This weekend Devon and I led a mindfulness workshop for helping professionals inAshland, a small town in the Rogue Valley, home of the world-renowned Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Noble Coffee, Lithia Park, and loads of people working hard to improve the lives of others.
In our workshop we had private practice therapists, the director of the wellness program at a community health center that supports low-income families, a few educators, two educational researchers, a massage therapist, a hospice worker, and many others.
All of these professionals chose to do the things they do out of a common goal: to help. But the daily grind can wear on people’s intentions. They confront systemic injustice, endless bureaucracy, difficult patients, overwork, and a host of other problems.
What to do?
Of course, we need to humanize systems. We need to speak up and speak out. We need to build networks that serve everyone with equity and compassion. But we also need to care for this system: this body, this heart, this mind. And caring for this system means stepping in and stepping back, taking stock, and holding experience with kindness.
That’s not always comfortable. In fact, one participant this weekend joked, “So, mindfulness? It’s just embracing the awkward.”
I like that. Too often we try to sell people on mindfulness as the latest life hack: Improve your focus! Lower your stress! Boost your immune system!
And of course, those things happen. Thousands of studies have confirmed as much.
But promises like these don’t give voice to the actual experience of turning inward and making room for the complexity of everything: sights, sounds, situations; this body with its pleasures and pains; the thoughts and feelings that continually stream through awareness.
The good news is that, as we slow down and take note, experience deepens. As mindfulness grows, we discover a kind of taproot, a mind that is fundamentally unshaken by the ups and downs that come with working for and with others.
Mindfulness has room for everything. We embrace the awkward, and then step forward to help the next person who walks in the door.