How Being Mindful Can Change The World

How Being Mindful Can Change The World

“… beyond the immediate message of the person, no matter what that might be, there is the universal.”    –Carl Rogers

An Unexpected Inspiration

One evening my family and I stumbled into Half Price Books in Redmond, WA, after the fabulous happy hour at a local restaurant. We often walk around while slightly “happy” and of course mindful 😉 walk just for fun and to walk off a bit of joy, if you know what I mean.

On the rare occasion I happen to be in a bookstore, I browse through the self-help and psychology books since that’s my interest, looking for tasty bits, inspiration, insights, etc.

On this occasion, I happened upon “A Way of Being” by the founder of humanist psychology “Carl Rogers.” I found something that validated not only my beliefs but also my personal experience in a surprising way. It felt like I had discovered a kindred spirit, actually. All too rare an experience.

Rogers described his experience listening to others in a way that really resonated with me:

There is another peculiar satisfaction in hearing someone: It is like listening to the music of the spheres, because beyond the immediate message of the person, no matter what that might be, there is the universal. Hidden in all of the personal communications which I really hear there seem to be orderly psychological laws, aspects of the same order we find the universe as a whole. So there is both the satisfaction of hearing this person and also the satisfaction of feeling one’s self in touch with what is universally true.

Those who have been with me in groups have heard me say something like “for me, being in a group is like being at a symphony. Each person is their own unique instrument and has a particular sound or “vibe,” and this blends and harmonizes with others, or are perhaps discordant. Each individual is unique and contributes to the overall sense of the group – but the key thing is that it is a very rich and satisfying experience overall. One I enjoy very much.” So I was rather astonished to read a similar sentiment from Rodgers.

Listening to “who” rather than “what”

The key point I’m making is: the story of another person is not as important as you might think. That is my chief objection to “talk” therapy – it is pretty inefficient when you can cut through the crap and get the essence of a person by listening to the “whole.” A good therapist or coach is paying attention not only to the story but the bigger picture. The who. The context of who they are with their problems acting as metaphors for bigger issues they struggle with, rather than problems to solve.

There are, of course, important stories that need to be heard- where telling the story is the work, but that is another matter. In most cases, it’s not the details that matter – it’s the WHO THAT IS SPEAKING. What are they saying about their worldview? what’s important to them? What are they fighting for? What are they crushed by?

They will tell you a thousand ways without words if you look and are present for it. And when you speak to someone coming from that kind of awareness, everything changes.

Seeing Through

The late Ron Kurtz, the creator of the Hakomi method of psychotherapy, used to teach a workshop called Loving Presence. I attended a facilitator training he conducted for this workshop and recall a particularly powerful experience that stays with me to this day.

There was an exercise called “Seeing Through” where you break into small groups. One person is selected to be the actor. The others are observers. Observers are to be present with their experience of the actor and “see” the actor directly and clearly, without judgment. The actor is directed to take a walk a few steps across the room and on the way, pick up any object lying around, take a few more steps, then put it down. Then returning in silence to the small group of observers, sit down in front of them and recite – “Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was white as snow.”

(Keep in mind this exercise occurs after hours of mindful work. We were primed for this kind of exercise. This isn’t something we were asked to do just walking in off the street. It wouldn’t work if so.)

In my group, the actor was a very large, German man who was quiet, and friendly in the group. Did I mention he was large? Pro football defensive-back large. Duck your head at the door large. Yet, he had a gentle voice and delicate demeanor that stood in stark contrast to his stature. A true gentle giant. That had gotten my attention earlier.

The difference in his voice and his physical body was like seeing a woman that could be a supermodel going out of her way to make herself unattractive and small – you KNOW something is going on there. Contrasts stand out if you look for them, and they matter.

The observers took a moment to get mindful and watched him as he gently got up and walked across the room in carefully measured steps. Then very, very carefully, he picked up a glass of water that looked tiny in his hands. He then sat down slowly and in front of us, and in a soft voice, almost like he was talking to his granddaughter, said, “Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was white as snow.” We were all silent for a few moments pondering this experience.

What stood out to me was how exceedingly careful this big guy was in his movements. He was big, but not graceful. It seemed as if he was aware of every part of his body and afraid he would bump something and have it crash. I thought – of course, he has learned to be this careful. He is a big guy, if he bumps something, it matters.

The phrase “bull in a china shop” came to mind, but imagine a self-aware bull moving through a china shop in a way so as not to disturb anything. That was this guy. And there must be a reason why he was so self-aware of this.

I took a chance, and let my curiosity lead, which, (btw, is one of the coaching tips in is one of my secrets for connecting with people.

I said to him, “I wonder. The way you move so carefully. And you are a big man moving through the world. I don’t know, but it seems like you may be so careful because you know what it’s like to hurt someone and not mean to.”

You could almost hear a depth charge go off deep underwater.

There was silence as he look at me very intently, very still. And gently began to cry as he said simply “Yes.” To be seen like that and have one’s core experience named in such a way can be very moving.

He had learned, “If I am not careful, people will be hurt.” And that was the way he walked through the world. Wow. What would it be like to walk through the world with this hyper-vigilance of how you moved physically, all the time, because if you don’t – someone might get hurt? I could only imagine what it might feel like for such a person to be told “you can relax now” and it actually be true.

This was a powerful experience for all of us in the group.

This experience is a good example of what can happen when you are in the right state of mind (I would say these days, the right state of being). Mindfully observing someone do simple actions can reveal a great deal about them.

