Nilima Bhat: Men, Women and Shakti Leadership: Exercising Power Regeneratively
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Feb 11, 2017
Guest: Nilima Bhat Host: Deven P-Shah Moderator: Amit Dungarani
Amit: Depending on who you ask, Nilima Bhat can be described in a lot of different ways. She was a former corporate titan playing leadership roles in corporate communications and PR like the ITC Hotel group, ESPN star Sports. She is an author, she’s written about the journey from illness to wholeness in a book she coauthored with her husband called “My Cancer is me”. As a healer and cofounder of Sampurnah - a wholeness practice, she helps people in groups that are seeking personal growth, conscious evolution and expansion as well as healing through life crisis such as an illness or relationship breakdown, emphasizing self-understanding on the physical mental psychic and spiritual levels. She’s a certified Sivananda yoga teacher and has taken up the Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother with the purpose of guiding individuals to union with their own truths.
She’s a dancer, choreographer a facilitator for many in the leadership world, trying to bring together the areas of business and leadership. She’s a passionate advocate for women in leadership. She’s often brought on as a keynote speaker at conferences around the world. She’s a very active member of the Conscious Capital movement and most recently she’s written a book on Shakti leadership - to show leaders how to lead from a place of service and guiding them through experiences that identify their higher purpose and create cultures of meaning. So Nilima thank you so much for being with us today! There’s obviously a lots of ways to describe you but I always find it nice to hear from the individuals themselves. So I thought maybe you could start by giving your own introduction on how you see yourself and how you would like to be authentically seen.
Nilima: Thank you for opening this call and setting it up! Lots of thoughts in my head, but how would I describe myself? I think because of the years of inner transformation work that I have done, I think the self I identify most with and I really feel empowered by, is the term yogini. A yogini is a practitioner of yoga to some level of practice and competence. And having put in many years of sadhana, I feel reasonably comfortable calling myself a yogini. It's also an aspirational title, to say okay, this is what I want to be and move towards. I’m a passionate dancer and I think it’s all about having this very wide mystical heart that just gets lost in the dance. So a very core self is the dancer. In my dance I really get to the highest level of joy I have ever experienced. And in that dance I’m able to also invite other people into that place of joy for themselves so it becomes a very joyous and fulfilling experience when I dance. So I think the yogini and the dancer kind of is the core of it all.
At the heart of my being is a profound faith. It always surprises me when I find people who do not have faith in the divine, in a higher power. Because for me, faith is something I was born with. It’s my force of strength. I stand on it. I just have never had occasion to question it. It’s such a living immutable truth for me. That there is a divine and I have a relationship with it.
Amit: Maybe you can tell us about that beginning -- was it something in your upbringing, your childhood, were there certain influences that filled that cup of faith and helped you remain steadfast through all obstacles?
Nilima: The interesting thing is that I came from a secular background. My father was a naval officer. And the Indian navy is very secular. We never knew who our friends and neighbors are, in terms of which state of India or what religion they are from or follow. So I had no religious or spiritual upbringing. And It came as a big surprise to me years later, when at the age of 32, I started seeking for answers that required a spiritual turn. But when I think of where did that faith come from, it is interesting that before I was born my father was in the Navy and his ship went to Pondicherry when it was still a French Colony and the Navy was asked to call on the ashram and pay their respects to The Mother. Sri Aurobindo had already left the body by then, and the Mother is supposed to have said, “It is my time to play tennis, so send me someone who will pay tennis with me”. My father was a tennis player, and so he got to go and he got to play tennis with the Mother.
Amit: For those on the call maybe you could provide a little context on Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.
Nilima: Yes, Sri Aurobindo, and his spiritual partner, who is called The Mother -- they are among India's greatest sages, yogis, mystics. Their ashram is in Pondicherry in the south of India. Sri Aurobindo was a freedom fighter and gave it up when he had a spiritual experience where he was told his work was to really work for humanity as a whole, and that's when he took up the practice and teaching of integral yoga, a body of work to not just liberate the self, not just enlightenment in the traditional sense of spiritual goals, but it is also transformation of the body, which is one of the lesser-known aspects of their work.
The mother was called Mirra Alfassa and she was born in Paris to Egyptian and Turkish parents. She was also a very powerful spiritual master. The two of them together developed this method of integral yoga and that body of work has spread across the world. There are centers everywhere and it's a very beautiful inner practice that says essentially that all life is yoga and you have to know how to progressively turn all parts of yourself over to the divine, in a step-by-step purification and surrender to the higher power.
