All posts by Nerisha Maharaj

Varanasi Ganga

Cultivating Simplicity

Back safely from travels to India, I continually take inspiration from the simplicity of life in the villages there, the pure-hearted contentment of its inhabitants, and the inspiring examples of the great saints who once graced this Earth.  In one ancient town, every afternoon at 4pm, all the little children climb up onto the roof tops to gleefully  fly their kites. The sky becomes a feast of hundreds of brightly coloured flags, dancing high with the clouds and the birds. The strings are coated with ground glass thus they play trying to cut each other’s kite strings using great skill. And then, at 8pm after dinner the older kids emerge for enthusiastic games of cricket along the Ganges ghats. There is such charm about seeing places where kids still do these things. Not an iPhone or iPad in sight.  In the villages of India, happiness is found in simple ways.

For me personally there is great joy in dressing simply, eating simply and living simply. It is something that only emerged much later in my life, and I am grateful for it. My journeys to India remind me of this motto: Simple living, high thinking!

Studying the biographies of some personal heroes through the ages, it seems that simplicity was a trait they all shared in common. Einstein had scant regard for his dress, remarking pithily to his despairing wife one day: “It would be a sad thing if the bag was better than the meat wrapped in it!”.  Gandhi and Mandela, secure in their characters and inner worth, dressed simply too. And Steve Jobs simply wore a change of black polo neck and jeans every day to avoid having to trouble his mind with such  mundane thoughts of what to wear. Dress is just one example approach to simplicity. In the monasteries, one experiences the freedom of simplicity each day in various ways, from no wi-fi to simple daily routines and the resultant contentment of  that. It is not always easy to accomplish simplicity in a world that tries to trick us into thinking we need to live in such complex ways!

So if your own Highest Wisdom agrees, let’s resolve to see how we can bring more simplicity into our lives for 2018. Spending our precious time in a way that really matters! Thank you so much as always for your support over the years. It is a privilege to have clients and friends like you—your shining characters and leadership are an inspiration to me in many ways. Wishing you all a very safe and blessed Christmas and New Year!
Varanasi Ganga

Brand Yourself....or Be Yourself?

Brand Yourself—or Be Yourself?

Emerson on being yourself

There seems to be a popular new buzzword in corporate leadership-speak: Branding Yourself. As one of two guest speakers recently for an event attended by over 150 professionals, I could not help but muse over how different the topics were. One was about how to  brand yourself, while my topic was about authentic leadership through love for self and others.  After the event, a few guests came over to me and shared how they felt that being true to yourself would naturally result in a positive personal brand. “Why should we have to ‘brand’ ourselves, like a product”, they asked? It sounded like a fair point.  Are these opposing concepts? I wondered.

Studies show that the leaders we trust, love and follow, share the trait of authenticity—that natural ability to be who they are. It is difficult to trust a leader who wears a mask, because one senses a disconnect. Integrity implies a harmony between thoughts, words and deeds which is at the heart of being authentic.  A top female banking executive found her entire team rebelling against her and refusing to co-operate. She could not understand the issue. At work she put on a  ‘brand’ of being friendly and caring toward the team.  At home, she gossiped about them and referred to them in disparaging terms. She could not understand why her team would not trust her. As we coached, she came to understand the lack of integrity in her actions and thoughts. “But how would they pick that up”?, she asked. Humans have an intelligence that stretches beyond the five senses—we have the ability to sense energy. This is what makes authenticity key to respected leadership. The insight helped her to integrate and align herself from within, which then led to happier and more productive relationships with her team, and a greater sense of peace within herself. It took time, but it worked.

Branding is defined as “the marketing practice of creating a name, symbol or design that identifies and differentiates a product from other products”[1]. Sounds good in principle, especially in this web-world of social media. Except that we are not products–we are human beings. The problem is this: If one’s virtues and values are not fully aligned to the personal brand that one seeks to promote, an authenticity issue will arise.

Living your values
I am privileged to work with many executive leaders who automatically hold a powerful personal brand just because of who they are as human beings, and the values that they live by. An example of one in particular, inspires great trust from his team.  What I noticed, is that in lies in the little things that he does. He keeps to his word. Always. He responds to his emails and is respectful. He has open, courageous conversations with his staff. He does not engage in game-playing, gossip or passive aggression. He seeks to grow others. As a result, he inspires great trust 360 degrees at work: from his team, his customers and his suppliers. His personal brand is like gold—and yet he has never actively worked on ‘branding’ himself but has committed instead to deep, honest inner personal development. His excellent ‘brand’ outcome is simply the result of being clear and true to his values and virtues. There is no cherry-picking when it comes to living that out. An executive who only makes time to respond respectfully to his customers and influential seniors, but who treats his suppliers and staff poorly, will have ‘holes’ in his brand. His selfish motive will expose the inauthenticity. At a collective level, that can easily be seen in various corporate cultures as well.

