When it comes to leadership it's not just about what we do in the outer world, it's also about who we are in the world. In our quest to succeed, we tend to focus on doing, rather than on being. If you neglect your inner life, you put your emotional and physical well-being at risk, and this will have an adverse effect on your leadership abilities. Having a rich inner life means being in touch with your fundamental self and the vast terrain of your hopes and dreams, thoughts, emotions, instincts, and intuition. It is a private space for imagination and reflection which nourishes your creative spirit and a sense of well-being.
Angeles Arrien in her forward to Gabrielle Roth's Maps to Ecstasy: The Healing Power of Movement, wrote, "In many shamanic societies, if you came to a shaman or medicine person complaining of being disheartened, dispirited, or depressed, they would ask one of four questions. When did you stop dancing? When did you stop singing? When did you stop being enchanted by stories? When did you stop finding comfort in the sweet territory of silence? Where we have stopped dancing, singing, being enchanted by stories, or finding comfort in silence is where we have experienced the loss of soul. Dancing, singing, storytelling, and silence are the four universal healing salves."
This passage has great resonance for me, because, on reflection, many of the times I have felt the most happy, content and nourished, have been when I participated in community-based sacred or cultural events that contain these elements.
Ellen Dissanayake, an anthropologist who explores art and culture in her book Homo Aestheticus, advocates "artifying" life, "We invented dance, poetry, charms, masks, dress and a multitude of other artifacts to make day to day activities, whether hauling nets or pounding grain, more sensual and enjoyable, to promote cooperation, harmony and unity among group members, and to also enable us to cope with life's less expected or explicable events."
As British writer Jeanette Winterson notes,
Art is such a relief to us because, actually, it's the real world -; it's the reality that we understand on a deeper level... Life has an inside as well as an outside, and at the present, the outside of life is very well catered for, and the inside of life not at all... We can go back to books or pictures or music, film, theater, and we can find there both some release and some relief for our inner life, the place where we actually live, the place where we spend so much time.
Weaving your inner life with the outer world
Martha Craven Nussbaum, philosopher, and Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago, has this advice for cultivating a rich inner life: celebrate emotional excess as a generative force, embrace vulnerability, overcome fear, and harness the empathic power of storytelling.
Robert and Janet Denhardt in their book on The Dance of Leadership, cite a passage from The Moment Of Movement: Dance Improvisation, noting that while the authors Blom and Chaplin are giving dance instructions, these principles apply to leadership -- and I might add, to life in general:
We must be willing to take risks, committed to the experience, and ready to be vulnerable and open to the self-discovery that is a natural product of the process. We must be willing to listen to others and to be generous with them. An active balance of self-fulfillment and response to others' needs has to be maintained. Basically, we need the courage of our own impulses and responses qualified only by a healthy concern for the people we are working with.
Oprah has built a media empire based in part on the empathic power of storytelling, and on being both vulnerable and open to self-discovery. She has been honored by The Kennedy Center (in 2010) for creating innovative projects that "enhance the world's exposure to the arts and perception of humanity." Oprah credits her success to her commitment to creating an indestructible inner life. During a conversation at Stanford Business School to discuss careers, business and leadership, she said,
I sit here profitable, successful, by all definitions of the word. But what really, really, resonates deeply with me is that I live a fantastic life; my inner life is really intact. I live from the inside out. Everything I have, I have because I let it be fuelled by who I am and what I realize my contributions to the planet could be.
If you seek a richer inner life, then the invitation is to bring more art into your world --not just as a passive consumer, but as a participator in the dance of life. The Proto-Indo-European root of art is "ar" meaning "to fit together." Aesthetic ability is innate in all of us, not just the stars in our midst, and as Dissanayake points out in her research, "art is central to the emergence, adaptation, and survival as human beings." Art helps us transcend the cruelties of life; it restores hope, fosters community, and helps weave our social fabric back into wholeness.