Potpourri: You Are Not Your Mind – The Late Jim Farr: Self-help
Some people we meet change us and, for me, Jim Farr was one.
Beyond the loss to his family, leadership expert Jim Farr’s death in 2000 sent a wave of sadness through hundreds of his disciples, including me. He altered the way we think and live, and seemed indestructible. A force of nature – 81 years old going on 51 – in apparently good health (he practiced martial arts weekly), and working hard as ever (he conducted a workshop the day before his death), his dying in his sleep was like a sun switching off. How could such ferocious intellectual, personal, and physical strength simply stop? It was almost like the loss of a parent for those most affected by Jim, a hole in our personal universe.
Hyperbole? Probably so to those who bristled at Jim’s sometimes brusque manner. He certainly intimidated me when we met in the 1970’s at Greensboro’s Center for Creative Leadership. As an inquiring journalist at the time, I wanted to know why CCL – which Jim helped create – was training CIA personnel during the Vietnam War era. I don’t remember his comment, but I recall his countenance. I thought it fierce. Who would have predicted that decades later I would love the guy?
Flash forward to the 90’s and a lunch arranged by a mutual friend – our first contact in 20 years. Here was a mellower Jim Farr. While still challenging and inquisitive, this Jim was less arrogant and rather charming. (I would eventually learn that years of self-awareness training had subdued an anger and competitiveness born of a childhood where he fended for himself.) Unlike our CCL standoff from an earlier era, Jim and I connected.
He invited me to participate in two of his leadership development programs – one lasting a year. My life hasn’t been the same since. Jim would offer different models for understanding leadership, behavior, and psychology; and invite you to choose the ones that touched you. That means each Farr student had a different perspective on Jim’s impact on them. In hopes that it will benefit you, let me tell you – in my words, not his – the wisdom that most worked for me.
“Your mind is not you.” Your thoughts and feelings are created by a lifetime of experiences, many in early childhood. Those thoughts and feelings, contrary to what you may believe, are not who you are. You are a “being” separate from what you think. Therefore, your thoughts and feelings need not dictate how you behave. They should not compel you to live like a programmed robot. You have the capacity to change how you react to what you think and feel, and that can change your life. It is hard work, but it can be done.
“You are making it all up.” Since your thoughts and feelings are hard-wired by your personal experience, they are not necessarily the objective truth. So, when you are feeling afraid, angry, or depressed, just remember that you – YOU – are generating those emotions. In other words, you are making them up.
“Disappear it.” So, if fear, anger, or depression is your own creation, you can manage it. Take fear, for instance. Jim would ask, “What is fear? It is just a bundle of energy that you feel in your gut.” If it is an unreasonable fear – not connected to a genuine threat – he recommended that you not reinforce the fear by responding to it. Instead, sit quietly, be aware of the fear, contemplate it (he would look down at his stomach and jokingly say “Hello, fear!”) and let the fear dissipate. If you don’t reward the fear with some kind of inappropriate reaction, then, over time, fear – or anger or depression – will lose its hold and you can make it go away, “disappear it.”
Using himself as an example, Jim talked of how angry he used to get at subordinates years ago. Over 15 or 20 years he “disappeared” much of that anger and its underlying fear to prize joy and “lovingness” instead.
All paths are equal Finally, Jim was fond of saying that all paths through life are equal, therefore choose the one that has heart for you. The path he chose for his later years was evident in our last conversation – over lunch at his beloved Acropolis restaurant in Greensboro. We talked of what we were enjoying and of exciting challenges ahead.
Jim Farr was the best example of how to grow old I have ever seen. He kept climbing peaks, teaching others, making new friends, and learning about joy until he died. Jim showed how to do it. We – his disciples – will attempt to do the same. And now, for the first time, we will have to do it without him.