25th Anniversary of HHDL Nobel Peace Prize

Dr. Mary Jo Kreitzer at TAFM

25th Anniversary of Conferment of the Nobel Peace Prize on His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama of Tibet

Tibetan-American Foundation of Minnesota
December 10, 2014

Speech by Chief Guest

Mary Jo Kreitzer

Tashi Delek – Thank you very much for this kind invitation. I am deeply honored to be your guest this evening.

Twenty-five years ago today, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama received the Nobel Peace Prize. In accepting the award, His Holiness remarked, “I feel honored, humbled and deeply moved that you should give this important prize to a simple monk from Tibet. I am no one special. But, I believe the prize is a recognition of the true values of altruism, love, compassion, and non-violence which I try to practice.”

He then accepted the prize with profound gratitude on behalf of the oppressed everywhere, and for all those who struggle for freedom and work for world peace.

In the remainder of his speech, His Holiness focused on three themes that continue to be core to his teachings:

• No matter what part of the world we come from, we are all basically the same human beings. We all seek happiness and try to avoid suffering. We have the same basic human needs and concerns. All of us human beings want freedom and the right to determine our own destiny as individuals and as peoples.

When we hosted His Holiness in 2011, the title of his public talk was Peace through Inner Peace – and the message we heard was that inner peace brings freedom, as well as happiness, which is essential to wellbeing.

• The problems we face today – violent conflicts, destruction of nature, poverty, hunger, and so on – are human-created problems which can be resolved through human effort, understanding, and the development of a sense of brotherhood and sisterhood.

There is perhaps even more urgency today than there was 25 years ago to address these issues. We face in our own community – as well as within the nation and world – disparities that are growing in economics, health care, and education. We need to be asking ourselves what is our personal responsibility and what is our collective responsibility?

• With the ever-growing impact of science on our lives, religion and spirituality have a greater role to play by reminding us of our humanity. There is no contradiction between the two.

His Holiness has focused extensively over the past 25 years on the interconnectedness between spirituality and science. It was been remarkable witnessing his collaboration with the world’s leading neuroscientists who are making discoveries such as the role of meditation in changing the structure and the function of the brain.

Within the state of Minnesota, we have been blessed that so many Tibetan people have chosen to live here. And I know that I speak for the entire Center for Spirituality & Healing team at the University of Minnesota when I say that we treasure our special connection with the Tibetan-American Foundation of Minnesota. And, we are grateful that through your collaborations with many community groups, we have had the good fortune of being able to host His Holiness on a number of occasions.

Leadership for a Flourishing World

Last weekend I had a disturbing conversation with a new acquaintance who had recently left her job as a human resources professional. When I asked her what triggered her departure, her answer surprised me. “I entered this field because I care about people – I really wanted to help people live to their highest potential. That is what I care about,” she said. “But it seemed like the work we were doing was not about that at all. I was tired of focusing on things that just didn’t matter to me.”

I see many people out there who are encouraged to “play it small” in their roles – to focus on more mechanistic outcomes that promote efficiency or productivity without simultaneously focusing on what I call “Big L leadership.”

“Big L leadership” embraces the true ultimate purpose of our journey in life together – to make contributions that matter, and ultimately contribute to human flourishing.

While it is important that we as individuals are attentive to sustaining our physical selves and ensuring our own health and longevity, we would never claim that as our purpose in being here. Similarly, while we all need to do the things that produce solid bottom lines, and keep organizations functioning in an orderly and productive manner, sustaining the organization itself is not and should not be the ultimate focus.

While all of us have “little l” aspects of our jobs, we lose a lot when we focus exclusively on the goals or parts of our work that promote efficiency, productivity, and the bottom line – when we get lost in the organizational machine. I also believe that any of us can exercise “Big L leadership,” whatever our given role in an organization. For example, a school custodian or a clerk at a store could exemplify Big L leadership by showing compassion to others every day, or helping others experience and understand more deeply what it means to be part of the human community. Or, they could “play it small” and focus on mechanistic outcomes like counting money or cleaning floors.

Organizations can also focus on “being the number one customer service organization in America,” or they can focus on a larger goal that supports and promotes growth of consciousness, support for all human life, and ultimately human flourishing.

How can we support everyone and every organization in living into their larger leadership roles? This is a question that I am exploring for myself right now. I feel sad that so many friends and colleagues do not feel supported in their pursuit of Big L leadership. It would make such a difference in the world if we were all encouraged to live the largest possible version of our leadership.