And in integral yoga the inner power is called shakti, the divine mother, because that power has agency to drive change. In the Divine realms there are essentially two principles in the one, in the whole. The Shiva is the masculine principle which is witness and stillness and pure awareness. And the dynamic aspect of that is called Shakti or the divine mother, out of whose energy all these forces arrive, which can go on to create different manifestations. So everything we see in the creation from subtle to gross is coming from Shakti and is contained in Shakti. So why do we work with the divine mother or the divine feminine aspect in integral yoga is because that has the power or the agency to drive change and the transformation needed for our consciousness to evolve, for our body to transform. For the goal of the yoga.
Amit: That definitely provides a wonderful segue into your book on Shakti leadership. I was hoping you could set the foundation in terms of capitalism and leadership as it's been traditionally seen and how Shakti leadership comes in and sort of turns that paradigm on on its head a little bit.
Nilima: Great question. Capitalism has really got a bad rap over the years and there have been studies that have revealed people have lost their faith in capitalism, they don't trust big business. And a group of people in the US got together and realized that something needs to be done to reform capitalism and return it to its original values, and perhaps even evolve it to something that is more relevant and effective for these times. So my co-author Raj Sisodia is one of the founders of this movement called conscious capitalism, along with people like John Mackey who is the co- founder of Whole Foods, and Kip Tindell of The Container Store and a wonderful group of thought leaders, business leaders who see and who actually show very beautifully that business has the power to elevate humanity as a force for good, provided it is conducted in particular ways.
And these four principles or four tenets have been outlined in Raj Sisodia’s research, that there are these companies who seem to do very well without having put in incredible amounts of money into marketing like others do, and when he researched them to find out what makes them successful, he realized they have these four tenets.
The first tenet is they have a Higher Purpose beyond profit. They exist to serve the larger goal, they make things better in some form or shape. Therefore they have a higher purpose. So for them profit ensues. It’s not the pursuit of profit.
The second tenet is Conscious Leadership. These companies seem to be run by conscious leaders. Leaders who have done some amount of inner transformation. These are self aware leaders, leaders who take responsibility for how they are showing up, how they lead. They don't let their stuff fly around. They're aware of their behaviours and the effect those behaviors have on people around them. So these are conscious leaders. They have some degree of self mastery, because of some personal practice on that front. They are are also very context-aware, they know how to lead from a place of love and compassion rather than fear and punitive measures.
The third tenet is Conscious Cultures. So these companies with conscious leaders and a higher purposes seem to intuitively know how to create a culture built on love and care rather than fear and win-lose competition. In most companies that we have all encountered or that we have walked into, you sense a kind of disengagement very often or you would sense the politics and the power games that tend to happen. Yet these companies that showed up in the research, whether it is Whole Foods or with Panera Bread, or Costco or the Tatas, there is an invisible net of culture which seems to hold the whole group together, and it's an enabling culture, a culture that cares and is built on loving care. People feel valued and they are engaged they want to come to work.
The last tenet is called Stakeholder Integration, where companies have mapped their value chain from the smallest vendor to the last customer and consumer. And they have taken care to make sure that everyone wins by being involved in the company. So all these people are now integrated into the success of the company. Not just shareholder value, the stakeholders have value and gain value by association with this company. So when the company and its leadership is taking the conscious effort to put these four tenets into practice they outperform the competition 9 is to 1, which is a huge shocker.
When Raj went into the research he thought maybe being good makes you a little less profitable. The huge surprise was being good was hugely profitable! So that's one reason that this movement has caught the attention of many people, but I'm happy to note that people are not following the movement only because of this incredible profit margin, but the kind of people who are showing up to these conferences are genuinely good people who want to do good, who want to make an impact, who want to reform capitalism and really unleash its real potential.
So that is conscious capitalism vs crony capitalism. Where does Shakti Leadership fit in? We described the four tenets so one of the tenets is conscious leadership and in a way that's the tenet that leads the other three, it’s leaders who create change and drive change. So we were looking for a model for conscious leadership that would be different from leadership as usual, and we realized that many of the leadership models - there are tons and tons of material on leadership today. It is all invariably competency-based, values-based or behavior-based. Very, very few go deeper than that into consciousness itself, into that inner transformation work that Awakin Circles know so well, but the world of business and the standard models of leadership are more behavioral, they are not really talking about that inside out.
Amit: But why is that so important? Why is the inner transformation so important for the conscious leader to go through that? Why does that make them more effective?
Nilima: Well any kind of behavior training, any classical leadership skill training is like a band-aid. You just made a surface change, and you think that's enough. A lot of money gets spent on that kind of leadership training, but research shows that doesn't last. It doesn't really generate the long-term results that were expected from that kind of leadership training and the realization came that to have any behavior shift there has to have been an internal shift first, so that this behavior sits on a new ground and comes from a deeper place. As you know in all spiritual practice there is the understanding that we have two selves at a minimum, we have the personality or the ego self and then we have that deeper true soul self.
