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Mindfulness: A Misnomer

“This is the first, wildest, and wisest thing I know: that the soul exists, and that it is built entirely out of attentiveness.” - Mary Oliver, American poet

Photo Credit: James Faillettaz

I just said goodbye to a community of organic Thai farmers I had the privilege of staying with for two weeks. The maes— in their handwoven skirts and polo tees— waved goodbye with tear-streaked faces while the jean-clad pas wiped their eyes before looking up to watch the grey vans pull away.

Teeming with emotion, I felt my heart swell. The pounding in my chest intensified as I was present to my gratitude, sadness, sense of mutuality, and awe over such a short but powerful exchange.

I did not intend on telling this story, yet right now it feels like the only one to write. What I experienced over these past few weeks could best be described as an opening, where my heart presenced itself to the heart of another.

To me, this is what mindful leadership is about: choosing connection with intention. Be it to self, to other humans, or to the planet, when we practice mindful leadership we expand our sense of self to include those who shape our very being. We live the phrase often quipped from our yoga mats, Namaste, which best translates to “I bow to you” and is understood as recognition of the divine spark within every being.

In a society vested in rationality, it is no surprise that even our offering of intentional practices is framed as a mental exercise. Yet, what if we understood mindfulness as more a matter of connecting head, heart, body, and spirit than an activity of the mind alone?

Catholic mystic St. Teresa of Avila offers that our thoughts occur on the periphery of our being. Mindfulness, then, is diving beneath this periphery. This does not necessitate a religious or even spiritual identity. It is simply a question of from where, and how, you listen.

It is walking with the attentiveness Oliver describes as soul and that psychologists sometimes name flow. It is writing with your eyes closed because the words pour out from a source deep within. It is Knowing that is capitalized. It is the sense of contentment that washes over you when you feel most alive, or aligned.

As we spend the upcoming months exploring Mindful Matters, I invite you to carry an image of opening that supports dropping into your own experience of each post. One where you are not simply reading words on a screen as an intellectual exercise, but allowing the meaning to seep into your veins. May you feel, mindfully, that which resonates— connecting to both author and inner-compass wherever the two might meet. In doing so, perhaps we will experience an encounter as rich as the one I had in the mountains of Northern Thailand.

Photos Provided by James Faillettaz

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