Proudly Saying “Yes” to Executive Director of SIYLI
Reflection on My 9 Years at SIYLI
Looking out over the bluffs at the crashing Pacific Ocean, my colleague and I comment on the beauty of unbridled nature, as I hand a teething cracker to the toddler strapped to my back. We are hiking on the coastline just north of San Francisco for a Staff Off-Site day, and I was graciously invited to bring along my 15-month-old son for the ride. We share a lunch and enjoy a ride home discussing the best ways to practice eyes-open meditation while driving. I am inspired by the embodiment of practice my colleagues are committed to. It’s 2014 and only six months into my journey at SIYLI.
A couple of years later at a staff meeting, we practice listening mindfully in paired conversations, during a financially difficult time for the organization. We are invited by our leader at the time, Marc Lesser, to reflect with one another, “My relationship with money is…” and each person gets 3 minutes of uninterrupted time to respond. We invite this as a way to bring insight into how the current situation may be interpreted through our conditioning.
In another moment during a group conversation, a colleague shows signs of being hurt by the comment of another. Instead of ignoring the interaction, a third colleague leans in with compassionate awareness and says, “That comment seems to have left an impact. I’m wondering if there’s anything you need to say to feel resolution?” opening the group up for a much richer, authentic discussion.
Countless times in my journey with SIYLI, I have found myself floored by the insight of my colleagues, the compassion of the mindfulness teachers we get to be around, and the authenticity of the SIYLI community. There is actual, real love flowing between colleagues and stakeholders working here. And by January 2020, I had already been saying for years that working at SIYLI has been the single greatest influence of my life on my own growth and spiritual practice.
A Multitude of Pivots
And things get tough. (No surprise there!) After the first year of the pandemic, after a multitude of necessary pivots and isolation stress, like so many I started wondering if I wasn’t cut out for remote work with a team anymore. And as with most parents, balancing home-schooling and full-time work was a dizzying, humbling effort. I worried about how effective I could be in this context and had a genuine inquiry of how my career could best be spent. I considered whether it was time to take a break and spend more time with my now two children.
But these curiosities gave way to a deeper calling. In order to meet the moment, we at SIYLI found ourselves on the cusp of dividing, finally taking steps so that we can most adeptly serve the many audiences we want to serve. As SIYLI (the nonprofit) began the long process of creating and dividing from Public benefit corporation SIY Global, we needed new leadership, and suddenly I arrived at a big choice to step into the role as Executive Director.
In my 9 ½ years at SIYLI, I’ve run dozens of programs as Program Manager, taught Search Inside Yourself in a myriad of contexts, and worked with hundreds of Certified Teachers. And every program we hear the consistent story: participants’ lives change. They see themselves differently. They see others differently. They are touched by the practice and the connection (to themselves and others) it promotes.
In 2022, SIY Global launched to take on this work in the corporate context and technology-based programs, which is wonderful. And, we began to ask ourselves, what about the foster care social worker? What about the food bank volunteer coordinator? What about the burned-out activist or overworked public health nurse? The NPOs and governments employing them don’t often have as many resources for programming, and yet these individuals are putting their hearts (if not their lives) on the line every day to serve their fellow humans, fellow humans who are often suffering. What if SIYLI could fully center the experience of individuals like this?
Where We Go from Here
The theme that feels perhaps most important to draw out is self-compassion. Working in a civil service or activism often incorporates compassion for others, and it’s so easy (and dangerous) to forget ourselves. To be a part of supporting individuals getting what they need emotionally to keep showing up for humanity-–that’s what excited me more than anything.
“Here it is,” I thought. “This is the chance I get right now to play a part in this much bigger story-–the story of humanity connecting with its humanity so we can keep doing the tough work that burns so many out, so that we can keep moving forward into a compassionate, healthy future.”
What’s more, adopting this leadership role meant a chance to build a values-aligned organization from the ground up. In many places, from clients to past teams to what I see in myself, I’ve witnessed the ways colonialist, harmful values and behaviors (workaholism, either/or thinking, power imbalances, etc.) are so alive and influential. What an incredible opportunity to use the skills of Search Inside Yourself to build a culture that is psychologically safe, authentic and meaningful to each of our team members. I get to embrace a chance to consciously choose to divest time and energy from oppressive systems and use awareness and inquiry so that SIYLI can continue to be a “laboratory” for the changes we hope to see in the world. Our newest team member, Auri Whitaker, has encouraged us to inquire, “how are we building a workplace of love?” and that is just the kind of frontier I’d like to be a part of.
And ultimately, to be honest, it all came back to my children. I am fully invested in the process of training them to live in this world, be good to themselves, be strong and kind to people and the planet, and on and on. I know they are watching me, unconsciously or not, and I know that this work is part of me showing up to play my part in this unfolding human story. What better example can I be for them than to consciously choose to say ‘yes’ from the heart? In that context, it was with honest pride and deep appreciation to my predecessors that I decided to become SIYLI’s new Executive Director.
May the work I/we do be a part of a beautiful world worthy of our children inheriting. May my kids feel I did all I could, alongside my generation, to leave the world better than we found it.
Lindsey Kugel has been practicing mindfulness for 20+ years, and joined SIYLI in September 2013 while in the midst of her MBA studies. In January of 2022 she became Executive Director, and continues to be inspired by the team and community. Connect with her and the whole team by contacting us.