spirituality and religion

spirituality and religion

April 7, 2011  |  knowledge, life, main blog, motivation, philosophy  |  1 Comment

Brian Woodcock writes in one of his essays that “being spiritual is not the same as being religious.

Religion is about what you believe and do.

Spirituality is to do with quality; it is a thing of the heart.

Religion draws lines.

Spirituality reads between them. It tends to avoid definitions, boundaries and battles. It is inclusive and holistic. It crosses frontiers and makes connections. It is characterised by sensitivity, gentleness, depth, openness, flow, feeling, quietness, wonder, paradox, being, waiting, acceptance, awareness, healing and inner journey”.

Spirituality is a consciousness which exist beyond the usual human realm of existence and awareness. In these dimensions, expanded states of being can be experienced – and even induced through meditation and breathing techniques. States of bliss and love are often associated with this higher dimension, together with an absence of judgment – nothing is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – it just ‘is’.

Religion can embrace spirituality, but is usually more about a belief system based on man’s interpretation, and is often long on judgment. Such judgment, often accompanied by fundamentalism, has been the major source of conflict in our world over the last few centuries. Even today, Christian and Muslim belief systems can, under the leadership of individuals, be manifested in promotion of fear and guilt. In other situations, such as the church from which my mum picked up the Brian Woodcock material, the primary focus is on love, hope and true spirituality.

Mark Johnson has recently written that Western religion is undergoing transformation as some adherents become more politically engaged. As active participation in religion declines, there is an element of hard core believers remaining, many of whom are deeply conservative and hostile to the secular world around them.

As Christianity declines, those many people of real compassion, integrity and thought, who leave such institutions to seek alternatives outside regimented boundaries, leave behind those who then transform the largely vacant structure into one of their own shrunken image and agenda. Johnson contends that, not content with transforming the ecclesial structure, the secular terrain also needs their attention.

The main point of this piece is to emphasise that religion does not have a mortgage on spirituality, and that there are many ways for us all to explore and develop a state of greater consciousness or connectedness, which can add a rich dimension to our lives. We may increasingly need them as participation in religion declines – and with it the loss of fellowship, community and support systems.

provenance in the tamar valley

provenance in the tamar valley

March 18, 2011  |  environment, knowledge, main blog, motivation  |  4 Comments

Imagine receiving a box of fruit and vegies once a week, packed full of fresh seasonal produce with a story about where they were grown. Carrots and spuds with soil on them, new seasons apples, tomatoes that taste like the ones you grow in the back yard, rhubarb and fresh lettuce, as well as mushrooms and onions (and whatever else is in season at a point in time) – all for $25, on your doorstep!

Across Australia, there is a groundswell of sourcing fresh locally grown produce from farmers markets. My friends Hilary and Barney near Lilydale in the Tamar Valley of Tasmania, have taken this one step further. They have developed a network of local providers who provide fruit and vegetables in season for Hilbarn. The producer is packed with a team of local people every Sunday night ready for despatch the next morning. An emerging distribution network has the Hilbarn box delivered to more than 100 loyal customers in Launceston, Scottsdale and even Hobart, every Monday.

We were lucky to see this in action recently and even helped with the packing. The idea is brilliant! It embraces the concept of provenance, or understanding origin. The regional and local sourcing has obvious carbon, energy and employment benefits, but also engenders a sense of community and belonging that adds another dimension and level of appreciation and understanding.

The contents of the Hilbarn box are a talking point. There is an element of surprise and even education. Hilary related the story of children realising for the first time that peas come in pods rather than packets. The sense of discovery and infectious involvement is exciting. People have even described themselves as “Hilbarners” (a marketer’s dream).

Hi and Barney do this because they love it. Although they are establishing a potentially powerful brand and concept, they would never sell out to the big retailers whose philosophies just don’t align. This is grass roots, local and powerful. It was a privilege to see it in action and I salute these two visionary people who are bringing growers and consumers together in a very satisfying and meaningful way.

…in all humility

My daughters are great levellers! At the very hint of immodesty or pretension, they nip me in the bud, offering an ironic preface for my comments, “in all humility….” We smile, but the point is powerfully made, and I feel fortunate to have their love and support.

