The Forgotten Half of Sustainablity & Leadership: The Inner Dimension/Perspective – the Sufi Approach
- András László
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Subtitle: In Search of Creativity and Meaningfulness – an Inner Perspective of Leadership
András László, Founding President & CEO of EuroVisioning.eu
Essentially, the paper will explore the Inner Perspective of Leadership & Sustainability so seldom touched upon.
First, a concise introduction of Sufism and the teachings of Sufi Masters Hazrat and Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan will set the tone & framework within which the focus on the missing link–the Inner Perspective– in the Sustainability & Leadership literature will gradually unfold.
The introduction will highlight:
– new Settings/Dimensions of Consciousness according to Sufism
– the Transcendent Dimension: Awakening from Personal Consciousness
– the Spiritual Dimensions of Emotions
– the Essence of Creativity: Tapping in to the Thinking of the Universe
– the Shift of Perspective–turning within– results in an overall transformation
– the Search for Meaning
Within this outlined Sufi framework, the paper will continue to explore the so needed LeaderShift in our age of mass collaboration & ever deepening interconnectivity.
It will point to the Ethics of Sustainability as well, and as regards Spiritual Leadership & Creativity, it will put in the forefront: the recovering of the Soul, the Heart and the Wisdom as pivotal added value.
It will conclude highlighting and pinpointing the Essence of Spiritual Leadership/LeaderShift: to catch 'that what transpires behind that which appears'
What is Sufism?
Sufism is not easily defined, for it is neither a distinct religion, or cult, nor a distinct and definite doctrine. It does not require adherence to prescribed dogma or ritual, and welcomes members of all races, nations and beliefs. It has existed throughout the centuries in many cultures. There has not been in any period of the world’s history a founder of Sufism, but it has incorporated through the ages teachings originating in Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, ancient Egypt, Greece, and India around its Islamic kernel.
Sufism is a way of looking at the world and a way of living in the world. It emphasizes bringing one’s highest ideals into everyday practice. It is way for humanity to awaken to the abundance of life, both individually and collectively, in every area of human enterprise.
Great Sufis have appeared at different times and have founded schools of thought. Their expression of wisdom has differed to suit their environments, but their understanding of life has been one and the same...Every age of the world has seen awakened souls, and as it is impossible to limit wisdom to any one period or place, so it is impossible to date he origin of Sufism.
The main ideal of the Sufi school has been to attain that perfection which Jesus Christ taught in the Bible, “Be ye perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect.” The method of the Sufis has always been that of self-effacement; but the effacement of which self? No that of the real self but of the false self (on which man depends, priding himself on being something in order to allow that real self to manifest in the world of appearances). The Sufi method, thus, works toward the unfoldment of the soul: the self which is eternal, to which all power and beauty belong.
Sufism was intellectually born in Arabia, devotionally reared in Persia, and spiritually completed in India.
The term Sufi may have derived etymologically from the Greek Sophia, wisdom, which is acquired both from inside and outside. Some, however, refer it to suf, the woollen garments worn by the fukran who are those observing austerities.
What is the Sufi Order in the West?
The Sufi Order evolves from the universal spiritual tradition of the Chishti lineage which originated in the East and was brought to the West by Hazrat Inayat Khan, the founder of the Sufi Order in the West, in London in 1916. He was given the task by his Sufi teacher to “unite East with West in the harmony of your music” (Hazrat Inayat Khan – a renowned singer/vina player – was rewarded the greatest musical title in India: Tansen of India). As the first Sufi teacher in the West, Hazrat Inayat Khan sought to make the spiritual legacy of Sufism responsive to the needs of our time. He landed in America, and later travelled to Europe and Russia, sowing the seeds of Sufism. He was one of the first speaking of an emerging planetary consciousness as the next stage in the spiritual evolution of humanity. In the later years of his life, he spoke of Sufism as a mother who would give birth to child, whom he called the Message, that is beyond any names and labels. He believed the Message would facilitate the awakening of the consciousness of humanity to the divinity within, and bring a new life to all facets of human endeavor.
Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, son of Hazrat Inayat Khan, was born in London in 1916. His early years were imbued with both the rich mystical tradition of the East and the heritage of the West. His later training also reflects the synthesis of East and West. He studied philosophy and graduated with a degree in psychology from Paris University, later did postgraduate work at Oxford, and also studied music at l’Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris. He, then, began an intensive practice of meditation in India and the Middle East with Sufi masters and teachers of various other meditative disciplines, and carried out long periods of seclusion and retreat. In 1926, his father named him to his successor and head of the Sufi Order and the Confraternity of the Message. In accordance with his background, Pir Vilayat exemplifies the global consciousness of the emerging holistic age, allowing him to fulfil his purpose and present the message of unity. All his life, Pir Vilayat was a well-known master of meditation who has integrated the ancient traditions of meditation practice with the relevant creative forces at work in today’s world. He has evolved a holistic approach to uplift and expand consciousness and then incorporate heightened awareness and insight into everyday life situations to find meaningfulness in activity and an understanding of one’s purpose in life.
“The solution to the problem of the day is the awakening of the consciousness of humanity to the divinity of man.”
The human soul is continually seeking to realize its true being and fulfill its purpose in life. This can be seen not only in each individual’s yearning to realize to the fullest the potentialities inherent in his or her being, but also in our collective being’s unfoldment towards the highest expression of human existence. The consciousness of humanity is awakening to the interrelatedness of all of life, and this is reflected in the new holistic understanding of the universe emerging in all spheres of human experience today. We can see this trend in the growing concern for the ecological balance of our blue planet, interest in holistic health, a deeper social conscience concerned with the plight of suffering people all over the earth, and a growing awareness of the one underlying truth brought forth through all the religious traditions. At the same time, recent scientific discoveries and research are disrupting established concepts and models of the universe. In physics, biology, medicine, and psychology the very foundations of our notions about life are being superseded by the realization that we are both a fraction of the universe linked with all other fractions by resonance, and also the totality, as every cell of our body contains the code of the whole universe. This view, in fact, corroborates the vision of the mystics throughout history who have peered beyond the frontiers of their separate and limited personal perspectives to encompass the vaster reality of the whole.
This is the way of the Sufi, which views life in the light of the one essence behind the surface of life, that essence revealed by all the religions.
Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan highlights the words of wisdom of his father by explaining that “what Hazrat Inayat Khan calls the awakening of the soul of humanity to the consciousness of the divinity of man is something that is happening on a large scale and we all are part of it. Consequently, our meditation can no longer be confined within one person, even to liberate ourselves from one person, because together we constitute a reality that is more than the sum of its parts...This is God being born in our midst, in the convergence of our souls. The most meaningful thing in life is that something is gained by existence, by the interfacing of us. The heavens are enriched by the experience of the earth; in other words, God is enriched by His experience of becoming man. Thus, the new orientation of the Sufis is emphasized in Hazrat Inayat Khan’s teaching on the art of personality and God’s fulfilment in existence in and through man. The purpose of man is like the horizon: the farther he advances, the farther it recedes. There comes a time when one discovers a cosmic purpose beyond one’s personal purpose. This is exactly the realization that was outlined by Hazrat Inayat Khan as the motto of his age: the awakening of humanity to the divinity of man.”
Following this concise introduction to Sufism and the teachings of Sufi masters Hazrat Inayat Khan and Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan allow me to put in the room – as a kind of transition – four wonderful and insightful quotes:
Thinking is the enemy of creativity. Ray Bradbury
The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics and cynics…We need people who can dream things that never were. John F. Kennedy
The most important thing going forward is to break the boundaries between people so we can operate as a single intelligence. David Bohm
The dream of one person is just a dream. Dreaming together is the start of a new reality. Friedensreich Hundertwasser
“Every human being creates as he/she breathes”, André Malraux once said. A drawing of a child, a sonata of Mozart, a new car... they all are hallmarked by creativity. But what does it mean to be creative? Is creativity a gift, a genetic or cultural endowment, or a conditioning of an environment?
