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Mind, Psyche, Spirit

A new model of
psycho-spiritual leadership

by Karin Jironet & Murray Stein



To some extent, it is arguable that consciously or unconsciously we all live by the wisdom and values of a broad variety of ancient teachings and traditions. For instance, most of us would agree that it is beneficial to avoid engaging in violence and causing harm, although most of us do not necessarily connect this with its roots in the Sanskrit notion of Ahimsa as practiced in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. Likewise, many regard practicing mindfulness as a positive means of coming into deeper contact with the present moment whether they relate it to a specific tradition of meditational practice or not. This practice has benefits regardless of whether the practitioner embraces any specific spiritual tradition or not.

In building a new model of human leadership, we have been influenced also by the dialogues between quantum physicist David Bohm and the spiritual teacher Krishnamurti, who taught that every human being potentially has access to ultimate reality and to accepting life in all its diversity—the ‘choiceless awareness’ of the truth that is beyond all concepts and forms. In the early 1990’s, Bohm and Krishnamurti formulated ideas on how to overcome the isolation, individualization and fragmentation characteristic of modern societies and how to bring about a greater degree of wholeness, both individually and collectively.

In On Dialogue, Bohm describes several methods that help to create opportunities for positive change in society. He advocates that when engaging in free dialogue, two or more people with equal status observe the following principles: to listen to each other with detachment, to suspend opinion and judgment, to allow the free flow of thought and feeling in a sort of dance between the parties engaged, and to accept and appreciate differing beliefs or understanding. When followed, these principles yield a new sense of meeting and understanding and allow for surprising agreement and unity to emerge from widely disparate positions. We find this to be in line with the teachings of Sufi mysticism and Jungian psychoanalysis.

The three basic elements of the Psycho-Spiritual Approach
The three basic elements in this approach are deep listening, close attunement and transformational shifts. All three are tightly interwoven and circle around a basic idea: there are untapped resources within the soul that leaders can and should learn how to approach and utilize for the benefit of their organizations and humanity as a whole.

1. Deep Listening
The first step is to develop the capacity for deep listening. We regard this as the entrance to the road that leads to individual and collective transformation. When all your knowledge and previous resources for coping, planning a future and leading others in a common enterprise prove themselves insufficient for the day you are living in and the issues you are facing, you face the urgent need to look for alternative ways of thinking, acting and living. Certain moments in life call for a dramatic change and not just adjustments and slight modification; they demand a fundamental transformation in attitude; they require a leap to another level of awareness and behavior. How can you make this happen? You realize that there must be a radical shucking off of old habits of thought and behavior in order to make space for something new. Experiences from the past are of course deeply internalized and cannot be simply put aside by an act of will, but an attempt must be made to put habitual patterns aside in order for new ones to emerge. This is the starting place: Letting go of past certainties and entering into a space of not knowing.

We emphasize that genuinely new and unprecedented insights and ideas can only materialize out of the dark background of consciousness, which we call the unconscious. In the unconscious, there are latent resources that can lead to a new kind of adaptation if allowed to step forward into the light of day. There is a potential for awareness and insight that exists below the surface of ordinary consciousness and outside the range of previous beliefs and habits. The psychologist Timothy D. Wilson writes about this as “discovering the adaptive unconscious.” New ideas from this region of the mind tend to emerge suddenly, like flashes of insight. Sometimes they occur following days of hard work or long nights spent pondering a specific problem. Scientists from many disciplines have reported such sudden insights after long and deep contemplation of a problem, then falling asleep and suddenly awaking with the solution in mind. While sleeping, their minds kept working under the surface of rational consciousness and produced a new configuration of elements often in a picture or story form. August Kekulé, for instance, claimed that the notion of the structure of the benzene ring struck him during a daydream in which he saw an ouroboros, a snake swallowing its own tail [cf. top figure].

Deep listening is a technique for allowing insights of this nature to emerge into consciousness. This involves a subtle process of listening for a voice that speaks from the unconscious, from behind veils of memory and learning, from recesses below the habits of thinking and behavior that govern daily life. We note that waking consciousness is generally tuned to the surrounding world and under the control of analytical tools that respond to issues and problems in a familiar way. Compared to the specific know-how of conscious thinking and its patterns, the voice of the unconscious is in waking life nothing more than a faint whisper. Deep listening seeks to tune into this frequency and to turn up the volume of the inner voice, to help the conscious listener to accept intuitively the guidance that may come and to follow it in imagination, and to yield to such impulses of the imagination. The success of this method depends on the listener’s capability to enter the realm of the unconscious and to develop an awareness of how to navigate there. This is what we try to teach through the method of deep listening.

