Uncorking a Memory

  • August 26, 2019
  • Wendy Lund, RN, BScN, MSc in Mindfulness Studies

Uncorking a Memory

Imagine you are sitting in an upscale restaurant. You had made reservations to eat there months ago and today is finally the day! You are greeted at your table by the house sommelier. You immediately feel at ease because this professional is here to guide you.

You take turns asking questions about each other's knowledge of and experience with wine. The sommelier listens attentively, not evaluating or judging what you share, but openly curious about what you know. More importantly, they are looking for gaps that may exist with respect to your knowledge about wine so that they can create a rich new experience for you.

You, too, are mindfully listening to what they have to say, innately trusting that their education and background will benefit your experience this evening. You let go of being the expert and make space for this stranger to share who they are and what they know. Your mind is wide open and receptive.

Without effort or explicit agreement, you connect with this stranger and eagerly share what it is you know and do not know about the wine this establishment has to offer. You do not let any preconceptions about which wines are best prevent you from fully engaging. In mindfulness theory, this is what we call the beginner's mind.

The wine is delivered and you push away any other concern (your to-do list, your inbox, what the kids have on the go). You are fully present as you consider the colour, clarity and bouquet. The sommelier explains how to read the size of the tears or legs that the wine leaves on the sides of the glass. They talk about where the grape came from and the year it was harvested. The more you know, the richer the wine and the experience begin to feel.

You are not judging this history; you are simply curious about how all of those things influenced this vintage. You are paying attention to this wine in this moment without judgment.

It's very likely that you will appreciate the wine, even if you do not love it. Your exchange with the sommelier has you invested in it regardless of how your taste buds react. Your connection to the wine, before even tasting it, is satisfying enough. It is a valuable lesson about appreciating something even if you do not like or agree with it.

This is a fundamental principle we need to bring to our work in the areas of diversity and inclusion. It is the result of a small but transformative exchange between you and a stranger, where you connect with the benefit of a beginner's mind. You both come with the intention and motivation to be open to learning about each other's knowledge and experience.

Imagine if we could cultivate our experiences with the diverse people in our lives with the same care and mindful presence that we know we are capable of bringing to the first sip of an unfamiliar wine. It's possible to do so with a mindfulness practice.

The Finish

The aftertaste, or finish, is a term that refers to the flavours that stay with the mouth after we swallow the wine. It is as much a part of judging a wine as the initial taste. From a mindfulness perspective, we could consider the finish to be the memories we created in connecting with another person, which were made possible by the frame of mind we brought to the experience.

It would be difficult to prove empirically, but surely the experience of sharing that occurred between you and the sommelier prepared, influenced and transformed your tasting experience.


Reflection is the final step in wine tasting. Did the wine taste balanced? What were some of the predominant and subtle characteristics you were left with? What was memorable about this wine?

Reflecting on how we move through the moments in our lives is an important part of a mindfulness practice. This is when we consider our actions in a way that supports moving towards our best self. We must be open and curious—like when we initially approached the wine—and allow a gentleness and acceptance about the self.

As lawyers, your brain has been trained to be critical. While this may be integral to your performance, it can spill over into how you think about yourselves, feeding the self-critic and contributing to mental dis-ease. When we practice thinking reflectively about how we engage with others in our workplace, we are more likely to appreciate each other more fully.


The lesson we can learn from the guided imagery above is how important it is to show up and be present with the person in front of you. Being able to share your knowledge and experience—and have it heard—is integral to cultivating a culture where everyone feels like their story, history and learnings matter.

Unfortunately, we often confuse hearing with listening. Hearing is a passive process for the brain, while listening is active. It requires far more energy but is critical if you want to truly see and understand those in your workplace who do not share the same privileges you may enjoy.

Mindful listening is a skill that requires practice and patience. An easy way to start is to observe yourself in conversations over the next few days. How long can you stay focused on what a person is saying before your mind begins to wander? Are you quick to jump in and offer advice or do you give the person space to finish? Are you already considering your reply before they have finished talking?

Don't be too hard on yourself. We could all be better listeners.

In addition, you have probably heard about cognitive biases. They are systematic errors in thinking that happen when we are processing and interpreting information. They are often the result of your brain simplifying information processing, which can predispose us to receiving, perceiving and reacting to those around us in ways that do not support diversity and inclusion.

Such biases are a normal part of the human experience and are hard to spot in ourselves. To help you remove ones that are barriers to inclusion, surround yourself with people who will challenge your opinions and listen carefully and openly to them. At the same time, bring awareness to your default mode of thinking.

In short, you don't need to know everything about wine to enjoy and appreciate a glass. You simply need to be open to appreciating the nuances that the glass in front of you is offering.

Similarly, what we need most to ensure everyone feels like they belong is a culture that operates from a kind curiosity about what each unique person brings to the workplace. Just imagine the possibilities if we all met one another with the same mindset we bring to enjoying a fine glass of wine!

Wendy Lund is CEO/Founder of Wellth Management (wellthmanagement.ca), a firm that works collaboratively with organizations to help redefine wealth and foster psychological safety and wellbeing in the workplace. With more than three decades of experience as a Health Studies Professor, Wendy understands the biology of stress and resiliency. Her vision is to help others redefine wealth in their workplace and lives, which she shares as a speaker through workshops and in print.