Posts Tagged ‘kindness’

Flexible Focus #47: Clearing your Clutter

by William Reed on March 31, 2011

Pray for Japan

It seems strange to be writing an article about organizing, when a massive earthquake and tsunami have quite recently and ruthlessly stripped away the lives and livelihoods of tens of thousands of people, the aftershocks of which now threaten the economy of Japan and indeed the world. Never before in Japan in living memory has there been a natural disaster of this scale. There has not been a crisis of this magnitude for Japan since the Second World War, calling for a massive shift in perspective, a foundational shift in flexible focus.

For some the choice has been to leave. An estimated 140,000 foreigners (gaijin) have fled the country, out of uncertainty for their safety, to protect their families, or even encouraged to do so by foreign governments and media. Under the circumstances, and particularly for some, it is not hard to understand. But this phenomenon has created a new word called flyjin (literally, foreigners in flight), and even a website to track the phenomenon.

For those of us remaining in Japan, by choice or necessity, a part of our attention is constantly monitoring the situation, the impact it will have, and our role in helping others get through it. The crisis has made us all far more aware of what we need and don’t need. The loss of power from the disabled power plants has effectively shut off the source that had formerly supplied 1/3 of Tokyo’s power needs, creating the need for planned rotating blackouts in 3-hour shifts. By any stretch of the imagination, it must be a logistical nightmare to keep everything running. Remarkably, many of the planned blackouts have been cancelled at the last minute, and did not need to be implemented, because of a fundamental shift in flexible focus among the Japanese people. From the day that the crisis hit, the whole nation mobilized and cooperated with a massive campaign to conserve electricity. Factories and shops, people young and old have proactively spread the word, creating a shift in consciousness overnight that was driven by social media, which has kept everything running, and prevented the need to enforce power loss by taking down the grid.

This movement gained a name and quickly took on a national following, and Yashima Sakusen has mobilized the nation to do more than just pray. Although the cities and homes are dimly lit, these dark evenings shine like a spirit that has awakened from a long slumber. Once again, we can see the canopy of stars overhead, and have made connections with people around us and all over the world, who formerly were too busy to even keep in touch.

Many are saying that both conservation and cooperation were essential characteristics in Japanese culture to begin with, qualities which are now surfacing in this time of need. Crisis tends to bring out the best and the worst in people. In this case, it turns out that there was a lot of good in people just below the surface, which has come out for all the world to see. It has also brought forth a massive and profoundly moving show of support for Japan from around the world, as people offer their emotions, donations, and physical resources in the movement called Pray for Japan.

In addition to the cooperation of people to pull through this disaster, there has been a shift in consciousness. It is almost as if we have been granted a degree of clairvoyance, a new transparency in which people’s hearts and intentions are far more transparent than before. Perhaps it was the clutter, the non-essentials, the bill of goods that we had been sold over the years that prevented us from seeing this clearly until now.

As Samuel Johnson said in defense of William Dodd, a clergyman who was tried and hung for forgery in 1777, “Depend upon it, Sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”

Wabi Sabi

How can the Mandala Chart help us to facilitate this shift in consciousness which has been brought on by the crisis? It is certainly a clarion call to get back to basics, and to devote your time and energy to the things and people that matter most. As a simple exercise, take a Mandala Chart and fill it in by answering the following questions:

  1. What are 8 ways in which I can serve the most important people in my life?
  2. If I had to keep or choose 8 things, what would they be?
  3. What are 8 things I can do to clear the clutter in my life?
  4. What are 8 goals or values by which I choose to navigate my life?

Simplicity has always been at the core of the Japanese aesthetic, not through austerity but in refinement. The aesthetic of Wabi Sabi, wisdom in natural simplicity has a long tradition in Japan, on a par with the Greek ideal of Beauty in Western tradition. Indeed, the appreciation of Wabi Sabi has long been associated with the refinement of character, and even seen as the first step to satori, or enlightenment.

Roger J. Hamilton, author of Your Life Your Legacy, says that, “Wealth is not how much money you have, it is what you are left with if you lose your money.” This itself is a shift in perspective, because from this perspective, rather than hoarding money and defending your property, you might pay more attention to investing in and protecting your treasures in the eight fields of life, health, business, finance, home, society, personal, learning, and leisure.

I saw a cartoon many years ago, perhaps it was in The New Yorker, in which a Japanese couple were seated in front of the tokonoma alcove in a Japanese room, with a hanging scroll and a simple flower arrangement in a pot. The wife is saying to her consternated husband, “I was at my sister-in-law’s today…They have two pots.”

What the Japanese aesthetic of Wabi Sabi offers us is the realization that simplicity is more than austerity, and that you can experience abundance in many ways through appreciation and creativity.