While being humble doesn’t come naturally, I admire and respect people who have managed to use humility to achieve that delightful balance in their lives between ego and lack of confidence. Humility requires not that we think less of ourselves but that we think of ourselves less often. If the report in The Age is right, we are seeing an epidemic of obsession with self, where narcissism measured among university students has risen from 15% to 30% in the last 30 years.

Recently I shared a flight to Melbourne with the gorgeous Jennifer Hawkins and was able to share with her a story about her own humility, passed on by a 30 year old friend of my daughters. He’d been overseas for a few years, returned to Australia and met Jennifer on a boat where she was filming for Getaway. Not knowing who she was, he asked how she had got this great job. She said, “I was lucky”, but my friend kept persisting, “This is a great gig – tell me how – it must have been more than luck!” Finally she succumbed, “I won a competition”. “What competition was that?” he pressed. “Miss Universe”, came the response – at which point our friend hot- footed it to the back of the boat in tongue tied panic! As I retold the story to Jennifer, I again saw living proof of the authenticity and lack of pretension from someone who has the world at her feet, yet who is delightfully grounded by her modesty and humility.

Bruno Martinuzzi believes that humility is liberating and enabling. Being in a state of non- pretence improves relationships, reduces anxiety, encourages openness and paradoxically, enhances self -confidence. His tips for practising humility are worth a look. They include using phrases like, “You are right”, “How am I doing?” and in the daily contests of life, stopping talking and allowing the other person to be in the limelight.

He also cautions against confusing humility with timidity. It’s not about self-denigration. It’s about maintaining pride in who we are and what we’ve achieved without arrogance or hubris. It’s about being content to let others discover our talents without having to boast about them.

There are plenty of great quotes about humility. I like these ones.

 William Safire says “Nobody stands taller than those willing to be corrected”.

Fulton Sheen, “A proud man counts his newspaper clippings, the humble one his blessings”.

James Barrie, “Life is a long lesson in humility”.

 Ralph Stockman, “True humility is intelligent self-respect which keeps us from thinking too highly or too meanly of ourselves. It makes us modest by reminding us how far we come short of what we can be”

I’ve long been interested in the role of humility in leadership. Jim Collins identifies great (level 5) leaders who have the unique blend of humility and will, the antithesis of the heroic, charismatic leader. Will often has elements of courage and passion. We need humility to stop the courage being foolhardy and the passion being overbearing. Humility is inward looking in a way that other virtues are not. It’s the stance we take towards ourselves before it’s a stance we take towards others. It’s the glue with which we form effective partnerships and relationships.

Can ego and humility co-exist? David Marcum and Stephen Smith  in the must-read book “Egonomics”, suggest that humility has a reputation of being the polar opposite of excessive ego. In fact, the exact opposite of excessive ego is no confidence at all. Humility provides the crucial balance between the two extremes. Humility is a means to an end that leads to openness and progress.

Finally, Kathryn Britton gives an interesting overview of humility and how it is learned.

Well, I feel quite pleased with this blog…..in all humility!

choosing and sustaining a life partner

choosing and sustaining a life partner

February 18, 2011  |  knowledge, life, main blog, motivation, philosophy  |  2 Comments

A reporter asked a man who had been married for 70 years what the secret to his long marriage was. He replied, “Two words….Yes Dear!” 

We celebrated my parent’s 60th wedding anniversary last year and while my dad does offer plenty of “yes dears”, the two of them are also sustained by a mature, devoted, lasting love that is almost beyond analysis. Yet we all find it hard not to go there – analysing what makes successful and unsuccessful relationships – looking for the recipe, if one exists.

Maybe it starts with us as individuals. In the same way that the flight attendant tells us to “put our own oxygen mask on before helping others”, the ability to care for, and share with, a life partner depends a lot on how well equipped we are for the journey ourselves.

Relationship counsellors often talk about the ability of a couple to live in all four rooms in their relationship – the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual rooms. Their proposition goes further to define the qualities which enable “mastery” of each room – discipline in the physical, wisdom in the mental or intellectual room, compassion in the emotional and integrity in the spiritual. Why I am therefore not surprised that my parents are one of those rare couples who exist comfortably in all four rooms?

So, even if we have come reasonably well equipped, having even modest doses of discipline, wisdom, compassion and integrity, how do we find a like-minded soul?

