Mindful Agility

Iterations for Ukraine

March 15, 2022 Rob Coles Season 1 Episode 5
Mindful Agility
Iterations for Ukraine
Show Notes Transcript

The Russian war on Ukraine is in full force. The Mindful Agility co-hosts have ties to Eastern Europe. We are contending with our own reactivity, as we interact with others less familiar with the region.

Our friend, Rob Coles, discusses how he employed an agile strategy to direct funds to individuals on the ground in Ukraine. He ran several iterations, adapting with each new discovery to send money more effectively.

To understand the challenges ahead, we can employ compassion. There are combatants, refugees, residents of war zones, anxious news consumers, and people dealing with economic upheaval. There will be more suffering coming, with refugee resettlement, people with PTSD, social and economic instability. No matter who wins, if we can even name a winner, there will be many broken pieces that will take years or generations to repair.

We can use tough challenges, like war, to explore mindfulness and agile. Mindfulness helps us discover truths hidden in plain sight. Agile helps us discover truths hidden under rocks. And through iteration, we can produce better results, through these tough times.

We end our episode with a loving-kindness meditation, for all beings affected by this war.


Charity Navigator is a site that vets charities, and provides guidance for donating to Ukraine.

Airbnb has its own Ukraine donation program, where you can provide housing for fleeing Ukrainians and others. Airbnb does not make any income from this program, providing all funds directly to home owners. Rob Coles did not use this program, but did take advantage of Airbnb's policy not to apply fees to reservations in Ukraine.


  • Daniel Greening, host, agile consultant, software executive
  • Mirela Petalli, co-host, meditation guide, and neurocritical nursing instructor
  • Dan Dickson, business coach, executive and management consultant


[00:00:00] Cold Open

[00:00:00] Rob Coles: The first time I didn't do it well. I reserved in Kiev. And the more I thought about it, Kiev was really not the place where the contribution would be most productive. So at that point I went and looked at some of the uh towns and places that were closer to the battlefront or that were cut off or things like that, and then contributed there. 

[00:00:20] Welcome

[00:00:20] Daniel Greening: Welcome to the Mindful Agility podcast. I'm your host, Dan Greening. My co-host is Mirela Petalli. We're joined today by Mindful Agility Community member and retired US Army Sergeant Rob Coles. Today we're discussing how we can effectively respond to Ukraine. 

The Mindful Agility podcast helps you tackle challenges. If you want to get useful stuff done faster, this podcast is for you. 

Mindfulness and agility are two of the most helpful perspectives in leading more fulfilled lives. Mindfulness practices help us gain greater insight and clarity, while agile practices help us forge new paths. 

Each episode is an agile experiment. We hypothesize this episode will help you gain more insight and build more value. The journey is half the fun. Your likes, shares, subscribes, and feedback tell us if we're on the right track. In a podcast app, please give us a rating. 

[00:01:25] Introduction

[00:01:25] Daniel Greening: Mirela and I are lately struggling to deal with our friends' and our own anxieties around the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Mirela was born in Albania, part of Eastern Europe. 

[00:01:37] Mirela Petalli: I lived there during the fall of communism in the beginning of the 1990s, the civil war of 1997, and the Kosovo war in 98, 99. So I had a very visceral reaction to the news of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. It was similar to experiencing PTSD. I felt again the terror and fear of death, chaos, scarcity, and violence. 

I think many people who have experienced armed conflict at any time during their life, probably felt similarly. 

[00:02:08] Daniel Greening: Were there refugees coming to Albania from Kosovo?

[00:02:12] Mirela Petalli: Yes, many refugees came, and because the country was unprepared to expect any refugees, many Albanians opened their homes and took in whole families. 

[00:02:23] Daniel Greening: That's amazing because that was right after your own civil war. I can't imagine there was a lot of extra capital floating around in Albania after a civil war.

[00:02:34] Mirela Petalli: Albanian families, who were barely making a living themselves, shared what they had with the Kosovo families. 

