Life can sometimes throw us into pretty unexpected places. And some aren’t just accidents. Professional coach, speaker, and facilitator Johnny Blackburn believes that everything happens for a reason – like pivoting our life towards something better. Showing up for those moments and tapping into the present will allow them to transform you. Johnny discusses our connections, his book, Presence that teaches us how to find expressions beyond words. He also covers topics from our nervous system, resilience, technology, and authenticity.
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Tapping Into Presence, The Nervous System, And Authenticity with Johnny Blackburn
I feel incredibly blessed to be here with you at this moment. I’m excited to get bare naked in this episode with a friend who I’ve asked to join us. You’re going to enjoy this guy. Wherever you are, let’s take a moment to share gratefulness and an appreciation for whatever it is that’s going on in our lives. Whether its stuff we’re super jazzed up about, excited about, feel good about or it’s stuff or things that we don’t necessarily feel great about, whatever that is for us individually at this moment, there’s still much to be in gratitude about including the fact that we’re together in this moment. We are sharing time and space and that’s beautiful including this breath.
Johnny Blackburn is a professional coach, speaker and facilitator who empowers clients, organizations, and audiences to discover and then live with greater presence, purpose, and connection in work, love and life. He resides in San Diego, California. He’s a respected authority on human embodiment and professional performance. His original background is Management Consulting. He has a Master’s Degree in Psychology and more than 3,000 client hours as a Professionally Certified Coach with the International Coach Federation, all combined with extensive professional development training making him a highly sought-after guide to help people find greater levels of thriving in their work, love, and life. Personally, Johnny enjoys martial arts, surfing, and dancing. Tango is the thing that’s got him where he is remote, Buenos Aires. Johnny, welcome to the show.
Thanks, Adam. Thanks for having me.
What is not written in this bio that you would love people to know about you?
I feel something will touch in I’m sure in one of my pivot experiences, but I love movement. I’m grateful to now have the ability to healthily move my body and that’s one of the things that has been in Buenos Aires and I love tango. I love all forms of being embodied in movement. It’s fascinating when we start to use this thing and be able to feel from inside this thing what’s possible.
We had a podcast with Chen Lizra, she’s got an incredible TEDx Talk that she gave in Vancouver and has eight million views. She’s a somatic intelligence expert. Part of the way she learned somatic intelligence and created some training around that was through movement, like dance in particular. This is where I started thinking of her when I hear that you’re in Buenos Aires for tango. I want to find out more about that. There’s a definite connection between how we move our bodies and how we feel. Is that accurate to say? What got you involved in that? Was there a big, distinctive moment where you realized that? How did that come about?
I feel for the work that I do in somatic awareness, our pivot happens through our body. By clearing the windshield, especially those rituals helped to transform our body, that’s the vehicle through which our pivot in our life happens from my view. My first pivot happened when I was originally management consulting and I had a back injury and I was doing physical therapy and it wasn’t getting well. I opted for this experimental surgery, which they no longer do because it’s not effective. They heat up and melt the disk. I was a high school athlete and pretty active growing up and that left me completely floored and I couldn’t even lie in a bed. I can only stand for five minutes at a time.
What was this the result of? Was it an injury?
The injury, but then a failed surgery. It was a forced pivot. I remembered the management consulting firm that I was with. Seeing some of the partners talented professionally, but there was a couple that felt they’re alive and still, but there was a few that I didn’t feel that that spark, aliveness, passion, and sense of purpose. I remember this one significant night I went home on my balcony. I was watching the sunset. I almost asked rhetorically to the universe there’s got to be more to life than this. I feel this was the beginning of my calling. Soon after, I had the injury and that was about a year of trying PT and then the failed surgery.
There’s no question, we’re pivoting all the time. It’s not always that we are choosing and designing the pivot. Sometimes they’re by default or it was forced. The universe says, “Time to do something a little differently.” That failed surgery puts you in a position where you didn’t have a choice but to make some changes. That’s what it was.
Have you ever seen The Count of Monte Cristo? That was an inspiration. He’s a little bit bitter at first and then the philosopher digs the tunnel into his cell and is the inspiration and the ally in the hero’s journey. He starts learning, cultivating, reading and swordplay and then he emerges through this cultivation process.
