What Will You Do With Your One Precious And Wild Life?


(photo from Onbeing.org)

We lost a great American legend this week. Mary Oliver, Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winning Poet died Thursday at age 83.

Mary Oliver made poetry accessible. She opened up the world of poetry to many of us by writing with exquisitely descriptive language about nature and life. She wrote in ways that make sense, touch hearts and ignite the imagination. Her work was both simple and mystical. Reading her poems you feel that you are right there with her on her walks through the woods and you experience, as she did so profoundly, the sanctity of this earth. And as she muses about life in her writing, as the reader it is as if you are having an intimate conversation with a very wise friend.

One of her very famous lines: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” is from her poem, A Summer Day. It is a study in mindfulness and a challenge to every reader to awaken to the preciousness of life and the need for intentionality in our endeavor to achieve a fully lived life.

A Summer Day
“I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
How to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields, which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Her Instructions for living:
1. Pay attention.
2. Be astonished.
3. Tell about it.

She did many readings but rarely any interviews. Krista Tippett, on the podcast OnBeing was able to interview her three years ago. It is a rare and beautiful conversation. You can read it here, or download it to listen. https://onbeing.org/programs/mary-oliver-listening-to-the-world/

Another of her famous poems is Wild Geese, which begins with:

“You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.”

If you have never heard or read this poem in its entirety, you can listen to her read it here compliments of Maria Popova of brainpicker.

In our busy lives we can often get caught up in the roles we play, be it leader, parent, sister et al and forget the person who we are. We can take people and life for granted and forget to appreciate the richness of every moment in which we are alive. Great poetry, certainly that of Mary Oliver, gives us the opportunity to slow down and transcend our human foibles in order to touch the very best in ourselves and in others.

To live a life with this type of presence, gratitude and wonder was exactly what Mary Oliver did and she blessed the world with fifty years of poetry to help us do the same.

“When Death Comes”:
“When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.”

She most certainly did not simply visit this world. She has profoundly changed if for the better.
Thank you, blessed one. RIP .

Copyright 2019 Sheila Madden, Madden Coaching & Consulting


Mindfulness: Why It Matters For Leaders


Is there anyone reading this who would not like to be calmer, more composed, influential and level headed, especially in difficult situations? Mindfulness can get you there.

Mindfulness is your ticket to sustained equanimity, happiness and success as a leader and a person.

What is it exactly?

At its most basic level, mindfulness is the practice of paying attention in a way that creates space for insight. Insight is critical for success because it is where transformative ideas, products and services get created. This is the bedrock of your organization’s success.

But mindfulness leads to more than these material results. It opens the pathway to wisdom, compassion and, dare I use the 4 letter “L” word, love. And hey, couldn’t we use more of this right now?

Why Does It Matter Now More Than Ever?

Here are just two reasons:

1. There are unlimited benefits of technology and social media but there are also staggering unintended outcomes that we are now beginning to understand more fully: Huge increases in narcissism, rapid declines in empathy and compassion, isolation, challenges in creating meaningful relationships, increased ADD and ADHD to name a few. Mindfulness practice is a powerful and fast acting antidote for these consequences and one that is available to us all for free. Leaders everywhere (formal and informal) are in a position to expand people’s awareness of this solution and of encouraging and facilitating the practice of mindfulness in the workplace where we spend so much of our time and lives.

2. We are in a time of domestic and world- wide turbulence of various kinds (political, social, economic, environmental) and this has many people emotionally triggered. When we’re triggered we are out of balance and reactive. Reactivity perpetuates animosity, fear and anxiety. If we don’t have a way of regaining and maintaining balance from the inside out, we can’t be part of the solutions for these challenges. In fact, we perpetuate them. Leaders don’t just lead strategy and execution. We set the tone emotionally for our organizations. Our teams will do as we do, act as we act and show up as we show up. Doing it mindfully is critical for setting the standards of leading with respect and integrity and compassion. This, as we have seen in countless research projects, will lead to better financial and organization performance. Subsequently, it also leads to levels of cooperation that allow for problem solving of the most profound kind for the world.

What can you do NOW?
We each have to find our pathway to mindfulness. Here are some options and resources to consider:

1. Yoga that is spiritually based not exercise based.

2. Mindful Meditation: Meditation is NOT about eliminating your thoughts. It is about catching yourself more and more quickly when you mind becomes a runaway train and returning to the moment. It is a direct retraining of the brain. The push notification tech world we are all living in has fractured our attention to the moment. Mindfulness fixes this.

a. Read or listen on YouTube to some of the great teachers to understand more (Thich Nhat Hanh, Sharon Salzberg, Jon Kabat- Zinn)
b. Practice the old-fashioned way: sit and breathe.
c. Use Meditation apps:
Insight Timer: my favorite. The largest free library of meditations (Over 10,000) It also has talks and music and a huge base of worldwide teachers
Headspace: Good for beginners with lots of guided meditations and classes
Calm: Good for experienced meditators and also provides breathing exercises, visualization and guided sleep stories.

3. Learn from great, successful leaders who practice mindfulness and compassionate leadership like Jeff Weiner, CEO LinkedIn:

4. Gratitude Practice. Gratitude brings us into the moment instantly. I am taking a Grateful Living e-Course with Grateful Living. Org They also have a ton of other resources including e-cards to spread gratitude.

5. Attend a Wisdom 2.0 Conference. This is a fabulous gathering the focus of which is how to live with technology without it swallowing us whole. Check it out. Coming to San Francisco March 2019

To lead means to have followers. Our great responsibility and privilege as leaders is to use our leadership intentionally for the good of our teams, organizations and for the world. Every single one of us can make a difference by leading by example and becoming more mindful, present and dedicated to unlocking the potential good within ourselves and others.

Copyright 2018, Sheila Madden. All Rights Reserved.