By Dan R Ebener
Editor’s Note: This is the sixth in a series of articles by Dan Ebener on leadership in the Catholic Church. They are excerpts from his latest book, Pastoral Leadership: How to Lead in a Catholic Parish.
Mindfulness is thinking about our thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Mindfulness helps us to capture the moment, be aware of our thoughts and conscious of the activity in our brains. We are reminded to awaken mindfully, walk mindfully, pray mindfully, pause mindfully and wait mindfully.
When leading others, mindfulness helps us to listen intently and empathetically to what the other person is saying, hearing that person as if for the first time, being fully present to them, letting their words soak in and intuiting their emotions with gentleness and care.
We pay attention to what we are sensitive to. For example, some people are very sensitive to a crying baby in church. They might even turn and glare at the parents. Others might find it so normal that they barely notice. Still others might be so dialed into the liturgy that the crying does not reach their conscious attention.
We can practice selective attention by choosing our focus -- and we can strengthen this ability with practice!
We can choose to pay attention to the sense of hearing, sight, smell, taste or touch. We can change our perception of reality by choosing what we pay attention to.
When you are in a meeting, mindfulness cultivates self-awareness of your thoughts, emotions and interactions. You can look at everything being said and done with greater curiosity, empathy and humility. You can develop new habits of being open to new viewpoints. You can engage the heart and become kinder toward others, forgiving instead of judging, focusing on the positive and the beautiful, with intent and purpose.
A well-formed conscience can help focus our attention, guide our behavior and connect us to a higher purpose. This is the work of the prefrontal cortex and its neurological connection to the heart. Engaging the mind is critical for pastoral leadership.