There might be people in our audience that don’t know the story. Would you quickly tell the story of The Count of Monte Cristo just so it gives context to what you’re saying?
He was wrongfully imprisoned in harsh conditions. He’s bitter at first. The philosopher, he’s the inspirational dude that is also in a neighboring cell that digs a tunnel. Here’s this guy that he’s in solitary confinement and all of a sudden imagine you feel this burrowing up from the earth. This was his calling and his ally that came to visit him and started to inspire him to take responsibility for his circumstances and make the best of his life even though he was in this time trap. Parallel this to the letting go, the facing the fears, and then the latter part of the rituals in starting to cultivate himself.
I probably left the house ten times a year going to the doctor. The first three days was, “Woe is me. Why did this happen?” I realized I wasn’t so fun to be around myself and definitely those who are closest to me. I decided to make the best of it and somehow it contacted this trust and this was happening for some reason. However long it lasted, I was going to make the best of it. All those times when you say, “I don’t have more time,” you are so busy in your conventional lives, I had plenty of time and I started to read all day long and meditating. I learned a language and I would watch a classic movie at night. In the midst of difficult circumstances, I started to develop and take responsibility for my life.
I never think there are any accidents about anything. I went and put this shirt on. I’m wearing my Resilience shirt. It’s one of those things I didn’t necessarily know we would take the conversation in this direction, but resilience is super important. We all have stuff that hits us out of left field. That’s the truth of it. I’ve never met anybody yet that hasn’t had a pivot forced upon them, a decision or something that had to be done that they didn’t anticipate necessarily. How you show up in those situations, it is everything. It’s so much more pointing in your life how you show up in those moments than the times when things are going your way and you feel pretty good about stuff. It’s like spiritual grit, like sandpaper.
Like composure in the most challenging circumstances.
It is a spiritual practice by itself, just to be able to meet you in that place and decide, “I don’t know how it’s going to look, but I want to be the best I can be under the circumstances. My world is shaking a little here. The wind is blowing and I’m scared, uncertain, out of control, and yet I still want to be and show up the best possible way.” That’s a spiritual path to do that and to seek to do that.
At least for me in the trenches working with individuals and groups, some people will have a more public-facing sense of purpose and for others, it might be a more internal process at least in the beginning. As much as our career, there’s also how we show up in the world when nobody’s watching. I was impacted after you described your false alarm heart attack that was the beginning of your calling. One of your first thoughts were your regrets as a father and a husband, the way that you loved and related with those around you. That’s something that’s a little understated in the pop psychology and social media inspirational means is how we treat those closest to us are strangers. It’s an ongoing process, but that character was developed in the humility of being floored in for four years.
Movement is an essential part of your life now. You were challenged in movement, and yet it’s also been a bridge to a new way of living. How did that come about? Give us a little flavor of how it is that you moved into the direction that you’re in currently or if there’s a stop between here and there, please let us know.
Twenty-two hours a day, I could stand for five minutes and at that point, I was relying on conventional drugs and surgery to heal and fix me in. There was a momentous shift where I started to take responsibility and started to strengthen, stretch, and took almost a year and a half to rebuild my body. That process has continued as I realized there’s a level of reality that’s conceptual and then there’s a level of reality that’s experiential and can be sensed. There’s so much more information we can pick up than just thought like sensation, emotion, energy. When somebody expresses, there’s so much more than just the words. That has been a two-decade-long process of continually deepening. My work is around presence and helping people to be able to activate their full potential through the body.
What’s something that you advise people to do or something that you did that informs the work that you do? Relative to this presence piece, because that’s powerful embodiment. What does it mean to embody something? What does it mean to embody presence if there’s a distinction between those two things?
The way that I framed it in my book is that there are three phases or three entry points and different people have different preferences. It’s also important to round it out because we have a tendency to stay in one. Those three are the embodiment, connection, and awareness. Some people might have their entry to presence through mindfulness techniques or more spirituality. That feels a sense of spaciousness.
How would you define presence? Is the presence God, is that spirit, or is it his true self?
