Serious Games with Culture and Language.

The 20th French philosopher, Michel Foucault once said, “I’m no prophet. My job is making windows where there were once walls.” I completely agree. As a leadership coach in a time of crisis, I play games (!) with my clients-- very serious games with language – words which don’t translate or resonate well. I consider the words we choose to express ourselves as open spaces or “windows” which offer valuable insight into our own behavior and worldview.

One way I like to play is through homonyms, as exemplified in the silly cartoon above. I bought a similar drawing on the cover of a very pricey notebook which I ended up buying – not because I needed yet another in my collection but because the “play” on words appealed to me. I suppose you could say that on some level, the dolphin “spoke” to me.

How and why would I play games when my clients are struggling with the economic fallout from the Corona virus? I tell them that we need to understand the cycle. No one was really surprised by the return of the virus. It is following a predictable pattern much like ones we have seen in nature since time immemorial. Winter is a “Yin” season in Chinese culture and spring moves into “Yang” (in the Northern hemisphere anyway).

Actually, both Yin and Yang are coherent forces in nature which are always in a state of flow. In our performance based business culture, all the characteristics of Yang : action, energy, warmth…are enormously appealing. Everyone wants to know how to tap into “Yang” fire but the truth is both “Yin” and “Yang” are interdependent. Both the earth and our mind/bodies require balance and the active principle of “Yang” which cannot be tapped into without connecting to the stillness of “Yin”.

Now – back to the ocean. It is said that the best and most effective remedy to seasickness is movement. In other words, a better alternative to being tossed around by the waves would be swimming. For most of us who are working from home or in the confines of an office, we need to fight the lethargy from sitting too long on a chair at our computer screens.

All too often clients get trapped in their “heads” and try to overthink situations. In a reactive mode, they make frantic attempts to solve a problem without understanding its source. The Chinese have a character to describe this troubled state. It’s pronounced “kùn” and it’s written with two radicals or keys. The outer key resembles a frame or box 囗 while the inner one represents tree 木. Together they form 困 a character whose translation is “troubled” or “sleepy”.

A lot of ink has been spilled on the topic of resilience in the past year. It is promoted as a means of managing the uncertainty and the stress of new COVID realities. Embodiment is one approach to developing this resilience. Yet it’s a word I struggle to translate for my French-speaking clients. I consider it a “hole” in the culture and language. Clients with a very Cartesian (“I think therefore I am”) approach to problem solving, may need practice and encouragement quieting the mind, going within and becoming aware of the energy there. The Chinese translation for “embodiment” process is simple but beautiful. Its essence is captured beautifully with just 3 characters, 具身化 Jù - possessing, shēn – body, huà – transformation.

Now I fully realise that going down in to “Yin” may not be easy in a challenging (stressful) economic environment …but we may be all doing it whether we are conscious of it or not. In other words, given the challenge of work from home, the increased workloads and disproportionate time spent at our computers, we tend to avoid more direct and personal contact. SMS or text messages replace phone calls and increased time online favours distraction over reflection. This tendency to isolate ourselves feeds the illusion that we have a limited of time and energy for ourselves and others.

The prevalent feeling of overwhelm is a close cousin to disconnection. It manifests itself both psychologically and physically. Glued to a chair staring into a computer screen for hours on end leaves many parts of the body “numb” (figure in the middle). In Chinese culture, this would be considered a loss or an absence of energy or “qì” /气.

If you’re interested in exploring some simple embodiment techniques to increase your resilience, I am organising two 90-minute online workshops on “Well-Being and Chinese Culture” in January and February. More information here.

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