One client had an experience with an HR manager who made a commitment but did not follow through with her word and instead engaged in deception for her own benefit, and not in the highest interest of the organisation. No matter many statements she makes around fostering integrity in company culture, it is difficult for her stakeholders to take her seriously. Her ‘brand’ has become one of untrustworthiness. Studies show that the millennial generation in particular, do not respect job titles and hierarchical structures in organisations. They respect authenticity.  I have many young millennial clients who confirm what the stats say. Therefore authentic leadership is not only key to building engagement, motivation and trust in teams, but is also important to the attraction and retention of young talent.

The verdict?
Perhaps ‘branding yourself’ and ‘being yourself do not have to be seen as mutually exclusive approaches. As a leader it is important to be aware of your ‘brand’, especially with the advent of social media. However focussing on developing a personal brand to the exclusion of proper ‘inner’ work risks inauthenticity. It is a superficial approach with questionable sustainability. The bridge between being yourself and developing a positive personal brand lies in living your values. Consistently. This comes from deep inner work, and nurturing values that incorporate a selfless contribution to others in a way that is natural to you. If you do that, your personal brand will emerge organically and authentically. The greatest most respected leaders across time, whose personal brands live on decades after they have left us,  are powerful case studies in point.

This article is written by Nerisha Maharaj, Executive Coach and Author of Self-Love: The Authentic Path to Conscious Leadership.

Copies of the book can be obtained from takealot.com., Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobe & Kindle.
For more information on coaching and leadership training visit
www.nerishamaharaj.com      

[1] https://www.entrepreneur.com/encyclopedia/branding

Why Self-Love is Fundamental to Good Leadership

self-love__leadership-712343

What is a good leader? One who can inspire committed followership and an engaged, energised team effort toward achieving a vision. Generally a vision that makes this world a better place albeit even in a small way — hence the term ‘good leadership’ and not just ‘leadership’. Because leadership, as history has shown, does not necessarily mean an engagement that leads humanity forward. Studies have sought to identify and unpack those attributes that differentiate good leaders, from just ‘leaders’. These qualities include authenticity, servant leadership, vulnerability, emotional intelligence, values-based leadership and empathy  inter alia.

Supporting the CEO of a large global FMCG company, I got to observe various leader traits at Board level very closely. At the time, selecting a topic for my MBA research proposal, I wanted to know the answer to this question: What single trait distinguishes those leaders who leave a lasting positive impact on those they lead, from those who don’t? The answer that came to me was ‘Self-Love’. Not the ‘look in the mirror and say positive affirmations to yourself’ kind of self-love, but the highest, grandest expression of being human that we can reach. At the time, both the meaning of self-love and its potential impact on leadership, had never been researched in the academic world before. The results were both incredible and seemingly obvious.

We think that the problem with leadership is that leaders have too much self-love. In reality, the challenge facing most leaders is that they don’t love themselves very much at all.  As one senior executive said to me: “Where do we ever learn it?” From parenting to the schooling system, we are often taught that our self-worth comes from what we achieve, not from who we are. And so life becomes a relentless struggle to prove self-worth through external attainment, with an inner critic that never switches off. The irony is that self-love is often confused for narcissism and selfishness which are opposite in nature. Narcissists gain their sense of self-worth from external reflections, for example, through wealth, fame, power, looks and so on. For example, Hitler needed to feel a sense of superiority over others to shore up his weak inner self-worth. It goes hand in hand with selfishness, where leaders look to benefit themselves at the expense of their followers and the greater whole. And we can list many examples of that. But Nelson Mandela and Gandhi? Absolutely content in who they were and focussed on delivering their mission to do good in the world. Less distortion in their leadership from a fragile sense of ego. And the love, respect and commitment that such leaders earn from their followers is enduring.  Can a leader really be authentic and serve selflessly without a healthy degree of self-love? Many leaders say not.

And it makes sense. Because how can you be authentic if you don’t love yourself? And would a leader really develop and nurture top talent if he is insecure in himself? Can a leader put aside her own interests to decision-make in a way that is not at a cost to the organisation, if her primary thought driver is narcissistic in nature? As humans we have a great range of intelligences. One of these is the ability to pick up whether a leader really does care for us or not. And if a leader cannot love himself first and foremost, can he truly love others? People go through the fire for a leader that loves them. Because they trust such a leader. It unleashes the very highest levels of productivity.