That one with the capital P, but then there’s also the executive presence or the presence of a powerful speaker on stage or an athlete. When somebody inhabits their bodies, this is the embodiment piece, then we feel that when they walk in the room, they have a palpable sense of their physical presence. If I don’t have all three, then that person could be self-absorbed or narcissistic and treat people like garbage and that’s not the full range of presence.
They know how to be grounded. They might have the breadth of awareness. They might know how to hide their physicality. They might inhabit their body powerfully, but then there’s the second quality of presence, connection or closeness. The entry point for that might be with your children, with your partner or loved ones like an amazing therapist, a coach, a healer, or a caring nurse. There’s the quality of closeness and connection of the attunement, empathy, listening and heart openness. The premise is that everybody knows the present moment. Even in the intro, you were pointing out instructions to connect with our breath. The premise is that there are twenty skills in this book, each of those three different areas that can help us to inhabit greater presence, embodiment, connection, and awareness.
You spoke a little bit about embodiment and connection. Where does the awareness piece come in? Is it first? Is it last? Is there an order to these three?
I originally thought but now I realize no because different people and different constitutions have different preferences. Somebody might be more athletic, they have more body awareness and that’s the entry point. Somebody else might be relational, they orient to the connection, then they find themselves in there and they come back into their own body. Some people will have a lot of meditative experience. It’s easy for them to access advanced things.
What’s the name of the book that you’ve written?
That book’s available on Amazon. What was it like to write that book?
It was an emergent process. I would come out of meditation. I would have this insight and I would write a paragraph, hop on my computer, and write something and store it in the file. A few days later, the same thing and then that process hastened where there was less, it was daily. A few months into it, I had the inspiration to put this into a book. I didn’t know what it was called. I didn’t even know the title or the theme at that time until this emergent process of exploring presence. How to be more present at any moment? How to cultivate it over time? Those were the two questions that were guiding the book and it’s got a ton of diagrams. I’m super proud of the way that it came out and the way that it visually allows people to get a sense of like, “This is how it feels to be in my own center while I’m deeply connected to somebody else.”
Is there a practice that people can start to use themselves to become more present? I’ll share some thoughts on the practice I have at the beginning of the day that’s centered on some of what you’re talking about. Do you have a practice that you typically share with your clients?
When I do the initial assessment, we establish three, four, five developmental objectives. Those are going to guide our work for the next three or few months that we’re working together. Those are different depending on where somebody is in their developmental process and what’s emerging for them in their life. I’m big on morning rituals. I love a line that you said, “The quality of our life is correlated with the quality of our rituals.” I’m a big fan and have been for the last couple of decades. I would say that’s a thread that all people that I work with get because the way that we start our day, one, it helps to set the tone for that day. Over time, if you’re looking at our life and the progression, we changed our state and activate, relax and opens our nervous system every day and hope to tune into higher clarity. That sense our coordinates and that also helps us to embody our future potential. I’m a huge fan of rituals.
The work is always individualized. The people that you meet sometimes in that assessment phase, you might see that somebody isn’t embodying their presence. Maybe they don’t make eye contact. I’m going to give you some examples of things that I’ve noticed made, but you’ve got more experience in this area. I want to hear what your assessments have been more often than not. People don’t make eye contact, that’s pretty common or they fidget. They don’t know what to do with their hands.
As a speaker, we do a bunch of speaker training for folks and their physicality. They nod. There’s a disconnect between the words that come out of their mouth and the physical cues that you see. They’ll say yes to something and shake their head no, indicating in a sense with their words, but their body language is saying no or they’re closed. They cross their arms, put their hands above their head. All these nonverbal cues, these physical cues that are dissonant or disconnected from the things that are coming out of their mouth. Have you noticed a bunch of that? Is that one of the areas that you assess first?
When we say, “This person feels authentic,” from my work, what tends to happen is their body language, emotion, energy and tonality of voice is this synchronized expression. When we don’t trust somebody, our body can be a trust meter. It’s because we feel a discord between their tone of voice or the content of the words and the body language that transmits it.
We also do muscle testing with people on certain things and that is the concept that our bodies will tell us some truths. Our minds are a bit unclear or confused, but our bodies are not under that same state of confusion.
