Leadership Development for the Bold

Being Selfless can Betray Development

A common misconception about development beyond autonomy is that you must lose yourself or have no self.

Each transformation of mind involves a loss of a sense of self. You must after all dis-identify yourself from your autonomy if you are to go beyond autonomy. However, you never entirely lose yourself. At least not in healthy development. What I want you to know is that development always involves a discovery of a more true and sincere you. And, this truer more sincere you is a bigger self, not a smaller or non-existant self.

Peering intimately into the nature of development like I have reveals something quite different from loosing yourself. What I found is that we do not lose our autonomous selves. The opposite occurs. For the first time we can actually have our autonomous selves. No longer does autonomy's inner-sculpted identity, ideology and differentiated sense of self have you!

This is the classic developmental transformation Robert Kegan has explored in depth over the past three decades at Harvard. What was once subject (autonomoy in this case), becomes an object that can be held, managed and operated upon.

The loss of the identification with autonomous perspectives involves the gain of the autonomous self. And, in addition to possessing your autonomous self—much like how autonomy can possess and regulate the more socialized presentations of yourself—you gain a seat of identity that is more complex, more capable and, it feels more like home.

Not a bad deal, eh?

That said, many people have purchased the lie of selflessness. And it is likely betraying your ongoing development and maturation as an adult.

Many adults can be found efforting to shed their old selves. This is often energy well spent. However, without clarity of the path beyond autonomy many often mistakenly presume becoming a no-self is the way to further develop themselves. This is especially the case for individuals reading books on meditation, spiritual practices and the like emphasizing various forms of selflessness or egolessness.

Now, the idea of being selfless is a deep inquiry. We are wise to be nuanced in our distinctions here. At its superficial levels being selfless is an invitation to drop your imperial narcissism. It is an invitation to join into and take care of the people around you and the cultures you are immersed in. Sacrificing your personal needs, preferences and interests for the larger well-being of your relationships and community is a beautiful expression of selflessness. In my opinion there is no lie here. For many people these froms of selflessness qualitatively improve lives.

In deeper contours of human experience selflessness involves realizing states of consciousness where no-self is present for periods of time. Discovering a connectedness to an all pervading unity, the stabilization of a mindful state or the absorption into a variety of transcendent states are powerful and catalytic experiences. Realizing there is a part of you that has no preferences, possesses no agendas, inhabits no form, invests in no personality, and participates in no movement (what I call the self-without-form in my most recent book, The Elegant Self) is profound and liberating beyond words. And, locating this texture of selflessness in your direct experience is a game changer for most people.

However, these meditative or contemplative achievements are nonetheless states of consciousness. Developing your mind and inducing states of consciousness are two different activities exercising two different domains of you. Perhaps the most cogent and lucid voice on this matter is my friend Ken Wilber. To confuse these two is a common mistake even some of the brightest minds in human history have made. States are transient experiences, developmental stages are enduring integrative features of you.

So, while you may cultivate states where the self drops away, these are always temporary. In time the state passes and "you" along with your personality, needs, preferences and ideology return. Sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. That said we must look closely here. There is a lie of selflessness at play here. It says, if you just keep entering into selfless transcendent states, everything else will take care of itself. Nothing further could be true. State training is an immense gift, it's needed. But, when it gets sold as a way of living, a way of being or an aim worthy of your withdrawal from the rest of your life be cautious. States cannot ultimately sell to us what our hearts truely desire and what our world really needs from us.

While these selfless states often captivate the spiritually inclined, most adults are not spending hours a day sitting on a meditation cushion. As such, many adults find themselves trapped in different versions of this lie. For these individuals having no-self and being selfless means asserting no preferences. It may mean efforting to appear especially mindful and aware. It often takes the form of being overly accommodating. A superficial and unexamined acceptance of relationships and our surroundings parade on display to others as if we have attained some footing in humanity's great liberation. Sadly, exiling preferences, being overly easy going, failing to assert boundaries and enabling the dismemberment of human integrity as a means of avoiding conflicts are not the fruitions of our larger capabilities as a species. Instead, they obscure what I call elegance. They entrench less capable expressions of humanity. These are all lies that betray your own ongoing development.

