Compassion and performance

Pete Spence wrote a fantastic blog post on Performing in a self-organizing world recently and it sparked some thoughts of my own.

I’ve recently been reading ‘The Art of Happiness’ by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and one of the lines of inquiry I’ve most enjoyed in the book is that compassion ultimately leads to happiness. Taking this line of thought one step further, we can see that to achieve high performance, be it in your sport, your work or your personal life, requires compassion. I believe that these two topics intersect – that by practicing a high level of mindfulness and compassion in the situations you are placed, you can adequately deal with the complexity of self organizing systems – thus performing.

Street art

From the book:

“Compassion can be roughly defined in terms of a state of mind that is nonviolent, non-harming, and non-aggresive. It is a mental attitude based on the wish for others to be free of their suffering and is associated with a sense of commitment, responsibility, and respect towards the other.”

And on garnering a compassionate attitude, even when faced with resentment.

“Now, in general compassion, when you are taking on anothers suffering, you may also initially experience a certain degree of dis-comfortableness or un-bearableness. But in the case of compassion, the feeling is much different, underlying the uncomfortable feeling is a very high level of alertness and determination because you are voluntarily and deliberately accepting anothers suffering for a higher purpose. There is a feeling of connectedness and commitment, a willingness to reach out to others, a feeling of freshness rather than dullness.

This is similar to the case of an athlete. While undergoing rigorous training, an athlete may suffer a lot – working out, sweating, straining. I think it can be quite a painful and exhausting experience. But the athlete would take it as a great accomplishment, an experience associated with a sense of joy. But if the same person was subject to some other physical work that was not part of his athletic training, the the athlete would think ‘Oh, why have I been subjected to this terrible ordeal?’ So the mental attitude makes a tremendous difference”

It seems to me that maintaining and cultivating an attitude of compassion is therefor required to act in a self organizing system. How else can we work completely without an actor or instigator, if we do not trust one another?

What do you think?

A productive day

Today has been a very productive day! After attending Mindful on the weekend, and then catching up with a few people after the event, I’ve come back up here to Sydney with a rather expanded balloon. Jan Stewart wrote the other day about how peak experiences can expand your level of consciousness, before you shrink back close to your previous level. What’s lovely is that after such experiences as Mindful, you never quite shrink all the way back. Just like how a balloon never quite returns to normal once you blow it up and let the air out.

I feel like I’ve grown that little bit more, and that I understand my ‘mind, mindless, mindful’ selves a lot more than before the event. The key is, continuing to keep the balloon expanded through mindful practice of the takeaways from the day. So what have I been doing today?


1. Dropbox, finally.

I register for Dropbox fully today. I’ve had an account for years, but never really learned how to use it. Ross Hill and I were chatting with Bryony Cole over breakfast on Monday morning and it came up that Fred Wilson had recently moved all of his stuff into the cloud. Ross had been using Dropbox for a while, and it just struck me a simple thing I could do. So I have. I’ll move all of my files slowly over in the next week. I’ve already made a great start. One of the important aspects that came out of Mindful was resilience, and my laptop and it’s encompassed files have always been one of those things I’ve ‘meant’ to back up/secure. It’s amazingly powerful to have done that today.

2. I bought a journal.

I was lucky enough to have an expansive coffee with Ron Laurie, one of the speakers from Mindful, on Monday afternoon at Kinfolk. I really resonated with Ron’s talk, and was grateful that he was able to spend some more time with me and walk me through a few of the finer points of his thinking. One of the great questions Ron asked me towards the end of our chat was “Do you journal, Steve?”

I’ve often bought ‘visual diaries’ and used them for notes, thoughts, tasks – the whole gamut. But I haven’t done that for a while now, and Ron’s idea nudged me into thinking it was probably a very good idea to start again. So, this morning on the way to work, I bought a journal for my ‘mindful’ thoughts. It feels an enormous relief just knowing I have an outlet there, waiting.

