“My ideas sometimes get the better of me. Before I clearly explain one, another comes to mind and seizes my attention….”
- Ellen Langer
I had to read Ellen Langer’s book Mindfulness my first semester in my applied communication studies graduate program. The assignment was for an organizational communication course, one where we tracked the history of communication in organizations as well as talked about ethics and – of course – mindfulness.
A definition of mindfulness might help in this post, for the concept can be a bit hard to understand at first blush. Various psychological traditions define mindfulness as “a psychological quality that involves bringing one’s complete attention to the present experience on a moment-to-moment basis, or involves paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, or involves a kind of nonelaborative, nonjudgmental, present-centered awareness in which each thought, feeling, or sensation that arises in the attentional field is acknowledged and accepted as it is” (Wikipedia 2013).
It seemed that we learned a lot of the mindfulness has gone out of everyday work. We plan abundantly for the future and what-ifs and maybes. But we fail to embrace – and make use of – those things that happen unplanned. Like the wonderful tweet about our school, or the thank you note from a graduate, or the discovery of a cluster of baby ducklings in the shrubbery. Each of these small things can help us make connections to our higher ed community, if we choose to embrace them in the moment.
This acknowledgement of mindfulness doesn’t mean that we don’t plan. In fact, without a plan to take care of some of the regular, everyday things at work, we wouldn’t be able to embrace happenstance.
For example, we plan for commencement coverage at Bowen every year, but we didn’t plan for a 2012 graduate to tweet a photo of his newborn son in a graduation cap with his regrets for not attending the event. It seems that his son was born earlier that week, and he had more important things to do. This graduate’s out-of-the-box participation in a well-planned event made the day even more special – and meaningful – for graduates, families, and those of us who work to get students to that point.
But we wouldn’t have even noticed his participation if we hadn’t planned strategically for engaging students, faculty, staff, and friends in the event.
As one of my professors would say, “Is this making sense to you?”
Strategic planning allows us to maintain a present-centered awareness of events. It lets us embrace the absurd and unexpected because we’re prepared for the expected.
Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh said, “Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.”
Planning allows us to do just that – without ignoring the spontaneous, the joyful, the daily good in each of our jobs.Read More