This past July my wife and I had the opportunity to hike a portion of the Camino de Santiago in Spain. For eight days we walked an average of 25 km per day in 40-degree Celsius heat. While the experience was physically challenging, it was spiritually rejuvenating and rewarding.
On our way out of Torres Del Rio we passed a rock garden where fellow “perigrinos” (“perigrino” is the Spanish word for “pilgrim”) had left messages on scraps of paper wedged under stones. One note caught my attention: “In the moment, take a moment.”
Disconnected from work, my iPhone and the frenetic pace of Toronto, I was immersed fully in the moment.
I have written in the past about how “being present” (or, in the moment) is the single-most important ingredient I bring to a mediation. Pre-mediation planning and a thorough review of the parties’ materials should be central to every mediator’s preparation. What separates good mediators from the great ones is the ability to be fully engaged, focused, connected and responsive to the fluid needs of the participants. Accomplishing that requires mindfulness.
In this piece, I explore what it means to be mindful and the important role it plays in my mediation practice.
WHAT MINDFULNESS LOOKS LIKE
Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “[…] awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgementally.”
In their book Restorative Justice Dialogue: An Essential Guide for Research and Practice, Dr. Mark Umbreit and Dr. Marilyn Armour comment on the four qualities that therapist and mediator Lois Gold identified to describe the mindful mediator.
Umbreit and Armour suggest that mediators need to “clean away the clutter” from their minds before they can listen and connect fully. Joel Lee, a law professor at the University of Singapore, suggests in his article, Mindfulness and Mediation, that parties can sense when a mediator is emotionally unbalanced or stressed.
Mediators are no different than anyone else. We struggle with managing work/life balance. But, when parties arrive at mediation they deserve and expect a mediator who is fully attentive and focused on their needs.
When I lose my “centre”, I try to take time out to reflect, recharge and re-set so I’m equipped to deliver my best self at the mediation table. A brisk walk, a favourite yoga pose or meditative deep breathing help bring me back to my centre.
Being connected to one’s governing values, beliefs and highest purpose
During my time as a litigator, I often thought that my best qualities were underutilized. While I enjoyed the challenge of being an advocate, I had discovered that my problem solving skills and passion for helping others through conflict was the perfect fit for mediation practice.
A common trait amongst mediators is a commitment to helping others and making the world a better place, one dispute at a time. The fulfillment I derive from empowering those in conflict to work towards resolution energizes and sustains me and I strive to bring that positive energy and authenticity to every mediation process I manage.
Making contact with the humanity of the participants
The late Dr. Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, once wrote, “[…] most people listen with the intent to reply, not to understand.” However, in order to “deeply understand another human being,” Covey suggests we must “seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
The mindful mediator values the power of active and empathetic listening to establish a human connection with the participants. It is only through establishing this connection that the mediator can gain the participants’ trust and acquire insight into and a deeper understanding of their hopes and concerns arising out of the conflict.
Umbreit and Armour define “congruence” as being emotionally honest with yourself so “there is a consistency in your words, feelings, body and facial expressions and actions.” Consistency can only be achieved when your ideal self is congruent with your actual behaviour. A mediator who promotes the importance of active listening but doesn’t model that behaviour through their own actions is not practicing mindfully.
IN THE MOMENT, TAKE A MOMENT
Jumping from moment to moment has become the new normal. The most popular apps on our phones are those that let us scroll through snapshots of moments quickly and without much thought. But, can we truly be in the moment if we allow ourselves to be distracted by the incessant beeps and buzzes of cell phones and competing priorities?
My experience on the Camino reminded me of the importance of dialing back and experiencing each moment – both as a means of recharging and recalibrating and as the basis for affirming that a commitment to mindfulness rests at the core of my mediation practice. I don’t have it all figured out yet, but I continue to mindfully work at it.