You would have to check the person. That could have been in their early home environment or it could have been also in their peer group. If they didn’t have space to have a different view or be confused and come to their own clarity, then sometimes their nervous system didn’t develop that coherence. There sometimes is rewiring that’s needed.
Have you noticed that there’s anything in common? With people that are not easy in their authenticity, they’re incongruent. Are there commonalities that you’ve noticed? In what percentage of people that you work with is that a real challenge?
Have you ever done HeartMath or know heart rate variability? One of the early researchers was Stephen Porges and he’s developed something called the Polyvagal Theory, which in simple terms is that our chest, belly and face are where we experience the most emotion. It’s also our nervous system, wiring or circuitry for connection. Fascinatingly, it’s built on reptilian and mammalian systems. Evolutionarily, the gut and the nervous system around there is where we tend to experience more emotions like shame, frozen fear or anxiety. That would be the turtle that pulls its head in or that would be some of the reptiles that freeze as their fear response. If you’ve ever lost your voice, been frozen in fear, or felt ashamed and coward over, it’s that circuitry system.
The chest is where we tend to experience more of the mammalian path, it could be fight or flight. It’s also guards, shields, and protectors of the heart. When we don’t feel safe, either physically we’re going to be harmed or emotionally we’re going to be judged, then we tend to subconsciously tense the musculature and then we learn to orient through our mind. Our mind figures out what it’s trying to say to fit in or whatever. Sometimes when you feel as stakes, “I’m going to see you,” it’s because these two things have to be relaxed from the emotion and the authenticity in my face to be expressed.
Interestingly, the muscles in our face, smile and ears are related to the muscles of the chest and heart. If you’ve ever been triggered in an argument and the person’s like, “No, I can’t hear you.” Literally, that’s true. When we’re guarded and protected here, not only can we not smile and show our social engagement and the emotions to show that I’m with you and I’m safe, but we also can’t hear. We can’t take it in. There’s a real importance regarding presence to your original question, authenticity, that somebody can relax the chest and belly so that their face, chest, and belly can be synchronized as they speak and express.
My observation is that people will laugh if they’re nervous or they’re tense. They can’t laugh fully. They’re constrained. Breathing is a big deal. To relax the muscles in your abdomen or to relax your chest, do you recommend breathing?
I’m a totally breathing geek.
I’m a breathing geek. I hope everybody’s a breathing geek.
I appreciate that you brought that up at the beginning. Originally, fifteen years ago I realized in my best state, in my state of being most relaxed, in my state of being most open and joyful, in those peak states, my breath was relaxed and open. My baseline was tense and the mind was so busy. I went to this Biofeedback Conference and they had this breath monitor. I got it and I started using it when I worked and started training myself to use my breath to relax my system and get into flow states. I’ve been using that thing for the last decade. It’s really helped to have that anchor and that brake and gas pedal to relax my system or create more energy.
Is there a particular sequence or cadence that you use in breathing? I’ll give you an example. I forgot what book that I read this. It might have been a Tony Robbins book. It might have even been his Your Hour of Power, which I listened to at a certain point. He had a breathing exercise and I would listen to it as I was walking or on the treadmill. It was three or four breaths in through the nose and then out through the mouth. This was a way that I would be able to oxygenate myself, get more oxygen, and become more present. Is there a sequence that you use with people?
I’d say there’s using breath as a state changer and then there’s being aware of your breath throughout the day. The state changers are great as a morning ritual. I do this every morning. You can do things you described. You can do the Wim Hof breathing or you can do Kundalini Yoga as a fire breath. Those are three good ones to get your settled system open and going, your breath open and going in the morning. There’s another thing of being aware of it throughout your day and changing your baseline breathing and breath opens. For that, devices like RESPeRATE and Spire are some of the best on the market.
Can you explain a little bit more about what those are? You mentioned Yogic Breathing, alternate nostril breathing, right and left alternating, stuff like that. What’s Wim Hof breathing? This is the gentleman who’s made an incredible reputation for himself, being submerged in literally ice water, and it’s a few degrees above freezing. In various parts of the world, this guy can spend a lot of time in that water and trains other people to be able to do that. It’s all done through breath work.
