I went to a training night with the Coaching Federation I am part of a few months back, and the topic for the evening was ‘Executive Coaching and Deep Intelligence’. I wasn’t sure what to expect, I didn’t even research too much into the facilitator prior to arriving, yet it was this part of the invitation that hooked me, ‘looking beyond emotional intelligence towards a spiritual assessment tool’. I work daily in the executive environment, yet behind the scenes I am deeply passionate about my spiritual experience, sometimes away in the esoteric and other times grounding my energy to connect me with my place in the world. So being able to see a way to blend these two worlds felt exciting, especially when there was some academic rigour and validation behind it. Perhaps the ‘airy-fairy fluff’ I value could be utilised more and applied in the business world, what a possibility! Insert Cindy Wigglesworth, a Texas-based leadership consultant who has researched and led the development of a framework that can measure one’s spiritual intelligence using an assessment tool called SQ21™.
Cindy was introduced, and what struck me immediately was her calm nature, irreverent sense of humour and her presence – by way of being articulate, she was so clear on what she was teaching us, and you could really feel her belief in what she had researched and was now guiding us through. Not many people are so instantly engaging and perhaps it was aided by my attraction to the topic that made me like her straight away. Cindy was generous enough to create some extra time for me recently to chat further about passions, as part of my interview series. Once again, Cindy spoke so eloquently, even when her responses were unrehearsed. As you’ll read below one of her many talents is the gift of speech and being able to explain complex ideas in a digestible way that you and I can understand. Cindy gives a theoretical perspective, different to others I have interviewed in the past, and wades me through how she has combined business and soulful worlds so that people can start to look at corporate leadership in a different light, as her way of leading a passionate life.
– – –
C: Let’s start with the word passion shall we Leigh? I haven’t spent much time working with it, so I’ll be ad-libbing a bit. So if you were to ask me, ‘what does it mean to live a passionate life’, and talk about passion in that context, then we’re obviously not talking about the type of passion that makes the cover of a romance novel, are we?
L: Ha, no, no we’re not discussing that type of passion!
C: Although there is nothing wrong with that! I’m going to discuss my Jungian analyst’s take on it. Eros from Greek mythology is the ‘driving force of life’. It expresses itself in its most embodied form in sexual passion, but there is a much fuller expression of Eros, and that is to ‘be in love with life itself’. That form of erotic is not the usual definition we have, but I think that is what you’re pointing towards, people who are passionately engaged in their own lives? Would that be accurate?
L: That’s spot on.
C: Right, so there is sense in understanding and being aligned with the life force. Life has it’s own direction and it’s almost like we’re tapping into passion that way. I see it Life as eros/ passion and we’re just putting ourselves in the river of it to experience it. We have a connection with the driving force of life and we can diminish it and make it small, or we can enlarge it, simply by how we interact with it. In that regard, we diminish or enlarge our own lives.
L: I can see that, a visual comes up for me, how I can relate to that increase and decrease towards my drive in life – the river.
C: Exactly, and I feel we can diminish our passion in life when we engage with material things only. I don’t want to be an anti-materialist, but say for example, someone’s passion in life is collecting sports cars. That may be something coming from an egoic, insecure nature, or it could be a genuine engaged passion. As I’m thinking out loud, I want to also say that it is possible to come across somebody who is passionately engaged with cars, and it has nothing to do with material possessiveness of having the coolest Ferrari. It’s possible, somebody might just think engines and transportation, or car design is inspirational. There is an end goal that helps us decide: is the passion small or is the passion big? If there is something that is Higher Self, or universe-connected it seems to have a different texture to it.
L: Would you say there is a depth to it? There is a surface level and a deeper level?
C: Yes, so someone could be collecting Ferraris out of insecurity. Or they could be collecting cars because they are tuning into this deep drive to move and explore, to connect.
L: I get it, because they love sleek design, vintage cars, or the beauty for instance.
C: There is something deeper there. It’s like we have an inbuilt truth detector. You can tell when the passion is fear-based or ego-based, and therefore not deeply nourishing, but placating. Versus when a passion is deeply valuable and inspiring, that person will seem so alive, you’ll want what they have.
L: Do you think we, or you, can tell when someone is expressing it to that depth, can you measure the depth?
C: I think you can feel it. It’s almost like two tuning forks. When you hit one the other one vibrates the energy. There is a tuning fork in each of us that can feel when that Eros is alive in someone else, that the other person is tuned in and turned on. It wakes it up in us all.
L: Beautiful. So, stepping away from theory, what does ‘passion’ mean to you Cindy?
C: For me, it is a sense of service. Being of service to something larger than myself. That something feels uniquely mine to give. I often feel that life is not completely accidental. If I (and us all) am blessed with certain gifts, talents, opportunities and resources I can choose to use those for the maximum benefit of this Eros of life, or I can play small. One of my personal tests is, if I am on my death bed and I look back and see this day and this decision I am making, would I think ‘you were playing small, kiddo’, or would I think ‘well done, two thumbs up’? That sense of two thumbs up is when I know I am in the flow.
L: That is a great question all of us can ask, in all sorts of situations.
