16 Mastering the Art of Stepping into Leadership

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These teachings are constantly urging us to open up, to let go of our defenses and the brittle hard shell we think we need for protection. We fear that if we are in an open, vulnerable state, painful negative experiences will be able to pierce us from the outside.

We want a leader who is really more like a biased personal god, who alters the laws of life for us as if by magic. But we also must realize that lovely qualities like beauty and love, wisdom and truth, can be taken in from the outside. And that as long as we keep our defenses firmly in place, we block these from getting in too. So what happens is that people actually give us their best and life tries to give us what we long for, but we can’t let it in.

Opening up works in two different directions, not just toward the outside. If we are willing to open up, we make it possible to allow the deepest levels within to unfold and come out to play. Since those negative, protective layers are obscuring the perfection at our core, they are going to surface first. But beyond them lies the pearl—the most creative and positive reality of who we really are. If we commit ourselves to being completely open and to remaining undefended, it will emerge.

We are under the mistaken impression that if we are open, we won’t be able to protect ourselves from being abused. We couldn’t be more wrong. Only by having a free-functioning Higher Self, being free from selfishness and being true to our innate integrity and sense of decency, following divine spiritual laws of justice, truth, wisdom and love—only then are we strong enough to safely assert ourselves and confront others. Only then will we be free from guilt and the associated anxiety and insecurity, not to mention unfounded fear and confusion—the real culprits that rob us of our ability to defend ourselves against abuse.

We need to think of opening up—of losing our defensive strategies—not as an act that is directed outwardly, but more importantly as an act of receptivity toward our inner self. Doing so requires courage and faith in our truest, deepest perfection, so we can allow the outermost layers of our Lower Self to show themselves. This is the only way to identify and purify them.

If we are far enough along on our path of personal development to open ourselves up to transforming our Lower Self, we are also capable of experiencing tremendous joy and fulfillment—along with genuine leadership. What does leadership entail, in its truest sense? And what should be our attitude toward stepping into leadership, in whatever field or direction it presents itself?

When it comes to leadership, we have many conflicting attitudes. First of all, we envy leadership when we encounter it in others. We often feel competitive, but try to conceal this from ourselves, which makes us resentful. So we set about building cases against those in leadership, justifying our judgments and rationalizing our unjustifiable thoughts and feelings. We reactivate our dormant reactions towards anyone in authority, dragging obsolete problems out of hiding and making an enemy of anyone who is a leader in the truest sense of the word. We think they are out to punish and deprive us.

In our envy of the leaders, we want to become the leader. But this undeveloped, childish part—which overshadows the parts that are more developed—doesn’t want to accept any of the responsibilities that go along with being a leader. This sets up a painful dichotomy. In one respect, we battle against leadership in others, resenting and envying them; in another respect, we want to be the leader ourselves, but we don’t want to fulfill the basic requirements.

We then resent those who are the true leaders for ‘taking it from me,’ or for ‘not giving me the goodies’ of being a leader. What we don’t do is move toward adopting the commitment or the attitudes that are needed for leadership. Seen from this vantage point, our position toward leadership seems a bit absurd. Yet this is not uncommon, and once we identify it in ourselves, we won’t find it so hard to see it when it arises again in ourselves or in someone else.

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We have another common conflict with leadership: we want a leader who will benefit us personally. We want someone strong and powerful who is kindly disposed to us and exclusively concerned about the desires of our Lower Self—so we can indulge in our destructiveness and not have to face any consequences. This greater leader—really more like a biased personal god—is supposed to alter the laws of life for us, as if by magic. We should receive every privilege and not be required to love or give or take responsibility or be fair or have integrity. Honestly, there is no exaggeration here; this would be our perfect leader who will meet our irrational demand, which we are busily trying to justify.

But there is no justification for the cases we build against leaders. As long as we refuse to fulfill the natural requirements for leadership ourselves—in whatever way we are called to do so—we have no right to resent or envy leadership in others. Yet we do. The word that describes this phenomenon is “transference”—we react to this super-power the way we react to our parents.

The equation is simple: if we don’t assume leadership over our own life, we will need to find a leader who will run our life for us. For no one can live without leadership; we become a boat without a rudder. So naturally, if we don’t want to chart our own course, someone else will have to do it, at least to some degree.

On a neurotic level, we are going to ask for leadership to govern our life in a way that cannot be given to us. We’ll want them to lead when it’s convenient for us, but we will resent them for doing it. We will want all the freedom and privileges given to us, but won’t step up to self-leadership. We’re torn in two by our own hidden conflict.

We need to take a good, hard look at ourselves: are we still so undeveloped that we need someone else to lead us? Or are we ready to step into leadership in our own right? We begin by looking close to home, at our own life, and then see how we are ready to take responsibility for being a citizen of this world. Our leadership may take a different form for each of us, but it starts with the almost unnoticeable attitude we have towards our immediate environment. We start by taking simple steps of added responsibility.