3. #deepdive

One of the parts of the day I really enjoyed was the meditation session Xavier Shay ran in the morning, and briefly in the afternoon when the Open Space session got a little too heavy for everyone. I enjoyed a #deepdive tonight, and look forward to picking up that practice again. I listen to a recording I have of Craig Hassed, to help me through the beginning stages of re-engaging with it. It’s worth watching and listening to Craig’s stuff on the Lantern Mental Health YouTube channel when you have the mind space. It’s a great place to begin your practice.

Taking open space to the edge

This is a post I wrote for @thisismindful, to describe some of what will be taking place on the day. Why don’t you join us? Tickets are still on sale at Eventbrite.

Open Space Technology is a fantastic tool for organizing groups of people together to solve complex problems. I’ve used and experimented with Open Space at events like Trampoline, CPX and the Lantern Mental Health Unconference over the last few years and have always been impressed by it’s ability to create interesting conversations. At Mindful on the weekend, we’re going to extend that experimentation once more, and push the concept further along.

Some of the things we’ll play with are:

1) A human grid

Open Space is great because it allows everyone the chance to set the topics, time, and place that sessions will occur. This is good except for when the crowd takes over and you get lesser quality sessions, which reduces the energy in the group.

So we’re going to have a person act as the grid. That’s me.

With a human grid, people will still pitch their talk to the group, but the human grid will only place the session into the agenda if it resonates with the collective assembled. Real interest can’t be faked, and our intuitions as a group are excellent at detecting low enthusiasm. So we’ll use that to select our sessions.

2) Rule of two feet

We’ve all been there before. You arrive for a session but within the first 5 minutes you realise its not for you. But you stay. The rule of two feet is one of the most crucial aspects of an open space meet, so why don’t people exercise it?

People get addicted to the people. They stay not because they’re contributing or participating in the talk, but because they’ve become attached to the idea of being a part of the group.

This is a shame, because the very best Trampoline sessions we’ve seen over the 5 events so far has been where all of the attendees of a session were participating, through active listening, discussion and enquiry – which can’t happen if some people in the audience would rather be somewhere else.

So, at Mindful, we’re going to remind you during sessions to move on once it stops resonating for you. Perhaps we’ll change the rule to the ‘law of resonating feet’ to really make that clear.

I’ll stop sessions and nudge you to move on to what resonates.

3. Space and Time

In an open space setting, all you can really control is the space you’re in, and the time you’re in it. As we’ve discussed above, creating sessions which resonate strongly with people is the aim, but resonance is more than just a good topic. It’s everything else, too. It’s the ambient nature of the space you’re in and a the suitable time to be in it.

So how do you create spaces which resonate? You make them appeal to different frequencies of thought. At Mindful we’ll create very different spaces, with different lines of enquiry to be drawn throughout the sessions. This way, it will hopefully become easier for people to discern what mood their resonating in at any given time and move to an appropriate conversation.
If you’re keen to talk or lead a line of enquiry, then come prepared to do so!

Join us at Mindful!

Open Invitation to see Ai-Live™

If you’re interested in social entrepreneurship, and seeing societal change in progress, then I warmly encourage you to come along and see the project I’ve been working on over the past 1.5 years or so at Ai-Media. We’re holding an demonstration of Ai-Live™ at our offices on the 26th of May, from 10am to 12pm.

What is Ai-Live™?

Ai-Live™ is a product that we’ve developed here at Ai-Media which streams real-time captions to deaf people in classrooms or workplaces. It’s just like TV Captioning, only for live situations. We’ve been providing Ai-Live™ to a number of users in schools and large enterprises like Westpac and Telstra for a little while now, and we would like to open up and show you a little bit about how the product works and our mission to end disability as we know it in our society. We’re also keen for you, should you come along, to blog or share your thoughts of the system online.


If you’re interested, head to the Facebook event page we’ve set up, and/or email Markus Lessing at to receive your invitation. Spaces are limited, so be quick. I’ll also be in the office that day, and can’t wait to see you there!