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Mindful Leadership

The Greatest Gift of All…When It Matters Most

In my last blog I referred to some interesting research where “neuroscientists have found evidence to suggest that feeling powerful, dampens a part of the brain that helps with empathy”.

But have you noticed that there are people who appear to be able to express compassion and everything that it entails, under very difficult circumstances.  How does this compassion manifest? What does it look like? And why does it matter?

Health care, education, and dealing with individuals with special needs are all example where difficult circumstances can occur on a regular basis.  In a business context, a challenging economy or a fiercely competitive environment can also create a great deal of stress, as can a merger or acquisition.   This is where it becomes most important to make every effort to be even more mindful than we might normally be. The simple reason is that stress or distress tend to cause us to be less present, more locked in our own minds and, therefore, less cognizant of the needs of others, and less likely to listen.

I’ll share with you a profound experience I had a few weeks ago to illustrate pure compassion and presence, under the most difficult of circumstances.  A few weeks ago I had the privilege of spending significant time at the Baycrest Palliative Unit in Toronto.  In this special place, people are near the end of life and they know it. Death is a topic most people find enormously difficult.  We know we will all die, but, somehow there is such great discomfort and pain in the topic and indeed, the word itself, that we don’t speak about it deeply and openly.

So picture working with people that are dying and their families, hour after hour, day after day.  What does that look like? What does it feel like?

What I witnessed was nothing short of deep beauty and Grace.  Dr. Daphna Grossman, the nurses and, in fact, all the staff where “angels” in the most sacred sense.  They came in to care for and support the person that was soon to pass on and the family with a compassion I have rarely witnessed in my life.  I would ponder this as I left the hospital each day and felt truly privileged to be touched by these very special people.

Moment by moment they had unwavering compassion.  This meant that no matter how difficult the situation, they continued to be of service.  It was clear they were walking in the shoes of the people they served.  But in order to do that, they needed to be fully present, in this moment.  This meant that no matter what crisis arose they stayed with what was arising…no escape.  The most important manifestation of this was their constant listening, deep listening for what could barely be perceived.  At a certain point the patient was unable to speak or move and it meant that minute eye signals or body movements had to be noticed.  They noticed them all.  And finally, one of the most remarkable things was that as busy as they were, as critical as the situation was, no one rushed.  They did one thing at a time, fully.  It was Grace in action.

It was truly remarkable, pure compassion and presence.

As I mention in Mindful Leadership, the 9 ways to be a Mindful leader are all interconnected, one way, not more important than another.  It took the ability to be present and to listen, in order to be able to be compassionate.  And it took being able to maintain an open heart, in the most difficult of circumstances, to fully serve other fellow human beings, at the most vulnerable time of all.  In fact, in that circumstance, the medical staff was in a position of great power, but rather than be less empathetic they expressed deep compassion, the greatest gift of all…when it mattered most.

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