The Biblical verse ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself’ has a deeper meaning than we might realise. Vedanta philosophy which reveres the divinity of true self-knowledge implies that when you know who you truly are, psychological insecurities are resolved. Because we can’t love ourselves if we don’t know who we are. If we think that we need to be more and do more to be worthy, then our actions are taken with a distorted motive, and not to truly serve. The cost to organisations of low self-loving leaders shows up in destructive decision-making, high attrition and team cultures of fear and poor innovation.

Low self-love is a source of great suffering for many leaders. Yet healthy self-love is more rare than we may realise, as many psychologists will attest to. So it is useless to hide the topic in the leadership world for fear of shame. It’s time we spoke about it.

Written by Nerisha Maharaj, International Executive Coach & Author

References

This article is based on the book Self-Love: The Authentic Path to Conscious Leadership (by the writer) and the published corresponding journal articles below.

Maharaj, N., & April, K. (2013). The power of self-love in the evolution of leadership and employee engagement. Problems and Perspectives in Management, 11(4), 120-132.

Maharaj, N., & April, K. (2013). Self-love & leadership: Tapping the heart of employee engagement. Ashridge International Research Conference 3 (‘Multigenerational Challenges: Integrating Younger and Older Ages in Managing the Organisation’). Ashridge Business School, England, UK, 19th-20th July 2013.

The Quiet Joy of Gratitude

Far away, in the majestic Himalayan foothills lies an ancient little town—a very special place that almost does not belong to this world and yet is so very invaluable to it. Many things make it special. For one, it is a place that has been hallowed by the footsteps of many great and wise saints from across the ages—who sought refuge in this peaceful place to carry out their contemplations on the meaning of life and to go on to make a positive contribution to humanity. The name of the town therefore translates from Sanskrit to mean “Abode of the Sages”. Behind the noisy disturbances of new age tourism, the ageless mountain foothills stand immoveable and the graceful sacred river flows happily on—providing a canvas of peace behind the mayhem of scooter hooting.

But there is something else that makes it special. And that is the quiet joy of gratitude. Every evening as long as Time can remember, when the ochre sun starts to drop toward the horizon, all the people in this ancient town gather along the Sacred River to pay  homage. Circling golden flames of devotion, they sing with all their hearts to the mighty Mother Ganga. And to the setting Sun, the great Earth, the Moon, the Stars and most of all to that Divine Intelligence that taps our heart into beats of Life with every breath we take. They sing to say ‘thank you’…with the most touching sweetness you can imagine. A joyful gratitude for all that sustains them. They have the deep poetry of soul to see a river which gives them so much as not just a river but as their living Mother. People of simplicity who do not have much materially by modern world measures, but who have the wealth of spirit to be so grateful for what they do have, and to come out every sunset to show it.  It takes greatness of heart and humility of spirit to do that. And what a refreshment to the soul, in a world where nothing ever seems to be enough for us. This little corner of the Earth expresses gratitude with such an abundance of love and joy that it seems to do it on behalf of the whole world, wisely knowing that in humanity’s unquenchable quest for ‘more’, an abiding gratitude for the simple abundance in our own lives is rare to be found. How wonderful it would be if we could join them in our own way. Because the beauty of gratitude is that it brings Joy. And none of that comes from anything outside your Self. It is the very essence of who you are.

 

rishikesh-ganga 

Copies of the book Self-Love: The Authentic Path to Conscious Leadership can be obtained from Takealot.com and the e-book version can be purchased from Amazon, Bookbaby, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and iBooks.

For more information on Executive Leadership and Life Coaching visit Nerisha Maharaj Coaching International at
www.nerishamaharaj.com             

The meaning of Self-Love—and why it is key to our Evolution

We don’t often link Self-Love to evolution.  And yet the two dance together—without one, you can’t have the other. What makes that so? To understand that, one has to know the meaning of Self-Love. Is Self-Love about saying nice things to yourself in the mirror and making time to go to the spa? No—it is far more profound than that. To know it at a deeper level, you have to ask yourself these two questions:

  1. What is Self?
  2. What is Love?

When you can answer these questions, then will you know Self-Love as the highest, grandest expression of being human that we can reach.  Therein lies our capacity for evolution.

The meaning of Self

The great saints said that self-knowledge is the key to leading a happy and successful existence. And no one can give the answer to you. And it cannot be understood intellectually. Like swimming in the ocean for the first time or seeing the vast starry night sky, it is experiential. Each person has the choice to go into their own journey of ‘Who am I’? For those who do, there arises the experience of a Self that exists beyond the body, personality, emotions and mind. And when that happens, an inner freedom awakens.

