I invite you to read the question I’m about to ask, then look away from the page and reflect to find your answer. After you’ve answered it, continue reading.
What relationship matters the most to you?
Got your answer? Great, read on.
I love to ask clients this question. Typical answers include: my children, partner, parents, team, oldest friend, mentor, coach, therapist, minister. When asked a second time some add my relationship to god, spirit, presence, the universe. Others add my relationship to myself. Upon further reflection I’ve heard people say my relationship to my career, money, power, my purpose and goals, success, fame and freedom.
In my experience, all relationships matter, yet one relationship matters more than all the rest. And it’s none of the above.
The most important relationship is our relationship with our thoughts.
It is our thoughts about our children, spouse, money, god, success, freedom, etc. that really matter. This is a game changing realization. When I ask people to tell me about their relationship with their thoughts, I often get a blank stare or quizzical look. It’s our most important relationship and we haven’t even begun to examine it.
Once a leader sees this they notice that their relationship is not with their partner or their children or money or time or anything else. Their relationship is with their thoughts. It’s your thoughts about your husband or wife that determine the quality of your relationship with your partner. It is not your partner.
They notice their thoughts and they notice that which is noticing their thoughts.
Most people believe they are their thoughts. They see no separation between what they think and who they are. This view has a long philosophical history going back to Descartes’ “I think therefore I am.”
Conscious leaders realize that the real truth is, “I am, and thinking occurs.” What they recognize is that something is antecedent to thought, something is aware of the thinking, and it is not another thought. It is awareness. Awareness is that which notices all the phenomena of consciousness including thoughts (and all sensory experience including feelings).
Practically speaking, conscious leaders spend time developing the capacity to rest as that which notices thought and is not the thought. They become free from the tyranny of thought by being able to watch thoughts arise and dissipate all in a matter of moments. In simple terms they meditate and practice mindfulness.
They question all their thoughts...
especially the ones that are causing them stress, upset and suffering, especially the ones they’re most attached to and invested in being right about. They discipline themselves to deconstruct their thoughts through the process of inquiry.
For example, when an unconscious leader has the thought “My manager is not giving me enough opportunities to grow and learn,” they actually believe their thought is true and they use their mind to find all the supporting evidence to prove it. Furthermore, since they believe the thought they have an emotional reaction, e.g. anger. And finally, they personalize their thought. They identify as the thought. They are a person without adequate opportunity to grow and learn. This combination of being right, finding proof, feeling upset because of the thought and believing that it’s all personal is a formula (maybe the formula) for suffering.
Conscious leaders come back to awareness, to presence, and they say something like, “I notice the thought arising that my manager is not giving me an opportunity.”
Once they come back to awareness, to noticing, the next step is to welcome the thought. “Oh, a thought just showed up in consciousness. I welcome it.”
Next they interrupt the natural process of the ego/mind which seeks to prove the veracity of the thought. Instead they do inquiry by asking Byron Katie’s four questions.
Conscious leaders see that they are not their thoughts. They are that which is aware of their thoughts. Because they don’t take thoughts personally or seriously they don’t need to believe or reject their thoughts. They can learn from their thoughts. Inquiry turns every disturbing thought into an opportunity to learn and grow.
They enjoy their thoughts
As they experience more liberation from the tyranny of their thinking conscious leaders begin to enjoy their thoughts, to play with their thoughts and to allow their thoughts to be part of the creative dance of their lives. The thoughts become like crayons in a coloring box. The more unattached one is to thoughts the more the thoughts can be used as part of the creative expression of their life’s purpose.
They come to appreciate the peace of no thought
At times conscious leaders enjoy the peace of no thought, the quiet, empty space of non-thinking presence. This, in my experience, is the “peace that passes all understanding.” It is a peace that is always here both underneath and beyond all thinking. For most people this is not a steady state but rather an oasis they visit periodically in their life’s journey. The great masters would tell us that this state can be developed through disciplined practice.
If you believed that your most important relationship was with your children, you’d build practices into your life that evidenced the priority of the relationship and that supported you to have an ever increasing quality relationship with your kids. You’d spend time with your kids, you’d read books about parenting, listen to podcasts, consult with experts and learn from mentors.
My point is that our most important relationship is actually with our thoughts and this relationship requires no less prioritization, learning and mentorship. If anything, it requires more.