[00:02:42] Daniel Greening: In 2012, I worked for Skype sometimes out of an office in Moscow. Russian coworkers shared opinions with me that they never put on social media. Most were unhappy with Putin, which is typical for technology workers. I also worked in Estonia, a Russian border country like Ukraine. Estonia used to be part of the Soviet Union, and became a member of NATO. 

I remember being in a Skype cafeteria when some NATO jets flew over, patrolling the border with Russia. Everyone in the cafeteria crowded around the windows. They applauded the jets, because they were so grateful they were protected from the Russians.

[00:03:23] News

[00:03:23] Mirela Petalli: The first thing I did, when I got home the day the war started, was to watch the news like many others. I try to limit the time I spend watching or reading the news. I try to stay informed about what is going on, while not getting carried away, becoming overwhelmed, and allowing the sadness and pessimism of it all to permeate my whole day. There's a fine balance between staying informed and not being swallowed by the news. Dan, What is your relationship with the news ? 

[00:03:52] Daniel Greening: I try to avoid ad-driven news sources like Fox. CNN, Newsmax, and MSNBC. They make money by triggering our reactivity, so we come back again and again, to hear about supposedly important stuff. But ad-driven sources don't want to get us off our couches, because that reduces ad revenue. So when a child falls in a well, these news sources make a lot of money. We can't do anything to help, conveniently, except watch more of their news and ads. 

[00:04:27] No Opinion

[00:04:27] Daniel Greening: We have some friends that have told us they don't really have an opinion about the Ukrainian situation. Either they don't know enough about it, or they're concerned that they don't want to have arguments with people. How do you feel about that?

[00:04:41] Mirela Petalli: We have a choice about whether to have opinions or not. Some of our friends, who don't have an opinion, have no personal experience with war or with any armed conflict, and so they can't relate. 

Thinking about what is happening now in Ukraine, I became aware of my own reactivity. In the past, I would have felt frustration and anger, both towards those with opposing opinions and those without opinions. But because I have been practicing mindfulness, I can pause and take into consideration other perspectives. 

[00:05:16] Daniel Greening: We've noticed that our attention is drawn more to Ukraine than Syria, possibly because we interact more frequently with Eastern Europeans. But we've also noticed that European news gets more coverage in the West than Syrian news. We're aware of this bias. Mindfulness helps us reduce it. 

[00:05:36] Mirela Petalli: Mindfulness helps us reflect on our own thoughts, opinions and beliefs . We find out that they are heavily influenced by past experiences, other people, books, media, et cetera. We can stop the reactivity and choose which beliefs and opinions to keep, to modify and to let go. 

[00:05:58] Daniel Greening: Mindfulness teaches us how to think before acting. Without mindfulness, we could react without thinking, yelling at uninformed friends, for example. 

[00:06:08] Mirela Petalli: Mindfulness helps us see the situation from a perspective of interconnectedness and interdependence and as a result we feel compassion. 

I am here, an Albanian American, with my particular life experiences because of many causes and conditions, including my parents, my ancestors, historical and environmental events, et cetera. 

For example, I could have been born in Russia, and those causes and conditions could have taken me to the battlefield, supporting an autocrat and fearing the supposed nazis in Ukraine. When I take some time to think about the many possibilities of who I could have been, I understand all of us are coping with our own causes and conditions. I can then feel compassion for myself and others, including Ukrainians and Russians. 

 One definition of compassion is to "suffer together." When we practice compassion and understand that we are all interconnected and interdependent, we learn that true compassion cannot be selective. Traditional compassion practices include sending loving kindness to ourselves, loved ones, strangers, people that are causing us trouble, and to all living beings.

 Mindfulness and compassion motivate us to be curious about other experiences, empathize, and take action. 