He turns on the inner fire through breath. He’s a master and a wizard and is in a class of his own. I’ve never studied with him, but there’s a guy in San Diego that I’ve been to his house and he’s doing little informal training. There’s a whole level of cold showers and getting into cold things. Basically, by doing certain breathing and then exhaling, hold that for 30 seconds, then inhale, hold that for 30 seconds and then a slow, pursed lips exhale as it’s through a straw. I do three rounds of those and it’s amazing. I also do that as a work break. I’ll be on the computer, get up and do that for five minutes. It’s amazing to change your state and keep your energy.
That’s the breathing for state change. For those of you that are wondering, “When do I need a state change?” Somebody’s probably going, “I know exactly when I need a state change,” but it might be when you’re going to go get coffee or you want to go get sugar. You feel the need to eat and you’re not really hungry, but you still need to feel like you want to eat. Your head is cloudy, your neck is tense, you feel a headache coming on, you’re tired, or you’re agitated. There are a lot of times during the day when a state change is pretty appropriate. Breathing, I’d say also hydration, drinking a lot of water. You can do that to create a great state change. Feel better and not have to infuse your body with either sugar or caffeine or otherwise produce cortisol from feeling exhausted. The other breathing you’re talking about, that embodiment practice is not about state changing. Say a little bit more about that, please.
Typically, most people and I included in the past, our attention is mainly on thought. A better place to redirect it is onto our breath. Using our breath, directing our attention to our breath and using that to relax our nervous system, instead of the thought or on our phone. That’s a practice that over time, it changes our baseline. Spire, it looks like a little stone. It’s a bit gray in it. It clips on your belt. That syncs up with your phone and it’ll give you feedback on not only how many breaths per minute you’re breathing, then it can send you a notification if you’re breathing too much or you’re stressed or tense. I’ve got a buddy who’s in wearable technology and wellness, the intersection of that space. Gamified online learning and this wearable technology, we’re going to be able to use this in the future in a positive way to help bring greater awareness, presence, and embodiment in the digital age of many distractions.
Much of this is unconscious. It’s not like people wake up and go, “Today, here’s my goal. I want to be as inauthentic as I possibly can be. I want to be so incongruent. I want everybody to shake their heads after I speak.” I don’t get that guy at all. Nobody’s saying that. We’re laughing because nobody wants to be that, buy something that’s inauthentic or it doesn’t feel true. We’re reacting to the stimulus that’s all around us, to the stress that is inundating. I’m not saying that as a negative thing. I don’t know that it’s a whole lot different than if we were in a cave and there were dinosaurs outside, like a T-Rex that could eat us. It was a pretty stressful environment, I imagine. Stress is different. It looks different. It wasn’t a cell phone, and it will look different 50 years from now. I don’t know that stress is going to go away anytime soon. It’s really how we respond and how aware we are in the presence of all the stressors that would be something of a game changer. Do you agree with that?
Totally, and we can tie in your shirt here. One thing that is different from our wandering, nomadic ancestors is they were exposed to more acute stress and the conditions of living more harshly than they might have periods without food or they might be attacked by other big game or attacked by their tribes. They have the ability to relax their system. They would go through periods of intensity and relaxation. From my understanding the stress physiology of researchers, that’s one thing that’s different is a lot of people don’t ever learn how to relax their nervous system.
I used to work in an International Integrative Medical Center for a few years and the psychology department would have every patient that came in get on the HeartMath. They would first take their baseline. They would say, “Do whatever you can to relax and then I want you to give us a gauge of how relaxed you are.” One thing I like about technology is your subjectivity to it. 90% of people, not only was their baseline nervous system pretty stressed but when they tried to relax they didn’t change much. What that’s telling us is different from our ancestors escaping the dinosaurs. We’re not learning how to go through cycles of intense, focused work and then deep relaxation and restful connection with our loved ones.
I am wearing this t-shirt that says, “Resilience.” It is a topic that we talk about in the book. Something I didn’t know at the time we were writing the book was that there were studies being done on this topic. In particular, a Harvard Business Review article that revealed the incredible connection between the highest performing athletes. They studied the best athletes in the world in all sorts of sports, Olympics, and professional sports. They found that those top athletes had something in common with performance in the business space, in entrepreneurial and business success, and that was resilience.
