Interview with Greg Richardson

In this interview with Jane Gunn and Greg Richardson (The Strategic Monk, Leadership Coach and Spiritual Director) and Greg discuss about ‘going inside’ – the journey to deeper self knowledge.

Click below to listen to the podcast, and scroll down to read the transcript of the podcast

Jane – Hello this is Jane Gunn the Corporate Peacemaker and author of ‘How to Beat Bedlam in the Boardroom and Boredom in the Bedroom.’

This podcast is about how we can gain a better understanding of some of the aspects of conflict to help us lead happier and more productive lives.

Well I’m really excited this afternoon as Greg Richardson who’s otherwise known as The Strategic Monk will be here with us.   Greg is a leadership coach and Spiritual Director, and Greg is also a recovering lawyer as am I, and a university professor. So Greg, tell us a little bit about you and how you came to be doing what you are now, and in particular how you come by the title of ‘Strategic Monk’.

Greg – well I was raised in many ways by my family and my education and my church to be a person who accomplished things, who got things done, essentially who went out and found the right answers. And that made me and I guess contributed to some of the gifts and skills that I already had. I became a very strategic person. I was the kind of person that, if you needed to get something done, I was the person to come to. That changed me quite a bit and changed the choices I made and shaped a lot of the things I did for work. And then finally at one point I got to a place where I realised that it was not only that I did not do the things I wanted to do, I did not really even think about what I wanted to do myself, it wasn’t even a factor for me. Then I decided that that was something I wanted to do so I started making some changes in my life, and changed quite a bit actually. That is part of an overall process that really has moved me from being a very strategic, very nuts and bolts, pragmatic kind of person, to someone who’s much more involved in some contemplative practises. Much more connected to monastic communities, and actually a particular monastic community. And so I would say overall, if my life is an overall arch, it goes from being very strategic to being much more monastic, more contemporary. So that sort of summarizes a lot of the things I can do.

Jane- so moving much more into the spiritual side of life and problem solving then.

Greg – yes, more asking the right questions I think in some ways than finding the right answer.

Jane – You talk on your website Greg about spiritual conversation and listening. Now what do you mean by that?

Greg – When I meet with someone as a spiritual director, a lot of what I do is really listening to what they say. They tell me their story, they tell me what’s been happening with them, they tell me their experience of their spiritual life in a lot of ways. And I listen to them, I look for key themes or key mile posts along the way that I can ask them about and get them to pay attention to, often in ways in which they never really even saw or considered themselves.

Jane – You’ve been described as a great listener, but what are you really listening for? What is the key you are looking for?

Greg – That’s a good question, I used to be a very good cross examiner. I would look for the weaknesses, or the places that didn’t match up very well, and use them to either discredit someone or build up what they were saying, it was more of a game in a lot of ways. Now I listen on a deeper level, I listen to not only what they are saying, but the kind of things it says about them, they may not even realise themselves. The truths that under-lie a lot of the things they are talking about.

Jane – So Greg I focus on conflicts, I wonder what kind of spiritual conflicts people come to you with, or either you discover within people when you start doing the deep, deep listening that you do.

Greg – It’s interesting, for a while, while I was practising law, a lot of what I did was both legislative work trying to get particular pieces of legislation passed or implemented, and I also worked on establishing some programmes. Some of those programmes were essentially conflict resolution programmes and mediation programmes. In some ways that is where I started learning more about the depth that listening can have. As a Spiritual Director I think a lot of times people have often had a conflict within themselves between what they think they are supposed to do and really deep down what they are drawn to do, what they really want to do. There are a lot of things that people have heard, or have learned, or people have assumed, that those are the things they really are expected to do. Often there is a conflict between that, and that level of expectation, and often a sense of guilt or anxiety about not meeting those expectations. And the kind of person that they really deep down know themselves to be.

Jane – so when you talk about deep listening you are actually wanting people to go deeper and listen to themselves, to what’s going on in their own heart, would that be right?

Greg – Definitely.

Jane – is that a real challenge for most people? I guess that going inside is a place that many of us don’t go really.

Greg – it is a challenge. I think a lot of people do not really have a lot of experience doing that. I don’t think, at least here in the United States, in California, there really isn’t a lot of opportunity to do that. We are sort of surrounded by things that make noise, things that make sounds, there’s not a lot of silence, there’s not a lot of solitude, and people are really anxious about that. People are afraid of that.

Jane – so do you encourage that with people? For them to begin to experience silence. We find in mediation that silence is actually a very powerful thing.

Greg – yes I think it is very powerful, and I think for many people, for some of the people I work with silence is a real opportunity for them. For other people it’s a more distant goal. They need to take some time off, even if it’s just a day a week, to rest and to get a sense of calm or be centred. And the silence will come eventually, I guess they’re not even near that and they need to move in that direction.

Jane – Why do you think Greg that people are so afraid of doing these things, of taking time to be silent and getting to know themselves?

Greg – That’s a really good question. I think for a lot of people, it’s something brand new, and it’s something they haven’t really thought about before. So it’s a new and potentially scary experience for them. I think it can be really intimidating. I also think that we are often sort of used to functioning at a certain level in our lives. We know what’s expected of us, we know and we feel sort of safe and secure at that level. And so deeper than that can be very challenging.

