Who Are You Thankful For? A Powerful 3-Step Thanksgiving Reflection

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As family and friends settle in for a Thanksgiving celebration, it is easy to watch the distractions piling up. The football games are waiting, the cooking is underway and the kids are getting louder. It is a day of “too much”—too much food, too much noise, and sometimes even too much family and friends.
It is easy to lose sight of the opportunity to stop and remember the many people for whom we are thankful. Who are you thankful for? The Thanksgiving Reflection described below is designed to help you really answer that question. You might be surprised at what emerges. The reflection does not take a great deal of time, although I recommend that you not try to rush through it. Take your time and enjoy it.

Thanksgiving Reflection:

Step 1 Bring a pad and pen with you and find a place to sit quietly and comfortably for a few moments. Connect with your breath by feeling the breath sensations arising and dissolving as you settle into the present moment.

Step 2 Bring to mind the first person who touched your life in a positive way and write their name on your piece of paper. Perhaps that person is still physically with you, or perhaps they are here only in your memory and your heart. Take a moment to enjoy any feelings of warmth that arise in your body, or loving memories that arise in your mind. Continue through your lifetime stopping at each milestone to bring to mind those that help you move on to the next phase of your life: childhood, adolescence, college, 20s 30s, etc. At each point, jot down the name of the person that comes to mind. Try not to rush through this. If you get interrupted, just stop and come back to this practice later.

Step 3 When you are done, read through your list, offering a deep, heartfelt thanks as you recognize that without all these people, your life experience might have been very different. Send a message of thankfulness to each one and, as you do, pay close attention to what arises in your heart.

Mindful Leaders Act In The Service Of Others: 2 Questions To Ask Yourself

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A Mindful Leader embodies leadership presence by cultivating focus, clarity, creativity and compassion in the service of others.

The very definition of a mindful leader ends with the phrase “in the service of others.” But in the many years since I began teaching that definition as part of mindful leadership training, I have seen how easy it can be to misinterpret that phrase. For example, it does not mean that every organization now becomes a public charity. Nor does it mean that there is necessarily anything wrong with running a financially healthy organization.
It does mean, however, that when we are asked to make a decision, we include in the evaluation process a recognition that each decision has a ripple effect and, therefore, each decision will touch, for better or worse, the organization, it’s employees, and the community. The best leadership choices are the ones that benefit all three categories.
In recent weeks, we saw firsthand examples of mindful leaders during the impeachment hearings. Regardless of your politics, you saw and heard from American patriots who had dedicated themselves to working in the interest of peace and the protection of our country. When they made decisions, their personal interests did not take precedent over the needs of the big picture. They were interested in more than short term gains. And they clearly saw the ripple effect of every action. They cared deeply for their organization, their colleagues and the community. This clarity and their commitment to something bigger than themselves was the motivation for them stepping forward, at great risk, to share what they saw as a betrayal of the common good in favor of self interest, and therefore the antithesis of great leadership.

Their example is an important reminder of your obligation as a leader. Each day, in big and small ways, you have an opportunity to be a mindful leader when presented with a choice. You begin by asking yourself two questions:

1. Is the decision I am making a “win-win-win?” In other words, will this choice have a result that is good for the organization, good for my colleagues, and good for the community?

2. Or, has short-term thinking or self-interest clouded my ability to lead with excellence?

The potential ripple effect of your choices as a leader should not be underestimated. For better or worse, your decisions will change the status quo.

How Mindful Leadership Teaches You To ‘Let Go’ And Soar

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Too often as leaders we tend to hold on and hold back. We hold on to our jobs, our titles, our knowledge; and we hold ourselves back from expressing our views, concerns, frustrations, inspirations and ideas. This bias toward “holding” can have a crippling effect on our potential to skillfully engage challenges. A thought pops into our head that says “I shouldn’t try it,” and we hold on even tighter.

Letting go, on the other hand, of our fixed mindsets, limiting judgments, opinions, and much more, can open our perspective and enhance our ability to effectively lead a team, an enterprise, or our life. But saying you want to be less of a “holder” is not enough. We actually need to train ourselves to cultivate a different relationship to our own thinking. This is one of the cornerstone’s of the Institute’s Mindful Leadership curricula. In this training, you are invited to engage in mindfulness meditation where the focus of your attention is on your thoughts as they arise in the moment. This powerful practice helps develop greater flexibility in your leadership and helps you see thoughts that are limiting or biased.

But what really happens when we meditate in this way? How can such a simple act of sitting quietly and noticing our thoughts actually cultivate flexible, innovative leadership?

Let’s begin with the basics. What is mindfulness meditation?

When we practice mindfulness meditation, we often take a posture sitting upright, relaxed, and alert. We might begin by noticing our immediate experience using our senses: sounds, sights, smells, and other body sensations we might be feeling. As we begin to settle our mind and body into the present moment, we can then begin to notice that we are thinking: talking to ourselves, making judgments, worrying about tomorrow, ruminating about an old conversation, etc. The meditation practice is to notice these thoughts without getting hooked by them. We notice that they are thoughts, and we let them go for now. For now we are simply aware that we are thinking.

The thoughts need not be evaluated in any way. They might be true and they might not be true, they might accurately reflect who we are, and they might simply be random. Just notice the process of thinking that is constantly going on in our minds. Thoughts arise and they dissolve. We notice this as simply “thinking” without any need to judge the thought, or think more thoughts about it. We simply notice and let it go.

Letting Go

This gesture of “letting go” of our internal chatter, while simple, is also a highly concentrated gesture of leadership agility. Like an athlete rehearsing a movement over and over again, in mindfulness meditation we, too, are exercising core muscles of letting go of thinking that may be limiting our ability to be agile, creative and compassionate. The more we practice with it while we are sitting, the more it will be available to us when we are making decisions, or listening to others.