They didn’t use the word resilience, they said recovery. We’ve applied the word resilience, but it’s this recovery time, that they will recover quickly. A tennis player in between Rafael Nadal in-between points, not just in-between games, could get his heart rate down to almost resting. He’s running all over the court, he stabs at it the net. He goes back to the baseline. He wins the point, and now he’s got twenty, 30 seconds in-between that and the next serve, whether he’s serving or he’s receiving. His heart rate is back down to rest.
When they were looking at people in everyday life, in business, in particular, saying, “You’re not playing the game for three hours. You’re going in the morning, noon and night, not just Monday to Friday anymore.” Entrepreneurs are working Saturdays and Sundays. It’s interesting to connect what you said about how people almost don’t have a paradigm of what relaxation looks like, what the resting and recovery state looks like. Which is why those self-care rituals are so important because we’re going, we think to multitask, do all these things and work seven days. Be answering emails or on Facebook responding to things at 2:00 AM and doing some of the Gary Vee stuff, which I don’t buy into personally, that that’s going to lead to success. What that’s going to lead to is heart disease, cancer, and you being less productive than you would otherwise be if you got eight hours of sleep, you drank, took care of yourself, and were more conscious about your recovery.
Enjoying it along the way.
Johnny, you’re being crazy now. Are you supposed to enjoy things?
It’s someday in the future you’re going to be happy.
It’s always about tomorrow.
I was talking to a buddy who’s into mindfulness and he was presenting at a conference where it was mindfulness applied to sports and work performance. One of the presenters was talking about how the New England Patriots have Six-Channel Neurofeedback in their helmet. They’re looking at their brain function and then when a guy’s too winded, they’ll say, “Give this guy a little rest.” That’s why I have all these little gadgets and geek-out things that I used to work to optimize my energy state, performance, focus and clarity. That’s going to be more integrated into our world that you can use technology to help us be more aware of our state and optimize our performance, whether it’s work, love, or life.
I started reading this book called The Future Of Work by Thomas Malone. I don’t know what it is about. A guy from Microsoft, an executive there, referred this book to me. The subtitle is How The New Order Of Business Will Shape Your Organization, Your Management Style, and Your Life. In many ways, it’s a book about technology and the changes in technology that driven changes in organizational structures, working styles, and management styles. It’s where many people are spending the vast majority of their life.
Inspired by you, I want to create some new technology. I’m not a tech geek, but I’m going to figure this out. I want to have a little monitor that tells people when they’re in their heads. What do you think about that? Wouldn’t that be good? You are not in your heart at this moment. A little something that says, “You’re really up here now.” Maybe you want to relax a bit and change your physicality. Change your body posture a little bit. Open up your heart a bit and see how that changes your communication or your connection. How does it feel to be more connected by opening your heart versus staying in the place that’s more either prevalent, safe, or something you’re more used to which is coming from up here? I’m making a half-joke about that. It would be a pretty cool thing to have something that alerted us to the fact that we’re in our heads. I don’t think that’s where we want to be necessary, but it’s safe. Does it feel true to you that there are more people in their heads?
I agree with everything you said. I work with couples and that’s one of the first objectives to help them re-experience heart connection. We’re social organisms wired for deep connection. A lot of times our circuitry needs to be reminded of that.
When you brought up the fact those years ago, the physical danger was the thing that people dealt with. It’s the possibility of dying from some physical thing that was threatening to them and their life, and then they also knew what it was to not be in danger. They had this recovery, this rest, and then they were in fight or flight mode. It’s emotional danger. The advent of being eaten by a creature, you step outside of your home and some big animal eats you that is not likely. The emotional danger is something that’s more of the prevalent thing. There’s a lot more to look into, read and be part of.
Apparently, our evolutionary, wandering, nomadic ancestors were more likely to be killed by another human male from a neighboring tribe than harsh conditions, starvation, falling off a cliff or the cold. Based upon that, there’s the extrapolation that when we’re meeting new people, that there’s a deep checking in our nervous system like, “Is this physically safe?” You combine that with the emotional fear of being judged and I’ve got a posture, be tough and be good enough. I work a lot with men and men’s groups. That’s a huge evolution for men, that we’re able to be embodied, grounded, empowered, and have our hearts open, unshielded. That we can, upon initial meeting, go up to somebody and let them see us, feel us in length and warmly welcome them. This would help to transform our business worlds and our male friendships.
