The Covid Shutdown: Breathing the Spirit of Leadership.

[Tweet “The Ego is captive to urgency. The Spirit breathes in the calm.”  – DGM]

Covid has been offering us all a chance to live in sociology experiments.  Our petrie dish is our house. It has become a WeWork space by day:

  • A former governor runs a national podcast or makes donor calls from Jack’s bedroom
  • Cece and Damian teach DC 4th graders on Google Meet from opposite sides of the dining room table
  • Al studies for finals in the living room.
  • Connor holds therapy sessions in the TV room.
  • I teach from the basement workout room.

We’re all wearing ear pods or headphones. On coffee breaks, we often wear them into the kitchen and are unsure whether someone else there is lost in an audible book, music, a podcast or some client work. It’s primal, packed. I’m recalling – or perhaps regressing to? – my home at 29733 Hiveley Street in Inkster, Michigan in the 1960s. There 7 kids and 2 parents rubbed elbows, threw fits, or played games together. We learned to share – with just 3 bedrooms and one-and-a-half-baths. (And yes, you budding or real psychologists, all of my old issues are being re-stimulated. LOL – but sometimes, as my dad would say – “for crying out loud, will you kids…” I guess that would be COL.)

In a crazy way, there is more space than pre-Covid if I choose it, like I did as a kid, when my introverted self instinctively found quiet up a tree, on a roof, or on the swings at the park two blocks away.  It was so local; every space I needed to be was right there. But over the last decades I have been running, as much as almost anyone I know.  In 5th gear, all the time. Covering territory, baby! My busyness equated to my ego’s importance. Each class, each client, each meeting offered a chance for achievement, greatness, and progress! Move. Move. Urgency pressed in. I sped through every place. I really didn’t want a co-worker to come to my door to chat. Even on R&R, I ran in the most spectacular regional redwood parks, but mostly just saw the 2 feet in front of me, lest I hit a root or a rock. I measured my speed and distance, as if that measured something important.

I lived in this amazing home, but hardly imbibed the view. Meanwhile, Jen was flying hundreds of thousands of miles – the habitual aisle seat kept her from the marvel out the window, but ensured she but could get off the plane faster; each plane like the last;  each hotel a carbon copy. We covered miles of space, but often were not present in the spaces we were in.  

Eight weeks into the virus, eight years at this home, I said to Jen last week, “you know, our bedroom has the best view in the house, but our bed doesn’t face the (legendary San Francisco) Bay. We have to turn sideways to even see it! Why don’t we turn the bed?” If that sounds incredible to you, believe me it boggles our minds that it took us eight years to wake up to where we ARE.  Now, we are breathing in that space. Now, we are gardening. Now, we are here, not frequently flying. It took us eight years, but we are walking our wonderful winding neighborhood Drives and Paths and Streets and Circles, and we are where we are.  

If we’ve discovered an abundance in (less!) space, this is even more true about time. 

There is some objective truth that many of us have found more time:  No commute. No parking. No “urgent” shopping – for what seemed pre-Covid to be necessities. No social dinners. No sports on the telly. Many fewer planned or spontaneous meetings. These days, I roll out of bed, grab a bite, and I’m at work. 

But the shift is less in the freed-up time than in an orientation to time. When we breathe into the slower pace of Covid times, we come closer to that essential truth expressed by the cartoonist Bill Keane, or perhaps improved by the animated sage Kung Fu Panda): “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called a ‘present.'”* And they might have more accurately said, not that today is a gift, but the gift is this moment, or this instant. I can wake up with my ego worrying about this day – the client, the class to come – but I can come back to the breath, to the present, and the sound of the birds. Can you slow? Can you be? 

The Ego is captive to urgency. The Spirit breathes in the calm. I think it’s no accident that some of the most profound books ever written came from prisoners: Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela, Victor Frankl and Elie Wiesel, to name a few. Confined space. A different sense of time.   

I am quite certain that leading demands that a person “be here – now.” It is a life time practice to do so. And Covid offers us such a wonderful experimental ground to not only slow outside, but to slow inside, so that we can breathe in this moment: the oxygen from the trees outside your door, the puzzles on the table on in the face of your difficult boss, the sadness or sheer beauty in the eyes that meet you in the moment. 

Even when you Zoom this week, slow down to

Lead with your best self.  

Resilience!  Watch for our coming

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*You can find a delightful tracing of this quote here, if like me, you’re a quote bug.