So if behaviors are coming from your ego it's very hard to create any real shift, because the ego will continue to be invested in its own personal agenda of fear, and motivated by self-interest. Whereas true leadership requires a broader inclusion. So we need behaviors that are coming from that deeper place. And you can't just train for that. It can’t be a superficial training, you have to have done enough practice on whatever you call it, mindfulness, presence, centering. There are different words given to all these different practices that shift us out of our ego consciousness and into our deeper self or higher self.
Amit: So say I’ve opened myself up to my transformation. What type of reflections am I going to have, how do I go into that and know that I am being genuine to that as opposed to surface level changes?
Nilima: We've come up with the five elements of Shakti leadership. The first element of Shakti leadership is called Presence. We need to cultivate presence and presence is that place where you have stepped back from your head, your heart and your gut which is typically where our ego lies. When we lose presence,which is that calm still place within us, we tend to go to one of three places.
Into our head, where we start having something to fear or future trippin or there's shame and guilt about the past, or we go into our heart, which is our emotional center and we start trying to promote ourselves, we want to be validated, liked, loved and appreciated so right there again we have lost access to our own inner stillness. Or we go to our gut, where we get into this fight, flight survival where we have something to defend and it's like we are under attack.
So when we realize that I have nothing to defend, I have nothing to promote, I have nothing to fear, then we can step back from these three centers and it's as if we can return to that background of being where presence lies and can be accessed. So presence makes you now respond to the situation rather than react from some conditioning. So this requires cultivation, requires practice, requires inner work and training and one of the things I'm happy to share, it's available on the Shakti leadership website is the presence practice. There's a five minute one, there's a longer one of 12 minutes and do it daily. It's like going to the gym and building the muscle of presence and you just learn to be more present than absent in the day. So the first element is presence, everything begins from there.
The second element is called Shakti. So when you are standing in presence, it's not an inert dead space. It is a profoundly alive space which is filled with the flow of the evolutionary force itself, which is moving you, growing you, sustaining you, regenerating yourself, giving your thought energy. So Shakti is something you learn to access when you are present and invariably when you are not present you don't have access to Shakti. Then you're operating based on ego based power which has limited battery that runs out all the time. So when you are present, you get access to the second element which is Shakti.
Then begins the quest for the three capacities of -- Wholeness, Flexibility and Congruence. Wholeness is becoming the Holy Family Reunion. You become your own parent, you become your own child, you become your own inner man and your own inner woman and you learn how to bring all the lost parts of yourself back together and become psychologically whole. Very often we have the prevalence of one or the other of these four.
I call this becoming the Wise Fool of Tough Love. Wise is your parent's self. At that same time you haven't lost touch with your Fool, your inner child who knows how to lighten up, be innocent, make mistakes and move on, be curious and not afraid to fail. Tough Love is when your inner man and inner woman have come together in a wonderful marriage. Tough is your inner man. You know how to draw your healthy boundaries, you know how to say no. Love Is your inner woman who knows how to keep the heart open, include, nurture not just yourself, but others. So wholeness is that psychological wholeness, the third element of Shakti leadership.
The fourth element is Flexibility, where having become whole, you don't just play that rounded self all the time. There are different situations that require the diversity of your toolkit, so there will be times that you have to flex and you have to be tough, even though that's not your preferred way to be. There will be times when you have to have the ability to flex to Wise or Fool or Love. So the ability to really flex within your masculine and feminine selves is a very key quality in leadership. To know what is needed and to respond accordingly.
And then the last element is called Congruence.You may be whole,you may be flexible but where are you going with all this amazing competence? What is your dharma, do you know your purpose and are you on purpose. Are you congruent? Congruence is when your Swabhav has been discovered -- you know who you innately are, what unique combination of these forces within you are and that you are now showing up in the world and bringing all that to the world in a particular project or life's work,that's your Dharma.So when you are swabhav and your swadharma line up, you become congruent.
When you bring all these 5 elements together you really awaken all the bases of Shakti. That in a nutshell is what it takes to be a Shakti leader, a whole person, a whole leader. I talk about the hero's journey. This power is not given to you on a platter, you have to grow up and you have to be tested, you have to journey and you will have to die in some form or shape to the old parts of yourself that don't serve you anymore and only then can you receive the gift of your own potency.