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It doesn’t hurt us to uncover and examine destructive attitudes if we are in the process of dealing with them. While we’re learning and battling and discovering more on ever-deeper levels, we’re right where we want to be. But it is very damaging for us to stay stuck in attitudes we have outgrown. Too often, we fail to move on from our Lower Self habits, continuing to blame others for our ungiving ways, for our competitiveness or jealousy or lack of concern.

But the law of growth requires we now make different choices whenever the old negative reaction occurs. When we have greater self-honesty and self-awareness, the remaining areas in us that are still stagnant and stuck will have a heavier impact. This is important to realize.

Let’s look at how this relates to leadership. We must look at how we resent those in a position of leadership, as though they are depriving us or imposing something unfair on us. We need to avoid acting as though we’re being stopped from realizing our own capacity to be a true leader.

In truth, above all else, a true leader is someone who wants to give unselfishly. So if we are the leader and we are grudging about giving, doing it only because we feel it is demanded of us, well, this can’t really be called giving. In the end, if we won’t give in an unselfish way, we can’t assert our leadership.

It is a spiritual law that there is always a price to pay for having what we want. So in some ways, it could be said that true giving is demanded of a leader—this is the price we must pay if want to have the privileges of leadership, of which there are many. Yet we feel the price is too high; we are outraged and we rebel, managing to justify our bad behavior.

If we do give, our way of going about it leaves much to be desired. We give begrudgingly or with ulterior motives; we have second thoughts or we calculate hidden inner bargains while leaving little back doors open. This is not really giving, which is why it leaves us and others feeling empty. We may then stoop to such low attitudes as, “See, I gave, and what did it get me?” revealing that our giving was not genuine, and at the same time, cleverly shoring up our resistance to giving.

Giving is more than a simple act; it is also the thought and the intention behind the act. The basic thought behind true giving is, “I want to give to enrich the world, not to aggrandize my ego. Make me an instrument so that divinity can flow through me, without my having any motive other than to give.” This thought, ironically, will bring us many advantages. It will give us self-esteem and allow us to feel that we deserve to partake of the abundance we so often grope for desperately. When such a fault-free giving atmosphere permeates our inner climate, then we will no longer feel jealous; no one else’s giving will have any bearing on our own. All this we will experience firsthand.

If, on the other hand, we fake our giving, life’s abundance—including other people’s giving—will not be able to reach us. Simultaneously, we’ll envy those who are appreciated for their true giving—for the material and emotional abundance they receive. This, in itself, can be a good measure of where we stand regarding true giving, which is an act of love.

If we don’t love and we don’t want to learn to love, we can’t expect that our deepest longing for love is going to be fulfilled. So while we’re busy praying for love, we may be totally blind to all the areas where we could be giving but are demonstrating the opposite behavior. Leadership, in this sense, is built on a love of true giving and the true giving of love. When this is our basic attitude, nothing can go wrong. We’ll be able to find a perfect balance related to all our conflicts, and resolve the difficult-seeming decisions we must make on this dualistic plane.

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Another quality that is a prerequisite for leadership is the ability to be impartial. Often, we refuse to be objective about our personal stake in an issue, building justifications around our tainted desires. A key to reaching objective detachment is to develop the ability to see where we are partial. We need to admit it and extract ourselves from arguing about these cases, to fess up to how we bend reality to meet our off-center desires. For this, we will need some rigorous self-honesty.

We need to see how we have a stake in our assumptions that we’re not open to seeing differently, all the while proclaiming how objective we are. But this is impossible. For when we’re blinded by our own self-interest and self-righteousness, by our unfounded resentments and irrational demands, by our illusory fears and unnecessary guilt, by our covetous and jealous reactions, our take on things can’t be objective.

It’s an indication of greatness for us to know that we are filled with disturbing and turbulent feelings, rife with inner conflict, and therefore can’t form a partial opinion. When we can truly know this about ourselves, we take a giant leap toward freedom and having the capacity to be a reliable leader people can trust. And that’s the only way we will be able to validly and objectively assess others.

To be a good leader, we must have this greatness. If we don’t and we have gained a position of leadership, we will be toppled by this. If we can’t admit where we are partial but instead claim we are free from such inner hurdles, then proclaiming our “unbiased opinions” will make us very vulnerable. We will end up needing to continually guard and defend our unrightful role of leadership.

Our objective here is to know when and where we are not able to be objective. Having the honesty to admit that we’re not impartial and don’t wish to be will bring us self-trust and security. It takes great strength and maturity to voluntarily disqualify ourselves when we know that our view of reality is colored. Such greatness will increase our capacity to accurately perceive reality, knowing it as a state that doesn’t need to be feared. And we’ll be willing to stay true to it, even if that exposes us to criticism.

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This brings us to another quality of leadership: the willingness to risk exposing ourselves and being open to criticism. If we close ourselves up in fear, while at the same time grabbing for the brass ring of leadership because we like the perks of power and prestige, we defeat the purpose. This creates a painful inner conflict that leads to frustration. True leadership can’t survive under these kinds of circumstances. Of course, we won’t realize this while we’re busy blaming the outside world and the people who have already rightfully reached some level of leadership.

