I first heard of Esther Sternberg, MD in an interview with Krista Tippett at On Being. Sternberg is the author of the book, Healing Spaces: The Science of Place and Well-Being. It is a book that provides a tour of how our sensory lives interact with our environment to create conditions for healing.
In the book, she tells of Roger Ulrich's experiment .
He had examined the hospital records of patients who had undergone gall bladder surgery in a suburban Pennsylvania hospital during the period 1972-1981. He'd chosen forty-six patients, thirty women and sixteen men, whose beds were near windows that overlooked either a grove of trees or a brick wall. Twenty-three beds had views of nature and twenty-three did not. Ulrich had recorded each patient's vital signs and other indicators of health, including dosages and types of pain medication and length of hospital stays. He'd found that patients whose beds were located beside windows with views of a small stand of trees left the hospital almost a full day sooner than those with views of a brick wall. Not only that, but the patients with nature views required fewer doses of moderate and strong pain medication. The results were dramatic and statistically significant. Ulrich had selected only forty-six patients to study because he was controlling for variables that could affect recovery, such as age, sex, whether the patients were smokers, the nature of their previous hospitalizations, the year of their surgery, even the floor their room was on. Each pair of patients-view of nature, view of brick wall-had been cared for by the same nurses, so differencesin nursing care could not account for the differences in speed of recovery. Even doubters had to sit up and take notice.
Sternberg's research is showing that the mind-body connection matters. She writes,
"Implicit in an understanding of the mind-body connection is an assumption that physical places that set the mind at ease can contribute to well-being, and those that trouble the emotions might foster illness."
This mind-body connection is revealed in how our desires connect us to people and places, and why certain people and places matter to us, rather than others.
For example, I'm a mountain person. I love to hike up a trail to a high mountain vista. It elevates my sense of connection to a larger world in a deeper, more complete sense than my virtual relationships online do.
However, for many connections that I have virtually, I desire for them to become embodied, that we might share this vista from Max Patch as shown above. The virtual, in this sense, is a portal that can lead to a fuller more embodied connection. I've come to call this non-virtual embodiment of human relationships, Real Presence.
In this video by Sternberg, she explains her work.
Also check out Esther Sternberg's PBS documentary, The Science of Healing: Understanding the Mind-Body Connection (available on Netflix).
Healing, the Unexplored Leadership Strategy
Over the past several months, I have come to know a group of people who each have a focused commitment to being healers. None of them are practicing physicians, consultants or own a healing business. They are simply people who approach their daily lives as healers. Two are focused on nutritional healing. Another is a professional musician and teacher, who writes music that creates an environment for healing. Another group meets weekly to practice a ritual of silent prayer for people who desire healing.
I'm finding that their work is a complement to Sternberg's scientific approach. Each addresses the mind-body continuum by recognizing that we are whole beings, not simply a network of bio-mechanical systems.
I have discovered through my relationship with them a deeper appreciation of the connection that our emotions or desires have to our rational mind, and how that contributes to stress. Not to make this too personal, but through these healers, I came to see the degree that my own life was being harmed by the stress of ambition, over-work and resistance to their emotional causes.
Through the help of those who find their healing work in prayer, I was able to release the emotional burden that had been building up over years of operating a consultancy that was constantly pushing the perfectionist envelope of intuition and innovation. The healing that I received was of peace and resolution to some long held disappointments for which I felt grief and sorrow. The emptying of what I came to call "the well of sorrows" through the healing practice of prayer brought an immediate release and rejuvenation.
What Healing Requires
Brene' Brown is known as a social researcher of shame and vulnerability whose TED videos display a person who lives in the topic she researches. Here's a brief five minute interview that captures the essence of her insights.
Her book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead is quite good at getting at the issues that confront most of us leaders. I highly recommend this book to be read with other people, especially your spouse, your children and your business partners. Everything she writes validates everything I've learned about life and work, professionalism and leadership, being a husband, father and friend, throughout my life.
Including Brown's TED talks, watch also her interview by Jonathan Fields of the Good Life Project, listen to the podcast interview with Krista Tippett at On Being, and finally this video of her speaking about the difference between shame, guilt, embarrassment and humiliation.
I discovered Brown's work after having the experience with the healers through prayer. She provides a helpful framework for understanding what I was experiencing and how to sustain it going forward in what she calls Wholeheartedness. Here are her 10 "guideposts" for Wholehearted living.
Cultivating Authenticity: Letting Go of What People Think
Cultivating Self-Compassion: Letting Go of Perfectionism
Cultivating a Resilient Spirit: Letting Go of Numbing and Powerlessness
Cultivating Gratitude and Joy: Letting Go of Scarcity and Fear of the Dark
Cultivating Intuition and Trusting Faith: Letting Go of the Need for Certainty
Cultivating Creativity: Letting Go of Comparison
Cultivating Play and Rest: Letting Go of Exhaustion as a Status Symbol and Productivity as Self-Worth
Cultivating Calm and Stillness: Letting Go of Anxiety as a Lifestyle
Cultivating Meaningful Work: Letting Go of Self-Doubt and “Supposed To”
Cultivating Laughter, Song, and Dance: Letting Go of Being Cool and “Always in Control”
Understand that it is okay to be deficient in any if not all of these wholehearted areas. It is not okay to accept that inadequacy as the way life is and go on as if these things do not matter.
They do matter in every social and organizational context in which we live. These issues matter to the functioning of businesses. Most importantly, these are key areas for leaders to develop if they are to be at their best.
Healing, the unexplored territory of leadership
I am learning from this group of healers that I know, and from the work of Esther Sternberg and Brene'Brown that leaders need to address themselves to these issues.
This is one of the unrealized subtexts of my Circle of Impact and the Three Desires model. I did not know it at the time, but as I've gone through this experience of healing, I realize that this is one way to understand the work that I've pursued for the past almost thirty years.
So, with the beginnng of 2013, I am beginning to delve more deeply into an understanding of healing in order to understand how leaders may become the healers of their organizations, and provide an environment for their people to flourish in a healthy, whole context for life and work.
Any thoughts, directions, resources or connections to people who are also researching this area, I'd appreciate. More to come.
May 2013 be a year of peace and healing for each of you.