Jane – And it’s interesting really because the level at which people are performing is that strategic level in a way and I love the way that you’ve linked the monastic, spiritual side with the strategic because we still have to be part of the real world and get out there do things and be part of it but, you’re saying that we can have both sides of ourselves operating at the same time.

Greg – Exactly. I have a connection to a monastery here in California. I made a commitment to them and they made some commitments to me. It is really interesting to me as I learn more about both Benedictine spirituality and monasteries’ in general the largest number of people connected to a monastery today are people who are outside of the monastery in what we would call the world. They have made some sort of connection, they have agreed to follow certain guidelines, or follow their rule of life. The number of people who are actually monks or nuns in closed communities is much smaller than the people who are in relationships with them out in the world.

Jane – What sort of guidelines would people need to follow to do that kind of thing Greg?

Greg – Each monastery and definitely each order is a little different. The monastery I am connected to has a pretty clear set of rules and guidelines that they ask people to follow. I do some of the things that the monks do in the monastery but I have a lot more flexibility than they do. There are certain points each day when I spend time in silence and praying. There’s service and work and worship sort of guidelines. Commitments that I’ve made that I won’t let too much time go by without following some of these practices.

Jane – And when you talk about service Greg, that’s service outside in the world, service in the community that you are already in?

Greg – Definitely.

Jane – Yes, and I think that’s something that many more of us need to connect with I guess really, is the idea of serving each other or even collaborating with each other rather than be in competition with everybody else.

Greg – Yes I think that’s true. I think one of the real challenges, I don’t know if it’s a challenge or an opportunity, it’s becoming much larger in the world we are heading into, is it’s not a separation between strategic and monastic, it’s not a separation between, activist and contemplatist, it’s finding ways to accomplish both of those ends of the spectrum I guess, into a balanced approach. So that people can become both strategic and monks or monastics, they can become activists and contemplatists. They can combine and draw strengths from both those ends of the spectrum and all points in between.

Jane – I love that idea because we’ve been looking very much in our mediation programme at what a Master Mediator might be and it embraces many of the things we are talking about, in other words you need to have a deep understanding of yourself rather than just the processes and skills you can use. And it is about understanding this kind of biphasic nature you could have in being able to hold two characteristics that might appear to be in conflict with each other, actually hold them together and use both in complimentary ways.

Greg – Exactly.

Jane – So why do you think Greg that people are so reluctant to embrace some of these things today?

Greg – I think that we are used to approaching life in certain ways. Once somebody starts questioning those, things get more threatening and more confusing, and so it takes people a while, they need to spend time to think about that, sort that out and think that through. And even that is a challenge for a lot of people, they just don’t have the time to do that. So they just keep going the way they’ve been going all along. Often it gets to a point where if someone is actually going to consider that, reflect on that and think it through, they almost need to get to a point of crisis or a point where they have no other alternative, they have to think about that. They’re constrained, and so that’s why often it becomes fairly intimidating because people will think they need to get to this point then they can sort some of these things through. In many ways really it’s a challenge you can do day by day without that sort of motivating event or spark or crisis.

Jane – So most people who come to you to find these answers will have had some sort of catalyst which has prompted them to do this work.

Greg – They definitely have at least a sense of discomfort or frustration. Or some people are at a point in their lives where they have accomplished the things they have set out to do and they don’t know how to sort out what to do next. So it isn’t necessarily a traumatic event or crisis but they are definitely grappling with something and they don’t really know how to get their hands on it, or wrap their mind around how to figure out what they are supposed to do.

Jane – And I think in these really difficult times we are living in now in the US and in Europe there must be many, many people who feel that need somewhere deep inside.

Greg – Yes – definitely.

Jane – So Greg we will need to wrap up soon because as always we are too short of time, but I wonder having described this way of working and getting deeper with ourselves, and the work that you do, if you have some tips, some guidance for anyone listening who would be interested to take the next step; or even curious to know a little bit more. What would you suggest they do to find out more?

Greg – Well they can always contact me, I would be glad to talk with them directly. But I think that really what’s important is what you talk about in terms of mediation.   You need to know yourself, you need to know your true self. And get a sense of what your real core values are, what the values are that you’ve had perhaps your whole life. And those often fit together in a fairly clear vision of where you really want to go. And then sorting out some specific steps to take to move into that vision. That’s a really basic description of the process I work through with people that I talk to.

Jane – I know Greg in the Mediation Mastery class that we do, we talk about it as a journey, it isn’t a destination as such. It’s going to be an on-going process. Would you say that your work is the same?

Greg – Definitely, absolutely.

Jane – So you are inviting people to take the first steps perhaps in the journey to spiritual knowing and understanding.

Greg – Yes, and often the first step is the most challenging one, because once the process begins then things start moving forward. Things start happening.

Jane – Brilliant. So Greg if anyone is interested in contacting you, I know that you can be found on Twitter, do you have a website address?

Greg – Absolutely. My website is

Jane – Brilliant. Greg thank you so much for your time, I’ve really enjoyed it and am inspired, and I am sure other people will be too.

Greg – Thank you, it’s my pleasure.

Jane – Thank you







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