C: Yeah, when you know your death is a day away there is no fear of consequence left. So a lot of what holds us back is the fear of living with a consequence. We think if I make this decision today? What if it’s wrong? What if people mock me? What if I wasted all this time, money and effort? What if, what if, what if…? Sometimes we don’t ask the other question, because we are afraid of success, we don’t ask what if it’s a raging success? We can’t retreat from the success… It scares us. Each of these are ways of us playing small.
L: I am still connecting with the visual of playing small or large. I see this person shrinking and dark as opposed to another stepping up and into their light very proud. You started talking about how each of us has something inherent, our unique gift to give. How did you discover your gifts and talents?
C: I think some of it is what you’re born with, and some of it is what you develop through childhood. I was blessed with a pretty good brain and also parents who thought education was incredibly important. So there was a lot of focus on that. My IQ became very well developed. I believe I had an actual gift and then an educational container to develop in. That is a combination of nature and nurture. My gifts enable me to understand and work in fairly complex fields when I need to. And I’ve also been given good linguistic skills. I can take what I understand mentally and put it into words. People generally tell me ‘you are really good at explaining things.’ If you pay attention to what people are telling you, they are often mirroring back potentially what you’re not good at, but also what you are good at. I often tell people, I am a teacher not a preacher. I don’t enjoy the classical preaching role, standing and telling people what to do. But I do enjoy teaching people about ideas, then giving them tools and ways in which they can lead their own lives without me ‘telling’ them how to lead their lives. There is a real distinction between preaching and teaching. For me, it was a gradual dawning ah-ha – so you’re smart, you understand complex things that other people are afraid of (in fact I find them fascinating) and I can then explain it in ways that other people can understand. That is a gift that I can give people. How can I direct that in a useful way? Well, I could be teaching the mafia about how to fraudulently steal your credit card number, but that’s not the best deployment of my gift. Rather, it’s asking, ‘how do I serve people?’
L: I love that it all ties back into that concept of service – so how do you serve?
C: It does tie back. So the thing I began to take notice of was where life was running up against my values – creating friction. It was pointing me to a gap where I could be of service, and one of those friction points for me has been the corporate world. I would look in and around the corporate world and see that it seems to deprive a lot of people of their joy, by the time they got to their retirement age they were diminished. Not universally, some people stay passionate the whole way through their careers, but there was something grinding about the process. You can’t blame it all on business, but there seemed to be something about corporate life that seemed soulless.
L: Can you talk us through this discovery a little more, as I’m interested on how business and soul can combine – I hear and read so often about how companies are life sucking and soulless?
C: Sure. I began my career working for a business where they paid me a very good salary and valued my IQ highly. I slowly started to learn about this EQ (emotional intelligence) thing. I had to learn the EQ for work, but from a personal perspective I begun to experience and research into the spiritual field, doing what I would now call my SQ (spiritual intelligence) work. Both the EQ and SQ started benefiting me, in terms of my own resilience and helping me crystallise some of the pain I was seeing in the workplace. I could identify that we needed more values-driven, purpose-driven, high EQ and high SQ workplaces. Because I’ve got a natural talent for explaining complicated ideas, I like playing around with complicated ideas, and I like the corporate world – I could see this combination of my gifts and life experiences pointing towards that being an arena where I could make a difference.
L: You’ve just explained that beautifully to me. I really like how you were able to pinpoint the opportunity.
C: And ultimately I am my own most difficult student! I jokingly say ‘I teach what I need to learn’. I can make that joke and people laugh, but it’s true. I have a deep desire for wisdom and understanding at a philosophical spiritual level about ‘what does it mean to be a human being and have a good life?’ The greatest joy from this whole process has been me being able to come to understand the answers to those questions and me understanding that in a way they are unanswerable. We each have to find the answers ourselves. I’ve put a lot of time and effort into the discovery process and it has been it’s own paycheque.
L: Great – so I can see that one way you express your passions is through your work, and I feel the same. A lot of people feel that they need to do this, what is your opinion on that? Do you think having a passion is de-valued if it’s not your work?
C: This is where I love the work of Ken Wilber and Integral Theory as he talks about something called holons. This idea of holding multiple truths simultaneously. Holons are like nested things; an electron resides inside an atom, an atom resides inside a molecule, a molecule exists inside a cell, a cell exists inside my organ, an organ exists inside my body, my body exists inside human society, humans exist inside a holon called Earth, and planet Earth exists inside a holon we call our solar system and so on. There are nested truths, so when we talk about living a passionate joyful life, the lowest level we can make sense of those words is the holon called the human being – so if I as an individual human can in my daily life experience passion and joy, then I have something to give to the holon I exist within. If I can’t experience that in my life, then I wonder what it is I am doing in the outer world. Maybe I am being of service, but is it a real benefit to the world if you kill yourself or resent it through the process of giving your gift?
L: I love it – that we’re all part of something bigger. Would our contribution or capacity to serve be measured against what we project?