What does this mean practically? Many things. It means to be freed from self-imposed limitations. Limitations imposed by a small self that cannot conceive that our real Self is so much more than we can ever imagine.  And so fear of the opinion of others as a source of self-worth loses its power over us.  Striving for external accolades to feel worthy feels like the empty chase that it is.  Hiding our insecurities under coverings of designer clothes and handbags feels ridiculous. And comparing ourselves to others is shown up as illogically as it would be for the apple tree to behave so with the rose bush.

Because just think of it. What if it were true? This ancient Vedantic sloka which purports to describe our real nature: This Self that cannot be cut, nor dried, nor wetted nor burnt but is immortal, eternal, and immovable? Can you imagine the possibilities?  As human beings, ours seems like such an unenviable predicament. For unlike any other species, we are born with the knowledge of the impermanence of both ourselves and our loved ones. Ignore it as we might try does not change the predicament. And so we are left to make sense of the perceived ‘in between’  of our lives, trapped in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Trying ever so hard to maintain self-preservation on mental, emotional and physical levels. Except that our whole understanding of ‘self’ might be flawed. As the great ancient saints across time alluded to.  So you have to find the answer for yourself.

But choice is one thing and capacity another. We have the power of both choice and capacity but there is a difference. Choice can be exercised at any time, but capacity has to be nurtured, like the plant that gives birth to the flower. The more we nurture our growth and our openness to exploring diverse perspectives along with purity of heart, the greater becomes our capacity. A narrow mind, constricted by egotism, cannot hold much.  So in a way, capacity too,  is a choice. Which brings us to the definition of Love.

Defining Love

Many definitions have peppered us through the ages. The expansive nature of love in this writer’s view, is best captured by Scott M Peck, author of The Road Less Travelled  and psychoanalyst Erich Fromm. Scott defined love as:

the will to extend ones self for the purpose of nurturing ones own or
another
s spiritual growth

Fromm’s definition, taken from his timeless book The Art of Loving, is:

an attitude or orientation of character which determines the relatedness of a person to the world as a whole, not towards one object of love

Well that just changes the game. And suddenly we might see love in a whole different way.  From being a tribalistic concept that applies only to one’s perceived ‘own’ such as family members and countrymen, love in its true meaning stands that much higher.  And when we test this definition against the great ones that stood for love, like Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Jesus, Buddha, Sri Ramana Maharshi and so on, it fits. A small understanding of ‘self’ cannot give forth this kind of love. Case in point would be those we associate with the opposite of love such as Hitler and Idi Amin and many unfortunate contemporary examples. These individuals were very narrow in their capacities, driving ego fulfilment rather than extending themselves for the good of the world. Which is why an understanding of both ‘Self’ and ‘Love’ must go hand in hand. Which brings us to evolution.

Self-Love and Evolution

What is the true purpose of our lives? Is it not to learn and to grow and to contribute toward the betterment of humanity by doing so? If evolution is about bringing in a higher order through a change from one form to a better one, then Self-Love, in its true sense, is the key to this process. It is the catalyst that fires up our will and gives us the courage that making the effort and sacrifice will take, to embark on the journey of evolving ourselves, and in so doing, lift humanity.

teilhard-on-love2

This article is based on the book Self-Love: The Authentic Path to Conscious Leadership by Nerisha Maharaj.  

Copies of the book can be obtained from Takealot.com.
For more information on Executive Leadership and Life Coaching visit
www.nerishamaharaj.com         

Tree blossom BRC edited

Coaching the Skill of Inaction in Action

Studying the ancient but sophisticated wisdom in Vedic and Buddhist texts gives me great joy. Very often these are woven together by way of a collection of hundreds of pithy two line sutras or threads. Every word in every line is a jewel, seemingly vague and innocuous until one dives deep to reveal the profundity of its essence. It can take hours and days, even months of reflection on just two lines to scratch the surface of these great teachings. And then of course lifetimes to master it. One couplet that has me in deep reflection currently is this from Gandhi’s favourite book, The Bhagavad Gita:

He who sees inaction in action, and action in inaction; he is wise among men, he is a Yogi and an accomplisher of everything.

What on earth does that mean, I wondered? Intrigued, I found that it contains very wonderful advice for living fully but peacefully—deeply relevant to our stressful and fast-paced context. A way to ‘be in the world but not of it’, as Shakespeare wrote. This takes great skill. So here are some preliminary expositions—I have no doubt that there are many more deeper meanings to be uncovered. These represent a few simpler interpretations.