More vulnerability, I suppose. Not putting ourselves in any greater danger. That’s the thing that is a disconnect, is that to be vulnerable as in to not posture, falsely posture. If somebody’s threatening you, it’s natural to stand up and protect yourself, defend yourself, but you’re not under threat. It’s rather a posturing out of something that might be habitual and even ancient. The ancient brain that’s guiding us to stick our chest out, our chin, and show somebody, “I’m not prey.” It closes our heart. It doesn’t help to connect.
Finding the sweet spot, there’s a tendency to posture and be too hard. There’s a tendency in that developmental process where some guys can get a little soft. One thing that is helpful is powerful, grounded, and strong below, and then to have our chest be soft because that’s where the circuitry of connection and vulnerability happens. That takes more courage than it does to posture and be aggressive or intimidating.
That’s the harmony, that’s the yin and yang. There is some confusion and a big part of our community is women. Two-thirds of our community are women between 35 and 56 or 57. A lot of women also have that same challenge on this on the side of harmony. I’m not opposed to using the word balance and more often than not, that’s how it’s described but that yin-yang, male, female.
That’s where it gets confusing also because polarity is what creates sexual attraction. The bonding and heart openness is one piece of it. The polarization when somebody powerfully inhabits masculine energy and when somebody can be in their feminine flow. To have both of those pieces, that gets confusing for some people. When those two things are there, that’s beautiful partnership dynamic.
For some women that we’ve worked with, the male energy has become so powerful in them, prevalent even. There’s this inauthenticity for them doing business or carrying themselves in a masculine energy, which creates relationship challenges and other confusions versus what you’re talking about, which is this harmony of both, the interconnection of both the inner male and female, being able to embody both when it’s appropriate.
I think about it as a spectrum of masculine and feminine. While it’s a developmental process for every human to develop, to integrate the opposite in a healthful way, most people have an essence. Let’s say the masculine is less mature, a macho jerk and then he starts to develop more sensitivity and emotional intelligence. He ultimately doesn’t reclaim the masculine if that’s his essence. He knows how to embody the opposite, but then his essence is messed up and vice versa. This is a developmental process many women are straight off just in the feminine. As they’re growing and maturing they start to integrate and be able to use the masculine in context appropriately. That’s not the way station.
Next, if they’re ever feminine in essence is to find the ability to use that masculine energy, but also realize that their essence is feminine. Perhaps even bring a new style of empowered feminine leadership into the workplace or in their lives in a uniquely, authentic, feminine way. That’s a becoming process. That’s a one-day thing. I work in the trenches with people developmentally over time and that’s a beautiful thing when somebody finds their essence and can get the gender energies.
The word integration is appropriate in this case. It is both, it’s not an either/or thing. Integrating it and being able to experience it, whatever it is at the moment in a way that is what’s true versus what you might think you have to be in the moment to impress someone, to turn someone on, or to sell someone. That to me is the biggest disconnect when we’re not comfortable, safe, and trusting to be ourselves at the moment. Knowing that’s going to be fine. That’s going to carry the day. Everybody’s got a warrior inside of them, a peaceful warrior and a not so peaceful warrior. It was Dan Millman who wrote Way Of The Peaceful Warrior. There’s also a not peaceful warrior, it exists within us as well. You can’t be afraid of that either. Some guys tone down their warrior energy so much you get to something that’s inauthentic on the other side of things.
It feels that authenticity has been a theme that has run through the talk and I appreciate the way you speak to that last point. There’s something natural in our humanity that responds and appreciates when we can sense somebody’s being authentic. When we sense that congruence of somebody’s expression, there’s a truth meter that you relax, trust and respect them.
I’ve enjoyed this conversation a ton. We didn’t get to it. I want to know what’s up with the Tango. You’re in Buenos Aires. What are you up to you? Are you learning the Tango? Are you practicing? Are you teaching it? What are you up to there?
