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  • Writer's pictureMaya Nader

Compassion + Mindfulness @ Work 10.26.2018 Impact Hub Seattle

Integrating compassion and mindfulness at work was the theme of the day, and the house was packed! “Practical approaches to integrating mindfulness in work, community and life” was served right after breakfast, through experiencing a mindfulness exercise in groups of 4. The chaos of chairs rearranging and the loud chatter of strangers finding common purpose gave way to stillness and a sense of complicity in just a few minutes. The bell rang and everyone in the room was engaged simultaneously in the small group awareness exercise. After the bell rang again, we shared our insights “1-2-4-All” style: in dyads, then foursomes, and finally with the whole room popcorn style. The whole day was filled with the same wonderful interactive energy: People came from completely different societal and business roles, united by the resolve to find ways to bring change by infusing compassion and mindfulness into institutions of all stripes.

The "Liberating Structures: Practice self-discovery within a group" aka Mad Tea Party was an exercise in spontaneity. The setting was a circle within a circle, with the people in the inner circle facing the people in the outer circle. We were asked to finish the prompt on the big screen with a different partner every time, with the 2 circles moving at the same pace but in opposite directions. This circle dance meant that we had a conversation with a different person for every prompt. The pace was fast, and we were encouraged to “let go of the judgmental committee in our head.” I jolted out of my comfort zone when the person facing me completed the prompt that started with “I feel most surprised by…” with “… how guarded people are” in a hurried yet pensive voice.

The subsequent panel gave voice to trailblazers in the field of compassion and mindfulness at work. Imagine a director of compassion at a financial management company, a community partnership manager at REI, a software engineer and mindfulness leader at Microsoft, and a leadership consultant answering questions about what inspired their work, and how do they see the future of compassion and mindfulness in the workplace. The audience was encouraged to be bold and passionate, dream big and not give up.

The delicious vegan lunch allowed for a full hour to mingle and chat. I happened to sit with Hylke Faber, not knowing that he was the person I had signed up for a breakout session with. His book "Taming your Crocodiles" was circulated during his presentation, along with cards to help us start unmasking our fears. His story is compelling: He grew up on a farm in northern Netherlands, escaped being a farm boy by becoming a musician. He studied hard and got a college education and made it to NY where he became very successful but deeply unhappy --and disliked by his peers. It got to a point where he was so depressed that he couldn't sleep at night, so he started meditating. The meditation solved his issues, so he decided he might become a monk. Somewhere along the way he realized that it was not about competing and becoming a monk, but about connecting, feeling, being. He found love with a partner who is male and black. The fears of Failure and Hurt, I gathered, were prominent in why he wrote the book. He is now a writer, a thinker, a Kirtan musician, and lives in Seattle. Calling my fears “crocodiles” is going to help me identify them with more playfulness. And I will not feel alone or isolated doing it, because I am comforted by the fact that fear inhabits all human brains. We wouldn’t be human without them, would we?

The fishbowl session with Pete Holmes and Dr. Kelle Brown cracked open more interesting perspectives. Pete Holmes, the Seattle City Attorney, spoke with humility about the work he’s championed towards a more just and equitable system. Dr. Kelle Brown is from a remote area in Georgia, came to Seattle University for her master’s in divinity, and has spent her life in service to the homeless, the oppressed, the poor. She is black and the lead pastor of a predominantly white church: Plymouth on 4th and University. She is very engaged in social issues and seems to have amazing heart and courage. The box with her picture and title inside the building has been smashed, and she personally has received hate mail... After she encouraged banners on the walls of the building such as "Black Lives Matter" and LGBTQ/rainbows, and the church has received hate mails, threats, angry phone calls... Yet the work and messaging continue. Someone from the audience who is part of the LGBTQ community was in tears thanking her for the banner that gives them hope every day as they walk past it. 

The day closed with small group sharing of what we plan to change in our lives/work/organization moving forward -- another opportunity to meet new people, reflect and hold ourselves accountable. Jabali Stewart, director of Intercultural Affairs at a Seattle school, invited us to seek “intercultural fluency” and make it our responsibility to reach beyond the confines of our culture as a whole, acknowledging that our personal experience of race, religion, gender, politics, and our sexual orientation confine us. Genuine curiosity to reach beyond the confines of our experience enriches us and broadens our understanding of the world and is a necessary step to build more compassionate communities.

I feel very grateful for this day and plan to carry forth some of the ideas into my everyday life. I hope you’ll join me too, in whatever small or big act that you’re called to do.

The event was organized by Brighton Jones Richer Life Foundation, Seattle Wisdom, and EnJoy Productions. Proceeds beyond expenses went to benefit Space Between

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