We begin with an exercise in breathing. Together with concentration and awareness, following the breath provides a key to open the door. To turn your consciousness to the inner voice, please do the following:

Sit down in a spot where you feel comfortable and relaxed. Close your eyes. Turn your attention to your breathing. Feel your breath moving in and out. Know that energy follows awareness. Turn your attention to your feet and feel how the floor comes up and meets your feet. Notice your connection with the Earth. Breathe through your right foot into the center of the Earth. Breathe through your left foot into the center of the Earth. Make a connection there and breathe up and down from your lower back straight into the center of the Earth. Breathe in and draw energy from earth into you body. Hold your breath and feel how you are filled with that energy. Then exhale with a sigh. Focus your attention on the energy vibrating in your body. Repeat three times. Continue to feel this energy whilst turning your attention to the sky. Find a star in the sky and connect to that star. Breathe from the star in through the top of you head throughout all your body. Focus on the vibrations of energy. Turn your attention to your heart. Feel its energy reaching out and filling up the space around you. You are now in your own energy field.

Gently touch the space around you with your attention. This is how you are in essence. Become aware of how that is. Concentrate on how that is. You now let go of all images of yourself, leave your perception of the world and your personal theory of life for a while.

Close your ears with your thumbs, finger pointing upwards. Listen to the sounds inside your ears. Drop your hands in your lap and continue to listen to that sound. Become aware of how the sound fills the space around your head and shoulders. You are inside that globe. Keep listening. You feel a deep sense of peace. Let yourself become blank and open to receive what comes to you without it affecting you. Simply let it come to you. Just be aware and all you need will be revealed through you.

By following these simple instructions, deep listening develops and the voice of the adaptive unconscious begins to become available in consciousness. Deep listening tunes into the potential for new insights. Of course, there are no final answers or solutions given all at once. Rather, this is a practice that must be continued over long periods of time as the voice continues to reveal itself to consciousness. By consistent practice, people become more and more proficient in the practice of deep listening. We have clients who report that they have internalized the effects of this practice to such an extent that merely thinking of sitting in deep listening activates the form of consciousness that it brings.

Our finding is that leaders who work with deep listening allow for the novel and unpredictable insight to emerge in themselves, and therefore they are also able to stimulate this same process in their peers and co-workers. They become a womb for creativity in their organizations.


2.  Close Attunement
Turning now to the second element in our approach to leadership training, which we call close attunement, we link it to deep listening by saying that the first step establishes the connection with the voice of the unconscious, one’s own inner knowing, while the second involves sharing this with another person or several persons. The second step is essential for strengthening the insights and solutions that arise from the first. This takes place by sharing them with other people. Close attunement is the term we use to refer to this act of sharing. It is a kind of intimate dialogue that is based on mutuality and deep trust. The adjective “close” indicates intimacy and means a kind of leaning into one another and mutually yielding to the deeper levels of the mind from which the voice of the unconscious speaks. It is as though all the partners in this sharing are listening to the same inner voice. “Attunement” denotes synchronization of two or more psychic energy fields (Jung, 1931). Attunement is also a term used in Sufi teachings to signify a form of concentration (Hazrat Inayat Khan, 1960).

Close attunement is entirely experiential and therefore hard to communicate in words. It takes place with the entry of two (or more) people into the same unconscious space simultaneously, as if jumping into a pool of water together. When we do this in our training groups, we experience a deliberate mental or imaginative fall or leap into a space whose interior is entirely unknown to us until traveled and imaginatively experienced. This entry into close attunement is therefore a shared moment in which the water entered is the same for all involved and those leaping into it are on the same journey. At the same time, of course, this moment is individually experienced by each participant. It is difficult to convey the sensation of this experience, which is why we resort to metaphorical language here.

Close attunement can be carried out in different settings. The methodology applied varies according to group’s size and purpose. It can, for instance, be geared to addressing a particular dilemma or toward the purpose of inspiration and or the building up of relationship among co-workers. To give an idea of how this looks, we offer the following description of how we might conduct this phase of leadership training with a group.