A coach first gave it to me in 2011 to work on my polarity. It’s such a great metaphor of relationship because we have to powerfully inhabit our center. The lead has to be able to be attuned to his partner, feeling her, sensing her responsiveness and also be aware of the life around us, the dance floor. Be attuned to the rhythm of the music, all within the strut to find the flexibility within the forms of the movement and do that deeply connected. I got worked the first class that I went to. I knew my coach was spot on. I’ve been out six or seven years now, that practice has transformed my relational dynamics and I fell in love with it.
I went to Buenos Aires and realized what I learned in the US was a lot of moves and what I learned here was the essence of it is the rhythm and the connection with the partner. I would see these 60 and 70-year-old people that they didn’t do anything fancy but they were so smooth. They were like silk on the dance floor and so connected. I’m playing with that. I’m coming here to develop that even further.
Is it the same where the bottom half is that grounded and strong-rooted energy? The top half is more flexible, open, and softer. Is that fair?
The teachers will explain certain dance principles and I’m like, “That’s applicable to working with couples.” They say that the masculine leads with his heart. He’s got a strong, powerful base and he drives from the core, like the will. He’s got to lead from the heart and the partner, she is to look, sense, and feel the chest of the partner because that’s guiding the whole dance. It’s like, “That’s beautiful.”
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The last things I want to do are express and share a prayer for all of us. It’s a bookend to how we began this podcast. That is to say that we’re blessed to be here in this moment. This is not anything that we’re guaranteed. We weren’t guaranteed this day and yet we’ve been gifted it, which is amazing. My prayer is that we have that gift given to us again tomorrow. The waking ritual that I have is three simple steps and I want to enroll everybody in all of them. Let’s start with the first one. I’m going to ask this question. Wherever you are, I want you to answer this and embody the answer, whether it’s to nod, to say yes or to think it whatever is right for you.
My prayer is that we all wake up tomorrow. You, Johnny, I, and everybody that’s out there in this moment, that we all wake up tomorrow. In that waking moment when we realize, “Yes, I am waking up,” we realize that as we take that breath, that next conscious breath, that there are people everywhere who will be taking their last breath. That’s a fact. There will be babies being born and they’ll be taking their very first breath. That’s not any moment. That’s a sacred moment. It’s a holy moment. It’s special. For me, it deserves recognition. If you choose to recognize that moment, be grateful for it, be in appreciation, that’s step two. Cultivate some thoughts of gratitude, whether it’s lying in bed or sitting at the foot of the bed or wherever it is, but appreciation.
Lastly, is that you declare, if you’re willing to, just say out loud, “I love my life, I love my life, I love my life.” Those words changed my life and they’re very powerful. We’ve gotten a lot of feedback from people over the years how important they are. I do say them three times in the morning. I used to just say it once. Now I want to embody it at an even deeper level, so I say it three times. When challenges show up during the day, I will sometimes take a little walk, take a breath, a deep conscious breath, and go, “Yes, I love my life.” It brings me back to the first domino of the day, how important that is. With that, I want to wish you all beautiful rest of your evening, your day, your morning or afternoon. Wherever you’re at that you have a beautiful day. We send out all of our love. Ciao for now.
- Johnny Blackburn
- Presence: A Practical Guide To Awakening Greater Potential In Work, Love, And Life
- Your Hour Of Power
- Stephen Porges
- The Future Of Work
- Way Of The Peaceful Warrior
- Start My PIVOT Community on Facebook
About Johnny Blackburn
Johnny Blackburn is a professional coach, speaker & facilitator who empowers clients, organizations and audiences to discover and then live with greater presence, purpose & connection in work, love & life. Residing in San Diego, CA, he is a respected authority on human embodiment and professional performance. Blackburn’s original background in Management Consulting, Master’s degree in Psychology and more than 3000 client-coaching hours as a Professionally Certified Coach with the International Coach Federation, all combined with extensive professional development training make him a highly sought-after guide to greater levels of thriving in work, love & life. Personally, Johnny enjoys many forms of movement, martial arts, surfing, dancing, Tango, being outdoors, reading, learning, laughing, preparing & eating slow food, local community gatherings, traveling the world, having authentic conversations & being still.