These substitutions of selflessness are often attempts to imitate the freedom from self-attachment that elegance demonstrates. Development beyond autonomy (not states beyond autonomy!) does bring with it a freedom from autonomy. You can pick up your self-authored, inner guided autonomy and use it. Then you can put these parts of yourself down. You no longer need to defend your autonomy in the same ways as when you were identified with your autonomy. The needs of the self participating with elegance are no longer confined inside what Abraham Maslow called “deficiency needs.” “Being needs” begin to become central to the self. This means you getting your post-autonomous needs met looks very different from just about everyone else. All this is to say, elegance appears to be selfless to less developed vantage points.

And, in some ways, human elegance—our most mature stages of development—is selfless. But make no mistake my friend, the selfhood that moves with and as elegance is big. In fact, these identities are massive. They bring a whole new understanding of what it means to have a “big ego.” Elegance is not afraid of arrogance, nor does it resist deep expressions of humility. Both are free agents to the intelligences of elegance. Your elegance can and will use the full display of you to serve our world with every facet of your being. As such your larger maturity does set and maintain boundaries in powerful ways. Your larger self can accommodate, yet it can also cut through others to modify life in dramatic ways. You can assert preferences and you can let your preferences go. You do not get stuck in either strategy. A pervading acceptance of life as it is enables you to be focused entirely on you and your self-interests.

As such, do not yield to social expectations or intrapersonal manipulations to create greater cultural uniformity. Do not merely encase yourself in training states of consciousness and the excessive withdrawal from the complex demands of modern and postmodern life. And, be suspicious of agendas that attempt to negate your uniqueness, drive and aspirations. All of you, every facet of your being and what you are becoming, can participate with intelligences that transcend your autonomous self; you can and in some ways you likely must participate with elegance. In addition, we are likely to discover that we must devote absolutely all of ourselves to these larger possibilities of humanity.

Rob McNamara, Harvard University Teaching Fellow, author of The Elegant Self, is an expert on adult development and human performance. He coaches individuals world-wide to help resolve the painful and persistent limitations in their lives to become more elegant human beings.

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Learn more about Rob McNamara, his courses, books and coaching at www.RobMcNamara.com.
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The False Promise of Feeling-Based Consciousness

Feelings are juicy. They can be sexy and alluring. Terrifying and provocative. Sometimes they do this all at once. They quietly whisper promises to you day and night. Yet, beyond the intoxicated states of emotions, they rarely deliver over the long term. When feelings dissipate, they are gone. Why is it then that many people unknowingly find themselves bowing to their feelings? They turn away from their discursive intellect and pour their trust in their felt-senses and intuitive feelings. We could argue that they are just immature. Yet people on the cusp of some of our most complex stages of development exhibit this trend.

To yield greater insight, you and I briefly look into development beyond autonomy. We glance toward human elegance. But first, autonomy...



Your autonomy is largely a mental identity. While the body maintains a powerful influence at all stages of development, highly autonomous functioning can be thought of as a differentiation away from the body and emotions. Governance is more cerebral, discursive and intellectual. And, as you likely know with great intimacy, autonomy often is often consumed in its own discursive medium.

Yet, development beyond autonomy involves a movement away from the exclusive use of cerebral functions to govern the self's conduct and decision making. In part, this is due to the linearity of discursive discernments. They become too slow for the emerging intelligences within elegance. Autonomous narratives take too long to constellate. They become too limited in their integrative scopes. Development does supersede the mental chatter that once exclusively defined the self and identity. As a result, the mind's meaning-making is no longer fixated within discursive phenomena. The intellect's activity becomes just one source for information.

However, this differentiating movement away from the discursive intellect is often clouded with confusion. Without a clear understanding of the territory ahead, many instinctively turn towards their bodies and feelings as a new orienting reference point. One of the pervasive traps many adults fail to navigate successfully—sometimes for decades—is this movement toward the body, feelings, and intuitions at the exclusion and expense of the discursive intellect. This false substitution privileges feelings over thinking.