Seeing inaction in action

Quite simply, this refers to inner awareness and presence. The ability to not lose one’s self in constant frenetic activity. Not by ceasing our activities—we have duties and actions to perform in the world and these actions, if performed with consciousness, bring wisdom. For example, if Sam takes on the role of leading a team, even though he feels fearful to do so, taking on that action with pure intention will gift him with knowledge: Knowledge of how to  manage people, knowledge of himself, knowledge of leadership.  He sacrifices his fear and desire for inertia by taking on the activity and thus receives knowledge. The danger with being embroiled in ceaseless activity is losing ourselves to mental agitation, anxiety and stress. And this is where the skill of seeing the inaction in action comes in.

If you listen carefully in this moment, you will hear many sounds all around you. If you deepen your listening, you will hear a silence behind the sounds. As the sky holds the drifting clouds and silence holds the sounds, so too is there a Presence in you behind all your activities. It is your inner witness. As it is outside us, so it is within us. Behind the endless stream of thoughts in your mind, is a deep peaceful spaciousness. It is seemingly inactive yet fully alive. If you can tap into this inner sanctuary of your Being, amidst all your tasks and doings, then you will understand experientially what it is to see the inaction in the action. It is to be in constant awareness of that from which all action springs.

What is the point of it? It brings a deeper quality to the action. Purity and consciousness of intention. Peacefulness. Freedom from a sense of the egoic pushing and striving born of fear. A lightness.

Seeing action in inaction

This refers to the great action of meditation. Meditation, to those who have never tried it, looks like inaction. It is external stillness, while engaging inwardly to bring the mind into focussed stillness. Not blankness. There is a difference. It involves action. This action may not be externally observable but you will feel a great deal going on inside you when you sit for meditation. It is engaging in action within so as to experience what lies behind it.

A very powerful depiction of seeing action in inaction is Gandhi’s movement of non-violence.  It may have been perceived as inaction. In reality it contained a great swell of right action.

To run away from activity is also an action. To sink into inertia or sloth in a bid to be action-less is an action of deception.  It does not bring peace. It does not bring higher knowledge.  To see what is really the action behind our inaction is to open our eyes to the truth of our intentions.

Where is the wisdom in it

Nature holds a harmony between action and inaction and so can we.  Study this picture of the tree flower blossom about to unfold. Can you see both the action and the inaction? There is a dance between the two. Being able to discern in this way—seeing the action in the inaction and inaction in the action, broadens our structure of interpretation. It helps us to not be dragged about by surface impressions but to look and to live deeply. It brings a different quality to our way of being and the actions we offer to the world. My greatest mentors in this regard have been a few monks that I have fortunate to study from. Their responsibilities and tasks appear to me more heavy than that of the CEOs I worked closely with in the corporate world as they juggle educating and feeding the underprivileged, seeing to the ill, counselling hundreds of unhappy humans, running massive non-profit organisations, giving discourses of great intellectual capacity—their time is not their own. And yet, they are grounded very deeply in peace. It is inspiring to observe. And it shows us that it can be done. How can you cultivate this skill? Slow down the restlessness of the mind. Physically slow your self down as difficult as it may be, in simple ways—perhaps walking slowly, or breathing slower. Meditate. Connect to your higher purpose. Every now and again retreat into nature. Reduce the need to keep doing for the sake of doing. There is only one way to know the worth of this ancient wisdom. And that is to try it. Experiment. Observe. Feel.

For more information on Executive Leadership and Life Coaching with me visit www.nerishamaharaj.com

Self-Love: The Authentic Path to Conscious Leadership is available from http://www.takealot.com/self-love-the-authentic-path-to-conscious-leadership-by-nerisha/PLID41484950

Tree blossom BRC edited

Book Release: Self-Love: The Authentic Path to Conscious Leadership

What is the Secret to Conscious Leadership and Self-Mastery?

Anais Nin quoteSelf-love is a topic many of us seek to avoid–yet it is onewhich has a profound impact on our happiness, effectiveness and spiritual growth as human beings. What is less well known is how self-love influences leadership ability. Drawing on both her professional experience and her award-winning published UCT Graduate School of Business MBA research into the area of Self-Love and Leadership, Nerisha Maharaj describes how self-love impacts our ability to lead both ourselves and others successfully–sharing direct inspiring insights from her interviews with leaders and leadership experts. In the book, she discusses:

  • The meaning of self-love in its highest expression;
  • How self-love does not equate to narcissism and selfishness;
  • The impact of self-love on leadership attributes such as authencity and decision-making;
  • The Five Constructs of Self-Love; and
  • Practical coaching techniques on cultivating healthy levels of self-love.

