Embracing Mystery


Judy Cannato begins her book, Field of Compassion, with a story about Nate Sears, a landscaper for a housing complex on Cape Cod. One morning he noticed a pilot whale heading straight for the shore. Shortly behind this whale were two more. Nate recognized that the whales were going to beach themselves. He waded out in the direction of the first whale as it became caught on a sand bar in waist deep water. The whale was thrashing, and its body was getting cut and rubbed raw on the sand.

Nate placed his hands on the whale and held them there. The whale became completely still. Nate then gently turned the whale around and pointed it toward the ocean, and it swam back out to sea. Nate completed this process with the other two whales. Although it is common for whales that have beached themselves to do so again, that did not appear to be the case with these creatures.

I love this story and have continued to think about it for quite a while. I believe it holds some lessons for us all:

You are the only instrument you have. Nate must have trusted his own instincts, because the action he took was calming and appropriate, saving three whales that would have otherwise perished. The only instruments he had were his head, heart and his presence as the instruments to make a change in the situation he was faced with. As a leader – more times than not – these are all you have to work with. You deal with whale-sized problems on a regular basis in which you must often be calm and trust your intuition as the only instrument in your toolkit.

We are all connected to each other and to our world in some profound and mysterious ways. It’s reasonable to think that these whales had never encountered a human before. Yet they didn’t fear Nate. They somehow sensed that he wanted to help. When he touched the first whale, there was an immediate bond of trust between them. The intention Nate set to help those whales may have passed through his head and his heart in a millisecond, but it was enough. Similarly, your intentions as a leader are often more important than the actions you take; others will sense them and they’ll color their impressions of you and impact your organization for good or for harm. Your very way of being impacts others’ way of being.

We must embrace mystery: I believe this is the most important point of the story. So much of the beauty and wonder in the world is not completely explainable with logic. There is some fascinating science that could explain what happened with Nate and the whales that has come to light through biology and physics. However, there will always be things in our world that can’t be explained. When you allow yourself to accept and embrace mystery, you also allow yourself to relax and let go. Letting go of the need to know is sometimes the most invigorating and calming act you can take, allowing you to stop striving and to simply live and lead.

Take a deep breath from time to time and observe the mystery around you. Your life – and your leadership – will be enhanced.

I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.