Amit: Beautiful! You know, it's so interesting that you said you have to go through the journey, because I feel like so often leadership books today or workshops say -- do these 3 steps and you will be a better leader tomorrow. It always seems like there's a quick-fix solution and you're going to be this amazing inspirational leader tomorrow. But as you delve into these five elements you can see there is so much work that an individual needs to do to be a true leader.. Back to that adage of “be the change that you want to see”. Cultivating these qualities in yourself that you would hope others would have too.
So that, together there is a greater consciousness evolution. So really beautiful, really appreciate you sharing this. One thing that's always helpful is hearing inspirational examples of how some of this stuff is coming or how people have broken through in certain areas and I know you shared some of that in your book and so I was hoping you could share a few examples today.
Neelima: Well I think what is most real for me is my own story and everything that is in this book has been lived personally by me and therefore I felt an integrity writing about it. So when my husband went through cancer at 40 and I was 35, the kids were 8 and 11, it was a huge crisis and a huge wake-up call and it was that call to journey. We had our own heroic journey to make. And having to face our worst fear of having to return to India and start life from scratch again and wonder whether Vijay will live or die and hold onto my sanity keep the children feeling secure through what was a very uncertain time. And coming into my own through all that was having to find my own presence, finding my own power, becoming my own mother, my own lover. Coming into that wholeness, in a way, without breaking the family or the marriage, at the same time creating a body of work which went on to become the Sampoornah cancer program.
Vijay is 55 today, a hale and hearty man. He is someone who survived and thrived through that experience and we created an integrated medicine program called Sampoornah. I ran it in a clinical setting, because everything that I learned and realized along the journey was something I needed to share with the world and pay it forward. And that became my first book “My Cancer Is Me”. So that huge journey I described that there's a crisis and you're thrown into the deep end of life and you have to die to your past and you have to face your fear. And in that process, all that I learned, I put that together not just for my own survival and growth and that of my family but then turned that into a program that I made available online and in clinical settings and offered it to the world and worked with hundreds of cancer patients over 10 years. So that's one story.
Amit: That's incredible. From an individual as well who's had family members affected by cancer, it's definitely not an easy thing to go through, whether you're the individual that has it or you're the family member supporting that person. It impacts everyone in such different ways. I remember reading that Vijay had surgery but then you guys opted to not do chemotherapy, but to try alternative approaches to healing. I'd love to hear a little bit about how you guys made yourself whole through the process and how that's been translated to the people that you helped over the years?
Neelima I think that the first clue that I had to move in this direction was when he got diagnosed here in London. It was a cold winter day and the bottom was just pulled out from under our feet. For like two days, I was in shock, you just think that cancer equals death and that you are somehow powerless and there is this incredible mystery, this mysterious disease that has now taken over and you are at it's a mercy, you really have no control. So luckily I called my yoga school and I said is there any Ayurvedic treatment, because after his surgery, we went to the doctor and his tumor had not spread to the lymph nodes. He had two tumors in the colon but they were confined within the colon and they had not gone into the lymphatic system. In the UK, he was given the choice of taking chemo or not taking chemo for just a 2% difference. If he took chemo, he had a 28% chance of recurrence, and if he didn't take chemo he had a 30% chance of recurrence. So with something as small as that and I didn't want his body be put through all of that toxicity for that 2%.
So we were looking for other ways to make sure the cancer doesn't come back what can we do if we don't take the chemo. I was looking for Ayurvedic options. My school told me that there's a Chinese doctor, Chinese medicine that seems to have very good results with different kinds of cancer, why don't you go and see him. I'd never heard of Chinese medicine but because it was my yoga school who I really trusted giving me this recommendation, I went.
And when Dr. Shankar looked at me and saw this huge strain on my face, his first words were you must understand that the body is a self-healing system, the body creates cancerous cells on a routine basis in our bodies, in our lifetime, and yet we have an internal medicine, we have an internal doctor that is your immune system so that at any given time there can be germs inside you that could kill you, but we don't die because we have an immune system that Nature has given us that knows how to flush diseases out including cancer. So you're not alone, you're not at the mercy of this disease. We have to figure out what caused the immune system to break down. What caused it and how do we prepare the immune system how do we bring it back to its optimal working condition, so that internal doctor gets to work and supports whatever else we're doing in terms of external medicine.
That was a huge reminder to me. I had studied immunity, Life Sciences, biochemistry and all of those and I'd forgotten about this. It gave me hope that yes we can do things as well and we don't just have to depend on external medicine. That's where the journey to understand holistic health and integrated medicine began and understanding how Chinese medicine works. We went back to yoga, to the practice of Vipassana, neuro-linguistic programming. Understanding that immunity breaks down because of stress and that stress is a multi faceted thing -- there is physical stress, there is emotional stress, mental, systemic and spiritual stress. Once you discover what your stressors are and you know how to weed them out, then your immune system can take back and return you to health.