This book highlights, for established and emerging leaders, the critical role which self-love can play in their overall well-being and ultimate performance. This encompasses not just corporate executives, but academics, parents, teachers, coaches, community leaders, political leaders, spiritual leaders, and just about anybody who chooses to lead both themselves and others to greater levels of growth and purpose. The book will be released in April 2016 at a book launch hosted by the African Women Chartered Accountants Association (AWCA)–To pre-order your copy for R250 (+ courier charges if applicable) please email nerisha.maharaj@gmail.com.

About the author
Nerisha Maharaj is an Executive Leadership and Life Coach who brings together a unique blend of  international expertise in the fields of both business and self-mastery, using her experience with the Enneagram, coaching and ancient yoga philosophy to unleash the highest potential in her clients. A chartered accountant, she also holds a Masters in Business Administration, and is an experienced yoga and meditation teacher. For more information please visit www.nerishamaharaj.com.

 

Coaching Reflection: The Art of Contentment

Contentment is often thought to be such a sought after, much-prized state…or is it really? Sometimes when I mention “contentment” as a state of being, there is a flash of fear in the eyes of many clients. Why is that, I wondered? One client said: “But Nerisha, if I become content, then that means that I won’t strive for anything anymore. I would just sit at home and do nothing”. I realised that many of us confuse contentment for complacency.

The ancient Yoga Sutras or “threads” of wisdom by the great sage Patanjali describe contentment as being one of the niyamas or personal attributes that one needs to practise on the journey of self-mastery. There is nothing passive about practising contentment, particularly in the world of instant gratification in which we live today. Our minds are constantly bombarded by digital media to a point where we crave entertainment or perpetual stimulation. If we don’t get it, we risk experiencing boredom and therefore unhappiness. We have lost the art of being content. How does one cultivate contentment and not risk becoming complacent? And why do we even want to practise contentment?

How contentment differs from complacency
Contentment liberates us from “the state of the unhappy mind”.  This is a state where nothing is ever enough. It is a state of perpetual striving and seeking, sometimes for no clear purpose other than from blind habit and fear. It is almost a sense of being driven along like a hamster on a wheel, rather than consciously leading a life. In contrast, contentment nurtures a mind of wisdom and peace. It gives rise to a way of being that is not dependent on external factors for happiness.  From this state of contentment, one gets on with achieving one’s goals, delighting in the process and liberated from fear. It implies an “ease of mind”, having taken stock of one’s life and being fully appreciative for the good whilst receptive to growth and continual improvement.

Complacency, on the other hand, implies a form of laziness. One who is complacent does not actively seek growth. There is a fear of change that underpins complacency. At a superficial level complacency may sometimes come across as contentment, but deeper investigation reveals that the roots are very different. One is rooted in appreciation and the other is rooted in fear.  At the other end of the spectrum from complacency is mindless striving. Mindless striving keeps on in a constant state of unhealthy dissatisfaction and stress. Happiness, for the mindless striver, seems elusively dependent on the future.

The case for contentment
Learning to be content helps to cultivate focus in our lives and to find peace in our hearts. It prevents us from doing the things we ought not to do, and guides us along the path that is right for us.  One of the biggest benefits of contentment is letting go of comparison with others, which is the root of jealousy, insecurity and greed. When we are content, we are happy with where we are and can also be happy for the success of others. It is also important to discern the difference between excitement and contentment. Excitement is a state which is provoked by one sense pleasure after the next. It is temporary and unreliable as it depends on external circumstances for positive feelings. Excitement keeps us on an emotional rollercoaster. The higher we go, the lower we fall. Contentment is an inner attitude. It is a calm inner happiness that is not extrinsically based. Difficult to attain and sustain? Absolutely! Which is what makes contentment an active attribute rather than a passive one.

Cultivating contentment in the now
Now, you may ask: How do I cultivate contentment if I am currently in a job that I don’t like, working for a boss that makes my life miserable? Or how do I cultivate contentment if I am ill? Or, how can I be content if I am bored with life? The answer to that lies in fully understanding and accepting the concept of impermanence. Nothing in this world lasts forever, not even us. Knowing that and having faith brings courage to either accept the situation or change it. Hand in hand with impermanence is the feeling of gratitude for what we do have. This mind of ours is often so prone on fixating on the lack in our lives. “If we only had that, or could achieve this, or could be better than we are now” are the thoughts that plague us. Contentment involves consciously turning the mind to focus on the abundance in our lives. Thoughts become your reality – an ‘abundance’ mind set attracts even more abundance! A contented mind brings even more contentment.

There are many ways to cultivate contentment. Play with these three practices for the next fortnight and see what it does for you:

  • Examine what your mind keeps telling you that takes you away from contentment. Often there is a lot of self-criticism in there, comparison and “should-ing”. Start to refute these thoughts.
  • Keep a daily or weekly gratitude journal detailing the things that you are grateful for and celebrate them. It works.
  • Meditate regularly, even if it is for just 10 minutes daily. Meditation takes us into an inner space of calm and contentment. When we practice meditation and touch the seeds of our inner contentment, we are able to sustain this state off the meditation mat and into our lives.