For societies as well as for each one of us to be creative means first of all to have that ardent desire to live. Creating in everyday life is inventing a world which one feels happy to live in, together with others.
To create means "to bring into existence". Creativity is essentially an internal, ongoing process within each of us. As Carl Rogers pointed out so accurately in "On Becoming a Person": "The creative process is the emergence in action of a novel relational product, growing out of the uniqueness of the individual on the one hand, and the materials, events, people, or circumstances of this life on the other. The mainspring of creativity appears to be man's tendency to actualize himself, to become his potentialities".
I shall explore this idea of actualization and existentiation of potentialities more indepthly further on.
In the 3rd millennium, the necessity for the transformation of our goals, perceptions, feelings, attitudes, behaviours, communication patterns and values behind our judgments and decisions intensifies and is of pivotal importance.
Today's economic, social, cultural and ecological challenges can only be met powerfully and effectively through a shift in consciousness and awareness which in fact is already well under way today. The good news is that more and more people today are becoming aware that we have fundamental challenges to overcome – in our families, our emotional systems, our cities, our governments, our economic systems, our international relations and our planetary environment – and that we must find new ways to confront these problems.
Marcel Proust once said: "The real act of discovery consists not in finding new lands but in seeing with new eyes."
In his seminal book: The forgotten half of change – achieving greater creativity through changes in perception, a dear friend of mine, author Luc de Brabandere, Europe’s best-selling author on business innovation and a partner in the BSG –the Boston Consulting Group, explains the difference between innovation and creativity. Changing reality is innovation. It requires action by a team, is continuous, takes a long time, and delivers something new to the system. Its impact is measurable and certain, and requires the use of tools and project management. Creativity, on the other hand, changes perception and requires thinking/feeling. It is a challenge for individuals and is discontinuous, taking an instant. Its impact cannot be measured, and it requires learning methods fuelled by questions, surprises , and incomplete answers.
He further argues that “to really change, we have to change twice. Not only do we have to change things, but we have to change the way we see things. Innovation, thus, is the people’s capacity to change reality, and creativity is the capacity of the people to change their perception of reality.”
Change in perception – the instant of a new idea, creative and disruptive.
The key to this change in perspective and to inner leadership is to turn within.
Millions of people the world over are trying to transform and improve their lives. More and more become aware that the answers for a changed world are not coming from sources outside of themselves. The answer comes from within: to discover the whole world outside of us as part of us, to awaken to the myriad of potentialities latent in us and waiting to be activated and come through in our personalities.
In confronting oneself, taking responsibility for one's own thoughts, feelings, emotions and actions, one touches upon a level of awareness where one experiences unity with all the living through love and compassion and the power of creativity.
Turning within, thus, means a shift in attunement, in perspective.
Withdrawing your awareness from the physical and mental planes and focusing it on the inner depth of your being. As you go deep within yourself, you discover a whole new mode, a whole new dimension of thinking/feeling which you never encompass in your ordinary way of thinking. You also discover dimensions of your being entirely different from the ones with which you normally identify. To look inside yourself means to reach beyond the limits and limitations of your own self-image. It is an internal way of looking at things, thoughts, emotions, opinions, people, problems and situations. By practising it continuously in everyday life, one has the chance to see connections between things which did not seem to be connected. One can see the interrelatedness of all people and things, the interdependence rather than the independence and the separateness of events/individuals – which is the way you normally think when you are considering the world as it appears from outside.
The inside is governed by resonance, affinity, and a very fine attunement: everything is interspersed with everything else. Everything is delicately interwoven, like a net, an inner-net.
As a good illustration of this interplay outside-inside, you could consider the difference between swimming at the surface of a lake and seeing the separate lotus flowers, or, swimming under the surface and seeing that the flowers are interconnected, all part of a large network. In the deeper, more impersonal mode of thinking you experience receptiveness, openness to all possibilities and qualities waiting and wanting to come through, and enrich our personalities. Reaching out from inside removes the obstacles standing in the way of our unfolding the potentialities that are lying in wait in our being, and touches upon more vast and subtle levels of our being.