The world is awash with books, tools and advisers making a living from solving this question. The internet has certainly made it easier to meet more people, and of course, lady luck still plays a big role in bringing people together.

At the risk of trying to simplify very complex issues, I have a couple of thoughts to share about partner selection, borrowed from others, which may be worth reflecting on:

  1. A friend of mine, who has relationships at top of her mind right now, says that she asks just two questions about a potential partner. They are – “Would I want to have a child just like him?” …and, “Would I trust him with my life?” Two positive answers are needed to take the next step.
  2. Others have suggested that for successful partnerships, three prequisites must exist in combination – Chemistry, Communication and Commitment. Sounds pretty good…..but what if one is missing?

On relationship maintenance and nurturing, Kirsten Cronlund, founder of Lemonade from Lemons, adds another dimension in understanding heterosexual relationships. She suggests that the two secrets that are important for men to transform (or achieve successful) relationships are – # Secret 1. Women feel nurtured when men assist with tasks. # Secret 2. Women long for men to welcome their influence. She also has two secrets for women. # Secret 1. The goal of men is to reduce complexity in their lives. # Secret 2. What men want most from women is to feel appreciated. Does that resonate?

Then there is the much discussed difference between romantic love and mature love. When the sparks stop flying and the course of ordinary life weakens the intensity, relationships can be challenged. Individual needs and differences conflict and lead to frustration. Flaws become pronounced, criticism increases and sexual excitement abates. (Remember that joke about the marbles in the jar!)

Lucky couples who get through this phase and reach mature, sustaining, love find that understanding is augmented by acceptance. Tolerance is reinforced by patience and respect for differences. Commitment is redefined by a determination to communicate and compromise, rather than to leave. Couples in mature love embrace openness, accepting that they are “delightfully flawed” and feel safe and satisfied within the space they’ve created. There can also be the X factor – devotion, where bottomless joy comes from giving to another, the peace surrounding that giving and the deep understanding of connection. This is lasting love.

fulfilment from creativity

fulfilment from creativity

February 11, 2011  |  knowledge, life, main blog, motivation, philosophy  |  1 Comment

A friend asked me recently to nominate the things that had given me most fulfilment in life. I asked him for some time to reflect on the question and reverted the next day.

My list went something like this, “Creating a family with my wife; building a house together;   establishing lupins as a new crop with a team at Rutherglen; being part of a team that transformed Corinna from a ghost town into an eco-tourism destination; and the pleasure derived from photography over many years.”

 It wasn’t until I had articulated these experiences that I realised the glue, the common theme, running though each of them. They aren’t about achievements at work or winning competitions. They all involve creativity, and each of them about creating something that has personal interest and meaning.

Greg Barber’s interesting blog suggests that creativity can be related to the newer western principle of making products, building things for a purpose, or the expression of scientific or technological innovation.  Whereas in older cultures, there’s always been an undertone of creativity playing a role in personal fulfilment, private goal setting, and taking an inner journey. My own list involves both aspects.

Creativity in either context often involves a heightened state of consciousness. Things appear to be more vibrant, more alive; colours are vivid, sounds more pure. I love Alan Alda’s quote, “The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.”

Add meaning and understanding to creativity – in your own eyes and through those of others – and it is possible to achieve deep fulfilment. In my own case, the meaning in the five nominated experiences is, in part, related to the fact that people, products and experiences have been created that are likely to outlast my short time on this planet. They were also achieved through co-operation with other people. What has fulfilled you most in your life?

Featured image is one of the refurbished original miner’s cottages at Corinna Wilderness Experience in Tasmania

the dignity of man

It is a while since I blogged and I understand the need for regularity – so please accept my apologies. Here is the first in an eclectic series for 2011.

Occasionally, we intersect with special people in our lives. I had the privilege of working on the Board of one of the few remaining Australian manufacturing companies with such a person for four years. He has a wonderful human touch that seems to accompany respectful people who have that precious ability to listen.

There is no need for this man to be humble, but like many great leaders he is.  He ran Mitsubishi in Australia for seven years and knows more about lean manufacturing than anyone outside Japan. He received the Centenary of Federation Medal for services to the automobile industry. He also ran GNB Batteries and Pacific Dunlop in the USA and mixed it with people like Hilary Clinton and Sam Walton. Some of his stories about Sam are both instructive and amusing.