The Energy of Striving, the Energy of Wellbeing

One of the seven principles of life in the Hawaiian Huna tradition is that “energy flows where attention goes.” Yet most of us go through our days allowing our attention to go mostly unguided or unexamined. Are you aware, right now, of the underlying thoughts or beliefs guiding your actions in this moment? Are you clear regarding why you are choosing to spend your time on the things you are focusing your actions on today?

Recently, I was with a delightful group of colleagues discussing how we are seeking to “operationalize wellbeing” in our own lives, our organizations, and with our clients. One of the most valuable gems I came away with was a reminder that even when holding a clear intent or perceived focus (i.e. wellbeing), there are many options in choosing what we actually look at. Do we look at the context or environment, and what supports wellbeing from that perspective? Do we look at the components of the experience of wellbeing – what it comprises in terms of emotional, body, and even mental sensations? Do we look in a very subjective way at our own inner landscape, familiarizing ourselves with the nooks and crannies where we feel most alive, at home, at peace, and living “on purpose?”

Those are all very useful ways to focus our thinking, yet all focus in a rather singular direction. One question that took the conversation I had last week to a different place was the question of what patterns we are seeing in our own lives and organizations as we seek to “operationalize” wellbeing. In both my own life and that of the organizations and clients I work with, I see a patterns of so many sincere and focused efforts to do things that support wellbeing, while still operating in a greater context of “striving” to achieve. And I found that those patterns of well-intentioned efforts found it quite difficult to co-exist with the energy of striving. Part of the definition of striving is, in fact, to “struggle or fight vigorously.” It is no surprise, then, that the energy of striving continually pushed us off-center and off-purpose.

So I have a question for all of us. What do we truly believe about our ability to contribute and live on purpose in this world if it is not from a place of striving? Why do we fear that in the absence of pushing and striving we will do nothing, or nothing useful will occur? What is the alternative to living a life of striving? For me, looking at that question both personally and organizationally is the next key to stepping into a life of greater wellbeing, as well as greater potential contribution.

Resilience in Leadership: Don’t Just Bounce – Bounce Forward

Recently, I attended a talk by His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Llama at the Nobel Peace Prize Forum in Minneapolis. During the Q&A session at the end of his talk, I found myself dumbfounded by how the same question was being asked repeatedly with only slight differences in phrasing or context – how can we not despair in the face of global conflict, materialism, corrupt politics, etc. How can we not despair? The Dalai Llama laughed and said, “We have no choice!” Despair leads to inaction and ill health; we must choose hope, health, and positive action.

In my work as a leadership coach, clients are often sent to me for “derailment coaching.” Derailment coaching means that they were in danger of derailing their careers. As they came up against mistakes, failures, stresses, or dreams unfulfilled, their responses are ‘maladaptive’ rather than resilient and forward moving. Not only were they not bouncing back, they were not bouncing at all. They were deflated, without hope, and suffering a loss of self in the face of setbacks.

Resilience is typically defined as the ability to spring back into shape, or recover from difficulties. The Dalai Llama was speaking at that level of personal resilience in his Q&A session, reinforcing how important it is to choose your thoughts in ways that keep you hopeful and therefore healthy. When you are in a position of power or leadership, however, the stakes are even higher. Emotions, mood, and affect are contagious, and a deflated leader can create ripples of despair in the larger system.

I was reminded of the language of ‘bouncing forward’ at a recent event led by Elle Allison-Napolitano (Allison-Napolitano, 2014). We know that leadership and coaching are both fundamentally about creating forward movement, and the ability to bounce forward is a critical differentiator of effective leadership. Our work with leaders, then, is not about bouncing back, but rather it is about how to take every “bounce” as an opportunity to step into new perspectives, create unexpected outcomes, and move courageously into often uncharted territory.

Like personal resilience, leadership resilience includes attending to one’s physical, emotional, and relational health. Leadership resilience, however also incorporates sustaining positivity, seeing opportunity in challenge, and being able to be present to the mystery and majesty of life in every circumstance.

Workplace Wellbeing: Bullying

There has been a lot of attention recently on bullying in schools and the detrimental impact on students’ mental health and wellbeing. Today the Minnesota Senate passed a bill that the governor is expected to sign that requires school districts to develop and enforce a plan to reduce bullying. Not surprisingly, bullying doesn’t end on the playground. In an article in Psychology Today (2011), Ray Williams describes workplace bullying as a silent epidemic in North America. According to the 2014 survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute, 27% of Americans have suffered abusive conduct at work and another 21% have witnessed it. 72% are aware that workplace bullying happens.