To be a leader means to constantly take a risk. We need a firm footing so we can tolerate the discomfort of being criticized and misunderstood, whether rightly or wrongly. But if we don’t want to take any risk, and instead are filled up with jealousies, resentments and rebellions against other true leaders, how can we stand up for ourselves?

As leaders, things won’t always go our way. So it will also be critically important that we develop our ability to withstand frustration. More than this, if we want to become whole and truly unified people, we will need to reconcile the apparent dichotomy of these two opposites: frustration and fulfillment. This can’t happen if we are fighting against one half of this duality and grabbing for the other.

The hallmark of any duality is having a strong ‘I must have it’ towards what we desire, and an equally strong ‘I must not have it’ towards what we don’t. This is a painful spot to be in. We attempt to let off some of the tension by pressuring life into giving us fulfillment and eliminating frustration. As a result, we never learn to transcend frustration so that it no longer occurs. Instead, our futile efforts to get rid of frustration can only make us more frustrated, pointing up that we have more to learn about frustration. Being caught in duality is such a drag.

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So what would be a more fruitful way to approach frustration that might actually help us transcend it? First, let’s be clear that we’re not talking about a false transcendence where we disconnect from our feelings so we no longer feel just how tense and anxious we are about landing our desires. No, we’re talking about genuine transcendence in which we’re fully alive and feeling all our feelings, flowing in harmony with the stream of life. Like, not at all frustrated.

Here are the steps we should take to climb the ladder out of frustration. The first step is to foster an attitude that says, “Even if what I experience is painful or undesirable, I am going to trust it. I will trust that I can take it, relax into it and learn from it. I’ll handle it by making the best of it. I will learn whatever this particular frustration can teach me, and won’t act like this is the end of the world. Perhaps it’s not even really a catastrophe, as something good could come of it.”

Just resonating with such a statement will greatly reduce our level of anxiety and greatly increase our feeling of security. We’re anxious because we think we depend on something that can’t be. We think we are going to need to manipulate reality to get our immature need for instant gratification met. We think everything has to go according to our limited vision of things, which is not connected to the grand time-sequence of cause and effect.

So in this first step, we are making space to relax our reactions of utter disgust and outrage that frustration exists. We’re afraid of being frustrated and are angry about it, but we don’t think to challenge this reaction and consider that maybe it’s not the only possibility. We need to make room for a new strength and a new wisdom to unfold that will help us deal with whatever doesn’t bend to our will. Such an open attitude will bring us far more self-confidence and self-reliance than always having our way ever could.

Clearing the first step on the ladder of overcoming frustration brings us to the next step, which is a much more beautiful one. This is a renewed and deliberate search for the meaning of a specific frustration. What does it have to teach us? Never lose sight of this truth: every frustration contains a valuable lesson that can liberate us and bring us joy. Too often, we are not at all willing to believe that this is true.

We get so bent on battling every possible flare-up of frustration that the lesson gets lost on us. Whenever this happens, we’ve missed a golden opportunity on our spiritual path of awakening. And that means the frustration must, naturally, pass our way again. It must keep coming, no matter how hard we resist it. The more we battle, the more rigid we become, the worse the frustration seems, the more intense our feeling of frustration, until we’re overwhelmed by it.

There’s a chance that in the crisis of being overwhelmed, we’ll discover how we have created the illusion that frustration is the enemy. This has the capacity to loosen us up so we feel less tension against the frustration and towards life. Frustration, folks, is our friend. We can make peace with it by intelligently exploring its meaning and courageously letting it be our teacher—as well as our therapist.

The next rung on this ladder is the discovery of the meaning of the frustration. If we knock, the door will be opened; all who search must find. And no doubt, we will always be astounded by what we discover. Once we realize how necessary the lesson was for us, how important the answers we gained from our new wisdom and liberation, we will have an already-altered outlook about frustration. Then, when another lesson comes along, we won’t be nearly so afraid of it. We’ll have more confidence that it holds a measure of meaningfulness for us, and this will make us less resistant to repeating the steps.

The new trust we gain about life will help us open to the benevolent and magnificent consciousness that is behind all things, including frustration. Obviously, this will go a long way in reconciling the apparent mutual exclusivity between frustration and fulfillment.

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The last rung on the ladder will walk us into a deeper and more radiant world as the point of frustration narrows. Having learned the lesson it had to teach, we can let ourselves fully experience that point of frustration. Sitting relaxed in meditation, we can flow with it, go with it, accept it and embrace it. Deep in the one-pointedness of our now-acceptance—which was previously rejection—we will discover the divinity of a particle of frustration. And it will no longer be frustration. It will miraculously bring us the highest fulfillment imaginable. We will gain so much more fulfillment than we craved when we were running away from the frustration.

In this, we will experience the way in which God exists in every particle of creation: in every fragment of time, in every fraction of measurement, in every slice of experience. The great divine reality of joyful truth and meaningfulness lives in everything that is, ever was, and ever shall be. We may have heard these words before; through these steps, we can know them to be true.

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Read Original Pathwork® Lecture: #237 Leadership – The Art of Transcending Frustration

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