I’ve been having a lot of tornado dreams lately. Freudian analysis aside (please), I finally figured out what they were telling me. I was getting sucked in. I was being invited to learn a new skill—how not to. Dreams are cool, because they are filled with wisdom and teachings.
Tornado dreams have always been one of my dreaded re-occurring nightmares. They would rage through my childhood, giant screaming monsters prowling and looking to swallow me. And in every dream I would run and hide. I would find the tightest, tiniest, smallest crevice, and hide. If the tornado couldn’t find me, it would leave.
As a very sensitive child it would make sense that life felt overwhelming like a tornado. I felt other’s pain, their desires, their needs and demands and I felt it all so closely, I thought it was my problem to solve. And so I spent a lot of my life running and hiding from overwhelming situations. Alternatively, I would scream and rail against them—a fierce terrifying monster myself. Neither worked.
But lately those dreams have been shifting. I don’t hide. I stand there, but I’m also very aware I could be consumed in the roaring chaos. I’m trying to find another way, a more effective way, to navigate the storms—mine and others’—and not get sucked in. In essence, by not getting sucked in, I’ll lead better, in my personal life, and in my company.
Most leadership programs ultimately fail. Why? Because, in spite how much leaders know about ‘how to lead’, they lack the emotional courage to meet the chaos. In a recent Harvard Business Review blog, Peter Bregman writes, ‘Emotional courage means standing apart from others without separating yourself from them. And remaining steadfast, grounded and measured in the face of uncertainty.’
Essentially Peter has found an eloquent way to say, ‘don’t get sucked in’. Sounds lovely on paper, but this is tough work.
In cultivating emotional courage (among other things) to face the tornados of life, it’s important to surround yourself in ‘good company’. What I mean by that is to have wise friends. Don’t waste time with the other kind of friends. You want friends who hold you accountable. Friends who face life bravely. Friends who walk their talk. Friends who you admire. Friends who really see you.
So now I have a confession. I’ve spent the last three weeks getting sucked in. Given that we’ve been sandwiched between blood red eclipses and all kinds of squared-mars-conjunct-craziness, it’s no wonder. It was Kansas. It was Oklahoma. It was tornado season.
And when I say sucked in, I mean majorly. I quit writing, I stopped going to the gym, I forgot to hike, I ate junk, I didn’t sleep. Flinging myself on the couch one despairing afternoon, I was Maria Callas in La Traviata. ‘I don’t want to be a grown up anymore!’ I howled.
When you get sucked in to that tornado, it’s important to call one of those ‘good company’ friends. Immediately.
So the other day I called one of those friends. ‘Help,’ I squeaked.
She was there, and so present. She reminded me that when situations are intense, and people around you are going through their own version of a twister through a trailer park in Texas, you have to be able to determine what’s yours and what isn’t. There were storms at her house too, so she was really pleased to be reminding herself as she reminded me.
And I’m going to tell you what she did for me, so you can do it for yourself the next time your diving for the storm cellar, Toto under your arm.
She asked me to recall a time in my life when I was truly detached from a problem, or when I knew the difference between ‘mine’ and ‘theirs’. Could I remember a time when that spell of over responsibility was broken?
I could remember it instantly. ‘Got it!’ I said.
‘And can you remember where you were, what was happening, what was around you? Can you imagine you are back there?’
‘Yes,’ I said.
‘Good. Now, tell me, what does that problem that you were detached from look like from here?’
‘A red balloon.’
‘How far away is it?’
‘How do you feel in your body?’
‘What do your ears hear?’
‘Not much…it’s quiet.’
‘What do you taste on your tongue?’
‘The coffee I had this morning.’
Like this, my friend kept moving this sense, knowing and skill of detachment, into my body in present time. And within moments I was grounded again, quiet, happy and even loving. The tornados slipped quietly into the tiny red balloon in front of me, suspended unthreateningly about three feet away.
Until the concept of detachment can become a bodily sense, it tends to remain a mental concept. And a cold, distant one at that. But this wasn’t cold, it was true. The red balloon put everything back into ‘right relationship’ and ‘right scale’.
When you summon your spell-broken moment, when you remember being peacefully detached from something, it’ll probably show up as something different from a red balloon. One friend of mine has a dog in front of her, another has a square box.
So I spent all day with my little red balloon floating in front of me. I was more centered, more compassionate, and responded from love instead of fear. And I don’t mean I responded from ‘love for’ anyone; I responded from being inside the peace of love itself.
And then another thing emerged that I found helpful.
In that spaciousness I began to explore what the hook was for me in each situation that sucked me in. I discovered that each hook had to do with some very deep fear or doubt I had about myself. I took the time to confront each fear and each doubt and disabled each hook one by one.
One hook was a belief I was not a good enough mom. The other was some strange superstition about not trusting my capacity to love. The other hook was a belief that if I made myself smaller, it would make others feel safe. And the other was that if I took responsibility for everything (and I mean everything), then I could fix all the problems around me.
My red balloon, and the hook-disabling it afforded me, created a different kind of field around me—not a flat tornado-prone field, but instead a field of ease and calm. And I noticed things began to resolve in unexpected and delightful ways. This, to me, is the inner game of leadership. The magical, quantum quality of being the change one wants to see in the world.
But we can’t do it alone, at least I can’t. When life gets windy, head towards your nearest wise companion, remind each other to find detachment in your bodies’ wisdom, and welcome the opportunity to discover the hooks of lies you believe about yourself.
You can read more of Kelly’s writing at EQUUS, here.