Leadership through Mindfulness

At times I felt I carried the entire world of to do lists on my back. My world was a constant pull and tug.  I was always overwhelmed by everything I had to do. This was very much a result of all the personal goals and milestones I had set for myself. However, I also had work and responsibilities based on the many positions I had committed to. All the meetings I had to attend, all the people I had to contact, all the emails I had to send, all to move the businesses and organizations of my life forward. They all increasingly felt like heavy weights that clouded my vision and saturated my purpose. I crouched and felt immobilized by it.  Was I doing too much for a 25-year-old? This all prevented me from doing the very thing I was supposed to do: be a leader.

Leadership is a funny word that has been saturated by thousands of books and thousands of gurus telling their own stories and defining a word I believe should entirely be synonymous with humanity. Today it has lost its meaning in this vast ocean of knowledge, overconsumption of information, and living in automation. For me, leadership does represent just being human and expressing some our finest qualities as a species, like common sense, relating to others, understanding people, and to putting yourself in their shoes – especially those who express different opinions than you.

With leadership, I felt I needed to be open to the opportunities beyond what I could see now. For me, to do this I had to deeply listen to the people I worked with because they saw something I did not see; they were a piece of the puzzle to the changes I needed to implement. We needed to adapt together to move forward cohesively. All of this I could not do, as I cringed at my phone passing time on social media and, yes, ignoring emails. Mindfulness was an element that saved me because it seemed I was paralyzed and could no longer function as a human being.

Well, over the years, I have increasingly utilized mindfulness as a practice. Mindfulness is essential to my work with others and how I engage in everything I want to do in the pursuits of my passions and vocational aspirations. Mindfulness is defined as ‘the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to the internal and external experiences occurring in the present moment’. How does one become mindful of things? You must fill the space of your surrounding and what you are doing with a form of attention and noticing. It’s a process of taking your mind and its awareness through the full rivers of your willpower. It’s being aware of things around you or within you opposed to being totally submerged in automation. The example I always use is when you are driving a car and take a specific route everyday; there are times you completely enter processes of automation while daydreaming and thinking about something. Eventually, you realize you’ve arrived at your destination without your conscious control.

I think this is what a worried and stressed mind does to you more and more as you are flooded with a life of busyness. Most go through life never noticing what is truly around or within themselves. Try this as a challenge for yourself – try to become entirely aware of your breathing without ever taking control of it, focus on your breath as a passing observer. Most of the day, you are not aware of your breath but we breathe to be alive. If you can become aware of it outside the automation of breathing, you will see things start to change as you become more alive. Do this a couple times a day for five minutes and you can reach a different space that can clear your mind. It is a simple yet powerful exercise that I believe will allow you to be more human when you are bogged down by the anxiety and the busyness of life. There is so much more to mindfulness such as body-sensing, foods, smells, thoughts, etc. but I won’t go over it here. I will leave you with your curiosity to look them up if you feel this is something that resonates with your life.

Now and then, I do catch myself slipping back and intentionally getting ‘busy’. Tim Ferris says, “Being busy is a form of laziness and is most often used as a guise for avoiding the few critical important but uncomfortable actions”. This is true, because I often feel the need to be busy for no reason as if this will create a sense I am accomplishing something. I have learned this need to be busy is not a good mechanism to cope with the stress and anxiety that I can experience of my long to do lists,  responsibilities, and other things occurring in my life.

Mindfulness is one of those things you can easily implement in your life, but at the same time it is easily neglected. You have to keep up with it, day-by-day, and drop by drop the bucket will be filled up. The more and more you practice it, the more and more you can gain control in your life.

“Watch your thoughts, they become words;
watch your words, they become actions;
watch your actions, they become habits;
watch your habits, they become character;
watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

Loa Tzu 

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On Happiness

Chester Higgins, Jr./The New York Times

Two prolific Poets and Writers – Amiri Bakara and Maya Angelou dancing at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, New York in 1991.

 

What is Happiness? Is it finding fulfillment through a passionate career or a creative endeavor? Is it sharing laughers with good friends or holding your child for the first time in your hands? Or is happiness the awe we feel staring deep at a large sleepy sunset on a sandy beach or staring at the infinite ends of a night sky filled with vast clusters of distant suns and galaxies. Happiness might be all this but what exactly is it and how does one reach it in their lives?

For myself, the problem lies in posing that very question which presupposes that we can reach a state of perfectibility when we as humans are very imperfect. These imperfections I believe defines our existence today and are at the roots of understanding the complicated nature of happiness.

I’ve read too many positive psychology books and heard too many motivational Gurus who have created this false sense of knowing around happiness painted as reaching this sustained mental state and attitude at all times. Happiness as being in the ‘moment’ every day of the year or happiness as something that is far out in the future as this intangible creature dependent on that next job, vacation or promotion. At best, this false and dependent sense can render you lifeless, numb, empty and always wanting more, unfulfilled, or worst following a never ending rat race, always feeling the pressures of comparing oneself to others successes of these imagined moments of happiness or always measuring yourself up to how happy you’re ‘suppose’ to feel right now.

On my journey I’ve come to realize that it’s very important that we continually remind ourselves that we are imperfect species condemned to always reach for perfectibility in an imperfect world. The very art and soul of happiness is at the root of all this and you need to begin to reflect deeply this statement and how it connects to your own individual lives.

We are all filled with vices, polarities, extremities and rhythms, we are not static beings and the moment we see those things playing within ourselves and accept that we are bounded forever to these imperfections and in a rather meaningful way see those as part of the human experience and accept our inability to escape them; we set a foundation of truth. A very fertile and rich foundation of possibilities. With it, we begin to see others, the world and ourselves differently, much more real, one outside of the visceral grips of the ego. We begin to realize that our entire experience in striving for this Happiness is much more nuanced as you engage others and this world. It gives us alot of freedom actually. A bit of liberation to feel more, to fail more and get back up, to learn and express more in ways you never thought possible. This starts to deconstruct the ego and in the process makes room for the possibilities of experiencing peace as you appreciate life much more vibrantly and give gratitude to the things and people around you. Happiness is not the removal of our imperfections or our pains and sufferings, it is the incredible ability to be with these elements and emotions, all of it and it’s entirety.

Though, I have to admit there does exist many ingredients that can expand that foundation and ignite more freedom to experience more ‘happiness’ in ones life. For me, one of these ingredients is the notion of ‘Neuroplasticity’. The malleability and plasticity of the brain’s ability to shift and form new neural patterns and connections all throughout our lives from the day we our born to the very day we leave this world. As I said before we are not monolithic structures, we are always emerging into being and with a bit of focus, diligence and perseverance one can tap in to the power of this ’emergence’ and our interconnecting brain. We can adapt and learn a new language or a new musical instrument, tap into different modes of thinking and intelligences; we can form new healthy habits, and even unlearn old behaviors and patterns and we can do so much more.

The human species though endowed with it’s imperfectabilities, we are boundless beings, always emerging, and if we apply ourselves, much can change around us for the better, and if we unite through solidarity and work together, even on a large scale we can positively transform this small planet. We have seen this through powerful cultural movements as well as many political and social movements where a multitude of people and organizations have and continue to fight and push the societal envelope for more justice, more rights to disenfranchised and marginalized groups, thus making this world a little less imperfect and less static.