Amit: In the United States with the political and social and economical environment that we are in today in some ways there's this yearning for a certain type of leadership and I don't mean just in the business world. Whether it's at the level of the presidency, whether it is at the level of the community there's sort of of a vacuum. And so I was wondering if you have any thoughts to share of when there is this feeling of loss or searching what individuals can do to maybe look to themselves to find that leadership?
Nilima: So when this whole fear around Trump presidency was happening before the election results, I thought and meditated deeply on this and I had a very strong insight that there was a feeling of fear on both sides. Trump supporters fearing Hillary and Hillary supporters fearing Trump. It was basically fear on both sides and there was no empowerment, because when you stand in fear you have lost touch with your power, you have given your power away, you've given your agency away. And suddenly this president or that president would have the power over you and your life and that's not true.
At any given moment all we need is within us. And we have agency, we have capacity and we can deal with each moment, one breath at a time. And we have a circle of influence and we start by being the change and we can move through anything, anything, no matter what. Viktor Frankl's book, “Man's search for meaning”, if someone can come out of a concentration camp and has grown from that experience and become a healer and teacher to the world after that kind of experience -- then surely all of us can go through whatever life dishes out. What doesn't kill you only makes you stronger.
So I had this realization that if anything, this presidential election in the U.S. is a call to each one of us to step up into our own leadership our self leadership to be the change and to design the life we would like and experience life in a way that works for us, that makes meaning from even the difficult experience in a way that it serves you. So this is that whole idea of Shakti leadership and self leadership that comes in.
It's all about the power that is inside you and that's an infinite source -- no one can take that power from you. It's not a power based on privilege or rank or money or something that can be taken away. It is who you essentially are and it's infinite. So understanding leadership in a very very different way and also that both Hillary and Trump in a strange way represented the Old Leadership Model which is a very masculine model of leadership and there's nothing wrong with it, but when it is done to the neglect of the feminine energy and feminine values that bring a balance to the masculine, then the masculine model becomes a hyper-masculine model and becomes ineffective or corrupt or just gives diminishing returns.
So what the leadership world needs is more feminine energy and feminine values to bring balance to all the good qualities of masculine leadership. Traditional leadership is the exercise of power, but in a masculine way that would be discernment, clarity, focus and strength which are fabulous masculine qualities But if it's done at the neglect of compassion, empathy for the people who work with you, creativity or the ability to include diverse mindsets or the inability to collaborate, to have fun, this whole masculine model becomes brittle and ineffective. In our book we talk about all the crises you see around you, whether it's environmental crisis or political corruption or business being greedy. Just like a very basic lens of yin and yang. You can diagnose this as a hypo yin and a hyper yang. All things go out of balance -- too much masculine and too little feminine, this is what they look like. Leadership needs to bring back feminine energy and feminine values.
Amit: It was interesting what you said, both Trump and Hillary went down that sort of masculine definition of leadership. I guess I'm more interested in the base assumption that men and women are going to generally be different and women will be able to draw into the feminine qualities because it may be more natural to them but perhaps you're saying something different that we've been learning one paradigm and men or women regardless need to shift to the new paradigm.
Nilima: Yes, but because the patriarchy has overvalued and rewarded masculine qualities and devalued and denied feminine qualities, even women have had to “man up” to succeed in leadership, politics and business. So the model of how to lead regardless of whether you are a man or woman is a hyper masculine model. That is what has been rewarded and asked for and now we are seeing the negative consequences of that. Because it's been done to the neglect of the feminine. The new model that is asked of us today is we really need to dial up feminine pole in this and not to diminish the masculine. A hyper feminine is as risky and can go as wrong as a hyper masculine. Hyper-feminine can be smothering and sentimental, dependent, unfocused, irrational and all those terrible things that folks say about women.
Amit: I can definitely see the value of finding a balance between the two. Do you see any leaders out there today that do represent that balance that we can draw inspiration from?
Nilima: I think the Dalai Lama is a wonderful example of someone who is a man who has extremely wonderful feminine energy and yet he cannot be a leader without also having very good masculine balance internally as well. What we see in the media is very much his feminine side. I think Barack Obama is a fabulous example of the Ardhanarishwar - half man and half woman that we are all evolving towards. He had great empathy and inclusion and yet you could see he had very strong masculine energy. A very beautiful man.
Amit: Any women that come to mind?
