and over again is “who are you?” The simple answer is we are our attractions and we are our aversions. We are defined by what we are attracted to and what we are repelled from. The more attractions we can list and the more aversions we can list, the smaller we become.

That’s the end of this episode. If there is something here you feel would be good to explore with me please bring it to the coaching session this week. With spirit, Chris.

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