Remember: Contentment is an active component of self-mastery, invoked by the pure power of conscious choice. Contentment, as Socrates declares, is true wealth.

Contentment blog

 For more information on Executive Leadership and Life Coaching visit www.nerishamaharaj.com

Coaching reflection: The Heart of Courage

The start of a New Year, while mostly associated with festivities and celebration, can often feel like an incredibly daunting time for many. It symbolises stepping into another year, and into a new unknown. For many of you know that this new year will bring the a change in career, moving to a new place, taking on a new challenge, further studies, anticipating the birth of a child, learning a new skill, moving into the phase of married life, starting retirement after a lifetime of work, opening up your own business, following your dreams. The list is endless. And these are just the “known” changes. In addition to the ones we know about, life being life also heralds changes that we cannot possibly foresee. And so mixed into our joy at starting yet another life chapter on our journey, there is often a sense of anxiety and fear. What joys and what sorrows are we to face this year? There is no way of knowing but a wiser question might be:  “How can I develop and strengthen my courage?”

Here are some reflections that may help you:

  1. Understand where to find your courage. The word “courage” is derived from the same root as “heart” or coeur in French. What a wonderful clue! Courage lives in your heart. This is why true love and courage go hand in hand. We see evidence of this in the parent who will face any risk to their own life to protect their child from imminent danger or in the great saints throughout history who lived from such a deep space of pure love that they were prepared to face death if necessary in their efforts to uplift humanity. For living a life out of true love for self and others requires courage. It is for this reason that the beautiful ancient book about living with wisdom, the Bhagavad Gita, proclaims abhayam or fearlessness as the very first virtue we must cultivate. To those who seek growth and evolution, it is a fundamental quality. So to nurture your courage means to nurture your heart. To live from your heart and not just your head alone. This does not imply blind emotionalism but rather suggests that our inner sources of intelligence are far more expansive than that of intellectual reasoning alone. This is a finding which is now being supported by academic research to the extent that leadership modules on MBA programmes are teaching leaders that they need to learn to cultivate their “Four Intelligences”. We may examine that more deeply in another blog. It is for good reason that so many wise men tell us to follow our hearts!
  2. Have faith in your strengths. Too often we are all too acutely aware of our weaknesses. This fuels our fears and weakens our courage. We are afraid that if we acknowledge our strengths then this might be construed as egotism. That is not so. It is important to cultivate a truthful knowledge about our character and a truthful reflection includes not only our weaknesses but our strengths too. It involves an objective analysis. Reflect on your strengths and write them down if possible. Where the mind goes, energy goes. If we dwell too much on our weaknesses, it makes them grow stronger. Give your attention to your character strengths instead, watering them as you would flowers in a garden. A wise saint once said that the best way to eliminate the darkness is to turn on the light. So turn on that light within you. It will help you meet any challenge with courage. Never forget the very many challenges in life that you have conquered thus far. Just to have made it through childhood is a feat in itself.
  3. Do what you do with joy. Never forget that the one thing that we can control is the way our mind chooses to look at something and the motives that underpin our actions. Many philosophers unpacked the emotions that underlie our choices into just two: Love or Fear. Make your choices based on love. And transform fear-based motives into love-based ones. It will help you to strengthen your courage and to do what you do with joy.
  4. Hold the Hand of the Divine. If you believe in God or a Higher Consciousness, there can be no greater ignition of courage in you than to allow that great Power to guide you. And if you don’t yet believe in a higher power, then even just thinking about the great courageous heroes that you admire will help to inspire you to greater levels of courage.

As you embark on this new chapter in your lives, I wish you the highest courage and much joy. There is a wonderful poem that I will leave you with by Pablo Neruda. There seems to be some confusion as to the source and a few different versions out there, but it is such a marvellous poem on embracing change and living fully that I will share it anyway.

You start dying slowly by Pablo Neruda

He who becomes the slave of habit,
who follows the same routes every day,
who never changes pace,
who does not risk and change the colour of his clothes,
who does not speak and does not experience, dies slowly.

He or she who shuns passion,
who prefers black on white,
dotting ones “it’s” rather than a bundle of emotions, the kind that make your eyes glimmer, that turn a yawn into a smile,
that make the heart pound in the face of mistakes and feelings,
dies slowly.

He or she who does not turn things topsy-turvy,
who is unhappy at work,
who does not risk certainty for uncertainty,
to thus follow a dream,
those who do not forego sound advice at least once in their lives,
die slowly.