Nilima:Arianna Huffington... Again, what we describe in Shakti leadership is the ideal that we are all inspiring towards. Different leaders will have honed different 5 elements to different degrees. So I'm not saying all these people have perfected all five elements. All of us have work to do, so I think someone like an Arianna Huffington has a wonderful feminine side but clearly she would not have succeeded in this man's world, in this world of technology, media publishing without a very strong masculine side as well. Michelle Obama is someone who is a Shakti leader in the making. Melinda Gates is someone who is also...when I heard her speak. And Sheryl Sandberg. So all of these people are showing both sides to some extent and they're not overextending in one to the neglect of the other.
Deven: Such an empowering and enlightening conversation. When I think about this, am I understanding it accurately when you say masculine energy, it’s get things done, be a driver, make things happen, whereas feminine energy is understanding the purpose, have compassion, tune into the people around you, so there is a balance between making things happen and cultivating a space where everyone is nurtured for a more holistic experience?
Nilima: Yes, that’s nicely paraphrased. I also wanted to point out that when we use the word Shakti, Shakti is like the source energy the source power and just like the mother has the ability to create both the boy and the girl child, the masculine and feminine energy that flows out of shakti is like the child of shakti. So you need both the masculine and the feminine shakti, one that feels masculine and one that feels feminine and you need to leverage both to unleash your whole shakti. Otherwise it’s like you’re operating on a battery with just one pole. You need both the poles to get the current to flow.
Deven: It makes sense and I have experienced this quite a bit here in the US and maybe Amit you can share your thoughts on that as well. We are conditioned in the last forty fifty years that the aggressive goals and aggressive mindset are perceived as power. If you show your vulnerability, it is interpreted as weakness. And that’s where the ego comes into play. It’s so enlightening to think about a way of thinking of energy as both - the nurturer and the driving force. Both are required.
Nilima: In fact, that's the reason I talk about power a lot in this book - this whole game we see in the world, is who is in power. We are trying to steal from each other; it’s a zero sum game. Especially with integral yoga that I’ve been with, we talk about this other power which is shakti. It’s infinite, available for everyone -- you just have to earn it and use it responsibly, but no one has to lose for you to be empowered. There’s enough for everyone so why are we leading with just half our power or worse why are we leading with ego-based power when we have access to the whole ocean?
Amit: You know I was thinking we are going to be sending our callers a link to your website and the book after our call, but I thought one thing that might be of interest is that as part of Service Space, we run various challenges on Kindness and Mindfulness and Nilima is getting ready to run a 21-Day Shakti challenge. Can you set that stage for that and what someone might expect?
Nilima: So glad you brought that up. I am really excited about this. I was so happy when Nipun suggested it. The 21 Day Shakti Leadership Challenge will kick off on the 21st February which happens to be my teacher’s birthday. This is our offering to her. It will go on for 21 days which means it will also go over the 8th of March which is International Women’s Day. And we feel inspired to say that this work of Shakti leadership is a fabulous way to achieve gender reconciliation.
We need to get over the battle of sexes and have the whole man and the whole woman show up together in this time instead of canceling each other out. February is also the month of Valentine's Day so love is the big theme. So in a very intuitive way, through some very deep meditations as a group, we came up with the idea that the time had come to launch a call, a movement called Rise in Love. Normally we fall in love, and fall effectively means you become less than who you are, and actually love is something that can really make us the best of who we are. We can rise above our selfishness, our pettiness and come into our fullness through love, if we know how to.
So the 21 Day Shakti Leadership Challenge is going to take you step by step through the 5 elements of Shakti leadership to the 12 qualities that are described in The Mother’s symbol, which are universal human qualities: sincerity, humility, gratitude, perseverance, aspiration, receptivity, progress, courage, goodness, generosity, equality, peace. Beautiful qualities that we can take up one day at a time, and there will be practices, reflections that are going to invite you to try it on for size, each of these qualities for 21-Days. Practice them, commit to them, see what you can dial up or down, and really engage these qualities. And hopefully when you come into that kind of wholeness within yourself you’ll have the ability to receive higher capacities of Shakti which are also part of the 21-Day Challenge. Wisdom, Strength, Harmony, Perfection. These are qualities that descend upon us, a grace when we have cultivated and purified our ego and our ordinary nature. So I am really excited about running this and we’ve just been putting the backend together over the last few days. I hope everyone joins. It’s so aligned with Moved By Love, and KindSpring and all these wonderful things that Awakin is involved with. I hope we can all really amplify each other.
Deven: I’m very excited and am going to sign up right after this call. We have a couple of comments and questions that have come in online.
Online question through web form from Albert in Oakland: Why separate, distinguish between the feminine and masculine ? Is that not also holding them as separate and isn't that the problem. It is my feeling that we have inherited a system of duality that creates the struggle. Thank you.