The self-organizing creativity emerging from within and interfacing with the environment makes all the difference. This is inner leadership.
In this mode of thinking and awareness: experience has become self-discovery. It is exploring through your creative imagination what you would have been if you could have been what you might have been.
Creativity is a birthright of each of us. We all are born with the unlimited potential to be creative, to display this potential, and by doing so to contribute to the development of the unlimited potential of our universe in ongoing transformation.
With each creative act one has the impression that suddenly one’s horizon has been broadened. Limits have disappeared, fears have been transmuted in new possibilities: another frame of reference has emerged, which goes with an increased sense of autonomy, confidence and marvel. This is inner leadership.
To create and to be a (n inner) leader means to call upon the best in oneself, with love, compassion, sensitivity, imagination and inspiration. Constantly being alert and open to that which presents itself, transpires through that which appears and wants to emerge. The creative being and leader is always ready to transgress, to go beyond that which confines in order to awaken that which lifts up. Obstacles are viewed as challenges, errors as precious information, setbacks as opportunities to break through.
Yet, more than ever more and more people find themselves willy-nilly enrolled in the inexorable machinery constructed generation after generation conditioning them and robbing them of their creativity and (inner) leadership.
At what cost our modern efficiency?!
People suffer from the total lack of opportunity to harness their creative urge, unlike before arts and crafts were replaced by machined standardization – now computerized. Our experiments with political institutions have proven how crucial freedom is to promote progress. In fact, freedom from conformity generates creativity and leadership. On the other hand, there is nothing in the world more abused than creativity. We see its consequences in the decadence, vulgarity, carelessness and permissiveness of our modern societies.
There is no accounting for taste!
To quote Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan: “One could define creativity as the act of exploring unchartered regions of the mind while grasping a correspondence between the mental constructs thus gleaned and a form of configurations or scenarios in the fabric of matter. Creativity is then a congruent conjunction between the timeless and the transient, the heavenly and the earthly. It is a sudden sense of meaningfulness that sparks our innovative faculty. What is meant by our sense of meaningfulness is our mind’s ability to click when it grasps a correspondence between two thoughts which had hitherto appeared unrelated. To be creative rather than just fanciful, one’s vision needs to click with the possibility of its actual realization at the existential level.”
Creativity and inner leadership in everyday life?
How to create in everyday life that radiant ability for renewal, that liberty called creativity? Is it not, first and foremost, a revolution of one’s perception and attunement?
To see and to resonate without purpose, without preconceived ideas, without desires and feelings distorting the reflexion in the mirror of the eye.
To really see, that is: to unveil.
How can we create the necessary conditions for creativity and leadership to emerge in an inner openness and silence?
It has everything to do with broadening, uplifting our consciousness, focusing it on the way we live, behave and act in everyday life. First of all, it requires an alert attention of every instant so that deep in us creativity can burst forth as freedom enabling us to welcome any change with a complete inner receptiveness. To create and be a leader, then, means: to be able to meet any situation in an original and fresh way. And the spectacular thing in such a moment is to discover that boundless receptiveness in the glance of another person.
Creativity (and leadership) is not reacting to the environment, or processing it, nor has it been promoted, or even catalyzed by anything from outside. We do not know what the system of the process of association is that led to it; it may have been catalyzed by a situation, a thought or a feeling, but it is not a reaction.