This survey also revealed the very disturbing finding that employers fail to appropriately react to abusive conduct much more frequently than they take positive steps to ameliorate bullying. Denial (25%) and discounting (16%) and rationalization of behavior (15%) were the most frequent employer reactions. 12% of employers create and enforce policies and procedures to eliminate it, while only 6% condemn it and exercise zero-tolerance. What do co-workers do? Most often, they do nothing. In many respects, this “normalizes” the behavior and contributes to the creation of a hostile work environment. While bullying can have a devastating impact on an employee’s physical and mental health and wellbeing, it also takes a toll on the organization resulting in increased turnover, decreased engagement and lower productivity.

Addressing bullying in the workplace requires a comprehensive strategy that includes:

  • Developing an anti-bullying policy as part of the overall workplace harassment policy.
  • Educating supervisors and employees on bullying and clarifying behavior that will not be tolerated.
  • Coaching supervisors and employees who witness bullying to speak up and address bullying immediately.
  • Encouraging employees who are victims of bullying to make complaints with the assurance that no retaliation will result.
  • Giving feedback to the bully and implementing disciplinary actions.

Most important is creating a culture where bullying behavior is unable to thrive. While leaders have an important role in creating a healthy workplace, everyone in the organization contributes to wellbeing in the workplace.

Taking Social Change to Scale

Integrative Nursing by Mary Jo Kreitzer and Mary KoithanIn an article on taking social action to scale, Margaret Wheatley and her colleague Deborah Frieze (2009) advance the notion that the world doesn’t change one person at a time. Rather, it changes as networks of relationships form among people who discover that they share a common cause and a vision of what is possible. If you want to change the world, they advise, don’t worry about critical mass.  Focus more on cultivating critical connections.  Through relationships and networks, we develop new knowledge, practices, courage and commitment that ultimately lead to broad-based change. Networks create the conditions for emergence, which is how life changes!

I find it interesting to partner the idea of emergence with the work of David Peat who writes about gentle action. When people think about how to create change, we often think about changing others, acting from our own point of view, focusing on what is wrong and acting when we are certain. A gentle action approach is different in every respect. We need to consider first how to change ourselves, how to more fully understand many points of view and the system as a whole, the focus is on building upon what is right and a key practice is embracing uncertainty. A gentle action approach builds on grassroots and highly coordinated small actions.

Creating social action is a topic that is often on my mind. Perhaps I am thinking about it more this week because I just had a book published by Oxford Press titled Integrative Nursing with my co-editor Mary Koithan. What we aspire to do with this book is nothing short of transforming nursing and the patient experience. Applying the concepts of gentle action, networks, and emergence, we are considering ways to reach nurses around the globe.

As you reflect on leaders you encounter in your life and work, are you seeing these ideas put into action?  What opportunities do you have to apply them in your life?

Wheatley, M & D. Frieze. (2009). Taking Social Innovation to Scale. Oxford Leadership Journal. Volume 1, 1-5.

On Gratitude and Giving Back

Conventional wisdom has always taught that when we help others, some of the good we do flows back to us. Within the east Indian tradition, karma means “act” or “deed” and there is the belief that there is a consequence of natural acts that governs all life. The Vedas teach, if one sows goodness, one will reap goodness and if one sows evil, one will reap evil. This belief, also prevalent in Christian texts, is captured in a phrase in the Prayer of St. Francis – it is in giving that we receive.

Science has confirmed this ancient wisdom. In the book by Alan Luks and Peggy Payne the Healing Power of Doing Good, the “helper’s high” is described. After volunteering or giving back even in fairly modest ways, people feel stronger, more energetic and motivated. Tom Rath, our speaker in the Wellbeing Lecture Series this month, notes in his book Wellbeing that when they surveyed more than 23,000 people on this topic, nearly 9 in 10 reported getting an emotional boost from doing kind things for other people. He then describes research that has discovered that there is a region in the brain that lights up when money is received but lights up even more when money is donated!

There is also power in collective action. Across the nation, many organizations participate in the “Give to the Max” day. Harnessing the power of technology and social media, people are encouraged to “click, contribute and change your world”. Thousands of schools and non-profit organizations, including the Center for Spirituality & Healing, have benefitted from this annual appeal that invites people to invest in what they believe in. It is also clear from the success of this strategy that people also enjoy being part of a movement that makes a difference in people’s lives and the communities in which they live.

After a recent talk that I gave on wellbeing and gratitude, a friend of the Center sent me a gratitude bracelet, a simple band with 4 stones. The stones serve as a tangible reminder to pause and call to mind all that I am grateful for. A daily gratitude practice, whether prompted by a bracelet, gratitude stone, or by the power of your intention, is life changing. John Milton wrote that gratitude allows us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.