C: I think there are times when self-sacrifice is appropriate, when individual sacrifice is for the good of the group. But I think there is a tendency in the spiritual or religious world to over glorify self-sacrifice, like if I am feeling happy I am doing something wrong. I was raised Roman Catholic so I got that training really early: you’re only being a good person if you’re miserable. Somehow that formula got into my head. So I think we need to each challenge that formula if we have it somewhere. When I am working, say in a coaching role, if I can stay calm, centred, peaceful and joyful and go into a coaching engagement from that space, then I have altered the coaching experience just from being who I am. So sometimes when people say how do you do what you do in a coaching situation, it’s hard to say because it’s not a transactional relationship where I can say here are the five tools we worked through and he/ she worked through them and they are fixed. My presence is part of the package, and whether I am clean and clear, joyful and present, or tied up in my own ego will help or harm the relationship.
L: Right, I understand that completely.
C: So if I can stay joyful, clear and fine within myself, and be present with the other person with as much love, wisdom and compassion as possible then they’ll blossom too. Then the mystery that is life will activate a part inside of them. It’s not something I can do to them. It’s more like I help them peel off whatever is in the way of them being passionate.
L: I really like that you’ve weaved in the theory, the holons and how we all exist within an interlinked system. I see it that in every day, in each second or interaction, we have an opportunity or choice to respond, and through that choice we have an influence upon each other.
C: Coming back to my own reactions to things, I can feel it when I am coming from fear – that is when I tend to play small. There is a beautiful poem by Rumi about not falling asleep, here is the verse I align with:
The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
Where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.
Life in me asks questions and tells secrets. It asks what do I really want? This is something in me that I can’t easily intellectually dissect. It’s in a lot of people, in some it’s there but asleep. They’re medicated or suppressed. But there is the other kind of awareness that doesn’t want me to sleep. This poem is a great reminder – it’s like you’ve seen it, you’ve seen God, so don’t fall asleep.
L: Wow, sounds very powerful.
C: It’s so beautiful, and it’s represents that something in me. I don’t know where it comes from, but I’m obsessive, I’m obsessive about this magnetic attraction to the noble, the divine, the evolutionary life force, whatever it’s called. It’s like a moth to a light, if I pull away for too long I am miserable. Deprivation of purpose just makes me unhappy, so I can’t stay there for very long.
L: We’ve talked a lot about you and your experiences, what if someone were to seek advice from you about discovering what gives them purpose and allows them to stay awake?
C: I would firstly ask them about their childhood. I’d advise them to reminisce back, and tell me about moments of just pure joy, when they were least covered over with cultural stuff and baggage. As children we can remember the thing we loved the most, like dancing, out digging in the garden, doesn’t matter what it is. So going back and remember from childhood first and coming forward into today, asking again, ‘what brings you joy’. Next I’d ask about any transcendent experiences they’ve had – those moments of awe. People may say the birth of a child, or being in nature. And some people really can’t find them, and that’s okay too. I find anything that gives you joy or access to these transcendent states can be really good information. I also ask what makes them angry; similar to the friction I felt towards my values, like when they’re watching TV, reading a paper, or engaged in conversation about X, and it makes them really angry, what is that X? That can be a pointer to the friction area that they will have a lot of passion and commitment towards helping change or fix.
L: Yeah building on what you said earlier for yourself, what makes you angry can be so useful.
C: Exactly, an excellent illustration of this is a group here in the States called ‘Mothers Against Drunk Drivers’ (MADD). The woman who started the group, back in 1980, had three children. Previously her other 2 children, in two separate accidents, had been injured by drunk drivers. Her son suffered permanent brain damage. A drunk driver hit and killed her daughter as she was walking down a quiet street. The driver didn’t bother to stop. Back then there was no enforcement of alcohol laws and so he got off with little to no time served. The poor woman was furious. She ended up taking all that pain and creating the action group, ‘Mothers Against Drunk Driving’. I once heard someone lecture about how there are negative emotions that are constructive and negative emotions that are not constructive. Despair is the least constructive of all emotions, it completely eliminates or sucks the life force from you. Anger on the other hand has engagement. So this mother directed her anger constructively. She didn’t go out and shoot the men that injured two children and killed the third. Instead she focused her anger into policy making. She built an organisation that relentlessly pursued changes in the laws state-by-state across the fifty states. Nowadays it’s routine for people to be in disbelief about people driving while drunk. There are alcohol level limits in each state, and people know how many drinks you can have and still be able to drive effectively. She really got that ball rolling. She took that horrible life experience and made a constructive way of turning it around. So I’d suggest finding those X points, see what is wrong, and how can you change it?
L: I really resonate with that, to empower the situation rather than feeling despair, anger and how it can drive your life purpose.
C: Oh anger can turn into a very powerful passion.
L: Cindy I haven’t got too many more questions to ask, I appreciate your time and efforts in sharing what leading a passionate life means for my readers. Thank you.
So my readers, what do you think? I really enjoyed getting more theoretical in this interview with Cindy. As I mentioned earlier, Cindy developed and runs training in spiritual intelligence, via the SQ21 – the Twenty One Skills in Spiritual Intelligence and is also President of the Deep Change Institute, which creates and runs leadership development consulting, primarily in emotional and spiritual intelligence out of the States. Her work is leading the charge in contemporary coaching and I feel so aligned to it.