The Essential 'Carry On' of Mindfulness

Mindfulness is non-judgmental, moment-to-moment awareness.
This post is part of a series on Cultivating Leadership Presence through Mindfulness. We are happy to announce the opening of registration for an early April, New York-based Mindful Leadership Retreat. For details, visit

This blog was written by a participant at a recent Institute for Mindful Leadership retreat

Traveling for work or play (or a combination of the two!) is something that brings great enjoyment to many of us. The process of packing, suitcases, luggage restrictions and deciding "what to bring" is a frequent and important part of the travel process.

As global consultant and executive coach, like many of you, I travel quite frequently for work. My work takes me to places in the U.S. and abroad, and at times I am on the road at least 50% of the time.

I am not completely new to contemplative practices, nor to mindfulness and meditation. I fully embrace and seek out the quiet and peace of temples and churches around the world. I am aware of the internal alchemy that occurs when I am in a peaceful place. I enjoy the rituals of incense and candles, statues and altars of many different religious traditions.

Practically, I am aware that I am not always able to visit pagodas, temples or churches, and I cannot always light candles and incense like I am able to do in the comfort of my own home. The recent Cultivating Leadership Presence Through Mindfulness retreat I attended was a gift in many ways. It was a time to strengthen my mindfulness practice, connect with others, learn new skills and learn about integrating these practices into my life in very specific ways. Like that "carry on" bag we bring on the plane or train that has all of what we need, I learned more of how to have the skills and techniques become the essential "carry on."

I did not realize how soon I would be able to practice using this "carry on." The day after the retreat, I left for South America to work on a project. I was scheduled to give a speech to 300 people about innovation, diversity and the future of work. When I arrived in the late evening, I was told that my luggage had not arrived, but would arrive early the next morning. We made sure we told them that we needed it in the morning, since I had a presentation in the early afternoon.

You might see where this is going... the luggage did not arrive. The hotel tried to help me, and even told the airline that I needed to look "elegant" for this presentation. Still no luggage. I went into action mode and found a local mall where I was told I might be able to find clothes, shoes and toiletries.

After searching in several stores for a couple of hours, consistently looking at my watch AND trying to piece together what I would need for my speech, I took what Janice might describe as a "purposeful pause," and decided that I would go back to my hotel and make whatever I had with me, and what I had purchased up to that point, work. I told myself that it be would be OK. As I drove back in a taxi to the hotel, I noted my level of calmness.

A basic shawl and a vintage brooch (both that I had all along) became my "additions" to a very basic outfit. I spent a little extra time on my make-up, and most importantly, continued to breathe. After my shopping and wardrobe adventure, I was even more grateful that I had added a couple of slides and notes about mindfulness in our very busy and fast-paced world to my presentation.

I headed to the event location and again noted my level of calmness.

After my speech, one of the organizers came up to me and thanked me for being a part of the event. Her gracious feedback was affirming. Funny enough, she said she had heard that I lost my luggage, and asked how I had been able to find such a nice outfit so quickly. I smiled, then smiled again. I probably could have answered that it was, "in my Mindfulness carry on."

Even as an experienced traveler, I believe that if not for the mindful leadership retreat, I would have had a very different reaction to the lost luggage/shopping adventure that I experienced. Luggage will be lost, planes will delayed and there will be situations that we cannot prepare for or control.

Some of the many items in my "carry on of mindfulness" that I learned/was reminded of on retreat and I have continued to embrace include:

• "Focusing on the Breath." Wherever I am, and whatever is happening, I can always go back to the breath, which allows me to be in the present moment.

• "Enjoying my own company." Since a lot of the travel that I do is often alone, I am usually eating meals alone in the hotel or in a restaurant. During meals, it could be quite common for me to be using at least one device. During our time of silence at the retreat, we ate in silence. No devices, no talking, just mindful eating. I never thought about putting down the devices as a way to "enjoy my own company." I now try to not use devices when I am eating. I am not always successful, but I do find that I am using the devices much less than I did.

• "Gentling into the Day." At the retreat, we would wake up and spend time in silence or meditating as we started our day. Janice and Marianne would often use the language of "gentling into the day" as a way to think about creating a peaceful and mindful beginning to my day that allows me focus and not be pulled into email messages, the news or my own swirling thoughts right away.

• The power and possibility of intentional communities, even if they are only temporary. The spirit of community of purpose at the retreat was something that I greatly appreciated. I enjoyed meeting the other participants from around the world. We connected with each other, shared with each other and learned with each other. Much of the research about the future of work talks about working groups/teams that will come together on a project focused and often temporary basis much more frequently than what we have seen. As we learned about the Institute for Mindful Leadership's fundamentals of leadership excellence (focus, clarity, compassion and creativity) we practiced with each other in a way that allowed each person to be heard and valued. As a person committed to diversity and inclusion, (with a hyper-sensitive radar to power/privilege, respect and group dynamics,) I was aware of how the unique space and processes that were created, inherently seemed to include a valuing for our difference and similarities.

I wish you luck and with your future travel both near and far. As you pack for your trip(s), I hope that you can explore including the "carry on of Mindfulness."

Tanya M. Odom, Ed.M. is a global consultant, writer, civil rights advocate, and executive coach based in NYC