Space Clearing

One of the things that prevents us from seeing life in this way, that shields our eyes from the wisdom in natural simplicity, is that we are surrounded by too much clutter. As a practical means to clearing the clutter in our lives I recommend books and websites by three amazing authors, which can help clear the way for a Wabi Sabi awareness, regardless of what culture you are from.

Karen Kingston The Feng Shui Art of Space Clearing, an internationally renowned consultant on Feng Shui, the art of clearing and revitalizing spaces in buildings, and whose approach is based on the lovely aesthetic of Balinese architecture and space clearing.

Terrah Collins Western School of Feng Shui, whose site opens with a Mandala Chart, and whose approach to Feng Shui uses the Chinese iChing as a Mandala to view the 8 sections of a room or home as a Bagua Map, including; Career, Health & Family, Fame & Reputation, Creativity & Children, Knowledge & Self-Cultivation, Wealth & Prosperity, Love & Relationship, Helpful People & Travel.

Erin Rooney Doland, Unclutter Your Life in One Week, a practical, fun, and no nonsense approach to clearing the clutter from your life, with a book and blog to support you in the process both mentally and physically.

Three remarkable Western women, who have mastered the essentials of an Eastern process, and made it accessible to the rest of us. Buy their books, follow them on Social Media, and give them your support. They will help you many times in return.

Then turn your thoughts and prayers to Japan, who needs your help more than ever, and in the Wabi Sabi aesthetic has a treasure that can clear the clutter from your mind, and help bring the world back to its senses.

Image Credit: widjana

Flexible Focus #39: The Principle of Gratitude

by William Reed on February 3, 2011

The roots of inflexibility

One of the hardest lessons of flexibility is letting go of the ego’s attachments. Pride prevents you from achieving flexibility, because it insists on being right, being first, or being better than others. It’s companions are alike, inflexible, stubborn, righteous, and condescending. These attitudes have ruled and ruined empires as well as personal relationships throughout history, and of course are equally evident today.

The ancient Greeks called it hubris (hybris), excessive ambition or pride leading to a fall, or to total ruin. In Asian tradition, pride is like the brittle stick which does not bend, but only breaks. The inflexibility of mind, also known as the hardening of the attitudes, is ultimately the cause of the problem. It is better to be flexible, like bamboo.

Unfortunately, pride can be deeply rooted, and actually leaves visible traces in your posture and bearing. In Japanese there are many expressions for the body language of pride and its many moods: high nose (hana ga takai), big attitude (taido ga dekai), bent mouth (kuchi ga he no ji), twisted navel (heso magari).

We must become the change we want to see. ~M. Gandhi

It takes discipline and awareness to restore the flexibility you had as a small child, to be simple and natural. And there is a faster way to flexibility, based on a Mandala Principle from Buddhism, the Principle of Gratitude (慈悲喜捨 Jihi Kisha).

This 4-character compound contains the keys to that principle.

(Ji) Kindness, Love, Benevolence. Giving other people happiness or abundance.

(Hi) Compassion, Mercy, Charity. Offering support, or a helping hand.

(Ki) Celebration, Joy, Empathy. Feeling happy for other people’s happiness or success.

(Sha) Giving, Releasing, Forgetting. Giving freely without strings attached.

These four attitudes, or four gratitudes, will quickly open your eyes and your heart to a deeper level of flexible focus. Instead of looking for things, you will see and notice them, as well as understand exactly how you can help people in each situation. As a reminder, you can download the Mandala of Gratitude, and start using it in your daily life.

There is no limit to how far you can take this. But even if you do not approach the depth of gratitude and awareness of Mohandas K. Gandhi or Mother Teresa, the very intention to shift your awareness toward gratitude can change your life. It will certainly improve the lives of the people around you.

A new model for coaching

While the term Jihi Kisha comes from Buddhism, the importance of gratitude and giving thanks is universal to all religions and even in secular life in all cultures. Even the master of human relations Dale Carnegie, author of the world’s bestselling classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People, said that the key to human relations was “to be hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise.” For a great summary of other Dale Carnegie wisdom, visit My Choices, My Life.

Why not apply this to your own relationships, particularly those in which you are supporting or coaching another person, whether it be a family member or friend, or a coaching client?

While it may seem difficult to strive for high character ideals, the Mandala Chart gives you a structure and a tool that you can adjust and apply to your own situation. Using any of the PDF templates in this Flexible Focus series, or the Mandala Chart for iPad, you can start with eight key questions or points of focus, or you can create your own, and you will have a coaching tool with far more flexibility and functionality than a mere list of bullet points.

When you start doing this, one of the first things that you notice is that you are not the only one in trouble, and there are lots of ways that you can help other people, starting with those around you. The more you do this, the more good things come back to you, unless that was your reason for doing it in the first place. Give without strings attached. Give because we are all connected.

Lose the scarcity mentality and replace it with one of abundance, and make the world a better place. It all starts with you!