(10/19/18)

The collective consciousness of any community can be its greatest asset or its greatest liability. The energy that creates this consciousness is formed like a chain. Each member of the community creating their own link, one by one. The links of the chain are then connected and form the collective energy which leads to the collective experience. The condition of the chain, either strengthens or constricts the community. 

What follows is a story about choosing to create space to be present and the impact that choice had on creating my link. It’s a story about my experience, what I have learned, what I share and the power of a “present” set point. It is only one illustration of the magic that is possible when our individual links are brought together to create a chain that strengthens the overall consciousness.

Wandering about Savannah during parents weekend, we got the call from my Mom. “I hate to bother you guys but it seems your Dad has been in an accident. I don’t know much but he’s been rushed to the hospital. They have him listed as a John Doe. I’m on my way there.” From that moment forward, my family, and life as we knew it would be forever changed. One minute he was enjoying a sunny afternoon- casually peddling his bike along a sleepy beach road in his baseball cap and khakis. The next, he was found unconscious in the middle of that sleepy beach road- his body shattered, fighting for his life.

A few minutes later, my phone rang again. It was Mom. She was at the hospital. She let us know his femoral artery was bleeding to a near fatal degree and that he required emergency surgery. Without it, he would not survive the next hour. His hip and pelvis, along with a host of other bones, too numerous to count, were crushed. He was bleeding profusely across his brain. His prognosis was grim and if he survived the surgery, even grimmer. We dropped everything and sped down two lane highways between GA and SC to be by my parents’ side. Nothing could have prepared me for what lay ahead or the way my life would be changed.

It was after 8PM that awful night before we were allowed to see him. When I walked into his dimly lit room in Trauma ICU, I saw him lying there, bruised, swollen, bloodied, motionless; a bolt coming out of his brain, a ventilator breathing for him- in and out. I searched for a single place where I could touch his skin. I knew that if he could feel my touch, he would feel connection and love. He would know he was not alone. I looked carefully and found a place, between the vital tubes that were keeping him alive, just wide enough for my first and second finger to rest on his right arm. Before I made contact, I paused. I was a wreck. I had to still myself. I thought about the breathing and mindfulness I had learned from my yoga practice over the last two decades. I searched for that experience that had given me the space for clear thinking so many times before when life had presented challenges. It seemed so far away. I had to rediscover it. I closed my eyes. I concentrated. I took three deep, deliberate, slow breaths, to center myself and to absorb this tragedy that had befallen my Dad and my family. I starting slowly breathing in and out through my nose. The breathing steadied my heart rate and allowed me to connect with a calmer place. I set an intention to slow everything down, to clear my mind and to be right there. I placed my hand on his arm and I sent him love. In the quiet of that sterile room, time stood still and it terrified me.

Over the next two weeks, our family members and friends moved in and out. We waited for the man we loved to regain consciousness. With every day that passed, we prayed for the best and were told to expect far less. I found myself wondering how my Mom would cope if he died. I didn’t want any of what was happening to be real so I did what I had become so adept at doing. I stayed impossibly busy. I was convinced that if I could do everything I had been doing just days before; if I could keep all my proverbial balls in the air, things would be okay and life would be back to normal.

For weeks, I traveled back and forth between states from our home in Raleigh, NC to my parents home in Charleston, SC. iPhone and MacBook in tow, I juggled between conference calls- “ live from the Trauma ICU”. I layered work with breathing, praying, comforting family, greeting friends, receiving the customary Southern meals folks made, talking with doctors and doing whatever I could to help my Mom. All this while spending as much time as I could with my Dad. When I finally allowed myself to sit still in the quiet of his room, with nothing but the sound of the whir of the machines keeping him alive, the stark reality of his condition hit me and a shift happened. I looked at my Dad, I focused only on that moment and the love I was sending to him. Right then, I realized something that brought me to my knees. I wept, uncontrollably. It was as if the core of who I have always been, my “soul shine”, that I had forgotten in my busyness of doing business, suddenly resurfaced. It found me and it was relentless.

A veil was lifted. The thoughts rushed in at once. I sat still, surrendered and made space for them to settle into my soul, as they deserved. I thought about how less than a year before, my folks had closed their doors and retired. I thought about how they had waited to start their new chapter. I thought about how they had saved, invested and planned for the grand adventures they would have “one day when they stopped working.” There was always tomorrow. I thought about this cruel twist of fate and how unfair it all seemed. I wondered if they would ever be able to enjoy their hard work. I wondered if they would ever be able to go home again, together. It broke my heart. It was almost too much to bear. As the sadness washed over me, I remained still and present, breathing in and out. My thoughts took me to the last ten years of my own life and what they had looked like. I thought about how willingly I worked 50+ hours every week and let the minutes of my life turn into hours then days that I could not recall. I told myself there was always a reason. I let my calendar fill without protest and wiggled in “real life” as an afterthought. What the hell had I been doing? At 40 something, I was letting other people’s choices and demands overshadow my now. I was letting the “maybe road” ahead rob me of my present experience. I had gotten caught in the loop. I was squandering my very precious “now” in pursuit of things that may or may not be. What if one day my life changed without warning like it had for my Mom and Dad? The space I created to make room for those thoughts to find me seeded the day my life began to make sense again. That was the day I committed to creating space to fully and unapologetically experience my “now”.