Supposing we have a group of 8 people each of whom wants to solidify the intent of a decision already taken or wants to work toward the solution of a specific issue or dilemma, we might do the following:

As co-leaders of a group process, we go to the room where the group will assemble about ten minutes before the agreed meeting time, and we prepare the space in the room by making sure the chairs are in a circle and no trash or unnecessary items are lying around in the room. We create a space for what will follow by sitting in our chairs and entering into the attitude of deep listening. We visualize each of the group members as sitting in front of us. With the breath we fill the globe around their heads and shoulders with the golden light, one by one. We concentrate on the vibrations from the heart and bid each person welcome. This takes about 30 seconds for each group member. We then drop our hands into our laps and listen to the sound. It is filling the whole room. We become blank and prepare to be guided. Then we open the door and welcome our guests one by one.

Now we set the framework for the session. We agree on what time to stop, we describe what will be addressed as distinctly as possible, and we invite any questions. We might repeat what close attunement is, and we close this part by asking each individual to say “yes” if they wish to participate in entering into this space.

This completed, we ask that everyone take a moment to leave all images of themselves and perceptions of others outside the space. These can all be picked up again after the meeting. We guide the group into deep listening. When we sense that all are resting in their globe of energy, we start the attunement.

We ask that everyone reset themselves in deep listening and expand their personal globe to encompass all in the group and hold each member in that space in their minds throughout the session. Then we gently start to make the sound [m]. The members of the group join in at their own pitch and intensity. This we finish after three minutes. The group is now in close attunement. At first we ourselves focus on experiencing moments of one breath, one heart and one will, and when we have received three or more waves of this we invite the group to do so too by saying: “We invite you to feel the breath that breathes in you.”

 Now we ask the participants to direct their attention toward the decision or issue at hand. We instruct them to take this course slowly so as to avoid becoming taken over by it. Should this happen, we advise them to go back and start deep listening again. For now the task is simply to observe the issue and let it be. We want to make sure to look at all angles while staying clear and detached. We instruct them to ready themselves to receive an image of the issue or decision and to accept anything that is presented and keep it in awareness - for example, a shoe, a tree or a boat - whatever comes, to receive it. Then we instruct the group to concentrate individually on this image and to immerse themselves in the surrounding oscillating white light. We remind the participants that energy moves with attention, so we ask them to retain concentration solely on that image and to hold this up to ten minutes. After that, we call energy into back into ourselves and re-enter deep listening. 

Whilst still in deep listening, we connect individuals back to the group. We do this with by breathing together in unison. Then we softly guide the group to focus on what they perceive in the here and now. As we bring them back to normal consciousness, we invite them to record on paper what they have experienced and perceived. We allow five minutes for this.

Now we ask that each member of the group to read their notes out loud, one after the other and with no comments in between readings.

Finally, we reflect together on these findings and then we close the meeting at the time stated and agreed upon at the outset of this meditation.

 In most groups we have worked with, the individual participants report that a surprising potential answer to their question comes to them during deep listening and close attunement. It appears first in the form of a visual image, a bodily sensation, or a mind/body combination. In the exchange and reflection stage, it becomes verbally articulated and the beginnings of solutions to the dilemma are formulated as possibilities, prospects or sometimes as promises. This can be a lot of fun with laughter and moments of hilarity or synchronicity.

The intuitive answers proposed at this time, however, represent only a potential and not the complete solution. For this potential to reach concrete realization, a further step is needed. This occurs when there is an individual or a collective feeling of “Aha! This is it,” which is typically mirrored by all in the group at the same time. If it involves a group or team decision, it comes out as: “Yes, we will! We will go for it.” ‘It’ may be somewhat surprising but will generally be quite simple. Now a fully conscious decision can made and a specific path formulated and considered in detail.

Clients speak about how close attunement brings increased body-mind harmonization, more conscious living, greater command of energy, and a renewed spirit. One participant stated that she was finally able to take the steps that she had long been convinced would professionalize her entire organization as well as benefiting her personally. The urge to take this personal transformation forward and seek renewal in the professional setting is a recurrent theme. The process is strengthened because it is shared and witnessed by the group. Numerous clients have found new levels of affinity with peers and stretched themselves to transcend rigid and enforced dichotomies rooted in traditional power positions.

