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Cultivating Safe Spaces
I first heard about the intersection between mindfulness and leadership in Winter 2021 in one of the readings I did for the ALA 175 Leadership Lab. At first, I wondered how they could be related because, in my mind, they both are completely different and exist in different realms. That was how I was intrigued. As soon as I got to the retreat, I was proved wrong.
The first and maybe one of my favorite activities we did during the retreat was a session with Jennifer Yim where we played the American Dream Board Game. It made me realize that sometimes privileges that come with my identity are often overlooked until it is stripped away. During the game, we had to pick a character that is different from ours, and we had chance cards where we’d come across different situations in life where a certain community would be affected while some progressed up the ladder. During the debrief, I truly realized the importance of having people from different backgrounds as leaders or policymakers, so we could make a policy and make structural changes without negatively impacting a community even when we had no intention to harm them in the first place. Intention and impact move together more frequently than we thought.
Another interesting activity that we did was a contemplative arts practice by Emily Olson where we had to walk around the room and find things to look at for a couple of minutes, and then we’d come back and write a poem about it. I wrote mine about a book, a canvas, and a box of colored pens. As a college student, I frequently see things without putting meaning behind them and rarely have time to reflect on a particular object or encounter I had during the day. Being able to do the activity meant a lot to me, as my body felt so much lighter being able to express myself in different mediums.
I found the session by Dr. Ram Mahalingam, the Director of BLI, to be very useful for me. I could resonate with a lot of the terms we discussed. Some mindful mindset practices that I could resonate with the most are cultural humility and negative capability. It is very important to acknowledge that things don’t go your way all the time and most importantly, I have to know how to bounce back and find comfort in things that are unfamiliar to me.
I certainly walked away from the retreat with a lot of takeaways. One of the goals that I set for myself was to do more consistent journaling, and I am proud to say that I have been able to engage with it more frequently than I did before the retreat. I have also been able to reflect on a lot of things that happened in daily life that made it so much easier for me to deal with uncertainty and be able to be more present. Going to the retreat was a rewarding experience for me. I look forward to learning more about how to be a mindful leader through the fellowship and developing my toolkit to make sure I could cultivate a safe space for people regardless of their identities in whatever role I may take in the future.
- Mas Razak
After going on the mindful retreat with BLI, I found that much of the free time given throughout the day allowed for me to really ground myself where I was at the moment without the worry of time management or schedule-keeping. I enjoyed the free time that I had to paint and make art without the stress of receiving a grade or a judgment, and I even found myself taking time to start the books that I had been intending to open for months. The retreat was very special to me in the sense that I always felt relaxed while being able to absorb my surroundings and appreciate the nature that was around me. My time on the trip really opened my eyes to the way that I constantly plan my days and weeks around timed scheduling down to the minute, and how all of that planning and busyness each day can be so draining even without me realizing it. During the retreat, I honestly rarely found myself checking my phone at all, not even to check the time throughout the day, which was a very new and unfamiliar experience. The ease at which I was able to fall into the pace of waking in the morning and spending my day doing whatever I felt I wanted to accomplish was something that I cannot say that I’ve really been able to experience as a student on campus (and in general), and I really appreciate that the retreat was able to give me so much insight on what it means to really be aware of myself and my own goals and interests. I’m glad to be able to walk away from the retreat with a greater sense of mindful awareness of where I am, where I’d like to be, and how I can achieve my personal goals with more holistic approaches of relaxation and balance of the mind and body.
- Darica Brazier
Joining the Barger Leadership Institute was easily one of the best decisions I’ve made at the University of Michigan. As a current sophomore, I started college during the pandemic, which made it really hard to build the social network that’s so important during undergrad. I have been able to find a lot of friends in the BLI and was able to meet even more incredible students during the Mindful Leader Retreat. As an out-of-state student, having an exciting opportunity during Fall Break, which was too short for me to go home, was awesome. I was expecting a relaxing weekend, hoping to make a new friend or two, and wanting to learn something about mindfulness. I got so much more than I had anticipated.
During the retreat, I made deep and meaningful connections with a lot of people. The small cohort, mindful setting, and length of the retreat allowed us to get close. I had extremely enriching conversations with people about wellness, health equity, etc., and many laid-back conversations that were humorous and fun. I got really close with another Peer Facilitator on the teaching team and am so grateful for that friendship. Being around each other so much during the retreat, having lots of designated free time, and the built-in group arts/activities allowed me to have fantastic conversations with every single person that attended the retreat. I have rarely had such an experience where I can cultivate so many meaningful connections so quickly. I found that part of the retreat so valuable. Having the retreat before the Mindful Leader Fellowship made us so much closer and more open with each other, which will be great for enriching the fellowship cohort.
Every activity and guest speaker was clearly chosen with great care, and the balance created an amazing learning experience. Learning about cultural humility and gratitude are valuable skills that are so important for personal wellness and leadership. I feel like I can take so much of what was taught at the retreat into both my personal life and career. The breathing exercises, meditations, journaling practices, mindful mindset lectures, and silent reflection time were really cool to learn. As a college student, having those skills to take care of myself and make my experiences and interactions valuable is great to have learned early in my undergraduate experience.
Overall, I think I’m going to take away from the retreat an incredible self-care skill set, leadership capabilities, and personal connections I’m sure will last. I’m so glad I went on this retreat, and highly recommend it to any students in BLI!
- Becky Woolf