Meditation Muddled by Saving the Starfish

I often talk with my coaching clients about “heads-up” versus “heads-down” time. Heads-up time is when leaders shift from doing to being, allowing time to think, to meditate. Heads-down down is the everyday doing. As leaders we need both, but too often we find ourselves stuck in heads-down.

This morning I took a walk on the beach, my happy place. My intention was to have a walking meditation. Within a few steps I glanced down and saw a starfish stuck on dry sand hoping, I imagine, to get back to an ever-lowering tide. I felt I had to help it.

Very quickly my walking meditation turned into a starfish rescue mission! I kept my head down and found at least a dozen more to save.

Was this wrong? It depends. My intention for this walk was to be heads-up, enjoying the many sights of the area: birds, dolphin, water, boats, clouds, etc. By simply looking down and seeing one issue, I was derailed. My habit to solve problems kicked in, and I saw a problem that I determined needed me to fix it. I was instantly sucked into heads-down time.
Upon reflection, I wondered, “Was important for ME to help the starfish? Was I the right person to do this?” My answer is no; this was nature doing nature. My need to be needed took me away from important heads-up time to solve a problem that didn’t even need solving, let alone need ME to do it.

Leaders need heads-up time, and our organizations need us to have it, too. The best leaders let their teams take care of the figurative starfish, they know best how anyway!

Lynn Torossian
About the author

Lynn is a transformational healthcare leader with over 30 years of experience leading high performing teams and building successful organizations. She served as the CEO of multiple hospitals, in three different healthcare systems, as well as a system level finance executive.
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