Dinner with a Difference 2016: A Mindful Leadership Experience


Once again, this year, we had the privilege to collaborate with Leadership NZ on their annual Dinner with a Difference event. As with every year, we co-organised the evening and helped hold the space through design, facilitation, energy and a whole lot of aroha.

Each year is always different, but this year’s theme, Mindful Leadership, I have to say, is a personal favourite of mine. It was a different, counter-intuitive challenge to extraordinary leaders of every sector and type A personalities – to be comfortable just being, instead of just relying on doing, chasing or stressing.

The evening was incredibly calming, profound and light-hearted all at once. Pre-event, we helped our 200 guests transition to a more calm headspace through music, an animated breathing mandala to aid people in slowing down their breath, invigorating alkaline tonics from Greenleaf Organics and restorative teas from Forage and Bloom. We also had an aromatherapy station where we invited guests to inhale essential oils to invoke calm, joy or focus, and a 'Park your Thoughts' station, to help guests park what's on their mind for the evening.

As I stood at the back of the room, making sure the presentation slides worked properly, I had a good vantage point to watch everyone as they went through different stages of the evening. There was that hilarious resistance everyone had when emcee Wade Jackson asked everyone to park their phones in envelopes for the duration of the event. There was everyone's beautiful receptivity to meditation. There was also that incredible Pasifika meal that everyone relished, designed by renowned chef Robert Oliver, and sublimely introduced by Dr Tracy Berno. That menu felt excitingly new and soulfully familiar all at once. Part of the evening also included a really juicy panel discussion with luminaries of mindfulness in NZ today – Stephen Archer, Hillary Palmer & Dr Anne Messervy, and a heartfelt introduction to our keynote speaker by her long-time kiwi friend, Dr Chellie Spiller. 

But the stand-out, hit-you-in-your-gut-and-heart moment for me though, was hearing Dr Elizabeth Kapu’uwailani Lindsey speak. It’s not exactly her accomplishments that’s astonishing – although they’re pretty astonishing – but her level of presence, a beingness that’s palpable. She commanded the room – not through force, not through posturing or pomp, not through loudness, but through stillness

Dr Elizabeth shared so much wisdom that night, but two things stood out to me. First, were her stories of more remote cultures still in touch with ancient wisdom that we’ve lost on a societal scale – that is, our sense that we are all connected to all of nature. We ARE part of nature. Not separated from it, not conquerors of it, not owners of it or carers of it. Nature isn’t out there. We’re woven into it. And our more industrial perspective that man conquers or are consumers of nature, has led us to a path that has tipped us way out of balance, individually and societally. To have this sensibility gives us access to a quality that ancient and modern sages have – being able to gauge everything more clearly, because of one’s sense of connection to everything. Imagine how much more effective we’ll be, moving through this world seeing everything clearly from a broader perspective.

Second is this: “Mana doesn’t need anything, Mana doesn’t need to prove anything. It just is.” To me this means connecting with the being within us that needs nothing, because that place is our ultimate place of strength, love and wisdom. And to access that needs quiet; needs time away from noise and distraction. To develop that quality is a practice, a lifetime of practice because there’s always something that wants our attention all day every day. To have our attention split all the time is to lose our grounding, our inherent connection to our true source of power and energy. I love being reminded of that.


Everyone from Curative was moved by the evening as well, so here are everyone’s favourite takeaway from the night:

The whole evening was profoundly calming, and awakening at the same time. Elizabeth shared so much wisdom, but the words that struck me most were: “We do not attract that what we want. We attract that what we are”. It was a powerful reminder of the need to live our values and to be our best selves if we are to attract and create the changes that we want to see in the world. And, that can only start by knowing ourselves. – Eddy

My favourite takeaway from the night was from Stephen Archer who talked about how mindfulness can feel out there, huge to grasp and sometimes feel hard to attain. But when we think about these things, they are actually extraordinarily ordinary. Washing our hands, breathing in and out, smiling, cleaning; these can all become extraordinary acts of mindfulness and presence. Each moment can be filled with an overwhelming amount of richness, fullness and joy. This was an incredible thought to grasp! It pushes me to become hyper aware of the mundane. To cherish those menial tasks that seem annoying and to see them as moments that ground me and bring me back to the present moment.  – Jess
"Food is not just about eating, it goes way beyond the plate..." - Dr Tracy Berno mentioned this when introducing Robert Oliver’s delicious Mindful Cuisine menu. I believe it’s also a way of connecting with people around you, sharing your culture and hospitality with others, and indulging your own taste buds & belly all at the same time! Having attended each & every Dinner with a Difference (2013-2016) this year’s mindful experience was definitely different, less was more in this instance – more spaciousness to absorb the quality of the content, more calming and diverse connections were formed. Loved every mindful moment.  – Jade
“The latitude of our minds, the longitude of our hearts… there’s a still point between the two; that’s where we navigate from.” From moment to moment, I’m constantly making choices. When there is pressure on time, it’s easy to pay more attention to my noisy mind than it is my quiet, polite heart whispering in the background. What we do at Curative, places strong demand on both – we have to think, plan and consider, whilst also being empathetic and understanding of people at the core of our work. That’s why this quote from Elizabeth was one of my favourite takeaways for the night.  A reminder to honour the importance of heart in my decision making. Giving myself the time to get out of my head, find that still point and acknowledge what my heart is telling me about whether it feels right, in order to act in a more grounded and deliberate way. – Jo
It's always helpful to be reminded to take a step back, to take care of your mental health in all the hustle and bustle of the world, so I really enjoyed discovering the various purposeful pauses placed around the tables, and the various stations in the atrium designed to get you step out of your day, to become fully present through the use of smell, taste and mental reflection. I also really enjoyed Elizabeth's talk, the calm yet powerful way she held the room, her respect for her cultural roots and the ways she combines her cultural wisdom with her day to day life. But I guess the golden nugget I took from the evening is the same as Meghan's. “Mana in it's truest sense needs nothing. It does not need recognition, applause or acknowledgement, because it is.” A lovely reminder of the power of humility.
- Kaan
My favourite learning was from Stephen Archer who explained that mindfulness is based on the understanding that the mind is a natural environment, and it can take on all the qualities of what we find in nature: beauty, diversity, order, chaos, vulnerability, wildness. The thoughts that occur are a reflection of that environment. How can we ask ourselves to make clear, considered, rational decisions while tuned in to a noisy mind that can be likened to a tornado? Mindfulness is learning to silence the noise. And yes it will take practice, just like any other skill, but acknowledging the need to stop and listen is a good start.
- Anna

We felt so lucky and privileged to have been a part of such a special evening. Special thanks to Leadership NZ for the opportunity to co-create another memorable Dinner with a Difference together. 

Meghan Geliza

Meghan Jackson