His name is Graham Spurling – a giant of a man with a unique ability to give “tough love” in the work environment and gentle love in the personal sphere. Graham was a champion of environmental and community responsibility long before they sat on board checklists. As we walked the factory floor, Graham taught us the principles of eliminating hard work, of the dignity of men (and women) in factories and the importance of evaluating change programs through the eyes of the worker. He is the only Director I have ever seen put on a pair of gloves and lift a piece of steel to check how much the workers were being asked to lift. Graham, I salute you, just as many others did when you were a respected Major in the Australian Army Reserve.

Graham, like many good scientists, engineers and leaders, showed us the value of a planned approach and of rigorous analysis to solve problems. His creativity and lateral thinking also surfaced, as they did in his recent proposal to the Government to have one car manufacturing plant in Australia. The logic was compelling (and still is), but the challenge was too hard politically, going the same way as many other value adding  mid to long term projects at State and Commonwealth level. Populism and opportunism prevail!

Today, Graham chairs the prospective junior miner, Phoenix Copper. He is also a much admired figure in his home town of Adelaide where he is tireless in making contributions to society as a mentor, visionary and philanthropist. If you are travelling in the southern Flinders Ranges near Melrose, you might find Graham at his North Star Hotel or at his Bundaleer winery, extolling the virtues of his sparkling shiraz, or discussing an issue of the day with one of the customers. Ask him about the car industry or about the dignity of man. You might get a twenty first century version of the famous fifteenth century Pico della Mirandola oration.

organisational authenticity and meaning

organisational authenticity and meaning

Business bookshelves are groaning under the weight of single ideas padded out to 250 pages, recycled and repackaged messages and occasionally, some ground breaking insights. I recently read a book that falls into the last category – “ Meaning Inc. – the Blueprint for Business Success in the 21st century” by Gurnek Bains. Bains is founder and CEO of YSC, a corporate psychology consultancy with global offices.

This is not another “In Search of Excellence” or “Built to Last” – books that looked in the rear view mirror and reverse engineered the precursors of success. Many of their successful companies floundered. Bains, using the widespread research of YSC, has delivered a concept that is enduring and creates meaning for employees, customers and stakeholders. His premise is that bringing meaning into the workplace is the best way to motivate staff and achieve sustainable high performance, and uses a number of corporate examples on the journey.

Bains argues that the following attributes are present in companies who create meaning:

  • An invigorating sense of purpose that goes beyond business success and which makes people feel that they are changing society as opposed to servicing needs
  • The courage to set extremely challenging goals and to be ground breaking in the pursuit of the core purpose
  • An innovative approach to benefits and the treatment of people which makes them feel special
  • A culture that allows people to be themselves and to feel that they are personally making a difference and utilizing their distinct talents
  • A rigorous and at times almost aggressive approach to evaluating performance and contribution
  • Clear and authentically grounded values which are lived through thick and thin
  • A concern for the sider and particularly, the environmental and societal impacts of business activities
  • Through all the above, an excellent reputation with consumers and other political and social stakeholders
  • Excellent long term performance coupled with a preparedness to sacrifice short term gains if their achievement conflicts with the core purpose and values.

I must say that from recent experience, particularly working with people under 35, this series of prerequisites really resonates. It is all about being authentic. I have now shared this book with four CEO’s who all claim it has impacted significantly on their approach to their leadership and buy in from staff.

A clear sense of purpose and the leadership vision to set a course based on the Bains approach, depends on the CEO and her executive team. Once established, it has a much better chance of success if reinforced through measurement, something which will, in its own right, make a significant contribution to productivity and performance.

happiness - a journey not a destination

happiness – a journey not a destination

September 2, 2010  |  knowledge, life, main blog, motivation, philosophy  |  6 Comments

I’ve been in two minds about writing a blog on the complex subject of happiness – and couldn’t contain myself any longer. Happiness has become such an industry – over 300 million Google references, c0mplete sections in bookstores and a happiness or well-being conference accessible every couple of months. However, in the relentless pursuit of happiness, many people are making the mistake of treating it as a destination rather than a journey.