[00:07:36] Taking Action

[00:07:36] Daniel Greening: I just read a great quote from Stephen Batchelor's book, Buddhism Without Beliefs. "The most soul searching meditation on ethics leaves the world intact. A single word or deed can transform it forever." 

[00:07:51] Mirela Petalli: What can I do? Can I hop on a plane and go there? Can I go and take care of people in Ukraine? I don't know, probably not. I can send loving kindness. I could look into some humanitarian organizations, and donate if and what I can. I can voice my support. If there is a protest in my city, I could join that. 

So there are a few things we can do. 

I have experienced many difficult emotions, anger, fear, sadness, grief. I am angry and sad that wars are still happening. But I can hold space for these feelings while also being grateful for what I have. 

How can I translate these feelings into action? That's the big question. How can we use what we have to be of help, either directly or indirectly. 

A friend of ours reminded us of a quote by U S Navy, Admiral William H McRaven. " If you want to save the world, start by making your bed. " Getting up in the morning and making your bed is important. If that's all we can do, then let's do that. If what we can do is just to try to make our own day a little better, or somebody else's day better, then that's great too 

[00:09:09] Are We Responsible?

[00:09:09] Daniel Greening: My friend, Christopher Avery, wrote a book called The Responsibility Process. He argues that responsibility means the ability to respond beneficially, and that we can take responsibility for almost anything around us. 

We should not ultimately blame others or feel guilt. Instead, from the perspective of the here and now,. We should examine the efforts we could take to help, the value to others and ourselves, and decide how to respond. One option is consciously deciding to do nothing. Once the decision is made. No guilt. 

In the case of Ukraine, we could drop everything here and devote our life to helping folks over there. We can beneficially respond, but now we have to look compassionately at those around us. If we have no other commitments, we can help. Why not? If we have a family, they would likely suffer. If we had unique skills to help Ukraine, the price might be worth it, but otherwise devoting our lives might not be a compassionate response. Should we send money? It depends on how we would otherwise spend the money. 

[00:10:21] Mirela Petalli: Yes, dropping everything and going to help is not an option for everyone. When it comes to donating money, it is important to do some research and make sure that the money is going to the right place. Look for registered nonprofit organizations and use trusted websites, like Charity Navigator, for example, to find credible charities. 

[00:10:43] Prioritizing

[00:10:43] Daniel Greening: Agile teaches us how to maximize a result with the least amount of effort. Without agility, we could take costly actions that produce little result. 

To choose from our options on Ukraine, we need to think about two things. What is the longterm value of each option and what is the cost? 

 Even in business, value is subjective. It depends on our perspective. Some of us think about the value, not just for ourselves, but for those around us. Others might think from a perspective of enlightened self-interest. Financially minded people might translate the word value into dollars, but many of us will translate value into happiness or reduced suffering. 

Cost is also subjective. If we live paycheck to paycheck, money is very costly to us, but if we have money in the bank, time is very costly. And if we are living paycheck to paycheck, while holding down multiple jobs to support our family, well, improving that situation perhaps is more important than Ukraine.

When you have considered the value and cost of each option, now you can rank them by thinking about value divided by cost. Business people call this R O I, return on investment. Learning to think about all our work in terms of ROI can help us live more fulfilled lives. But you have to think about return as something more than money. 

Now we can start looking at priorities. Starting an initiative to help Ukrainians, means we will have less time and less money for other things. That's the cost part.

Here's the value part, from the enlightened self-interest perspective. Investigating the Ukrainian situation can help build compassion and gratitude, which research shows helps make us happier. We can practice deploying financial and human capital more effectively. We can learn more about history, diplomacy, or cultural differences. We attract the admiration and respect of others. 

[00:12:49] Iteration 

[00:12:49] Daniel Greening: We'll get better results, if we use an agile concept, iterative experimentation, iteration for short. Start with a small investment, see how it goes, and use what we learn to adapt in our next investment. Why is this a good idea? Because the value and cost we assigned to our options were hypothetical. Once we really get into it, we may discover values and costs that are very different. That's why we first iterate with a small investment. If we lose it all, it was a small price to pay for discovering reality. In the next iteration, we can avoid that option and try another.

