How Answering the Door Can Open Up the Future
In our Futuring work with leaders, we regularly see a habit of mind that limits their ability to lead for the futures they most want. Noticing and shifting this habit can be game changing.
We could call this habit “ignoring the guests,” as illustrated in this brief parable.
The innkeeper snoozes at the reception desk. He hears a knock at the door, looks up in irritation and does not open the door.
Another guest arrives and knocks and then another. Soon there’s a crowd outside, angry at the innkeeper’s lack of response. The innkeeper is unhappy and so are the guests. Finally, he lets them in, and they make a mess of the inn and the innkeeper’s peace of mind.
Sometimes we are like that innkeeper. At the reception desk of the “Inn of our Awareness,” there we sit. Different sensations, impressions, people and situations are constantly presenting themselves, “guests knocking at the door” for our attention. With each one comes a moment of truth: “How will I receive this?”
If we judge that which is at the door negatively and refuse to “let it in,” soon, like the innkeeper, we will have a crowd of unwelcome guests, but unlike real guests at a real inn, these sensations, impressions or situations tend to never go away. In fact they will persistently return and “misbehave.”
This is why in so many cases we find ourselves dealing with the same problem again and again. This is why so often the future we find ourselves in resembles a past we would prefer not to repeat.
You’ll have to determine the truth of what I’m proposing for yourself, but this has been my experience. When I resist, refuse to embrace, deny or reject what presents itself in my life, those elements of my reality return again and again. They will often not take the exact same form. They will often be louder, more dramatic, more demanding of my attention. But until I can open the door of my attention and, yes, even my heart, and welcome in that which I have rejected, it persists around and in me.
And though welcoming seems counterintuitive at first – “why let that nasty [fill in the blank for you] in?” – consider that it could be the first step toward having what we really want.
To welcome starts by acknowledging what is real right now – simply seeing as clearly as we can what is present, and saying, “yes, this is here.” This applies to us in all our roles – leaders, managers, parents, friends. Doing this rather than blocking or resisting what is present requires a change of mind.
Welcoming is a discipline that requires interrupting our automatic habit of judging and then immediately agreeing with our judgements. This emphatically does not mean ignoring or suppressing them; it means including in “what is here” all our points of view, likes or dislikes and all the other varieties of evaluation without merging with them.
When we merge with a thought, we live as if it were true, in a way, we become that thought. When we welcome it, it is simply another “guest” and we can decide in due time how true it really is.
Welcoming also means we are interrupting another strong habit of mind called “association”. Each time we encounter a new thought, a new image, a new sensation, etc. there is an automatic process in the background going something like this … ”oh, that is like X, and I (like, dislike etc.) X.” So, a key skill in the art of Welcoming is the practice of Pausing. To intentionally pause our rush to judgement and our automatic associating requires energy on our part.
If this sounds like a lot of effort, here’s the payoff: if we let what is knocking at the door of our awareness in and do our best to pause, notice our reactions and the myriad things it reminds us of, then after that pause, something new can be seen. If there are connections to be made, they will arise more organically and originally. The connections that arise after welcoming can lead to insights and new pathways for action, as the following story indicates.
In the early 2000’s I was facilitating a group in South Africa that was struggling to come up with a powerful agenda for an upcoming conference. One woman in particular seemed to be withdrawn, and when she did speak, it didn’t move the group forward. We began to explore with her what was going on and discovered that she had been the lead planner of the prior conference. Some people thought it had not gone well and she felt blamed for the poor outcome. Every mention of the upcoming conference brought up unwelcome memories of that experience for her. Without even being fully aware of it, she was “leaving the guests outside the door” and was quite distracted by the continual mental buzz. As we helped her to welcome those memories, see them, say them and let them be, I noticed a dramatic shift in her participation. She was able to first acknowledge that she was having feelings associated with the prior conference and that they were painful. After that courageous welcoming what was present, she was freed up to be a creative, positive presence in the planning meeting and a good agenda for the conference was quickly developed.
The practice of Welcoming strengthens our capacity and our availability, for Futuring. When we become aware of the “unwelcome guests” and deal with them from a position of agency and freedom, we can get into action rather than being in reaction. We exhibit a quality of thinking that leads to high quality action that in turn creates desirable futures.
Thank you for your attention to these thoughts. I would greatly appreciate your sharing with me your own examples of what occurred when you welcomed unruly guests to your “Inn.”