“There was an exhausted woodcutter who kept wasting time and energy chopping wood with a blunt axe because he did not have the time, he said, to stop and sharpen the blade.”
Anthony de Mello 1
Pausing to allow awareness
There’s a playful pivot point of possibility that exists between the moment something in my world triggers me and the moment I react to that stimulus. I can create so much in that moment if I take the space to pause, become aware of what’s going on in me and then respond with awareness. The woodcutter feels exhausted. His axe is blunt but he does not to take the time to stop, consciously consider his situation and sharpen the blade.
Thinking about values vs embodying values
I’ve been reflecting recently on how this applies to ‘values’. Martha Lasley, in her book Courageous Visions2 suggests: ‘Values hold the essence of your experience. They form the building blocks of your personal foundation. Values answer the question: “What do you stand for?”‘ She suggests: ‘When you look at what you must have in your life, beyond your basic needs, you usually find a value.’ As I coach clients and reflect on my own path, I realise how easy it is for ‘values’ to be a concept or aspiration, without being something we fully embody.
I’m guessing you are familiar with the list of values that the organisation you work for would like you to demonstrate. If you haven’t connected with these values you may wearily describe them as ‘motherhood’ or ‘pie in the sky’. When you encounter such a list of values, do you stop at that playful pivot point of awareness? Do you take time out to connect with what it is you long for? Or do you react without thinking about what values enliven you?
What really matters to you?
I frequently invite coaching clients to consider what values they want to live by – now. This is not about coming up with a list of values that sound acceptable or altruistic but are lacking in life. This is about discovering what really matters to them. For one it might be family, playfulness and adventure, inclusion. For another it might be connection with nature, security, community.
Discovering your values
If you find yourself reacting with criticism to the values of your organisation (due to your valid but maybe hidden needs), I invite you to discover what values are most important for you. You might write a list. If so, check that it’s not just your logical mind writing the list – but all of you. Notice what arises in you when you connect with what matters. It may be an emotion like excitement (when you think of adventure), or indignance (when you think of inclusion or equality).
Living your values
Once you have your list of values, you might like to ask: “How much am I honouring these values – in all aspects of my life?” If your personal values align with those of your organisation, chances are you’re flying! If they don’t, chances are you are feeling stressed, dispirited, unmotivated, cynical, or “switched off”. Ask yourself: “How can I honour my values while also honouring my organisation’s values?” It’s about becoming aware and then choosing to make choices that are life affirming. If your values and those of your organisation are completely at odds, what do you need to do to more fully live your truth? And – for leaders: How can you create an organisation where people can safely express their personal values in a way that is respected, valued for the diversity their approach to life offers and becomes part of the review process of your organisation’s values?
The aware life is worth living
Anthony de Mello, a Jesuit priest and psychologist who spent many years running a counselling organisation in India once said3: ‘The unaware life is a mechanical life. It’s not human. It’s programmed, conditioned. We might as well be a stone, or a block of wood… If you want to wake up, be aware of what you are saying, be aware of what you are doing, be aware of what you are thinking, be aware of how you are acting. Be aware of where you are coming from, what your motives are… The unaware life is not worth living.’
What can you do to further nurture your awareness to create a life worth living?
1. de Mello, Anthony. Taking Flight. Doubleday. NY. 1990. p35.
2. Lasley, Martha. Courageous Visions. Discover Press. PA. 2004. p56
3. de Mello, Anthony. Awareness. Font Paperbacks. Great Britain.1997. p67, 146,