If it is a matter of a group decision, what we are interested in is that the process of close attunement has ensured that all participants act as equal partners in finding and forming the resolution of the issue being dealt with or in solidifying a previous decision. This will assure that all are engaged in the new creation and have a shared understanding, albeit individually experienced and arrived at. In the setting of close attunement, all experiences and contributions have equal value. Power is shared by the network and arises in the community from being open to what is perceived and brought into consciousness.


3. Transformational Shifts

We come now to the third element in our method: transformational shifts. Transformational shifts occur when a new awareness is fully experienced, recognized as true and meaningful, and shared among all present during its appearance. This experience constitutes a fundamental transformation of consciousness and changes the basic attitude and outlook on life of the individual and the group. There is a strong temptation to withdraw from entering into this decisive step. The reason can be a lack of self-confidence, or perhaps the solution that emerged goes against the grain of public opinion. Hesitation may also be a function of insufficient know-how and experience to follow through. This stage is the proof of the pudding. A transformational leader knows this.

Leaders who have experienced this model of training speak of a growing sense of “relatedness” and a feeling of “renewal” as well as a heightened sense of presence at work and of increased clarity as to what is going on in complex organizational situations. This tends to create enhanced levels of detached involvement, tranquility, as well as a fuller sense of inner security and trust in the processes unfolding. The narrative and the ability to regulate and manage energy in self and large groups of people make up the framework of their leadership.

For transformational outcomes to reach implementation and to spread beyond the group in which they were conceived, two fundamental principles must be addressed. It is the leader’s role to ensure this happens and to guide the processes involved. Before anything new can be created it must be conceived in the mind: the blueprints exist before the building. The previous exercises have set out the plan; now, this plan must be realized. In order to achieve this, a person needs a story that frames the intention. This is a new narrative. One will also need all dispersed energy – everything people do in the workplace – to fit into and contribute to the new narrative. This means that one must understand how to manage energy in groups (small or large) and make it flow like a dance.

To achieve this third step, we take the blueprints and build narratives for them. The blueprint comes into existence in the first steps, deep listening and close attunement. Now it remains to create the new narrative that will translate the blueprint into reality. Here is how we help our groups to do that. 

To begin a new narrative, it is important to ensure that it encompasses the essential outcomes of the previous exercises and is relevant for what an individual or an organization is offering society or the other members in the organization. The narrative must then pick up the essential threads of the themes that emerged in the earlier steps and develop them into a story line that is connected to the social and organization realities in which the narrative will be embedded. Once the narrative is consistent, it needs to be shared by communicating it to others. It is best to draw together a group of people in the organization who are interested in contributing. Together, the story is told and retold until all feel sure that, although they have their own stories, this is one that represents the solution that resolves whatever dilemma is at hand. By holding on to the narrative, a new attitude can be created that is both more confident and more complex because of the amount of disparate material contained within its structure. The new narrative converts the ideas and energies released in deep listening and close attunement into a possible plan for action, but on a metaphorical level.
Leadership today is no longer just about directing people and energy toward the worthy goals of eradicating problems be they financial or nuclear meltdowns, global warming or cultural crises of the many sorts the world is facing. Leadership today must begin with a new type of consciousness on the part of leaders that enables them to create partnerships and lead transformation. They can attain this by entering into deeper individual discernment on a psycho-spiritual level through the methods of deep listening and close attunement as outlined in this paper. This can lead them to gain insight and develop a vision by using the resources of their adaptive unconscious. They can then move toward assisting other people to share their vision and work together for solutions by creating a narrative that furthers their transformational moment.

We have developed what we believe is a forward-thinking, very direct and highly practical model for training leaders that draws on ancient spiritual practices and modern psychological theory. We believe that it shows a strong potential for assisting today’s leaders to develop entirely new solutions emanating from the depths of their unconscious potential for novel and innovative answers and directions.

The attitude of this leadership is a form of partnership for transformation that responds to the widely recognized need for building stronger relationships and increasing a sense of belonging and meaning. This psycho-spiritual approach provides a clear and effective means for developing leaders who are capable of deep listening, close attunement and transformational shifts. Such leaders can address today’s challenges with confidence and flexibility while tapping directly into the creativity, knowledge and awareness in themselves and others.


Karin Jironet is a Jungian analyst who has specialized in the psychology of religion & of leadership. Murray Stein is a senior training analyst & author of the classic Jung's Map of the Soul. The full version of this article is available as a PDF download.  Publ. here 5.3.2014


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