Working Mindfully with Difficulty


Lean into the Tough Stuff

When I first started studying Buddhism many years ago, my first teacher was Chogyam Trungpa Rimpoche. He was awesome and outrageous, courageous, and completely fresh and in the moment. His teachings have spread through the world in the Shambhala tradition that continues as a strong lineage with teachers like Pema Chodron and Sakyong Mipam. Pema Chodron’s recent online retreat ( attracted over 2100 people from every continent in the world. One of the phrases that Trungpa Rimpoche used to use was to advise his students to “lean into” the tough stuff.

Practice without Resistance

Leaning into difficulty is a helpful practice. Leaning in means to welcome any experience with an open heart and mind, without resistance or attachment. Difficult experiences  become sources of understanding that enable us to make better decisions, create greater innovation, and improve the bottom line. Experiences such as conflict or complexity are opportunities to learn to be more present and awake. Being more present can help us improve relationships. If the relationships are working well, our work goes more smoothly with better outcomes. In  organizations today, there are enormous pressures that constrain our ability to think clearly or work together well. When we think clearly, we make better decisions, take better actions, and implement better strategies.

Bottom-Up Brainwork

Using our brains from the bottom-up and it helps us recognize the images and sensations that rise from our brainstem into the limbic system of our brains. Just becoming present to our experience by being aware of the sensations in our bodies brings us into the present with more centeredness. Because we are designed as social beings, our centeredness helps others. When our teams are in the present, reactivity diminishes, and the lack of reactivity helps us create actions and decisions that are just right for whatever is needed. Calm decisions are better decisions; better decisions save us money, effort, and time.

Top-Down Brainwork

We engage our curiosity as a complement to our somatic awareness. When we combine awareness of the sensations in our bodies with inquiry, we use the top-down as well as bottom-up brain power. We use more of the analytic part of brains that integrates complex information. Inquiry with curiosity engages top-down brainwork, and we explore the meaning or history of a situation and its full context. We comprehend the big picture and can make decisions that are precise and beneficial for our business, customers, and team. Inquiry is a great complement to somatic awareness. It helps us access the best of our thinking, bringing on the pre-frontal cortex to understand and think through any situation with clarity and integrity. When we engage in bottom-up (sensory awareness) and top-down (curious inquiry) brain work, the integration of our analytical thinking with our body’s wisdom engages the whole brain, mind, and body in a creative process that sparks innovation and creativity.

Challenge as Opportunity

When difficulty hits, things change quickly and dynamically. By using difficulty, complexity, and challenges as opportunities to lean in, to get close and personal, difficulties provide the opportunity to get better at staying centered no matter how unpredictable, confusing, difficult, stressful, or conflictive things are. When we are calm and centered, we can improve our outcomes and results. Given the times we are living in, a practice of leaning into difficulty is vey helpful. Not easy, but helpful.

About Bernice

Develop leaders and organizations that are able to transform differences and distances into strengths. Deliver online and face-to-face solutions for executives and managers of globally dispersed and virtual teams.
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