After a few weeks, my Dad began “waking up”. He began piecing together a few words, recognizing my Mom, a friendly face every so often and familiar bits about his four little walls. From the early morning until evening hours, we stayed with with him. Everything existed right there. My Dad relied on us for comfort. When he would wake up afraid and confused, we held his hand. We softly played his favorite music, we read to him. My Mom directed his care team, combed his hair, gave him fresh shaves, bathed him, squirted him with spritzes of his favorite cologne. She held his hand, kissed his lips and told him again and again how much she loved him. She confidently promised him they would walk out of that place together. She told him they would go home. When he slept, we thought good thoughts to create the most positive collective experience we could. When he would wake, we looked into his eyes, smiled and reminded him that he was safe and that he was not alone.

My Dad’s body continued to heal. His speech improved, he began to regain enough physical strength to sit up. Some days, he stayed awake a little longer. The bleeding across his brain, the doctors had warned us would affect him, absolutely did. Suddenly, he had no regard for the future and no care for the past. He was present, fully present. He was amazed by the smallest things and grateful beyond words for the most unremarkable of them. Sometimes, he cried because of the deep gratitude he felt. He took every opportunity to hold the hand of each person who visited him. He looked people in the eye when he talked with them, sincerely curious and fully present. He was engaged as he had never been before. Everything that mattered to him was happening right then, right there. He was effusive with his emotions and generous beyond measure with his kindness. He was very different from the man I knew. My heart was filled by the man that he had become. He was unfolding and creating a new set point. In his new experience, he truly treasured what he now calls “his new life”. He was a far better version of himself and I was inspired. I talked with him. I studied him. I soaked him in. I learned from him. I was envious. I craved the richness and simplicity of life that he experienced and I wondered why the simplicity of my life had become so elusive. I knew I had to have that experience again.

I chose to get myself out of the loop; to slow down and to be every bit as present in my own life as my Dad was now in his. I quickly tied up things at work, released my “urgent” business to the capable hands of my colleagues and went out on leave, without another thought, for several weeks My family needed me. They needed every single ounce of me. They needed me to be with them in every way.

I grabbed my yoga mat, left my MacBook on my desk and turned off my iPhone to everyone but family. I woke up every morning and before putting my feet on the ground, I breathed deeply. I created space to be still. In that stillness, I felt pure gratitude and it filled me up. I took note of each and every beautiful moment. I slowed down to notice the small and simple things that make my life sweet. I valued my own life again in the way I once did, in the way I always should have. I stopped taking time for granted. I was no longer on auto pilot watching my precious life pass me by like a slideshow. I chose to be still. I spent quiet time on my yoga mat every day. It became a trigger to make room for my whole self to connect. I chose to create space. My thoughts stopped racing. I began sleeping soundly. I gave every person in every moment every bit of my undivided attention. The minutes of my life became vivid- technicolor-brilliant. I was experiencing all of it again as I once had. Time stopped melting away.

With choice, intention and practice I created a new experience and found the quiet space I so desperately needed. It was exhilarating and it was surprising. During a time where life had become so frenetic and seemingly so cruel, I experienced more clarity than I had in years. The irony of my new set point was not lost on me. It was humbling. I rediscovered the innate, deep calmness I had let slip away. The calmness I had so foolishly traded for whatever I had been chasing. With each breath that I took, I felt the air fill my lungs. I heard every beat of my heart. I felt the space clear in my brain. I sat still. Ideas began to flow- all sorts of beautiful and productive ones. I found answers I had been seeking. I was steady and I became addicted to my experience and my rediscovered way of moving through my world. The old “race” was no longer an option. This was who I had always been and who I must always be. The slower me became my new norm. I thought about my “one wild and precious life” and found myself grateful for the lessons I had learned at my Dads side. I was filled with joy and energy. I was living life fully again. It took him almost dying to get me there.

My Dad had quite literally cleared space as a result of his brain injury. He continued to have small victories every day. We celebrated them all. As my parents were finally cleared to go home and my time away from work wound down, I knew I needed to preserve and protect the gift of presence and clarity I had been given the great fortune to rediscover. What I chose and what I experienced was profound. It was transformative. I would never tolerate the corporate burn-out I’d allowed myself to suffer from for so long. In the quiet spaces, on a visceral level, I knew I had to share the power and possibility of what I was experiencing. Other people were racing and missing their lives too. I thought long and hard about the ways I could help them experience what I’d learned. I placed visible reminders in our home to (in the words of Mary Oliver) “walk slowly and bow often.” I enrolled in Yoga teacher training. I made a commitment to myself to live in the present and to create more space. I chose to take notice of each moment, one by one. I made a commitment to help others find the same kind of space and joy. I thought about my colleagues, my clients and our work.