When thought, reason, historically or creatively governed narratives and the like are seen as being less valuable many problems enter into your life. When this happens you largely stop talking about what you think. Instead, you prefer discussing feelings. Intimacy gets exiled into the realm of feelings. You tend to collapse the diversity of relating into a myopic focus on giving people the experience of feeling seen and/or heard and you are likely knowingly or unknowingly demanding a similar experience for yourself. A narcissism resurfaces where others are responsible to give you the experience of feeling accepted and supported. This false substitution is capable of holding you back. While these can feel like gifts at first, when you stagnate and flounder in feeling tones, felt senses and emotional states without an overarching direction beyond connecting emotionally, life can easily take turns for the worse.

A more extreme version of this substitution involves a stripping of all value from thinking, concepts and discursive activity. The intellect is executed. Its mental phenomena is interpreted as merely a resistance to feelings. This exaggerated substitution is dangerous. Theoretical constructs are criticized and stripped of all value. You tend to police the people around you to get rid of their tendencies to intellectualize any facets of experience. You can become organized against theory altogether. The exception, of course, is the ideological constructs underpinning the critiques of theoretical constructs you are unknowingly committed to.

Both the devaluing of the intellect’s movements and the slaughter of theoretical and intellectual intelligences are common substitutions attempting to masquerade as more developed ways of functioning. Unfortunately, when you are ensnared in this cage you often will not increase in mental complexity. Meaning-making remains stagnant at best. At worst, these attempts to differentiate from the mind’s intellectual functions fuel a regressive movement. These substitutions for elegance misguidedly fragment your nervous system. It drives a wedge between thought and feelings. Imperial emotional states and socialized allegiances functioning in the emotional brain continually spring up. Guiding yourself on feeling states is foolish at best and dangerous at worse. Without overarching discernments from the intellect, couples often become signals of stunted and immature adult minds, not elegant human beings.

Do not get ensnared inside this substitution for a larger, more complex mind capable of greater influence in your intimate relationship and our world. The autonomous mind's attempt to possess dimensions of functioning that reach beyond it always involve fundamental distortions. The divorce between body and mind, thinking and feeling, thought and emotion is a costly one. It is a shift away from the integrative capacity elegance demonstrates.

Ultimately feeling more connected is no substitution for being interconnected emotionally and mentally.

Thank you for reading & Please share this blog post now. Thank you for supporting my passion to help evolve our many cultures and our precious world. 

All my best, 

Rob McNamara
Author, The Elegant Self & Strength To Awaken
Elite Coaching for Elegance :: www.RobMcNamara.com

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Break The Limits of Your Aspirations

Take a moment to look at the aspirations, intentions and desires fueling your day to day life. What are the problems you are working to solve? What limitations are you striving to overcome? What aims do you intend to achieve?

If you've got a piece of paper near by, take a few moments to jot them down. If not, launch the notes app on your smartphone, tablet or computer. Give yourself only a few minutes to get your various drives down. Don't think too hard and don't sensor. Just write down what you've been consumed by the past few days - perhaps the past week or so.

Get going now... .


Next, circle or bold the aspirations, goals and/or drives that are genuinely worthy of your life. The question I often ask my clients is, "Is this worth dying for?"

Ask yourself this question with each of your aspirations. Answer from the most sincere intelligence you are capable of participating with right now.

If you're like most adults, you'll see a whole bunch of activities, intentions and expenditures of your precious life force that are simply unworthy of your time, attention and energy. You have two options.

Option one: Develop an exit strategy. 


Set a limit on parts of yourself. Put a boundary into place with the culture you're immersed in. Say no to the distractions that are wasting your most precious assets. While conventional assumptions maintain that the life force, perspectives, attention, energy and time that compose you belong to you, this is a lie. It's an innocent lie, but a lie the autonomous self fabricates to bolster its sense of control, ownership and self-imposed importance.

From a vantage point beyond autonomy, peering through the eyes of elegance, these assets are on loan. We might even say they are a free gift belonging to something exquisite. Your perspective, the shape, direction and quality of your attention as well as your energy and behavior that follows from this gift is an experiment. Perhaps we may think of it as a test.

