The Subtle Elements of Coping, of Striving

In a webinar on Overcoming the Effects of Lockdown, psychologist Tigist Waltenegus made us aware of the fact that when preparing to spend most of our time at home, we may have paid attention to the concrete aspects of life, but not the subtle ones. We perhaps stocked on food and prepared our physical space to stay put as family members, but did we make preparation for the mental and emotional ups and downs? Let us explore the subtle elements of coping with stressful situations, whether we are pausing our life within the domestic walls, or still being fully in action as an adaptive leader.

According to Terri O’Fallon, teacher of adult stages of development, there is a distinction between the concrete and subtle elements in our lives. The concrete entails anything one can apprehend with the senses (rocks, trees, our physical body and home), anything we can touch, feel, see, taste, hear, listen, and smell.

The subtle, on the other hand, is what we experience beyond the senses, what we think abstractly about and feel, including what we can visualize and hear. It includes awareness/ perspective taking, and working with our assumptions, interpretations, ambiguities, and judgments. In the subtle we enter the world of reasoning and reflecting.

I am seeing the benefits of having subtle practices to be in touch with my emotions, and to feel fortitude and resilience in different circumstances, including aiding my current journey to healing. The two I am adopting these days include:

  1. Visualization exercises 
  2. Deep breathing

1. Visualization exercises – while there may be distractions of daily life (digital and of the mind), we can practice focusing on what the heart yearns and is committed to for a desirable future. Feeling strongly about it, Robin Sharma, author of ‘The 5 AM Club’ advises: ‘Heavily resist all piracy of your mastery from this world tempting you into distractibility and causing digital dementia’. He adds that to reach our potential, we can use imagination and with our mind create a better future. In his word: ‘For your attention back to the Everest of potential aching for fuller expression and, today, release all reasons that feed any stagnation of your strengths. Start being an imaginationalist – one of those rare individuals who leads from the nobility of your future versus via the prison bars of your past.’

As an imaginationalist, I imagine my healthy, vibrant self, active, interacting with family members, celebrating life, and contributing to events and projects important to me. I visualize the future, my son’s graduation from school, the way the day would be like: how would the sunshine? What would the expression of those who are present look like? How would I be feeling? How would I be standing? 

As I visualize a desirable future, I do so as vividly as possible. Our mind may not be able to differentiate between the present and the future, so the cells in our body respond positively to these images projected, the way those of athletes respond to the visualization of success in a race.

I find that, at a subtle level, without denying the past, visualizing a positive future daily expands my mind and leaves me feeling hopeful about the present too.

2. Deep breathing exercises – different breathing exercises can have a great positive impact on the energy of the body, by increasing it. One of them is the Wim Hof method, a method of breathing. I am practicing it because, as Hof himself states, ‘Heightened oxygen levels hold a treasure trove of benefits, and the specialized breathing technique of the Wim Hof Method unearths them all: more energy, reduced stress levels, and an augmented immune response that swiftly deals with pathogens.’

As I practice my breathing, I sense a deep acceptance of the experiences of my body, and all that is happening around me. My mind and body work in partnership: neither of the two wish to dominate. I feel more confident to live more conscious of my thoughts, body sensations (even if painful), and even during times of discomfort.

Practices for the Agile Leader

One can have subtle energy exercises to practice for a few minutes every day. This may be imperative as we are called to be better versions of ourselves – to become more agile leaders, critical thinkers, more collaborative, and able to communicate in a relevant manner. There is a great number of subtle practices I can adopt, including journaling, drawing, practicing yoga, spending time in nature, and so much more.

I personally aspire to become a more agile leader, more adaptive and dependable, and practices that develop my subtle self, I believe, will help along the way, to thrive, and not just cope.

Referring to growing our leadership, AWiB Ethiopia is preparing for the Annual May Forum, whose theme will be: “Agile Leadership:  From Authority to Partnership.”  It will be held on 18th June 2020 at the UN ECA in Addis Ababa, and topics related to managing the self and leading with others will be entertained by fascinating speakers. All interested members of the public are encouraged to participate and contribute.

Paying attention to the Subtle

As I spend time reflecting, visualizing and cultivating my inner world, especially during times of tension, deeper healing and growth, I feel calmer and more grounded. 

I am curious: what subtle practices do YOU have on a daily basis?

Many thanks to Dr. Selam Aklilu, for having inspired the writing of this blog.

Written by: Nadia Waber

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