It is a joke among mediators that we are mistaken for meditators. Only an extra “t” stands between the two words. But, beyond this superficial similarity, the principles of mindfulness meditation and mediation share more in common than similar spelling. Both disciplines seek insight and awareness, both depend on attentiveness.
Mindfulness is the western world’s version of eastern religions’ awareness. In some branches of Buddhism, including Taoism and experiential Prajna, or meditation, awareness is known as zazen. Zazen, “an awakening,” is achieved through the practice of zen. Being awake to each moment allows us to be fully present and attentive to ourselves and those around us. According to mindfulness teachings, this calm awareness opens our hearts and frees us of judgments so that we can find kinship with all beings. Through mindfulness we can find peace within, create harmony in our communities and balance in our environment. The rewards for mindfulness are compassion, openness, and clarity - the three hallmarks of transformative mediation.
When mediators meet with disputing parties, we are privileged to be let into our clients’ lives when they may be most vulnerable. As mediators we must be alert to every nuance of their interaction so that by connecting with them, we can help them to make connections that will move them forward. Paying close attention to words, body language, the storyline, the slightest changes in facial expressions, allows us to read all of the signals in the room, to collect all of the information available to help the mediation participants more fully express themselves. Our mindful attention to what is going on in the room gives us access to deeper insight so that we can help those involved identify all of their choices.
Mindfulness must be nurtured daily. It is not an innate trait that we are born with. To be mindful during a prolonged and intense conversation takes focus and mental preparation. A mediator friend of mine pauses deliberately to center himself before leaving his office to greet mediation clients in the lobby. He explains that he uses this moment to remind himself of why he is a mediator. On the credenza in his office he keeps another reminder, a framed copy of the Prayer of St. Francis. It begins, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”
To be mindful mediators, each of us must find our own place of centeredness before entering the mediation room. For some of us it will be a mindfulness practice through yoga or meditation, prayer, or simple breath work. Whatever it is, our intentional practices connect us to ourselves so that we can better connect with others. The takeaway is that mindfulness awakens our hearts and minds to the myriad opportunities for peace that each moment in a mediation may offer.
To read more about Mindfulness Meditation
To read the Prayer of St. Francis