The exam of life is investigating your worthiness as a human being. 

If you're expending your precious life in unworthy aims, you're failing. Failure in this context is not something to be avoided. Rather, it is the doorway into a larger elegance that commands a life that does pass life's examination.

Our autonomous (and pre-autonomous) lives are in many ways already and always a failure. Discovering the failure is the opening of a precious opportunity. And, it is a simple as this. Peer into your greatest intelligence and ask yourself, What is ultimately worthy of your life?

What are you willing to die for? 
When you find something you are willing to die for, live for it. 

The failures, distractions and empty activities of your life are to end. Regardless of the consequences, an exit strategy is required in some cases. You simply must suffer the losses and inhabit the limitations of your finiteness. Elegance requires sacrifices my dear friends. If you don't know deep loss, you don't know the greatest gift life has to offer you.

So, find facets betraying the life that has been given to you and create your exit strategies. You'll likely need more than one.

There is a second option. It is a more sophisticated response to those items on your list that are not circled or broadened in bold text. This second option is also a necessity for human elegance. As much as our more conventional intelligence would like to clarify life such that we only engage in the most significant of activities, this isn't possible.

Life will not let you divide the sacred and the mundane. You cannot separate the unsubstantial from the significant for they are married to a union fundamental to the very fabric of existence. As such, you have an invitation for transmutation or what Freud called sublimation.

Option Two: Transmutation


You do possess the power to participate with a transformation that can join the unworthy aspirations of your lesser life to the very center of your greatest of intentions. To do so you must devote every facet of yourself without hesitation, limitation or mediation. Apply yourself completely. Do not give in. Do not give up. Press forward until your body, mind and heart unconditionally demand the fullness of your life.

For the areas that an exit strategy does not work, this is your other more sane option. Sure you can collude with culture and pretend that something has more significance than it really does. Or, you can play the "good enough" game where you comfortably settle into a life of habit. Years clip by no different than leaves falling from trees. All the while, a betrayal larger than the conventional mind can fathom unfolds.

Exit or transmute, these are doorways toward elegance. Take action now. Do not delay. Do not project your larger alignment and greater aspiration into the future. This is to distort and diffuse the potency of you. You become the betrayal of your greatest purposes.

The Dialectics of Aspiration

The last step is for you to inquire if something else should be on your list, but it isn't. If this is you, I encourage you to go big. Have few aspirations, but be possessed by elegant ones. As such, go big! Let your perspective broaden, allow your imagination to dream of a world that is qualitatively more good, true and beautiful. Then live into these unknown dimensions. Yoke them from possibility into actuality. 

In order to truly go big, to dare to be dreamed by the creative advance of novelty, you must paradoxically acclimatize to a way of functioning that is free from all aspiration. The fullness and greatness of  your vision only is gifted from you if you are capable of inhabiting your greatest freedom. Liberate from your conventional aspirations. Drop them. Let them go for a short while. Get used to the space, the sheer unbounded room of your heart. Only from this place will you come to know true aspiration. 

Take action swiftly. Be infinitely still. Reflect. Clarify. Devote all of yourself to that which is worthy of your life. Stop nowhere. Give everything. 

Rob McNamara 

Performance Coach, Psychotherapist and Professor of Developmental Psychology 


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The Suspicion of Autonomy


Eye

Autonomy can be defined as the part of you who gives, authors or creates your own law. This is what the Ancient Greek translation of the term suggests. It represents an important feature of the adult mind where the authority moves from out there, outside of you in the culture, leadership and experts whom presumably have more information and experience than you do to a fallible yet more trustable inner authority.  Power shifts from outside of you to inside of you. When you begin to establish, author and create your own laws, ideologies and methodologies for directing yourself in the world, you are participating with autonomy.

This is a highly coveted ability for many adults as most can easily recall the pains of adolescence and early adulthood where an often unquestioned authority governed their actions in the world. Perhaps it was a teacher, coach, romantic partner or boss who, knowingly or unknowingly, governed your action and conduct in the world. When these are the only two basic reference points available, the only informed reasonable decision is to preserve inner directing autonomy at all costs.