In this season of Thanksgiving, I am mindful of so much that I am grateful for and that includes the friends of the Center for Spirituality & Healing along with the faculty and staff who are so deeply committed to advancing the health and wellbeing of people, families, organizations, communities – and indeed, the planet.


The Healing Power of Woodstock

Yesterday, the Center for Spirituality and Healing joined Boynton Health Service and other University partners in hosting Cirque De-Stress. The circus, including high-wire walkers, clowns, aerialists and jugglers, is a forum where the public can come and learn how to more effectively manage stress. As noted by colleague Dr. Gary Christenson, chief medical officer at the University’s Boynton Health Service, mental health and stress in students is the No. 1 public health issue on campus. An estimated 4,000 people attended.

According to research conducted last year, the No. 1 attraction at Cirque De-Stress were the therapy animals that are part of the Nature-Based Therapeutics (NBT) program, a joint endeavor of the Center for Spirituality and Healing and the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. The critters on site included several dogs and the very popular therapy chicken Woodstock.

NBT focuses on how the environment affects overall wellbeing. There is evidence that being in nature can reduce stress as well as boost immune activity. A growing number of researchers and human service professionals believe that many challenges facing people today including depression, anxiety and stress – are due in part, to our separation from nature. The Center offers courses in therapeutic horticulture, animal-assisted interactions and therapeutic landscapes. A new course just launched this semester focuses on horse as teacher!

Yesterday was a busy day. In addition to supporting the Cirque De-Stress event, the Center also hosted researcher Dr. Esther Sternberg for a conversation on place and wellbeing. Dr. Sternberg, the research director at the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, has written a book titled “Healing Spaces” that explores the neurobiology of the senses and the critical role of nature. Dr. Sternberg discussed with design and health professionals the relevance of this work in designing hospitals, communities and neighborhoods. Towards the end of our time with Esther, Woodstock made an appearance along with Tanya Bailey, one of our NBT faculty. Esther had her first encounter with a therapy chicken and this of course led to a very interesting conversation on the body-mind connection that occurs human-animal interactions. On a day like this, it is very rewarding to see the far reaching impact of the Center for Spirituality & Healing.


Positive Deviance


I arrived a day early in Vermont where I gave a talk on “Cultivating Wellbeing in our Lives and Communities”. To orient me to Vermont, my host took me on a drive through Smugglers’ Notch, a narrow pass through the Green Mountains. Lined with 1,000-foot cliffs, the winding road is closed in winter. In earlier days, there was only a footpath and trail for horses. I was curious about the name. In 1807, President Thomas Jefferson passed an embargo act forbidding American trade with Great Britain and Canada. This was a severe hardship for northern Vermonters, since Montreal was closer than other markets in the US. Many local people continued illegal trade with Canada, herding cattle and carrying other goods through the Notch. During the Prohibition years, liquor was smuggled from Canada over the improved road built in 1922. Having spent a couple of days here now, I can attest to the creativity, resolve and tenacity of the folks here and their inclination to buck the system. Within the realm of health care, they may well be the first state to fully embrace single payer coverage. In my talk today, I spoke about the need for change and innovation – bold action! Pouring more money into the same health care system is not going to produce different results. Perhaps what we need is more positive deviance. Positive Deviance is based on the observation that in every community there are certain individuals or groups whose uncommon behaviors and strategies enable them to find better solutions to problems than their peers, while having access to the same resources and facing similar or worse challenges. It is an asset-based, problem-solving, and community-driven approach that enables communities to discover successful behaviors and strategies and to develop a plan of action to promote their adoption by all concerned. This thinking is very aligned with my ideas around advancing wellbeing in communities. For more information on positive deviance, see: http://www.positivedeviance.org/

Appreciating Imperfection

In the world we live in, there seems to be a constant striving for perfection and this begins at a very young age. There is competition around grades, sports, and friends early on and later the focus becomes job or career, income, and status. Not infrequently, we feel that we don’t measure up and this leads to harsh self-judgment. While the western world view is oriented towards perfection, the Japanese have a phrase “wabi-sabi” that refers to beauty that is imperfect, impermanent and incomplete. Put another way, wabi-sabi acknowledges the reality that nothing lasts, nothing is finished and nothing is perfect.

Last week, the Center for Spirituality & Healing hosted Dr. Kristin Neff, a researcher, writer and teacher who focuses on self-compassion. One of her core messages was that imperfection is part of the human experience. When our baseline in life is perfection, we end of feeling isolated in our suffering. The practice of self-compassion in positively linked to happiness and wellbeing. I encourage you to
check out the  video link to discover simple ways you can start practicing self-compassion.