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Awakening the Soul of Leadership

In the last twelve months, I had noticed a lack of contentment with my life.

Work has been abundant, clients diverse and learning aplenty. I’ve joined a new company with lovely new colleagues, I have a new kitchen, and enough flyers miles to continue visiting my mother in Cape Town for very little.

Yet there was this nagging sense of all not being right. I would look forward to a Sunday with no plans and then somehow loose an entire afternoon binge watching a Netflix Series. Nothing against a good TV binge. But I if I was being truly honest with myself, I was hiding from myself.

In the odd moments when I did slow down on a dog walk without digital distraction, I noticed my discomfort with my feelings. I noticed tinges of sadness and grief but couldn’t attribute them to any event in my life.

In sharing with a friend, she asked me what I thought my soul might want. I had to own up to not spending much time recently thinking about my soul. Open to exploring with her, she shared the words of Parker Palmer:

Like a wild animal, the soul is tough, resilient, resourceful, savvy, and self-sufficient: it knows how to survive in hard places. Yet despite its toughness, the soul is also shy. Just like a wild animal, it seeks safety in the dense underbrush, especially when other people are around.

Part of me sighed with relief. In that moment, I knew I had a soul even though I’d be pushed to define it.  

My friend continued and shared a poetic parable about the travellers and their souls.

The story is told of a South American tribe that went on a long march, day after day, when all of a sudden, they would stop walking, sit down and rest for a while, and then make camp for a couple of days before going any farther. They explained that they needed the time of rest so that their souls could catch up with them.  

My friendly wisely offered to me:

“Perhaps your soul needs to catch up with you Catherine. How can you befriend your soul little by little?”

I’ve spent several months at high speed. I’d been in the fast lane of life. My body (flu three times in three months) and my soul had been sending signals. I started to wear black – a colour I’ve mostly avoided in recent years. My discontentment – almost missed in my speed – was indeed a siren call to slow down to allow my soul to catch up.

I have found ways to slow down. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t comfortable. I became aware that I had been in denial over several painful challenges in our world – Brexit and climate change. Feeling helpless and hopeless, I had used distraction techniques to hide from my own sadness.

I am now working on my capacity to be with my own complex feelings on these realities that are mostly outside of my control. As often happens, I find myself having deeper and more meaningful conversations about what really matters with clients and friends.

Like the great thinkers who’ve written on this topic, I have come to appreciate the wisdom of the soul. The soul wants to keep us grounded in our being and is a counterbalance to our ego. The soul wants us to connect to the world around us in order for us to thrive. The soul wants us to be honest with ourselves so we can bring our full self to the world.

The role of leaders is to evoke conversations that matter. As leaders in various roles in either commerce or community, we have an opportunity to create spaces for real conversations. In order to be in service of this admirable and important goal, we need to have done our own work. We need to be aware of our speed of travel. Of how and when we slow down. We need to build a capacity to be with what arises when we slow down. We need to know that we have to stop sometimes to allow our souls to catch up with us.

Is it time for you to stop to let your soul catch up with you?


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