[00:13:28] Rob Coles Example

[00:13:28] Daniel Greening: Mindful Agility Community member, Rob Coles, tried an unusual method for helping folks in Ukraine. He reserved an Airbnb room there, to provide money for folks on the ground who are suffering.

[00:13:41] Rob Coles: Three times. 

[00:13:42] Daniel Greening: And did you tell the person whose house you were reserving that that's what you were doing? 

[00:13:49] Rob Coles: Yeah. I told him, I have no intention of coming. Don't worry about it. Just go ahead. Let me default on it. And take the money.

[00:13:57] Daniel Greening: How did you come to that idea? 

[00:13:59] Rob Coles: There was a comment somewhere on Facebook or someplace about the idea of the AirBnBs. And I didn't do it well the first time. So I did it another couple times. The first time I didn't do it well, I reserved in Kiev. And the more I thought about it, Kiev was really not the place where the contribution would be most productive.

So at that point I went and looked at some of the uh towns and places that were closer to the battlefront or that were cut off or things like that, and then contributed there. My preference was to give directly to somebody who could directly benefit from the cash and if they didn't need it, one lady said, you know, I'm all right, myself, but I've got friends that need it. I'm going to help them. That's wonderful. Yeah. 

[00:14:40] Daniel Greening: Since you are using the vehicle of Airbnb, they likely speak English. So you can have this type of conversation with them. These are also people that open their home to visitors. There's a lot of really mindful things about your approach, Rob.

[00:14:55] Rob Coles: I didn't have to pay any CEO's bills. I didn't have to pay anything. It went directly to the person. Airbnb, by the way, it's not taking any percentage on this either. It strictly as a pro bono type thing.

[00:15:09] Daniel Greening: What did the people say that you gave this money to? 

[00:15:12] Rob Coles: In two of the cases, they explained what they were going to do with it. One lady was she was going to use it to pay her employees since she didn't have a income coming in. She was gonna use this to pay the employees who were not getting an income to give them at least something. 

Another lady was just really thankful, that her family had no income, according to her anyway. They were just in trouble and she very grateful for it. and that is the issue with this. 

You actually don't know the people you're giving it to. You can't assess their needfulness or not. So, you could be giving it to somebody that's a corporate owners of Airbnb, or you could be giving it to an individual. I tried to get it to an individual, but I can't guarantee that I did.

And in fact that one, I actually subscribed to a second time, because I thought maybe she could use it for a couple more nights.

[00:16:03] Retrospection

[00:16:03] Daniel Greening: Mirela and I are deeply concerned with the situation in Ukraine and its impact on all of us. We are affected by reactivity, like everyone, but those who have experienced war react more viscerally than the rest of us. Since Mirela and I know this region directly, we have to be mindful that there are folks that don't. We can recognize our interdependence and have compassion for everyone involved: those with no opinion, obsessed news consumers, combatants, refugees, and those suffering from economic sanction. 

When we overcome our reactivity, we create space for action.

Agile techniques, like iteration, help us discover more effective ways to get things done and avoid poor choices. But we need objectivity from mindfulness to make good decisions at the start.

Rob Coles gave us a great example of agile in action. His first iteration was to try something he saw on social media, paying for an Airbnb rental, just to get money to suffering folks in Kiev. But then with the information from his first iteration and more reflection, his second iteration was in an area of Ukraine hard hit by refugees fleeing the fighting. And when that iteration worked better, he iterated again, in the same place. 

[00:17:30] Mirela Petalli: Rob has had direct experiences with war. He has been an Army Sergeant for 29 years and has been deployed to Desert Storm, Kosovo, Iraqi Freedom, Germany Cold War, and Panama. 

War causes immense suffering that affects everyone, especially those directly involved in it, and it continues through generations. 

