Unlocking the Heart and Soul of Remarkable Leadership, Keith Merron
Remarkable Leadership

The Poet’s Corner – The Smallest Thing – by Robert McDowell

The Smallest Thing

The Vietnamese monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, wrote this verse about drinking tea.

This cup of tea in my two hands,
mindfulness is held uprightly.
My body and mind dwell
in the very here and now.

Like a drop of clear water, Hahn’s poetry slows us down, asking us to take stock, to see, to really see. No action is too small and no observation is too small for mindful recognition.

I see a spot on my kitchen floor. Rather than race by, ignoring it, I dampen a paper towel and wipe it clean. As I select a shirt to wear for the day from my closet, I notice a fallen hanger. I slow down, pick it up, and hang it from the rod. Then I notice all the hangers, wire, wood, plastic, some sagging from age or weight, and I give thanks for the ceaseless work they do supporting my clothes, keeping them wrinkle-free and in a state of laundered readiness. I see them, all of them, and I smile.

Out in the day, I observe a young staff member pausing on a path to bend down and pick up a piece of cardboard. He is very busy at the retreat Center because we’re preparing to welcome twenty-five yogis tomorrow for a 27-day retreat, but he makes time to pick up a piece of cardboard. He sees something that shouldn’t be there, and he accepts responsibility for picking it up, for burnishing the path, for caring for the Center as if it were his own. And indeed it is.

Each of us owns our job, our place of work, as deeply as we own ourselves. Slowing down, we perceive what is, and we accept responsibility. This is what Hahn means by “mindfulness is held uprightly.” This is what families need, what governments need. This is how we embody upright living and upright leadership.

So, slow down, just a little. Every second of every day is an opportunity to see, to really see.