One of Europe’s most sought after leadership speakers, Emmanuel Gobillot, explores in his latest groundbreaking and fast-paced book Leadershift – Reinventing Leadership for the Age of Mass Collaboration the world of Mass Collaboration (meaning: the collective actions of large number of people working independently of organizations) and what it means for leaders. He twice quotes French author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. The first quote goes as follows: “As for the future, your task is not to foresee it, but to enable it.” According to the Saint-Exupéry, is most of what leaders –still – do: engineering. Faced with any narrative the usual leadership answer remains still always the same – find, attract, nurture and convince by engineering (or that other fad: reengineering) solutions to problems. Mass collaboration requires, precisely, that we find a new modus operandi. Gobillot continues his argumentation as follows: “Our leadership models have been influenced by our understanding of the psychology of both leaders and followers. We look for deficits that need to be fixed rather than strengths that can be augmented. We focus on why individuals do what they do, hoping that by deepening our understanding we can engineer better control mechanisms. Leading in mass participation requires us to become social anthropologists, focusing on the communities that are created, rather than the psychology of any one individual who contributes to one or more of them. The aim of leadership will always be to secure engagement, alignment, accountability and commitment. What is changing is the way in which we will achieve these. If you ever feel the world of leadership is getting tougher it is because it is. The reason this is being felt like never before is that the world opening in front of us is making many of our tried and tested success recipes redundant.”
Gobillot’s closing reflections start by quoting Antoine de Saint-Exupéry again from Wind, Sand and Stars (1939): “What saves a man is to take a step. Then another step. It is always the same step, but you have to take it.” He, then, argues that: “I can’t help but think that the ultimate leadership challenge is not the erosion of the powers and tools thrust upon us by a turbulent environment. The ultimate challenge for any of us is the ability to take Saint-Exupéry’s first step. We cannot second-guess the future. There is no point looking for a truth that will answer all our concerns. It is not out there. Our job as leaders is to take the first step, without trying to second-guess or fearing what might lie ahead. Our future lies in our ability to march proudly into our future – at some times leaders and at others followers – working together, building on each others’ strengths.”
Creativity and inner leadership is – in essence – the capability of the human being to tap in to the thinking of the universe which is the greatest miracle. The exploratory drive in human beings is crucial, because it is, exactly, creativity. It is trying out new ways of doing things and new combinations.
Meaningfulness is the true criterion of creativity and inner leadership.
It is meaningfulness that makes us choose between fantasy and imagination. The question of meaningfulness is very important for intuition, and when we are creating, it is our sense of authenticity that is at work.
What makes somebody creative? The incredible amount of energy, the flexibility, the curiosity, the sensitivity as well as the willingness of constantly challenging and questioning him/herself. Creativity brings the whole person into play. For the artist – and aren’t we all to some extent and at different levels artists at a moment or another of our lives? – the creative act means total commitment of his/her whole being.
The experience of omnivalence is a cornerstone of creativity and inner leadership.
Yet, is there a form of creativity and leadership which would enable us to confront in a better way the challenging problems of today’s societies? If so, are certain forms of creativity possible or even necessary to help us to survive, or – what is still more important – help the diversity of life to survive?
What kind of creativity and inner leadership is needed for young people to regain the conviction that they all are and can be creative? How to prevent culture from becoming more and more a product-inflated issue? Which role creativity and inner leadership has to play in the changing approach to the concept and environment of work as well as in utilizing the ever increasing leisure time that will be at our disposal? How to rekindle in young people the self-confidence and true joy of fully participating in creative activity?
Does part of the answer lie in catalyzing social creativity? Drawing on the deepest and most potent of its sources at our disposal: science, art, religion and education?
Certainly a cornerstone and pivotal part of the answer can be found in the shift in perspective, the turning within as I tried to describe above.
Let me end by a poem of Lao-tze (sixt century B.C.) and two quotes of wisdom, the first by Gandhi and the second by the Hungarian Uomo Universalis Sándor Weöres:
Lao-tze: "There is no need to run outside
For better seeing,
Nor to peer from a window. Rather abide
At the center of your being;
For the moment you leave it, the less you learn.
Search your heart and see
If he is wise who takes each turn:
The way to do is to be".
Gandhi: „Our real power does not lie in our ability to change the world but in that of being able to recreate ourselves.”
Sándor Weöres: “To become a genuine human being, the essence of who you are, turn within, explore your depths and transilluminate yourself, and, then, radiate your inner light on those around you and your environment.”