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Tag Archives: mindful leadership

How Do I Listen?

Several year ago, I watched a PBS show about a branch of neuroscience called Contemplative Mindfulness. Rudolph Tanzi is central in this work which grew out of research by Richard Davidson, Ellen Langer, and Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Mindful practices have been with us for centuries and informed Jesus’, the Buddha’s and Mohammed’s teachings. Mindful listening begins with me listening to the other, moves outward, and is eloquently described by Hafiz, a Sufi poet. Mindful listening requires humility those teachers emulated in lived practice as the servant as leader.

In a world that seems filled with ego and narcissim, listening to the other is essential to healing the world and each human. I am re-reading Ivan Illich and authors who use his work. His best known book is Deschooling Society, which was originally titled The Dawn of Epimethean Man and Other Essays. The title was changed by the publisher, something Illich regretted later.

Illich was a priest and his writing, including about education, was informed by The Parable of the Good Samaritan. His understanding was we do not get to choose who are neighbours are. Instead, others we encounter depend on us to listen and demonstrate compassion, dropping our ego in the process. It also fits with Epimetheus who was more comfortable with uncertainty than his more famous sibling, Prometheus.

Encountering the stranger as neighbour comes both with reward and risk. The words hospitality and hostile are linked etymologically.

How

Do I

Listen to others?

As if everyone were my Master

Speaking to me

His

Cherished

Last

Words.

Here is a Mary Oliver reading I Happened To Be Standing and an inteview with her. You have to wait until the end to get to the listening aspect. Being mindful weaves its way through the poem.

Turbulent Calmness

On June 29, I posted a similar poem and theme. I am not sure what led me to post two that shared the same title. It is likely, early in the school year, it feels chaotic. Early in a school year, there are moments of repreive in this feeling and, as the year gains momentum, they become more common. As one co-participant in my dissertation put it: “I learn to stand in the middle of the storm.”

The other inflluence was I took several courses in my PhD about leading in complex and chaotic times. Servant-leadership, mindful leadership, and transformational leadership are forms of leadership particularly effective in times. We focus on questions about what needs to be changed, how do we engage each person in change, and how does each person become a leader in their own right? These forms share common features: grounded in the present, ethically guided, there is foresight without being set in certainty, etc. Mixed in this was courses on the Tao of Leadership, Systems Leadership, Leadership and Justice, Dialogic Leadership, etc. When I re-entered the classroom each September, what I learned in my PhD founds its way in with me. How could I better serve each student? How could we transform and share our experiences into something nourishing each other’s lives? How could I make a difference for each student? How could they grow and become better leaders than me?

I took the pictures at Lundreck Falls as a reminder of how quickly nature can bring a sense of calm back even in the midst of what is initially chaotic. Within a short distance from the falls, the water pools and calms, at least on the surface. What goes on underneath the surface can remain chaotic and complex much like life, needing non-judgemental, humility, foresight, patience, and wisdom to navigate the unforseeable and unpredictable.

 

Needless to say, I wrote a poem about the challenges of remaining calm in the midst of the storm sometimes raging around me.

Growing awareness–

Standing still,

Humbling one’s self,

To gain foresight–

Insight;

Emerging clarity,

Wisdom.

Entering life’s stream–

Even calm waters,

Hiding shoals, rocks, currents,

In turbulence–

Dropping labels,

Ceasing unwarranted judgment,

Falling awake.

Angry Young Poet

In keeping with Why Do I Write Poetry, the following poem is one I wrote many at about the same time. This is the third time I visited the poem in terms of writing and editing. Several years ago and while explaining the importance of teaching poetry, a student asked if I wrote poetry in junior high school and I responded, “Yes!”. He asked me to share with them. I found them in a small lock box I keep at home and shared several with the class. We talked about the context I wrote the poem in. Even in Canada, I lived in the shadow of the Vietnam conflict and struggled with what that meant.

Sam Intrator suggested teachers expose adolescent students complex, existential questions of life as they move through those formative years. I wrote my poems in 1969. It was a time when identity was increasingly rooted in a global nature of the world, not just immediate community and family. War entered homes via television. Increasingly, I discovered my voice through poetry, expressing an abhorrence to institutional and government sanctioned killing. What set me apart from my peers, was I took no sides. Each was equally wrong in my mind, advancing their ideological stance. My teacher, Mr. McKenzie, an innovative English teacher, encouraged us to discover our voices.

I shared the following poem with my students. We talked about how metaphors of war are used commonly in various institutions and how I found this as troubling as the violence and trauma of war. That feeling re-emerged over the past months with describing dealing with Covid-19 in war-like terms and the troubling events of the past weeks where purported leaders feel it is OK to speak about human beings, not citizens, as an enemy and objects to be manipulated for financial gain based on the basest forms of self-interests. It is worse than the war as it takes on invisible and pervasive forms. It is a form of Social Darwinism where the strong survive, trampling on those further down what is understood as a food chain premised on unfettered oppression of other humans, including various forms of systemic violence. Consider billionaires, in the Covid-19 crisis, gained while those in most need lose what little support they had.

I contrast this with Jacinda Ardern‘s message as the Prime Minister of New Zealand. In The Atlantic, Uri Friedman describes her as an empathetic leader. What emerged in reading the article was we de-serve better leadership, mindful, transforming, serving, etc. focusing on people as humans, not objects.

Students asked me to share poems and I did, with the context within which I wrote them. Parents, who were in the classroom each day, asked about my candour. I responded “I am not about changing minds. I try to change how each student thinks about the world, to see under the surface, reveal a sordid underbelly, and revel in the wonderfulness of human life.” This is a hopeful message, and the leadership we need is evident e.g. Jesus, Buddha, Muhammed, Mary Wollenstonecroft, Anne Frank, Maya Angelou, Soujouner Truth, Rosa Parks, etc.

Win or Lose: What Difference Does it Make?

A game–

Darwin misunderstood,

No great thing to win.

War and it language!

Bells ringing hollow,

Men, women, children gone!

Woe! vanquished losers and winners;

Humans, vanquished in every sense–

Thriving on dividing.

Resenting conquerors,

Rebuilding ruins–

On countless graves.

Morally rudderless,

Blaming the fallen,

Beggaring humans.

Homes on streets,

Hollowing souls–

What war brings?

Innocence dying–

Prryhric victories,

What war brings?

Comrades fallen,

Enemies vanquished–

Proving nothing.

Will we learn?

I pray

For human survival.

I leave you with the following video and song. We listened to Harry Belafonte, and I still do, with his uplifting and hopeful message. We are in this together, not against one another, with each other.

The Real Work

I found it interesting that as I searched for a poem I typed in the words The Real Work by Wendell Berry. As Google anticipated, another search emerged: The Real Work by Gary Snyder. This book of essays emerged from a series of interviews and talks Snyder conducted over several years.

Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder are writers, environmentalists and farmers who live in Kentucky and California respectively. Together, they wrote a book called Distant Neighbours and shared their views about the real work they undertook as writers, environmentalists, and farmers. How each of them understood and wrote about real work echoed the other.

Real work happens not when we find ourselves going through the work aimlessly and mindlessly. It emerges when obstacles arise and we are mindful and attentive in our work. It holds our interest through baffling us and our being unsure of what to do next. As we work thoughtfully and our mind is employed in meaningful acts, our work sings like an impeded stream and makes us whole. It is like we our speaking through our work and its meaning to us.

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

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