He who does not travel, who does not read, who does not listen to music,
who does not find grace in himself, she who does not find grace in herself,
dies slowly.

He who slowly destroys his own self-esteem,
who does not allow himself to be helped,
who spends days on end complaining about his own bad luck,  about the rain that never stops,
dies slowly.

He or she who abandon a project before starting it,
who fails to ask questions on subjects he doesn’t know,
he or she who don’t reply when they are asked something they do know,
die slowly.

Let’s try and avoid death in small doses,
reminding one’s self that being alive requires an effort far greater than the simple fact of breathing.
Only a burning patience will lead to the attainment of a splendid happiness.

For more information on leadership and life coaching visit www.nerishamaharaj.comCourage blog pic

 

Coaching reflection: Setting your Goals and The Power of Intention

September in the southern hemisphere symbolises the start of spring. Mother Nature guides us in our inner journey by Her marvellous and profound outward displays. It is an invitation to us to slow down in our busyness to notice and reflect. “Spring” as the title suggests, implies springing into action, cultivating and nurturing our growth, just as nature all around us is doing.  Winter is a time of shedding and letting go of old habits and limiting beliefs and thought patterns. This can feel tiring which is why winter is associated with hibernation. Now well-pruned, it is time to allow for new growth in ourselves: spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically. How do we consciously use the start of this season to stay in tune with Nature and grow too?

Oscar Wilde once said: “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all”.  One of the things that evokes us to “live” versus coasting unconsciously along on the waves of life, is to consciously set our goals. One of the gifts of being human and not a member of the animal or plant kingdom is our ability to do just that.  There are a number of ways to approach goal-setting but two things in particular that I work with my clients on when we do this, is to know your values and your overall purpose in life. To enable inner harmony and happiness, congruence between our goals, values and purpose is imperative. If we set goals that are not truthful to our values, we compromise our inner peace and contentment. For example, a person who highly values having time to reflect and renew but who sets as a goal, the ambition to take a promotion to a highly stressful role which involves long hours and constant business travel based on an inner ego-based motivation of looking good to others, is inadvertently inviting suffering by not being true to themselves.  How many examples of this do we see around us and even more importantly, in ourselves? This is different to someone who values challenge and contribution and therefore covets the promotion because it is in harmony with those inner values.  And that is where the power of intention comes in.

In Sanskrit, there is a term sankalpa which means that all thoughts should be united in one intention, i.e. congruence between our different endeavours with an overall purpose. Setting a clear, pure and congruent intention does for us what sunlight does for a little seedling, which turns itself to grow toward the light. It consciously directs our goals in the direction of our higher purpose. Setting goals can risk us becoming solely focussed on reaching the outcome, sometimes forgetting why we even set the goal to start with and robbing the entire experience of sheer joy. There is wisdom in the ancient Vedic verse “Be not attached to the fruit of your actions”. Rather reflect on what your overall intention is behind your goals. For example, if one of your goals is to start eating more healthily and take up an exercise regime, link this goal to your strategic intention. If that intention is based on what everyone else thinks of you and a feeling of insecurity, this goal is being driven by an impetus that may result in you seeing the goal as a burden. If your intention is to take care of this body and keep it healthy out of gratitude for the service that it provides to you and others on your journey, this may result in a healthier, lighter approach to the goal.

Conversations with God author Neale Donald Walsch points out that there are two underlying emotional motives behind everything we do: love or fear.  I could extend that based on Eastern teachings to read: ego or soul. Bear in mind that there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ intention. The point is to become conscious of the link between our intention, goals and the consequences. This consciousness helps us to explore self-knowledge at a deeper level and select an intention that is congruent with who we really are, rather than being driven along by motives that we are not even conscious of. This consciousness enables us to “find the gap” between stimulus and response that leadership expert Stephen Covey refers to, which enables us to use our discernment and inner power of choice.

Having values is one thing. Consciously honouring them in our goals and actions is what brings those values to life. And why do we want to do that?  To answer that I make a few assumptions based on observations of the world around us:

  • Firstly, we as humans wish to be happy.
  • Secondly, integrity is when who we are, what we say, what we think and what we do are all in alignment.
  • Thirdly, integrity brings inner harmony.
  • Fourth, inner harmony brings happiness.

Test this using your own personal experience. From this, we may glimpse the link between purity of intention, goal-setting and happiness.  It is not an easy journey to set goals in a way that involves exploring our intentions truthfully and consciously. My clients are a real inspiration in this regard, living examples that inner evolution and courage go ‘heart in hand’.  May you be aware of your overall life intention and may your goals bring you contentment.