During May, we are rallying behind the many groups and organisations who are actively shining the spotlight on Mental Health Awareness this month.
Did you know that around one in four people* have been diagnosed with a mental health condition in their lifetime? So if you have ever experienced mental health difficulties at work, you are not alone. And it is likely that at least some of your team colleagues are in the same boat.
How do we deal with these challenges as leaders – both for ourselves and for our teams? What tools can help us, consciously and whole-heartedly, utilise our capacities for empathy, courage and compassion?
In this article, we look at how one of our Global Warriors team members has adapted the practice of mindfulness to resource herself in the face of challenging times.
(* Thriving at work: The Stevenson / Farmer review of mental health and employers)
Jacqueline Beall has been a Global Warrior for over six years, a Mum for 23 years, and a dancer since she was two. Known for her warmth, nurture, and poise, she brings those same qualities into her work as a leadership coach, equine coach and training facilitator.
In the course of pursuing her career and striving to find balance in a life that has presented her with plenty of challenges, Jacqueline has developed a practice that quite literally, has transformed her life.
A couple of years ago Jacqueline’s brother fell ill and she found herself in the role of his primary carer. The extra responsibility and the pain of seeing her brother suffering put a tremendous amount of strain on her, and it was during this time that Jacqueline started to become more conscious about a concept called “Kindfulness”. Today it informs almost every part of her life and work.
We sat down with Jacqueline to chat about how Kindfulness helps her, not just to cope with the difficult moments in life, but to appreciate the beautiful moments too; how she uses it to strengthen her resilience; and how it helps her to step into her own courage, and her own sense of Warriorship.
Global Warriors: Hi Jacqueline. The theme here at Global Warriors this month is Kindfulness. And while there are other people out there using the term, most of us here first heard it from you, and it seems like you have a unique take on it. What does Kindfulness mean to you?
Jacqueline Beall: For me, Kindfulness is a combination of mindfulness and self-kindness. Bringing present-moment awareness to what is going on, and then adding a layer of self-care.
GW: And is Kindfulness something you just use professionally, or has it been important to you in your own life?
JB: So, so very important. When I had my last episode of depression, it was my Kindfulness practice that got me out of that dark hole. It was that ability to stop, be fully aware of what is going on, and be my own best friend for a moment. To give myself a hug, and say ‘yes this is shit, but its ok’. It was allowing myself to accept my emotions with kindness, and without that judging, critical, ‘pull yourself together’ energy.
I really believe it’s that practice of Kindfulness that helps me to notice now when I might be slipping or spiraling, so I don’t get too far down that slope.
GW: So, is it mostly a coping mechanism to deal with tricky stuff in life?
JB: Oh no, it’s not just about the dark times – it’s about the great times too. How often do we not acknowledge and savour the great moments? I walk a lot now – that’s part of my Kindfulness practice. Just breathing in the air, noticing the water, the ducks, everything around me. It’s about appreciating it all rather than thinking, ‘what have I got to do today? – oh no I didn’t answer that email; I need to be on that call’. Kind of turning off the mind chatter to be fully present to myself and my emotions, and savouring them whether they are pleasant ones or difficult ones.
GW: It’s interesting because most people can get behind the idea of enduring or putting up with difficult emotions, but few would talk in terms of ‘savouring’ that stuff.
JB: Metaphorically it’s like chewing something over – it might be a really lovely piece of chocolate, or it might be a bitter pill, but it still needs to be taken in, it will still nourish you in some way.
GW: It’s such a beautiful metaphor! The natural response when we eat something that doesn’t taste nice is to spit it out and never go near it again. But if we all did that, we’d never try new foods…and we’d all get sick because we wouldn’t take our medicine!
JB: The medicine is the wisdom – the learning that comes from an experience whether it tastes good or bad. When it’s negative, the savouring is important for me because it’s a reminder that this is something that I need to experience for whatever reason, and in order to deal with it, rather than suppress it, I need to savour it. I need to fully connect and ask myself, ‘what can I learn from this situation?’
So, the savouring might not necessarily be enjoying the moment, but it might be gathering some learning or wisdom – like what is going on, what is this teaching me?
GW: So, I can see the link between that present moment awareness and learning about yourself – say more about how that’s helped you cope with difficult times.
JB: Well in that awareness often there is a discovery that I make about myself or a situation that gives me a different perspective. There’s no harm in having a duvet day and hiding under the covers but at some point, you must come out. And I know from my experience of depression, that it’s very hard to come out from.
During my last bad episode, I felt like I was sliding into a black hole and my fingers were literally clinging onto the bank, and I knew that if I slipped, I’d never come out of that hole. I could feel the severity of it. It was really dark. But having those different perspectives was so helpful. Every time I had that shift it was like I was getting closer to the top of the hole.
GW: And what is the practical impact of that perspective shift?
JB: I think for myself, I’m either in a state of Kindfulness or I am in autopilot – just functioning. I do everything I need to do; the world sees me in exactly the same way, but I’m just doing, doing, doing. I get really busy with doing stuff. I almost switch off my emotions, and I’m just ‘doing’ all the time. I don’t give any attention to my state of ‘being’.
With Kindfulness, it’s about taking care of your ‘being’. Because your focus and attention are in the moment, there is an opening of your vision so you can see the bigger picture, and therefore you get different options…
GW: Options? In what way?
JB: You have options around how to resource yourself. If it’s a really challenging situation then your resilience is feeling drained – it’s about how to build up that resilience.
GW: And what kind of things help you resource yourself?
JB: Usually it’s going for a walk by myself in nature, being outside, breathing. Dancing is another thing that brings me alive. It’s very simple because it keeps me present. If I’m tap dancing it’s a solo thing, so I must be really present, so I’m present to the music, staying in rhythm, getting all my beats clear. If it’s salsa, it’s being connected to my partner.
Like I said, it’s OK to have a duvet day, but it’s not something I try to do too much – that would be numbing, like trying to hide, whereas the whole thing about Kindfulness is about purposely bringing yourself to the present moment and being fully aware of what is going on.
GW: How does Kindfulness help you step into your Warriorship?
JB: When I think about Kindfulness I feel empowered, because I am back in control. A lot of the fear around mental health issues is that people feel like they are going to be out of control, they fear that the anxiety or the depression will take away their power. With Kindfulness I’m in control and that gives me the courage to face situations. I look back on some of the situations that I’ve dealt with and I think ‘oh my god, how did I even get through that?’ and it was purely and simply because I gave myself the courage to be in control.
I know when I was looking after my brother, every morning I would light a candle and I would breathe in its light and give a blessing to help me get through the day and give me what I needed. Even though I didn’t know it then, that was Kindfulness.
So, with regards to Warriorship, I believe we need Kindfulness, because we need to be able to fully prepare and empower ourselves to step out there, to stand in the fire, to be brave, to fall down, to get back up again.
For me, it gives me perseverance in terms of being courageous. I’ll get up again, and get up again, and get up again. It connects me to my courage, to my strength, to that fire in me that says, ‘there’s a purpose to this, you can do this’.
Is there a tool or practice that you have adapted successfully to resource your leadership? If so, please share with us in the comments below.