When I started my personal transformation journey at the age of 22, I had no idea what I was signing up for. I started taking classes in practical philosophy, depth psychology and mindfulness meditation. I thought this would somehow make me special.
What I did not realise at the time was how delightfully humbling the process would be—that it would bring me into direct, truthful contact with my confusion, my deep conditioning, my self-obsession, my painful insecurity, my need to feel validated by always being ‘right’, and so much more.
Rather than making me special, it exposed a wonderful ordinariness in me.
I also had the assumption that the process was about giving me what I lacked, fixing what was wrong with me.
Now, as I look back on years of disciplined mindfulness practice, the inquiry processes, the failures and successes, the laughter and the tears, I see that mastery of oneself and leadership development are more about removal than addition.
It’s about stripping off the masks and pretences that keep us feeling isolated. It’s about letting go of beliefs and ideas that keep us locked in self-defeating habits.
It’s about dissolving the inner judge, surrendering the burden of a busy mind, and rediscovering the innate love and wisdom that have been with us all along. It’s a mastery that clears the conditioned patterns that confine us and stifle our leadership development.
And as we let go, we begin to connect with our deepest, truest selves. In a sense, we take Pinocchio’s journey. We become real and authentic, and our artificial selves fade away.
As the parts of us that we want to hide from ourselves and the world are revealed, we are empowered to fully embrace our whole selves. This is how we find authentic joy and meaning in our lives and in our leadership development process.
A story illustrates this well: In a temple in Thailand’s ancient capital, Sukotai, there once stood an ancient clay statue of the Buddha, almost ten feet tall. It had been cared for over a period of five hundred years, though no one knew where it had come from or who had created it.
It had endured violent storms, turbulent changes of government, and invading armies. It was weathered and cracked, but still standing. The monks caring for the statue worried that the cracks were getting too wide. It needed to be repaired.
One day a curious monk shone a flashlight into the largest crack and was astonished to see a gleam inside.
The clay shell was chipped away to reveal one of the largest, most beautiful, and most valuable golden statues of the Buddha ever created. Today, the statue is estimated to be worth $250 million.
It was believed that the gold had been covered in plaster and clay to protect it during times of conflict and unrest.
Mindfulness teach Jack Kornfield explains in his book, The Wise Heart,
“In much the same way, each of us has encountered threatening situations that lead us to cover our innate nobility. Just as the people of Sukotai had forgotten about the golden Buddha, we too have forgotten our essential nature. Much of the time we operate from the protective layer.”
Mindfulness is the process by which we first identify and see that protective layer, and then, over time, begin to chip it away to reveal our True Essence that has always been there.
We realise through mindfulness that we aren’t lacking anything; we already have inside us everything we need to live meaningful, joyful lives.
What’s preventing us from experiencing the highest levels of joy isn’t a lack of anything, but rather the presence of our protective layer of defense mechanisms.
We realise that there is nothing we need to fix; we are already whole. In our leadership development efforts, it is but the illusion of brokenness that must be dissolved.
You are whole, perfect, and beautiful just as you are. Becoming your best self is less a process of leadership development and more coming home to who you always have been.