In this world of instant gratification, people want to find the answers. A bit like one of our children at high school…”Dad, I don’t want to know how to do the maths, I just want the answer”. The happiness answers can be complex and elusive. People suggest that the best starting point is picking the right parents. Possibly true – but unable to be altered.  It’s a state of mind, say some. Don’t worry – be happy! Some quotes on happiness that resonate with me include:

  • “A happy life consists not in the absence, but in the mastery of hardships.” — Helen Keller
  • “Being happy doesn’t mean everything is perfect. It means you have decided to look beyond the imperfections.” –Unknown
  • “We tend to forget that happiness doesn’t come as a result of getting something we don’t have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have.”– Frederick Keonig

The last quote causes me to reflect on a trend I see around me. My generalization is that beyond a threshold level of income to meet living requirements, there is an inverse correlation between happiness and further wealth accumulation. Why? I guess because people run out of things to have, buy, use and as their lives have been focused on doing just that, become lost and unfulfilled.

From all I have read, there seem to be two things that seem to appear on every list as precursors for happiness. They are connectedness and generosity. Connectedness – played out through family, friends, organisations, netball teams, men’s sheds and so on, that engenders a sense of belonging. Generosity – that taps into that basic human need to give and care for others. Of course love embraces both connectedness and generosity.

On the next rung of common happiness precursors we find – being active (walking, running, dancing and being vital); taking notice (being aware of the beautiful, curious and unusual and relishing every moment); learning (challenging yourself to gain knowledge and mentally stretch); and gratitude. Joseph Krutch said, with perspicacity, “Happiness is itself a kind of gratitude”.

The Positive Psychology movement, pioneered by the eminent Martin Seligman, has much to offer around happiness. The movement is changing the emphasis of the profession from pathology and mental illness to positive emotion, virtue and strength. If you haven’t already done so, pick up a copy of Seligman’s best seller “Authentic Happiness” Random House 2002. He argues that positive emotions generate strengths and that authentic happiness comes from identifying and cultivating your most fundamental strengths. It’s a powerful, potentially life changing book, one that has caused many to take the next step and enroll in Seligman’s  Master of Applied Positive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.

An alternative, useful for amateurs like me, is to ponder the messages in Positive Psychology Daily News – a free on-line service full of applications for daily life. On the subject of applications, from a sea of happiness apps for i phone, there are two that stand above the pack. One is Live Happy ($1.19) and the other a free app called Gratitude Journal. Both worth down loading from i tunes.

Anyway, the subject is interesting and exploring it makes me happy!

 Finally, a marvellous quote from Nataniel Hawthorne, ““Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you”.

what is your purpose in life?

 Discussing new opportunities over a coffee recently, my colleague surprised me by posing the question, “What is your purpose?” I hesitated and offered a few words about helping others, and then realised that I needed to give this some more thought.  I’ve often thought that it would be quite powerful to have a defined purpose – like a form guide in the back pocket. It was also interesting to read Lenore Taylor in the SMH claiming that the Government’s main problem in the election was a coherent sense of purpose.

This wise colleague who shared the coffee hinted that life’s real purpose was more than about goals and objectives – which are often the means rather than the end, or the things that disguise the real journey. He then shared a challenge he gives some of his mentees, asking them to write a poem about where they are from.  I noted the comment and at the time categorised it as a coaching gimmick. Being a person who likes to tick the box and move on, I went home and penned this:

“My purpose in life is to help people and organisations realise their potential”

Felt a bit chuffed about that – that’s exactly what I do, and enjoy doing it….boards, mentoring, businesses, family, friends….yes, that’s my purpose. I also reflected on how that purpose has evolved over time. Yet, for some reason I kept coming back to this as unfinished business, unable to dismiss the question “where are you from”. As I searched the web for inspiration (and manoeuvred past the religious zealots and their self-righteous offerings of purpose), I discovered the difference between an outer purpose (what you do, your talents, values and preferences) and the inner purpose (where you are from, where you are heading, what brings happiness and sadness).

Realising that my purpose was really an outer purpose, I set to work on the suggested poem, “I  AM FROM” – a very personal and raw offering , one which I did not write to publish, but one which I am prepared to share in this context:

I am from convict stock, from the sunburnt Mallee and Gippsland’s green.I am from the house of love,

built by special parents with shining ideals.