Nilima: This is a very good question and I’ve thought about it in the past. I think of it as the color red and the color blue. It’s like saying, “Why do we need the red color and the blue color, why can’t we just have black, you know, one color?" And diversity is part of the rasa or the beauty of the experience of life. And to create diversity we need more than the one, therefore at a minimum we need two. And it’s the two who then have a way to interact in myriad ways with each other to create, three, four, five, six different possibilities for us to experience life as creation. So there is a purpose to polarity there is a purpose to the unity having two aspects within it. Which is called the the yin and the yang or the Shiva and the Shakti or, using English terms masculine and feminine. The polarity is also at a practical level, when you think of a horseshoe magnet, because of the North and South poles of the magnet, if you ran a wire in that space between the two poles, you get current. If you didn’t have that horseshoe magnet, in the same space if you ran the wire, there’d be no creation of electricity -- electricity is akin to Prana the life force that's needed to create and sustain things. So there is a purpose to polarity in this three dimensional reality that we experience and it creates diversity and diversity adds beauty and difference that can be enjoyed. It’s like, you like salt but you also like sweet.
Deven: Correct me if I’m not understanding this correctly, but it seems like masculine and feminine are two forms of energy and they may or may not correlate directly to the gender. So you can be a man but you have and you can manifest both forms of energy. And like you said with Arianna Huffington - she’s a woman but she has demonstrated masculine energy as well, because she is able to drive things and she is making things happen. So it’s forms of energy which may not map directly to gender paradigms.
Nilima: That’s absolutely right. Both men and women have inside them the masculine and feminine polarities. Capacities and energies that are complementary and different and necessary for that difference.
Amit: I think often the challenge comes, we sometimes be quick to assign a judgment to a certain quality. If one just says a masculine quality is a doer, who gets something done we automatically assign that as a good quality. But then we don't give enough weight to the feminine qualities of love as well. There's a question that can arise well why does that have to be a masculine quality. How come getting stuff done isn't a feminine quality so why do we categorize that way? Is that categorization even correct in the first place? Do you have any thoughts on that?
Nilima: I like to normally go back to the Chinese or the yogic duality, the primal duality in the yin and yang. Yin is considered the receptive principle, and Yang is the active principle. Right there you can see these are two mutually exclusive things. Something pushes out and is active and something turns inward and is receptive. Even at a very basic procreational physical level, therefore yang is the masculine and yin is the feminine because of the action of active and receptive. In the Shiva Shakti yogic tradition, the idea of stillness vs movement are mutually exclusive. You can either be still or you can move. And that ability to just be still and hold the anchor while the feminine swirls and flows and moves around to create. So that still self becomes the masculine and that creative self becomes the feminine because it gives life, like the woman does.
Because this ancient wisdom comes from a very basic primal understanding of -- look at man and woman and understand at that basic level of creation and procreation. what is the active and what’s the receptive. What is the creative and what is the still in that space? So they are kind of almost the opposite of each other. Yin and Yang or Shiva and Shakti. What it is trying to say is that there are two aspects to the One. And maybe a better answer is -- don’t think of it as a duality, but it’s actually a triality. That the One contains the Two. Therefore the One is a reality but so is the Two contained inside it. So at any given time, are you looking at at the level of fullness of the One or the next level where the One has become the Two? The One completely exists even when the Two does what it is doing and interacting with each other.
Deven: We have one caller and also one more question that came in through the online channel.
Caller: Hi, my name is Pavi and I’m calling from California and wanted to thank you for this beautiful conversation. It’s beautiful to hear this conversation and in terms of a question, in your own life, Nilima, are there particular practices that you have found helpful and that you have continued into today? And then, the second part of the question is - looking ahead now that the book is out, where is the flow of life taking you next?
Nilima: Thank you, Pavi. To answer the first question, my practice has been a lot of body work. I'm a dancer and a yoga teacher so I’ve been teaching hatha yoga -- I’ve created my own system of yoga which has pranayama and asana and a lot of chanting and meditation. So I work with opening the heart center and connecting with the presence within. I use mantra for that, breath work. I have my own way of connecting with the heart, the forehead and the crown centers and really engaging the whole body, breath and mind with that higher self that comes through. I have recordings of all these meditations on my website so if you just google Sampurnah cellular meditation you will get a series of audio tracks. So the first audio track which says centering, is a fifteen minute practice which is my core practice of connecting with the divine self. There are many others including the presence practice, the mahamantra of the presence practice which anytime I find myself feeling a little anxious, I remember to stop and breathe and remember the reality of this moment is that I have nothing to defend, nothing to promote, and I have nothing to fear. The only reality of this moment is that I am here now. All I need is within me and all I need comes to me. So that's another practice that’s available on the Shakti Leadership website if you just google Shakti leadership presence practice, you can find that. And I’ve done lots of things over the years. Wonderful meditation teachers, spiritual guides. Many different traditions -- Sufi practices, Taoist practices, apart from yoga. So that is my personal work.