Rogers said,

“…because beyond the immediate message of the person, no matter what that might be, there is the universal.”

How to Change the World

When you are mindful and present with another person, you can hear and see the universal speaking and moving through them, and talking to the universal in you. When you are in touch with and respond from a place of being connected to such a unifying force – it changes you. It changes them. It changes everything.

In this way, the world can be changed. From such a simple act as just being present and really listening – while it may seem like something very passive – it is quite the opposite. Engage presence is extremely active and connecting. A unifying force in a divisive age. This is the very heart of compassionate, mindful communication. It will change you. It will change others. It will change the world. There is no other way home.

How Mindfulness Helps You Make Meaningful Moments In Online Meetings

How Mindfulness Helps You Make Meaningful Moments In Online Meetings

With Covid, we’ve all been spending quite a bit of time in virtual meetings. Using mindfulness during COVID is especially important to help us feel more connected and notice great moments that can otherwise pass by. I’ve found that without some adjustments, the quality of personal connection in virtual meetings can suffer from what I’ve grown accustomed to in live meetings. The good news is that with a little tweaking of some mindful practices and communication skills, you can indeed create connections and have rich experiences in virtual meetings. Here are some things I’m doing that might be helpful for you as well.

Note: A bigger discussion on this can be found in the paper 8 Ways to Be More Mindful In Virtual Meetings. 

Get Mindful Before You Start

Virtual meetings provide an excellent opportunity to be alone and get mindful before a meeting. It’s a great help to gather your bits before you go online. Just take a minute before you click Join the Meeting and think about what you’re getting ready to do. Take a breath. Notice how you’re feeling. Think about who’s attending and remind yourself to be present. I like to pre-visualize the meeting screen and give myself a moment to consider each person attending. How does it feel? What do I have going on with them? What topics am I expected to address? Still angry about that last email from someone? It’s all good. Just part of the landscape you are about to enter. There are neurological reasons for this. Pre-visualizing your meeting and thinking it through a bit sets you up for a smoother transition to the meeting environment once it begins.


In a face-to-face meeting, we’re all in the same room having the same environmental experience. That’s not so with virtual meetings. Each person is in a unique environment and this has a significant impact on the conversation and each individual’s experience. While something is lost here, something is gained. One of the things I have grown to appreciate is that in virtual meetings with video, you get to peer for a while into people’s personal spaces – spaces you don’t usually see, yet are very much part of their everyday life. In this way, you learn something about another person’s life is like. Something that was previously private or at least, not visible to you in your day-to-day engagement with them. In a way, we are all a bit more vulnerable when people can see your kitchen or home office. It’s personal.

Face Time

There is far less non-verbal information available in a virtual meeting with video than in a live meeting. As a result, whatever you can see has an amplified significance. Respecting this, you would be wise to take some time to ensure you have good lighting, check your camera frame for what others are seeing, and keep an eye on how you look in your video feed. Make sure your face is in the frame!

I’ve spent a lot of time talking to people who have only half a face in the picture, and I’ve noticed that it changes how I interact with them. I can’t help but wonder, “don’t they notice?” “Don’t they care if I (or we) can see them?” “Why don’t they adjust it?” “They look silly with only a nose and eyes.” If those questions start to get in my way of being present with them, I will say something like, “Stacey, before we proceed, it would help me if I can see you better. Can you adjust the picture to have more of you in the frame?” Be brave about asking for what helps you create better connections.

During a meeting, avoid looking away from the camera or engaging in other activities for an extended period.  In one virtual meeting I attended, the group leader spent the best part of the hour checking email, sitting sideways to the camera. The group felt pretty dismissed by his behavior and it had a significant adverse effect on the organization. Don’t be that guy. Be aware that your non-verbal behavior speaks volumes. Pay attention, mindfully of course, to the people who are giving their time to be present.

Co-ordinating who speaks

In an online group meeting, you may have noticed it’s not as easy to figure out who will speak next as it is in a face-to-face meeting. I believe this is because of the missing body language clues mentioned earlier. People are pretty gracious about this in general, but in a meeting of any size, it helps a lot to have a coordinator who notes who wants to speak then directs the activity, “Mark, then Cyrus, then Sassan.” Another tip is to slow it down a bit and give a breath between comments, so collision for focus isn’t as likely.


Take a mindful moment before the meeting and bring that with you when the meeting starts. Notice the rooms you see and people’s environment. It can be quite helpful to see a bit of their private world. Realize that you have limited non-verbal information and notice how that changes the flow of the conversation. Give extra attention to your video appearance in the meeting, realizing that how you “present” to people influences the way they communicate with you. Finally, take note and take charge, if necessary, if people start speaking simultaneously. This is easy to get out of hand and is best to intervene early. Often, slowing things down yields great benefits in quality and productivity.

The Buddhist priest Thich Nhat Hanh is often quoted saying, “If you love someone, the greatest gift you can give them is your presence.” I love this quote and, if I may be so bold, offer that you needn’t reserve your presence for loved ones. Your relationships and conversations with co-workers, colleagues, and casual friends will benefit immensely from your intentional presence and mindfully applied communications skills. The same high-quality connection and conversations that seem easier in live meetings can be achieved virtually as well – with some mindful adjustments.

There are some expanded thoughts on this topic in the paper:  8 Ways to Be More Mindful In Virtual Meetings.