When I got angry or upset as a child, my mother would say, “Count to ten before you say anything.” A friend recently shared her practice of taking three deep breaths as soon as she feels a sharp reaction coming on. She says that lately she often still needs three more! Whether you’re counting to ten or taking three deep breaths, the idea is to shift out of impulsive reaction and into considered response.

In today’s VUCA political and social climate, the mass response to the Great Breaking Open of systems and structures is increasingly what might be called the “Great Pulling In” or the “Great Defending Your Ground.” Fear is gripping many people’s perspectives – fear that their worst scenario will unfold. When fear has us in its grip, we tend to pull in tightly to our own worldviews, to our own particular needs and interests. We can easily lose any sense of objectivity.

However, there is another way. Last week, I wrote about our societal need for deep listening – for more discovery and insight, less opinion and positioning. We continue this week with a practice for remaining open and curious. This practice can be particularly helpful when you are confronted with opinions or perspectives that you don’t agree with, or with actions or outcomes that concern or even frighten you. It’s a practice of sensing and feeling into the bigger picture of what is happening. The intention is to find a way forward in which everyone can get at least some of what they need.

Today, whether from Facebook or Twitter, television or radio, newspapers or magazines, we are constantly bombarded with polarized and dumbed-down views on pretty much everything. As a result, discussions can quickly devolve into sound-bite talking points that we’ve heard, and perhaps even repeated, way too many times. In sound-bite discussions, it’s impossible to sense or perceive a bigger picture view. Participants are rarely open to sharing and exploring different ideas and perspectives. Instead, sound-bite discussions mostly serve to widen the divide between “us and them.”

In contrast, here is a simple, four-step approach that can literally change your life. It will take practice and focus to make this approach your habit. However, if you devote yourself to the practice, I promise that it will make a difference.

The first step is to practice being fully present with whatever is happening in the moment from a place of curiosity and non-judgment.* Sense and feel beneath the surface, beyond the obvious. Drop down underneath the situation to sense what is there. Lift up above it to get a higher-level view. Practice holding an attitude that everything that you see, feel, perceive, and observe is just information. Resist the temptation to interpret or label the information as good or bad, right or wrong. Information without interpretation has no emotional charge.

When you interpret information too quickly, you can easily become trapped in what you already know, assume, think, and believe. There is no room for any other possibility. Your mind and heart are closed.

Yet when you are able to receive information without immediately interpreting it, you allow it to show itself to you. It might show you a different context than you would have otherwise assumed. It might show you a different perspective, or invite you into a different experience. Curiosity and allowing situations to show themselves to you can open your heart and mind.

Step back to observe and gather information. Let that information talk to you. Let it show you pictures and possibilities. Be open to receive. Take it all in and let it show you a bigger picture of what is happening. Let it show you something that you hadn’t known before. Let it expand your awareness.

Once you are able to sense and feel what is happening from a broader perspective, go to the Three Fundamental Questions of Transformational Presence:

  • What wants to happen?
  • Who is that asking me/us to be?
  • What is it asking me/us to do?

As the bigger picture talks to you, you may start to get a sense of what wants to happen in service of something more than just you. A message comes through.You get a sense of a shift that wants to happen, a potential that is trying to break through, or a broader perspective that can serve the discussion and open possibilities.

As you sense that message or potential, ask it what it needs from you. How is it asking you to show up? What qualities or characteristics is it asking you to embody? Perhaps it’s asking you to be honest, courageous, creative, or playful. Or maybe it’s asking you to take on a particular role in order to move the situation forward in a way that everyone gets at least some of what they need or want.

Once it is clear who the potential is asking you to be, ask it to show you or tell you what it wants you to do. Perhaps it’s asking you to share another perspective or to invite a different kind of engagement. Or maybe it’s an action or a particular step that will move the situation forward in a way that all of the stakeholders are served.

When you know your next step, take that step and see what happens. Then go back to question #1 and follow the questions again.

This simple practice acknowledges that all of the information that we need in any moment is available somewhere in the energy field of what is happening. The ancient Hermetic Principle of Polarity tells us that nothing can exist without its opposite also being present. Therefore, “us” cannot exist without “them.” One side of an argument or one perspective on a situation cannot exist unless the opposite side or perspective is also present. All perspectives are necessary to sense the whole. If we will pause, step back, sense and feel into what is happening in the moment before reacting, we stand a much better chance of finding our way forward together. And everyone gets to be heard and have a say in what the next steps could be.

We will never move beyond our current VUCA conditions as long as most public discourse is based in sound-bite discussions. However, these four simple steps can transform public discourse. In summary, the four steps are:

  • Sense and feel the bigger picture of what is happening.
  • Ask that bigger picture what wants to happen in service of something bigger than you.
  • Ask who it needs for you to be – how it needs for you to show up – and respond.
  • Ask what it wants you to do and take that step.

And then go back to #1.

Count to ten, or take three deep breaths, or do whatever you need to do in the moment to give yourself time and space to sense a bigger picture. It can be an enormous first step toward creating a world that works.


*Note: If you first need support in just being fully present, the welcome video to the Center for Transformational Presence includes a simple exercise to get you started. Click on that link and then scroll down to the first video.

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