In terms of what happens after Shakti leadership, it’s beautiful how things are unfolding. I wrote the book very much inspired from within, and it's as if this work and this message has its own direction and I just need to show up and be in service of that call. I have been asked to join the board of an organization called Peace through Commerce which is about creating a matrix of peace to create sustained peace in war-torn environments. Another organization I am now in the board of is called Mixer which is the first social network for creating living live communities driven by women. So how do women gather around locally, around common interests to just put our cultural net back together which is being broken down by too much technology and living with screens. So things like that, invitations coming up. My personal vision and dream is to set up a nine month Shakti leadership training program that will create Shakti leaders. These are like peace warriors, Shakti leaders, Shakti entrepreneurs who are going to be able to create peace through commerce and really lead change in their communities.
Web form message: Inspired by this call I just signed up for the 21 Day Challenge so glad I learned about this today. Thank you all. Mish from New York City
Question from web: From Jaya -- Hi Nilima, thank you for sharing so many beautiful nuggets of wisdom. Can you share some instances in your life where you tried to practice Shakti leadership and fell short, and how you worked your way through that?
Nilima: I live in this building in Mumbai which the Builder abandoned, did not create the Housing Society for, so we are just 7 flats and 7 families which is not enough to create a Housing Society we're kind of stuck we're in limbo. We have to learn how to live together as a community, pay our electricity bills, there's a lot of work that goes on when you live in an apartment because you are linked to the rest of the block, the rest of the building and everyone is coming from very different socioeconomic backgrounds and thought and value systems. I work so hard to keep peace and harmony and get everyone to be nice to each other be civil to each other and and any given time someone is angry with someone else and saying I'm not showing up, I'm not paying my maintenance, I'm not signing up for this thing that needs my signature. So it's a huge life situation for me that I go teach Shakti leadership to the world and right here where I live, I get to, have to put it into practice. It's not easy!
Question from web: From Dianne, NY. As an advocate for women in leadership, what is your advice to women who to still have to work through the challenges of male dominated corporate culture where in order to move ahead, one may have to employ more masculine qualities but in doing so get repercussions of being labeled in an unkind way (i won't say it here but the word/label starts with a b). I see the deep value of shakti leadership but how to disseminate that paradigm at an earlier age rather than corporate culture, where young boys and girls are learning it before they actually become the leaders of tomorrow.
Nilima: Everything begins with education. In the corporate world, the only way women can deal with the situation is to re-frame the challenge they face as an initiation, a call to adventure, a heroic journey to really look at their persecutors, their so-called enemies, as their challengers. It’s like you go into a boxing match and if you have a good boxing partner you raise your game. So if you find push back in your corporate culture then use it to become more resilient to raise your own game to become smarter, more flexible. So play the Yin side, learn how to Judo the energy and flow with it, dance with it rather than try to fight it, and get beaten down. So how to flex, how to be loved when needed, how to be foolish when needed, how to lighten up. I also say what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger. So take on that challenge in a way that grows you.
And I always say change the company or change the company. If you can't be the change and find the change happen around you for the better, then we always have the choice not to accept the unacceptable and to leave and to follow what we are called to follow and don't fear. Meet your fear about how you're going to sustain yourself. Sometimes one just has to make those journeys into the unknown and that's part of the whole experience of waking up, growing up, showing up and maybe coming into your fullness and your life’s work sometimes the place is not for you and you are meant to leave.
Comment from web: From Monu in DC -- Dear Nilima, It is always a pleasure listening to you speak and sharing your journey. I look forward to seeing where you go next.
Amit: That's probably appropriate that we should let the people know that you are actually coming to the US.
Nilima: Yes I will be there from the 28th of April to 7th of June. It's a long trip and I cover the east coast and the west coast and having learned from Nipun and all of you at Awakin about pay it forward and the gift economy idea, I'm very happy to be hosted and for people to pay what they can and I'm happy to just share what I do with people. I'm offering myself after this call.
Amit: Thank you for that will it be sure to include some of that in our email to all of our listeners Nilima thank you so much for being with us for sharing so deeply, for enlightening us whether it was about conscious capitalism’s four tenets or the five elements of Shakti Leadership. I think we all definitely learned quite a bit today and have some more reflection to do it in a way that we can access both elements within ourselves and be a better person tomorrow.
Nilima: Thank you so much Amit. And a shout out to my dear friend Monu for the last comment.
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