Becoming a More Mindful Leader

By: Diana Faison

Going on vacation is hard work.  Never mind the planning, packing, and tying up loose ends at work.  If you’re like me, it takes real effort to let go mentally and allow yourself to “be” on vacation.  On my recent trip to Alaska, I was forced to disconnect with the modern world.  It was there I realized that nature has this figured out; nature has its ebb and flow.  Actually, so do we, if we just pay attention.

Alaska is the perennial slow down state.  There are no schedules, no deadlines, no pings of never-ending email, and cell phone service is nonexistent on the Alaskan waters.  At first my mind fixated on missing email, being unreachable if clients needed me, and no longer being “in the know.”  This nagging sense of neglected responsibility and need of constant connectedness lasted for a couple of days – there were a few times I checked my cell phone service, just to see.  But, when my mind finally joined the rest of me, I experienced things in a profound way.
I remember the crisp air and how it slowly bit any exposed skin, the salty, dense smell of the sea, and the continuous lapping sound of the waves against our boat.  I saw beautiful “bubble netting whales,” Orca whales tending to their young, and bear fishing for salmon.  The glaciers that towered over us were crystal blue and made thunderous sounds of calving in the background.  Puffin birds and sea lions could be seen and heard competing for precious space on small rock islands.  The otherwise silence was inspiring; the pitch-dark evening sky relaxing.

My only “report to review” was how many bears I could spot and how many whales I could chase.  My only “pressure” was the difficulty of the hikes, learning to paddle board for the first time, and paddling my kayak upstream.  I truly did not consider my business, my clients or my work for seven straight days.

Once we were on the open water, being in the moment and true relaxation became addicting.

On the seventh day as we chugged closer to port, I wasn’t clinging to my phone and searching for cell phone service as I would have been before.  I was actually dreading the return because I had truly “let go” and let my mind fully experience things.

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My husband and me in Alaska.

The feeling of true relaxation became replaced with a feeling of dread.  But, when the time came to turn on my cell phone and let it catch up with all of the floating demands that awaited me, I realized something.  I realized that while I could no longer be in Alaska without my cell phone, I could choose to be present with the things around me.  I can notice familiar things in the same way I had noticed new ones on vacation.  I could savor the smell of the new autumn air or admire the city view my office window lends.  I recall how the “mother of mindfulness,” Ellen J. Langer advises to look at things in new ways; they become more exciting to you.  She even suggests we don’t have to go on a vacation to see new things; we simply need to look at the “same” things, and people, in our lives in new ways.  I must wonder why I had to go all the way to Alaska to figure that out.

I recall the “mother of mindfulness,” Ellen J. Langer advises to look at things in new ways and they become more exciting to you.

Like the humpback whales we watched bubble net feed, there are times where we must focus our efforts to “fish” with the group (work), like bears we must hibernate (rest and recharge), and like the caribou we must migrate (vacation or see and do new things).  So while we ebb and flow through our own schedules, we can be fully present and give each vital piece its proper attention.