Anytime I find a book, article or podcast that explains a new way to become more self-aware I can’t help diving into the subject. That was the case when a week ago I listened to an interview with author Diana Chapman where she asked, “In any given moment are you above the line or below the line?” If or how you answer that question offers great insight into our own individual awareness. It also reveals several paths to becoming more conscious and deliberate about your life and relationships. But what we tend to first think about living above or below that line isn’t quite what Chapman is after. Instead, it is the understanding, possible growth and acceptance of where we are in any moment that offers the greatest benefit of all—and then choosing where to go from there. Interested?
The book in question is titled, The Fifteen Commitments Of Conscious Leadership, written by Diana Chapman and co-authored with Jim Dethmer and Kaley Klemp. And while I don’t think of myself any more of a leader than you likely do, I found it filled with both a foundation for conscious living and dozens of tools that can lead to greater self-awareness. At its heart, I believe it calls for a deeper commitment to that self-awareness, truth telling and living/leading from a place that is—not a world we hope/want or dream it will be. And the best place to start is with that question: Right now, am I above the line or below the line?
I think most of us intuitively believe that living above the line is superior to living below it. But the authors stress that the line isn’t a black/white or positive/negative issue. You’re not inherently good if you are above it any more than you are inherently bad when you are below it. When you identify where you are, that shows your awareness level in that moment. And while we all tend to think of awareness as something that shows up in our thoughts, the authors believe that such awareness also shows up in the body and through our emotions. In other words, right now, what is your mind, whole body and emotions telling you about this present situation? Once we know that, we can then proceed consciously or with intention.
So what does it mean to be above the line? If we are above the line our thinking, our emotions and our entire body are open, trusting and receptive to learning and growth in the moment. Above the line we live with curiosity, flow, playfulness and are willing to question our beliefs. We live with the understanding that opportunity and possibility exist regardless of appearances. We believe there is more than enough for everyone, so we seek win/win outcomes for all of us. It is easier to be honest because we don’t feel the need to defend our position. We feel good and our minds and emotions are optimistic and creative.
When we are below the line in the moment, we are defensive and closed. We feel threatened by a person or situation and out of control of it. We focus on our security and survival and much of the time we try to do that by insisting we are right and need to be in charge for things to progress in the right way. Below the line we worry that there isn’t enough to go around or that we ourselves aren’t good enough. Remember, being below the line isn’t just happening in our mind. Our bodies and our emotions reflect these (mostly unconscious) states of being, simultaneously.
Unfortunately, no matter how conscious or enlightened we think we are, we spend much of our waking life below the line. The authors believe that is because as humans we are hardwired to seek safety and security. Not only is this part of our humanness, but we also live in a culture that teaches us that resources are finite and that we will lose out if we don’t work to get (and strive to keep) that which we own. We are encouraged to work hard, save everything we can and do our duty. We are taught to distrust ourselves and especially others. While these aren’t necessarily bad in and of themselves, the focus is on scarcity and the need to succeed over others.
While it sounds as though being above the line is superior, the authors stress what is most important is the awareness of what we are believing, and also what we are feeling and why we feel it. Regardless of whether a person is above the line or below it, there are benefits to either. For example, even though Thom is the love of my life, there are times when I really, really want to blame him if I’m feeling unhappy or upset—because then I don’t have to take a good hard look at myself and figure out my role in the situation. Other times a family member/neighbor/friend might do something I think is completely inappropriate, and I want to put them straight—and feel justified and self righteous when doing so. And then there is the government. We all know what they are doing wrong and if they would just do it the way we know is best, everything would be perfect! We also judge or gossip and that makes us feel superior. But while there might be upsides to some of those choices, I think we can agree that there are downsides as well. Much of below the line thinking can lead to unhappiness, depression, bad health and worse. That’s why until you can identify where you are and what’s really happening under the surface, it is unlikely you realize the cost to you and your life.
The benefits to living above the line are feelings of openness and peace of mind when dealing with others and circumstances. Above the line living gives us more energy and creativity when faced with challenges and obstacles. We stop fighting, let go of our fears, and we flow. Above the line living requires a commitment to growing and learning in every situation we encounter without blame, anxiety, or attack—along with a trusting that knows that no matter what happens, we will be okay. The authors insist that they have hundreds of examples of people and companies they have dealt with who, when consciously choosing to live above the line, find it to be a beneficial way to live.
How do we do that? The authors believe it has to do with the commitments we make to ourselves, our families or business teams. In the book they offer 15 different commitments they believe help us become more self-aware and make better decisions in every moment. And while they each seem relatively uncomplicated, it is clear that each would take a lifetime to master.
The authors also point out that if we don’t make commitments to be above the line, then we are likely making a nearly opposite commitment to living below the line. That’s right. For example, one of their 15 commitments is taking 100% responsibility for all the choices and responses in a person’s life. It doesn’t mean you control the world and other people, only that how you respond and what you do with the information is 100% up to you. I interpret that to mean, “I get to make it up!”
On the flip side, if I am choosing not to accept that commitment, it is likely I am choosing to routinely look for others to blame or find excuses for my unhappiness or lack of success. The same is true if I frequently whine or complain about the people, the government, organizations or situations that I don’t like while believing they are unfair and whatever they did or didn’t do shouldn’t happen to me. Again, chances are I didn’t “choose” to commit to being a victim, but unconsciously I have taken on that role and allow it to pervade my thinking, emotions and my entire physical wellbeing where I am clearly below the line.
In case you are wondering, I haven’t yet finished reading this book. So far it is a good one, but like I said, it will take a lifetime to master it if a person chooses. Still, how could it not improve one’s life if you believe like me that we are here to grow and experience as much as possible during this one wild and precious life. Best of all, at the heart of this book is a commitment to great self-awareness. So while it is SMART to remember that we always have a choice—if we want to co-create our best life possible, it is important to consciously be aware of whether we are above or below the line as we live out commitments.