What Can Leaders Learn About Practice from Bali?

Susan S Freeman Blog

Balinese PracticeMy recent trip to Bali left a lasting impression in many ways.    This column addresses practice, and its impact on culture, life and engagement.

Balinese culture is permeated by ritual.

Every day, week and month there are celebrations.  In fact, life is a continuous string of celebrations.  One Balinese we met told us it was hard to find time to take a vacation because there were so many festivals that required his participation!

Most Balinese we met engaged in a daily practice of meditation and yoga.  In addition, they all make daily offerings in the tiny shrines that permeate their living and work structures.  To the Western eye, this is hard to imagine.  After all, it takes time to have a practice.  And yet, in Bali, it is so ingrained in their cultural life that they cannot even imagine living without practice!

The benefits of this level of practice among all segments and ages of the population are palpable. In Bali, life is lived on an entirely different level:

  • They may be in a hurry, but they don’t feel rushed. 

  • They may be frustrated, but they aren’t often angry. 

  • They may long for more prosperity, but they won’t give up what matters most to them.

Aristotle said “You are what you repeatedly do.”  As the Balinese begin each day with at least one practice, they create engagement with something beyond the activities of daily life.  They infuse the spiritual with the everyday.

In the process, the everyday becomes spiritual.

Naysayers may scoff and say that that is Bali, and it would never work in a place like the United States but I invite you to consider what is possible.

What practice, if you engaged, would help you become a more effective, enlightened leader?

A simple place to start is simply learning to “be.”  Consider practicing “be-ing.” Being can feel awkward at first, as if you are “wasting time” or “getting restless.”  Simply allow thoughts and feelings to express and roll through you.  They will pass if you don’t attach or hook yourself to them.

Just "be-ing" is my practiceWhat does just “be-ing” do for a leader?

Sitting quietly simply allowing the experience of the present moment.   Life happens in the present; not the past or future.  When you are present, you live life’s essence.  It’s free, you don’t have to go to Bali, and you can take it wherever you go.

What practices will allow you to “be?”

  • Breathe deeply from your abdomen, paying attention to the sensations in your body; not to your thoughts
  • Walk in nature, immersing yourself in green; notice every color, sound and smell as if for the first time
  • Get up from your desk and dance; move your body, shake, wiggle and feel; your energy will shift!

I admit that after several days in Bali, I relished the experience of simply lying down looking up at the sky, taking in the exquisite beauty, hearing the sinuous sounds of the Gamelan in the distance, and knowing, truly knowing, that everything was exactly as it should be.   The real trick is bringing that awareness and practice back from Bali.

Returning to the states I have practiced allowing myself to do that here, finding it a bit more challenging, but nevertheless possible.  Training myself to be at the level of a Balinese is my new practice.

What will yours be?

Please share your comments and ideas with the Step Up Leader community!

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