I had a crazy suspicion that what I experienced and rediscovered might just translate in my corporate work. I saw a place for the space to exist, thrive and become transformative. I’ve started opening my business meetings by inviting everyone to join me for three deep breaths. We begin by setting an intention together for a shared outcome. We commit to being right there, with each other. We slow things down. We ask curious, considerate questions and we listen to one another, patiently. We’ve started connecting our positive links to create a strong and positive chain.

Astounding things are happening. People are becoming kinder and more focused. They’ve started looking one another in the eye and really seeing the person in front of them. Most people have stopped multitasking. Instead, they are beginning to soak in the space to focus on only the space they are in. I see them filling their lungs with air and dropping their shoulders away from their ears. Collaboration is taking shape amongst peers who have never met. Ideas are flowing and people are experiencing what it’s like to be heard, understood and respected. People are smiling more and complaining less. Everyone’s energy is playing a part in strengthening the collective. People are experiencing fullness and clarity. They are finding peace, clear space and they want more. They are unfolding.

In business, there seems to be an eternal search for “the easy button” with management continually seeking a process or flowchart to tell them how to drive better business outcomes, capture more market share, realize more revenue. They want something they can put into a slide deck and teach. What I know- what I’ve been reminded of over the last few months is this: You cannot put what I have experienced and chosen to “be” into a slide deck. It is not about tools or policies. It is personal. It is about people, plain and simple. The magic starts from within. It requires a commitment to “be” differently, to slow everything down and to be mindful. It can be learned, practiced, cultivated, experienced and shared. When given proper space, it will grow and transform people and their respective communities. When people experience a new set point of space to be, they become hooked. They will be the best version of themselves. They will ignite positive transformation.  As companies form and grow, it’s essential that those who chart the course remember this: people are the heartbeat of every single organization. They can fuel greatness or they can run even the biggest and most powerful corporate giants into the ground. You must lead your business with what you hold dear.

Our pivoting from here to there to the next thing is not working out. People are suffering and the communities they are part of are suffering as well. Good people get caught in the loop, just like I did. Juggling their laptops and cell phones, they over schedule their calendars, race to pick up kids and create spreadsheets as they cook meals or sit in the stands at soccer games. They race from meeting to meeting. Their minds become cluttered, confused. They are everywhere and nowhere. They lose the ability to create the space necessary for new ideas to bloom, for inspiration to find them and to fill them. People become crumpled up, unable to think. They become exhausted. Burn out, poor performance, lack of fluidity, lack of ideation and bitterness are the results. Eventually the lack of space leads to an absence of kindness, low morale, attrition, separateness and diminished relationships with peers and clients. Business outcomes dwindle as people become sleep deprived, unhealthy, depressed, disconnected. They look for something, anything to help them feel full again. The “now” vanishes. Most of us have experienced that set point. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Imagine being able to create a new set point by simply making a choice to be present- to create a new positive link for the collective chain. Making a conscious commitment to sit still, take three deep breaths as you start each day and to reconnect by way of those same three breaths before every interaction, or task you set out to tackle. One person then another then another making a commitment to slow things down, to allow space to soften, to listen, unfold and allow other people to unfold. Imagine each of us making those choices as we go about our work and business. 

Each of us has the power in every moment of every single day to choose a new set point. It starts with intention and awareness that we want something different. Commitment and practice will lead to an experience that will become habit. I’m able to experience this in my work, with my little family of colleagues and with my clients. Our work feels different because it is. I choose the present moment. I give others the space to choose so they can experience it too. We grow our collective experience and we create magic. It is contagious. This is the power of space, intention and the links of the chain that become our collective consciousness.

The power of the human spirit and the consciousness fueled by positive energy cannot be ignored. Nearly five months after the accident, my Dad’s doctors have confessed they have no concrete medical explanation for his remarkable recovery. With the bleeding he experienced, they said his speech should have been greatly compromised and he should not have the ability to feel or convey emotion. He stared death in the face and he has beaten all the odds. We stand in awe of who he is and the life he enjoys. I know the magic I experienced in the hospital room as I held his hand, with my Mom, with my family and our friends. I know it was the stillness, love, positive energy and space to be fully present we created together that healed my Dad. It has healed me and my family too. I am a better human because of it.

Being fully present creates clarity. Clarity creates space and space creates room for positive experiences to take root, bloom and grow. We can choose to be still, to bring space into our world and allow it to transform us. Every person we encounter, everything we do and each precious moment of our “now” experience can be ours. All we have to do is make the choice. It really is that simple.