When we are able to let go of whatever pops up in our mind in that moment, it opens room for us to be curious and more able to discern the course of action that is responsive to the situation. It also gives us some spaciousness around that thought to see it a bit more clearly-is it a bias, conditioned reactivity, perception? In that spaciousness we also have room to decide how best to respond to what is in front of us…react as we always do to a familiar story in our head, or experiment with letting it go and trying something else.

Of course, there is more to being an agile leader than simply letting go, but letting go of those thoughts that are holding you back is the first step. When you begin to practice with this meditation, who knows where you may find yourself soaring?

Do You Really Feel Grateful, Or Is It All In Your Head? A Mindfulness Look

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When November rolls around, I have noticed that everyone seems to be talking about gratitude. We teach our children to “count their blessings,” and we remind ourselves that there is always something to be grateful for, even in the midst of challenging times. But do you really feel grateful? Or has it become just words in your head, rather than powerful feelings in your heart? And is saying you are grateful good enough if the gratitude doesn’t come from the heart?

Perhaps it would help to understand what gratitude really is. Gratitude does not come as a response to something you have been given or earned. That is “being thankful.” Gratitude is a much deeper way of living that comes from an awareness of the millions of moments and people and circumstances that have come together for you to simply be here, right now, alive in this moment. Stop and consider this for a minute. Look back at this last year and recall a memorable moment. If just one event was slightly different, or one person made a different decision, or one storm had a different trajectory, or one promotion had not occurred, how would that moment have changed?

And, of course, you can go back even further. What if one ancestor made a different choice, or was received by their new country in a different way? Or what if an illness or injury occurred?

It really is quite an amazing miracle that we are who we are, where we are, and doing what we are. Gratitude is the deep feeling we get when we acknowledge that things are pretty amazing, and in response, we choose to meet our life with an open-heartedness that comes from that recognition.

Of course, when life is overly busy and distractions abound, we can slip into living on autopilot, not recognizing these moments, and therefore, missing the powerful affects of true gratitude. We give lip-service to being grateful, but those words come from the head, not the heart, and they are rarely felt. If you want to bring the power of heartfelt gratitude into your way of living, try this simple practice:

Mindfulness Gratitude Practice:

  1. Choose a time each day to sit quietly and write down 3 things for which you are grateful. Whatever you notice that day is fine. There is only one rule-you cannot repeat anything. Keep looking…how many days/months can you keep this up?
  2. Pay close attention to your body sensations while you are writing. What are you noticing? Warmth, lightness, tingling, tears, etc.
  3. After you have been practicing gratitude for a few weeks, look for an opportunity to express your gratitude to someone else. Did you notice anything different about feelings of the experience?

As this season begins to kick into high gear with all of its distractions and busyness, this practice can help you put it all in perspective. The warm, powerful feelings of authentic gratitude can ground us in the midst of the bright lights, and the superficial tugs on our time. We begin to more readily recognize how grateful we are simply to be here right now.

Are You Being ‘Too Small?’ 3 Mindfulness Steps For You To Explore

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A while back, I was guiding a mindful leadership session with a group of experienced leader-meditators. It was late afternoon, the end of a work day, and we slowly moved from sitting practice to mindful yoga and then to a reflection on the following line written by David Whyte: “There comes a time when you find that you’ve promised yourself to things that are just too small.” Perhaps not surprisingly, this group of people found as many insights from that line as there were people in the room.

As the sharing unfolded during a period of inquiry and dialogue, I was struck by a few of the questions that arose and were left for the group’s further reflection. For example, have we in fact “promised ourselves?” One leader said that she had not promised herself to anything or anyone. Another asked, “Do we actually have the capacity to promise ‘self?’”

In our reflections in that room, we were exploring the places in which we found ourselves: our work, our family and our communities. What had we promised ourselves to, is it still what we want, what were the factors that led to the promise? Is that promising a conscious choice or is it more a matter of convenience or an offer too good to pass up? Is it “too small,” or just right?

Another rich area of inquiry involved the words “just too small.” What makes us label something as too small? Too small for what? Is our quest for something bigger just another thing that drives us?

Or is the “too small” something we realize as we examine what we might do, as leaders, as influencers? Is it possible to bring the discipline of mindfulness training to everyday work and in seeing with a bit more clarity and compassion, enlarge that which is “too small?” Are we staying small because we are living on autopilot, or are sometimes afraid to “be big?”

So many unanswered, wonderful questions arose that late afternoon.

If this reflection is resonating with you, here are 3 simple steps to begin to explore it for yourself:

  1. Find a time to sit quietly with the quote. It is helpful to have a paper/pen nearby. Close your eyes and simply say the David Whyte quote aloud, speaking with a soft voice. As you do, pay attention to what arises in your body and in your mind. Try not to edit what you notice. After a few minutes, make a list of what arose-words, emotions, sensations, etc.
  2. As you review your list, what questions are arising for you? What do you already know about what “showed up?” Is that sensation familiar? Have you had that thought before? Are you wondering if you have made conscious choices about where you are and how you are showing up for your life? Do you notice a nagging little pull to be different? To do something differently?
  3. Choose one small step to experiment with your discoveries. What do you notice? What might be the next “small step?”

We are privileged to lead, and also burdened by the weight of wanting to do it well in the midst of the chaos. It is easy to slip into an autopilot existence and find ourselves not living our best life-as leaders at work and at home. But, if we are present, it is possible that when “there comes a time,” we can meet it with an expanded repertoire of responses learned through the work of cultivating our capacity to be mindful leaders.