Why regress back into less functional and less complex ways of being in the world? It just doesn't make sense. 

When I invite clients to be suspicious of their own autonomy, I am not encouraging them to return back to an unexamined alignment with an external authority. I am inviting them to step forward into a postautonomous way of functioning. This postautonomous move comes after autonomous functioning, it involves a more complex and thus more powerful way of functioning beyond autonomy. Suspicion of autonomy is a way for you to develop and cultivate greater developmental distance from the autonomy that likely captivates your larger power and authority as a human being. It is not a way to revert back to your less engaged ways of relating with power and authority. Nope, suspicion of autonomy is a vehicle that develops more power, more free functioning and greater authority.

For those of you who are getting all excited to have more power, more freedom and greater authority where this all resides inside of you, stop right there. This is the delusion of "more" that commonly shows up as a substitute for the legitimate development of you. Getting autonomy to be bigger is another "distortion of more" as I define it and explore in The Elegant Self. More power, greater influence and dramatic leaps forward in freedom do not belong to your autonomous self. They only show up in your postautonomous self.

Here are a couple core features of autonomy to brighten your suspicion.

1. The Preservation of Distinctness
Autonomy is in many ways a consolidation of a sense of self that is in juxtaposition to everything else. What makes you different? How are you distinct from those around you? What separates you from your surrounding culture? Autonomy naturally is invested in clarifying and articulating these boundaries. I like to think of this activity as the preservation of distinctness.

This preservation is worthy of your suspicion because distinctness breeds limitedness. If you are sincerely interested in more power, greater influence and a broader freedom commanding a larger authority you need to go beyond your distinctness to become permeable. Your subjectivity needs to be more interpenetrating with the surrounding environment, culture and relationships present. Greater permeability means more information flow. More information flow means more capacity for power and influence.

For those of you worried about becoming overly influenced by your surroundings as you loosen your defense of distinctness, you're headed in the wrong direction. Over conformity is a function of the preautonomous self, not the postautonomous self. I'm not pointing you toward the loss of your distinctness, I am just suggesting a loss of the exclusive identification with your distinctness. It's just too limited. Postautonomous functioning includes your distinctness, but is not longer limited to this way of functioning.

2. Inner Directing Governance 
You likely know this part of your autonomy really well. It is your agenda. Your schedule. Your value systems and ideology discerning what to do next and how best to do it. It is your best efforts to solve the problems you are presently facing personally and professionally. It is the inner directing authority within you that presses your will outward into your life and inward within yourself as you advocate for inner and outer change.

Being inner directed is an essential feature of adulthood. You cannot lose this functioning and remain an adult by most measures of psychological maturity. You can however lose your identification with this inner directing faculty. This enables you to retain an authority residing inside of you; however, it also frees you up to participate with larger, broader currents of aliveness that ultimately do not belong to you.

Elegance is one central facet of this postautonomous will. It is not something that can be possessed but only participated with. Sometimes it's originating source stems from deep within you. A within so profound its roots reach beyond you. Other times the originating source flowers up in your environment, culture or relationships. Sometimes it's a mixture of inner and outer life that coalesces into a force that is unwaveringly powerful. Participate with this and you'll know the kind of power and influence I point you toward.

That said, you simply will not be able to participate with this beauty or power if you are consumed by your own private autonomous agenda. Identify with your ideological drives and autonomous effort and the deeper currents of life sweep past you. This perhaps is one of the great tragedies of development, the most significant is always reserved for the most refined. As such, most adults misdirect themselves and the generations that follow. If our developmental tests are at all accurate, it is safe to assume most adults remain blind to the larger significance that surrounds them and is desperately needed.

Next time you see yourself resting exclusively upon your inner directing faculties or you see your autonomy working diligently to preserve distinctness, watch them like a hawk does its prey. Study your autonomy's movements. Assess whether it is an intentional act of your postautonomous will or if it is merely the function of habits in motion. Sometimes these are highly skillful responses in the world, other times your autonomous functioning is but a foolish gestures in the face of ultimate strategies for the advancement of humanity.

Happy hunting,
~Rob McNamara

Author, The Elegant Self & Strength To Awaken

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