We know what it is not. It is not the churning of dread in your lower gut when you step toward one more pointless meeting. It is not the threads of tension that knot up in your shoulders when your work team avoids that elephant in the room for the millionth time. It is not that crawling out of your skin feeling when your manager looks over your shoulder and haughtily tells you do the thing you were already doing. It is not the warm ripple of shame that spreads like a black fog from your heart to the tips of your fingers when you read another nasty email in your inbox.
A couple years ago, I was on the verge of leaving my calling to serve the church. I kept thinking to myself, “This is BS, I should just go teach yoga. Why do I do this to myself?” The appeal to teaching yoga, wasn’t just the teaching part, which I enjoy. The yoga communities in which I spend time were loving and supportive people who were working on getting healthier — a reality I didn’t often experience in my church work. In a yoga class or workshop, the tensions locked in my body by being submerged in toxic work environments melted away. Teachers cared for me, even as they challenged me to grow. As I lived these dual lives — yoga and church — My mind kept playing the hook to my self-pity ballad, “I should just leave my job and teach yoga.”
But, one Friday, the day I take Sabbath and usually attended back-to-back movement and meditation yoga classes, my heart opened up in a slow flash of realization. I should bring this — yoga/meditation/mindfulness — to those places that need them most, the places overwhelmed by unhealthy people consumed by toxic habits that no longer serve them. Why was I keeping this nearly miraculous practices to myself? If they can work on imperfect me, they can work on anyone. Right?
So, I offered to do a breath meditation at the next tense board meeting. I thought for sure they would politely decline. I was wrong. They welcomed it. I offered this practice and, much to the surprise of even this true believer, it worked. It didn’t make the problems or the hard decisions go away. But, it reduced anxiety, it allowed people in those board rooms to have hard discussions in calmer, more open ways. It allowed for the survival of, or even deepening of, relationships because they dealt with hard issues together. This meeting, which should have drained everyone, was even slightly uplifting, or at least offered some relief.
This early experience made me really believe that creating mindful teams is a powerful way to run an organization, a family, a club or any other group where people gather. Here are three things that I’ve learned, through some trial and error, to support healthier, mindful teams:
- Mindfulness Practices such as breath and meditation that are done as part of the entire culture, not something done by a select few of your leaders on their day off. Like I described above, these practices can help your team get through really tough times, and they can help alleviate the bad moods or general distraction people bring to work. After all, people will always have tough commutes or rough times getting their kids out of bed in the morning to go to school. Mindfulness readies people to approach their work with creativity, enthusiasm and calm.
- Community Building that regularly helps people connect authentically with other members of the team. We know that we spend more time with people at work than with our families. So, why don’t we do something about that? We are humans doing a job. That means we should learn about and treat each other like the brilliantly imperfect individuals that we are.
- Higher Purpose. Name why do you what you do. I don’t mean writing growth and sales goals. Doing that is necessary and good, but I’m talking about the deeper reason why you run the program, make the widget, or create the art in the first place. People will stick through a lot of hard things if they are connected to and inspired a higher purpose.
None of these practices will suddenly make teams (and the individuals perfect. That’s not a thing. But they will help them maneuver change with intention. The intention to approach the instability of change with grace, resilience, purpose and, yes, mindfulness.