A Moment With Awaken – Alex Lisowski


August 12, 2021

“Really being mindful of the interactions that I have when I’m teaching people [about inclusion] relates closely to how we navigate mindful meditation.”



A Moment with Awaken!

This month’s conversation was with Alex Lisowski. In this conversation, Alex shares some amazing insights about the intersection between mindfulness and diversity and inclusion, as well great advice for all mindfulness practitioners. I hope you enjoy it!


Awaken Pittsburgh: Let’s start off with hearing about how you began working with Awaken?

Alex: I knew I wanted to get into the non-profit space and was fielding what direction I wanted to take it. I saw the treasurer position for Awaken Pittsburgh come across my LinkedIn page. When I read the job description and what Awaken stood for and the mission they were trying to deliver, I knew that it was the right fit for me because it so closely aligned to pieces of my values that are so crucial to the way I navigate the world.


Awaken Pittsburgh: What were some of these values that you felt aligned with what Awaken was doing?

Alex: I think that a lot of it stems from being intentional in the way that I communicate with others, and really being able to connect with people in an emotional sense. I really try to get to know someone before I start asking them to do things or working with them in my full-time role. I’m a member of the LGBTQ community, and in this full-time role I work to kind of spread and teach diversity and inclusion among the workforce in my office. I find that really being mindful of the interactions that I have when I’m teaching people [about inclusion] relates closely to how we navigate mindful meditation. Because it’s all about taking a step back and thinking about how whatever interaction you’re a part of is going to affect both parties involved. And when you come to a common place, whether with yourself or another person. and you get to that acceptance. And that’s the important piece of both mediation and my values as a member of the LQBTQ community.


Awaken Pittsburgh: It seems like most organizations say they care about diversity and inclusion now, but some do a lot more than others. Can you say more about how mindfulness and intentionality affect an organization’s efforts towards inclusion?

Alex: Yeah, I think there is surface level intentionality and taking the beginning steps towards getting involved in diversity and inclusion. Awaken does a good job by offering bias awareness training since a lot of organizations tag unconscious bias to their training for employees. I think that’s great and a lot of corporations do that, but it is important to take it a step further and measure it in a way that’s impactful to your employees. So, making sure employees actually reap the benefits of a diverse and inclusive workplace shows an organization is being intentional and mindful about their efforts.


Awaken Pittsburgh: Do you think there is a line that needs to be navigated between dropping our preconceived notions during interactions like we practice in meditation and recognizing that people have vastly different circumstances and experiences than our own?

Alex: I think it’s a series of building blocks on both sides. From a mindfulness perspective, you kind of start your practice by learning what type of meditation works best for you. And there are so many different ones out there that it might take a while to find what is actually beneficial for you. And I think it’s the same when you’re talking about taking the steps to understand different perspectives through the diversity and inclusion lens. And it’s building blocks where you are also taking baby steps; acknowledging that you have a lot to learn and aren’t familiar with the space. I think when you mesh the mindfulness piece together with that journey you realize that there is so much more out there and you’ve been a little closed minded in your perspective. That it’s best to approach each unfamiliar interaction with a fresh lens approach and an open mind. We do that by allowing a space for people who have not had the same equity and experiences as us to speak and teach us something…As much as we like to think that we’re diverse and inclusive in all our interactions, being mindful is knowing when to step back and giving others this space so that you can learn.


Awaken Pittsburgh: I’d love to hear a bit about your meditation practice. How it started, how it’s changed, what you do now, anything like that.

Alex: My practice started about two and a half years ago. My mom unexpectedly passed away, so I had experienced this trauma I wasn’t used to and I didn’t know how to manage my experience, and how to regulate my emotions or thoughts. So I found myself leaning towards getting into a yoga practice because I liked the idea of getting a benefit of a workout and also this mindfulness connection. And in that time of meditation at the end of a practice, I found myself taking that time to speak to my mom as if she were still here. So that’s where my mindfulness practice began and I’ve since supplemented it…and one of my favorite ways that I’ve bolstered it is through learning more about emotional intelligence, and our ability to pause and think about the emotion we are experiencing, then understanding it, learning from it, and being able to regulate it.


Awaken Pittsburgh: How do you define ‘regulate’ in this context of dealing with emotions?

Alex: I think regulation and recognition probably go hand in hand. I’m so quick to feel an emotion without recognizing it that I don’t get the opportunity to regulate it.


Awaken Pittsburgh: I think a lot of people, often those socialized as men in our society, sometimes have a difficult time connecting with emotions in a healthy way. Do you have any thoughts on how something like that can be addressed?

Alex: I absolutely agree with that observation. I do think our society places us in a box and it tells us to act a certain way and that’s the societal norm. I don’t know if I know how to speak to overcome it. I don’t feel qualified to tell people how to overcome the stigmas that have been placed on them. But I do think that there is a mindfulness component to it, and it’s the understanding that it’s okay to feel emotions and it’s okay to feel a certain way. Even if it’s not socially accepted, as long as you’re not acting out in a negative manner, then you should absolutely let yourself experience those emotions. I think if everyone did that then the world would be a lot different. And I would absolutely like to see the world be that way but I don’t know how to get it there. I don’t know if anyone does. But just encouraging people to feel and giving them permission to do so.


Awaken Pittsburgh: Do you have closing words or advice that you’d like to give to anyone who ends up reading this?

Alex: I would just tell people who are getting into practicing that we all know to breathe, but it’s learning how to be intentional about taking a breath and being able to connect it to your thoughts. We spend so much of the day just breathing without making that connection, that when you do I think that is where your mindfulness journey starts. Because you pause and then you say ‘I think I’m ready to take that first step into understanding myself.


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