When Klia Bassing worked in international development at the World Bank she noticed a pattern.
“There were days when I would come out of work and it’d feel like I was coming out of a trance,” said the 40-year-old Kalorama resident.
But she also saw that people “came alive” on bring-your-child-to-work days, and it got her thinking: How can people come alive with energy at work without having to bring in their kid?
A practitioner of mindfulness meditation, Bassing found the discipline helped her, and she wanted to help others stay alert, so she started Visit Yourself at Work, to help workplace decision-makers.
What is mindfulness meditation?
Mindfulness is the friendly awareness of the present moment, so that means being aware of thoughts and sensations in the body, without judging ourselves for it.
Mindfulness meditation is the intentional practice of mindfulness where you’re not doing anything else but being mindful. It is possible to be mindful while doing other things, like being in a difficult conversation with a colleague. One can be aware of what the thoughts are, and what it feels like to breathe and how emotions feel in the body. That’s mindfulness. It’s just not mindfulness meditation because you are doing something else other than just being mindful.
How does your practice of mindfulness meditation relate to your Jewish identity?
I grew up in a family that wasn’t at all observant or practicing, so it’s still a question for me what it means to have a Jewish identity. For most of my life there has been a longing to feel like I belong to something, and I haven’t quite found that. I do know when I visited Israel, and Jerusalem in particular, I suddenly had that sense of belonging I hadn’t had before, and everything was somehow familiar in a way that was surprising to me. I think I’m seeking that same kind of belonging when I practice mindfulness. It’s like I’m coming home to myself.
What is it that attracts people to your practice of meditation?
The feedback I’ve gotten from people in my classes is that I bring a realness. I’m not afraid to show my own struggles and that in turn allows them to be less judgmental of themselves. I think a lot of us are going around thinking we’re not doing life quite right and that other people seem to have it down. When I’m able to model being OK with my own humanness and my own struggles, it allows everyone else to be OK with themselves too.
I took the path of getting tenderized by what’s been difficult as opposed to bitter. I carry with me this awareness that we’re all going through really difficult things and I feel a lot of compassion. Otherwise, I bring a lot of humor because that’s really healing. Compassion and humor bring a lot of healing.
What do you mean by getting tenderized instead of getting bitter?
I would say getting bitter means holding a story that nothing bad should ever happen to me, and when it does it’s because other people are just inherently evil or bad themselves — as opposed to them having their own histories and fears and unresolved issues that have made them show up in the world in a certain way that is sometimes harmful to others.
So I can — and it’s taken a lot of time — but I’m able to hold that people who are harming are doing that because they are really hurting inside and they may not even know it. It doesn’t mean I have to invite them into my life. I just need to make sure I’m taking care of myself and having healthy boundaries whenever possible. But I don’t need to think of them as evil and bad as much as I can disagree and even take action to stop harmful behaviors. So, that keeps me from being bitter, remembering the nuances of human existence and that keeps me tender as well.