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Breathing Into the Present

This past weekend (March 24th-26th 2017),I attended an emotional intelligence workshop at Yale. The workshop was organized by Dr.Emma Seppälä, the author of the book The Science of Happiness and Annelies Richmond. The workshop lasted for three days around three hours per day from Friday to Sunday. Why did I sign up for this workshop?

I have grew more interested in psychology and the study of leadership during my senior year.The practice of self-examination has often led me into deeper reflection about myself and the people around me. My identity, my strength/weakness and my relationship with the people around me have been the center of my reflection. The one-to-one leadership session with Coach Leng Lim (BA.Princeton, MBA.Harvard)in late January led me into the door of self-searching and self-understanding. The book Alchemist and the book Designing Your Life as well as the knowledge around Enneagram have enriched my toolkits to analyze personality and to be aware of the so-called auto-pilot mode, while at the same time encouraging me to retrieve my own Personal Legend. Therefore, in the light of these events, the workshop this past weekend fitted very well into my senior year's schedule as a continuation of my acquisition of knowledge about positive psychology.

Four big ideas can be distilled from the workshop and I am going to discuss each of them followed by my own thoughts.

1. The feeling of belongingness is a state of mind, created within rather than without.

Human beings are social animals and we are constantly seeking a sense of belongingness in the society. It can be when you are hanging out with your friends, attending an event within an organization, or working hard for your employer. Even loners or people who are perceived to enjoy solidarity may act in such way to prevent themselves from constantly feeling abandoned by the society when they are misunderstood or misjudged by their friends or colleagues. Hence, belongingness connects with happiness. The more socially connected we are, the happier we feel. So what does it take to feel socially connected? Do you have to be a popular star followed by lots of fans? Do you have to be the class president being seen hanging out with people all the time? The answer is surprising because you do not need any of these. What it takes to feel socially connected depends on how socially connected you feel. Some people may say this answer is none-sense, but think about it. Do you feel more connected with your surroundings in a sunny day than a rainy day? Do you feel more socially connected with your friends or even strangers when you just submit your senior theses and are ready to celebrate the graduation? Therefore, to feel socially connected, the key is to prepare ourselves. To bringing positivity out of ourselves will allow us to feel more socially connected even when you do not have friends physically around you. Interestingly, the more positive you feel, people are more likely to smile at you and therefore the more socially connected you can feel. Hence, it is the negativity, the anxiety and the self-doubt within us that create hurdles barring us from the feeling of belongingness and the feeling of socially-connectedness. To jump over the hurdle, all you need to do is to change your mentality.

2. Staying at the present moment is beneficial and it can be maintained through breathing technique.

Our brain is powerful in the sense that it can travel between the past and the future at a speed maybe even faster than the light. The way our brain does it seems almost effortless. The moment we were kids playing in the backyard, the moment we become billionaires occupying a huge mansion of the size of Jay Gatsby's. It is not within the range of this blog to explain how our brains can perform such miracle, but it is part of this blog's purpose to point out how detrimental such time-traveling albeit powerful can be to our inner peace. Our anxiety stems from our lingering in regrets of the past or our yearning for the future. Both are not real in the sense that they are not actually happening right now right here. But think about how much time our brain actually stays in the past or in the future during our daily 24 hours! It seems the most difficult state for the brain to achieve is the present moment. What it means is that we are not 100 percent at what we are doing right now. As we are all hoping sometimes that we can live in the present breaking free from our past regrets or the anxiety towards the uncertain future, what can we do to better help ourselves to stay in the present moment? The workshop taught me the breathing technique. Although breathing almost happens unconsciously, it is always happening! By being aware of our breathe, we can actually bring our mind to the present moment. Regulating our breathes to a slower pace, especially elongating the length of exhalation, also helps us to calm down and be more peaceful.

3. Being present helps the building of leadership as it facilitates human connection.

One of the important leadership skills is to be able to connect with others. Such instant connection will lead to trust and the feeling of credibility, both of which are crucial for a leader to successfully bring his or her team to achieve a common goal. One thing I have observed these years is that sometimes we are more present when we are with strangers or people we are not that familiar with than when we are with our close and intimate ones. I also learnt from experience that it is more hurting to the other for you to be not present with your close one than with a complete stranger. Being present allows us to engage fully in the conversations, allows us to listen more clearly what the others say and allows us to better feel what others feel. Through these, we will be able to connect with others. Recall the moment when George H.W.Bush (U.S. President from 1989 to 1993)checked his watch to see the time when a black female was stating her question to the President during the Presidential debate. President Bush completely disconnected himself from the present moment and therefore disconnected himself from winning the trust from the black female, the audience and the American voters. In contrast, then Arkansas governor Bill Clinton rose to answer the question which Bush failed to answer. His sincerity and his full-of-details answer touched the black female and made her feel understood and connected. The rest was history. Hence, being 100% present will make us charming and trustworthy to the others, and it will also allow us to connect to the others more efficiently at a deeper level. All of these qualities are what a great leader is all about.

4. Acceptance of people as who they are brings up a peaceful mind.

In the last day of the workshop, we did an exercise where each of us and our partner faced each other. We were instructed to look into each's eyes and being mindful of each's presence when we closed our eyes. When we opened our eyes again, we were told to hold each other's hands and accept the person in front of us as who they are. I have never done such practice before and as many of us said when giving feedbacks, this practice felt powerful and we wish we could do this practice with our friends and our families once a while to connect with them more deeply. As human beings, we form our judgments towards our friends and our family members. This projection of our view onto others sometimes becomes a habit or even an unconscious routine. Anxiety usually arises when the reality challenges our judgements and we feel perplexed and anxious at our inability to predict others and our slowness to embrace what they do and to accept who they are. By offering unconditional acceptance of people as who they are does not equal being agreeable but being tolerant, patient and open-minded. If we could simply accept others as who they are, we will be saved from unnecessary depression when others fail to fit in our judgement and we will entertain a more peaceful mind.

Conclusion

This three-days workshop is a great initiative by Emma and Annelies to help cultivate the awareness of how to improve emotional intelligence. Both Emma and Annelies are very caring, nurturing and knowledgable. Through this workshop, I learnt that 1) the feeling of belongingness can be fulfilled from within, 2)staying in the present moment is beneficial and it can be achieved through breathing technique, 3)staying in the present cultivates great leadership skills, and 4)acceptance of others as who they are brings peace to one's own mind.


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