Helping Nonprofit Leaders Transform Conflict

Leadership Coach and Mediator

Shame, Creative Tension, and More

All my commitments fly out the window: “I reflect, before I react.” “I see the positive in every person and every situation.” “I accept myself unconditionally, especially when shame arises.”

In a second. I have nothing left but a puddle of shock, fear, shame, and anger.

‘Tragic expression of unmet needs?’ Never heard of it. All I hear are criticisms, demands, evaluations. ‘Seeing our interdependence?’ Not today. I take her remarks personally and my mind races with defenses, counter arguments, attacks. ‘Empathetically guessing: “Are you feeling upset and scared? You want more respect and safety?”’ My mind draws a blank.

All I can do, is stare at her moving video image on my computer screen and desperately (and thanks to my Sangha, moderately successfully) try NOT to express the angry, anxious thoughts clamoring to come out of my mouth.

I barely succeed in saying “I love you” at the end.

After we hang up, I feel deflated, discouraged, hopeless.

My thoughts are: “What a fool I am for believing I could create a warm, extensive community that includes me, my husband, my family, and friends. What an utter idiot I am for having that crazy dream, trying to get my reality closer to my vision.”

The emotional tension is so intense that all I can think is “Give up, give up, give up. Pack your stuff and fly back to the Netherlands.”

And then I also think of something I read in Peter Senge’sThe Fifth Discipline”:

“The juxtaposition of vision (what we want) and a clear picture of current reality (where we are relative to what we want) generates what we call ‘creative tension’: a force to bring them together, caused by the natural tendency of tension to seek resolution. The essence of personal mastery is learning how to generate and sustain creative tension in our lives.”

“People often have great difficulty talking about their visions, even when the visions are clear. Why? Because we are acutely aware of the gaps between our vision and reality… These gaps can make a vision seem unrealistic or fanciful. They can discourage us or make us feel hopeless… If we fail to distinguish emotional tension from creative tension, we predispose ourselves to lowering our vision.”

This was a literal and figurative call back to reality. Apparently I am not anywhere close to seeing my vision fulfilled. My reality is very different from where I thought it was. Yes, this is a set-back, and yes, I feel discouraged about it.

And that doesn’t mean that my journey is in vain. It means the difference is a learning opportunity for me. Where am I on the path? How do I work -not fight- with the obstacles I face? How can I be more creative, resourceful, and whole?

How can I make the journey the reward?

And with that inquiry I shift to feeling a little more settled, at peace, and hopeful.

Let me know: how do you work with creative tension? I would love to hear from you.

Conversations about change, introduction (1/6)

changeYou want to change, and you’re failing. You try, you struggle, and finally give up. Your mind tells you: “Ah, it was not so important after all.” “It is too hard, it is just impossible.” “You don’t have time for it anyway.” “Your dreams are too big, you are not worth it.” Your mind has all kind of good reasons to stop trying. That’s what minds do: maintaining homeostasis, maintaining the status quo. You’ll just never wear these skinny jeans, you’ll never be a compassionate Bodhisattva, you’ll never make enough money.

Feelings of disappointment, self-judgment and criticism arise as you acknowledge that you are not the person you want to be, and might never be. Peter Senge calls that emotional tension. It often leads to lowering your vision, bring it closer to your current situation. This helps lessen the tension, and the anxiety. Personal masters are those who use this emotional tension creatively. Instead of bringing their vision closer to their current situation, they use the tension to think of steps that bring their current situation closer to their vision. Emotional tension becomes creative tension.

Personal masters are brutally honest about their reality ànd hold on to their vision. Personal masters have compassion with themselves, and excitement about their dreams.

We all want to be personal masters. We all have dreams of togetherness, compassion, contribution. We all want to strive for what is good, pure and wholesome for all of us.

We often aren’t.

This week is dedicated to change. I will support you taking steps towards strengthening your mastery skills. So that you can transform the emotional tension into creative tension, and create the life you love. So that you can honor your dreams and hold on to them, even if evidence seems to indicate that they are unattainable.

This week, at the turn of the year, we’ll take a step towards our dreams. Together.

Contact me, if you want my help to bring more self-compassion, healing and integration in your life.

Self-compassion, day 3: radical honesty

Radical honesty. Nope, not my thing. It sounds nice, but not for me. I rather believe what I want reality to be, than be upfront with what is true.

Byron Katie suggests we increase our self-awareness by turning thoughts about others around to the self. You replace the ‘he’, ‘she’ or ‘they’ in the thought with ‘I’.

Castel Sant' Angelo, Roma.

Castel Sant’ Angelo, Roma. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I much rather not do that. It shows up as “I am not completely honest with others about my actions and situation.” I don’t like that at all. I prefer to keep my focus on the other, and judge him for not being completely honest. It’s just easier that way. I have no desire to focus on the not-so-sunny-sides within myself. I rather keep believing that I am completely honest with everyone and everything.

Hum. That doesn’t work either. It creates cognitive dissonance. My system remembers all the times I didn’t disclose information if I thought it would harm me. My system remembers all the times I presented myself much more positively than I in reality was.

Peter Senge describes personal mastery as the ability to be completely honest about your current situation and to hold on to your dreams. Personal masters are those people that don’t get overwhelmed with the emotional tension that arises when they see the difference between where they are and where they want to be. Or who they are and who they want to be. They don’t get discouraged when they are less compassionate than they want to be, they don’t give up when their mindfulness is not as full as they want it to be. The difference between reality and vision generates creative tension, and they use it take a first step to their vision. Their honesty helps them to identify where they are and buy the relevant map to get to where they want to be.

They want to arrive in Rome. They bought a map of Germany, thinking they were in Germany. Now they wake up to reality and realize they are on the North pole. That sucks. And they understand that their German map doesn’t help, and buy themselves a new one. Then continue their journey to Rome. They don’t despair for being farther away than they thought. They don’t blame themselves for being stupid thinking they were in Germany. They take a breath, nurture themselves, get the right equipment and continue their journey.

Hum, that sounds yummy… Maybe I should tell my friends that I have secretively been eating their chocolate, every time I’m at their house. To get more real with who I am. And then take it from there. On my path of more joy, compassion and harmony.