I am from genes conferring forward momentum,

giving intelligence and stupidity, played out in different ways.

I am from the school of glass half full

where possibility and hope outweigh doubt and fear,

where first we seek to understand – and then,

take courage to confront, create, change and renew.


I am from the world, the experiences, the pain and joy

that come with high expectation.

I come from raucous laughter, of mates and sporting contests

from bush tracks, gardens, beaches and layered urban life,

learning to be authentic in a world that is mostly not,

striving to contribute – for family, friends and beyond.


I am of a nature that yearns to be connected, yet

relishes the contrast of escape – where solitude prevails.

I am from the house of love

which cherishes family young and old,

where compassion, generosity and encouragement

nourish and inspire.


He was right! The exercise awakened the inner purpose, just as Steve Pavlina does with his worthwhile life purpose in 20 minutes exercise. Steve suggests that you take a piece of paper and keep writing your purpose, clearing your head, writing it again, until you cry. Then you have nailed it. It’s worth a look.  Another exercise used by top coach Margie Hartley at Channel is to ask “When are you at your best and most energised?” What happens then? What are you doing, feeling thinking? The answers give a clue to the direction of your purpose statements.

I ran the exercises and my purpose now is:

“With love, compassion and courage, to add richness to the lives of those around me”

The process of articulating the purpose will probably be an ongoing one, however I am lifted by the thought that this particular purpose will provide fulfilment and growth to me and hopefully add value to others. It’s important to say that there is no right or wrong in this pursuit – it’s a single private measure that adds meaning to life.

What is your purpose?

an english professor, a publican's daughter and 150 days off the grog

an english professor, a publican’s daughter and 150 days off the grog

August 13, 2010  |  life, main blog, motivation  |  1 Comment

At Melbourne University in the early 70’s, I took in a lecture from an English Professor of biochemistry who specialised in the liver. He offered the following advice:

 “You students are like much of the population – on average, moderate to heavy drinkers. Your livers will probably let you get away with this, providing you abstain from alcohol one day a week, one week a month and one month a year”

Many years later my GP commented on self-confessed consumption levels – ones I thought modest at 25 standard drinks a week, with a month off a year and the odd alcohol free day - by declaring confidently that it was simply a matter of what would be destroyed first, my liver or my brain!

This year I signed up again for the wonderful Feb Free program where we give up the grog for 28 days and raise money for the homeless. The first few days are always a bit of a struggle as the comforting glass of wine with a meal makes way for green tea. But this soon transcends to clarity and self – righteousness. Why do I bother putting these toxins in my body? Now you need to understand that I LOVE the world of wine – collecting, tasting and the social interactions that accompany it. So I was looking forward to a taste on the first day of March.

That morning I woke up feeling SO GOOD that I decided, in a moment of quiet determination, to keep the abstinence running indefinitely. I managed to remain in this state for 150 days, almost running Feb Free and Dry July into each other! I found it interesting that some people were keen to put pressure on me to “just have a glass”, whereas others respected the decision and in some cases, resolved to also run a concurrent dry spell (out of sympathy or guilt). Through sober eyes, it’s much easier to see the way alcohol underpins the social norms of this country. I also reflected on the wasted time and increased health bills that flow when alcohol consumption exceeds its role as a social lubricant and accompaniment with food. Apparently the social cost of alcohol abuse is at least $15 billion annually.

From a personal perspective, I lost eight kilograms without even trying – there must be more sugar in wine than I had thought. I also seemed to find lots of extra time (needed less sleep), was mentally sharper, more inclined to exercise, and couldn’t wait to wake to the high of the morning. Maybe more people would do this if they realised how wonderful natural highs can be – with no side effects. I have enjoyed a wine or two recently but have used the 150 days as a circuit breaker to ring in a new approach to consumption – sipping and tasting, drinking less and better and reverting to the regime of that visiting English professor.

By the way, my wife joined me for some of the journey – doing her bit for temperance. She needed to get a few credits after failing the temperance exam at Rutherglen Higher Elementary School. What hope did she have as the daughter of Frank Ferrari – founder of the famous Poacher’s Paradise Hotel in Rutherglen?

(feature image courstesy Tony Sernack)