[00:17:55] Meditation Introduction

[00:17:55] Daniel Greening: Mirela is going to lead a 10 minute meditation to explore compassion and loving kindness for those affected by the Ukraine war. Try it when you have those 10 minutes. After the meditation I'll summarize and close this episode. 

Pause now, if you want to situate yourself. But if you're an experienced meditator and want to meditate in the midst of chaos, that's okay too. 

 Here we go. 

[00:18:20] Meditation 

[00:18:20] Mirela Petalli: Thank you for taking this time to meditate with us today. You will hear a bell at the beginning of the meditation and one at the end. The bell is an invitation to come back to the present moment. 

In this meditation, we will practice loving kindness by repeating well-wishing phrases directed towards ourselves and others. Loving kindness practice is not about changing the way we feel, or forcing ourselves to like everybody, but rather about realizing that we are all interconnected. We all wish for happiness and joy. And that we all suffer from change, failure, and loss. 

When we practice loving kindness regularly. We begin to feel less lonely, more connected, and more compassionate and understanding towards ourselves and others. 

In traditional loving kindness meditations we send well wishes to ourselves, a dear friend, a neutral person, a difficult person, and then expand the circle to include all beings. 

In today's meditation, we will focus on sending loving kindness to ourselves, a dear friend, people who are affected by the war, which is all people, starting with those most effected: people in Ukraine and Russia. 

Let's start by taking a few deep, slow breaths. Take a deep breath in through your nose. Fill your lungs with air. Relax your belly. And then let the air out slowly through your nose. 

 See if you can release any tension, and relax your body a little bit more with each out-breath. 

There is nothing to do right now. 

 Let's take one more deep, slow breath. 

 Now allow your breath to return to normal. 

Bring your attention to yourself. 

 You can become aware of your body. Or think of your own image. 

 And repeat to yourself slowly. 

 May I be well and happy. 

May I be safe and healthy. 

May I be free from suffering. 

May I live with ease. If you get distracted, either by sounds, sensations, emotions, or thoughts, just notice that you have been distracted. And returned to repeating the phrases. 

May I be well and happy. 

 May I be safe and healthy. 

May I be free from suffering. 

May I live with ease. 

Next, we will bring to mind a dear friend or a mentor. Someone you care about. You can visualize them, or say their name to yourself. 

[00:22:38] Mirela Petalli: May you be well. And happy. 

May you be safe and healthy. 

May you be free from suffering. 

May you live with ease. 

And now, together with yourself and your dear friend, I invite you to start thinking about people in Ukraine: the children, the families in the shelters, those who are wounded, sick, hungry, scared, grieving, fighting. The refugees. 

Keep them in mind, as you direct loving kindness phrases to them. 

May you be well and happy. 

May you be safe and healthy. 

May you be free from suffering. 

 May you live with ease. 

Now we will offer the phrases of loving kindness to all beings. Humans and non-humans. Including those we agree with, together with those we don't agree with. 

Those we relate to, together with those we don't. 

It is okay to be reluctant, to include certain categories. We are not condoning or agreeing with their actions. 

When we offer loving kindness phrases to all beings, without distinction or separation, we deepen our connection to. And cultivate compassion and caring for all life forms. 

May we all be well and happy. 

 May we all be safe and healthy. 

 May we all be free from suffering. 

 May we all live with ease. 

 We'll now let go of the phrases. 

Bring your attention to your body and notice how you feel, without judgment. 

 And when you were ready, you can open your eyes. 

 Thank you for taking this time to meditate with us today

[00:26:15] Daniel Greening: We can take responsibility for problems all around us. But we need mindfulness to see clearly and agile to make things better. 

When we experience war- whether on the battlefield, in the economic world, in a refugee host country, as a friend of a person with PTSD, or a news consumer- it is hard to remain objective. 

A perspective of interdependence and compassion helps us see what is hidden in plain sight. And then we can use iteration and direct feedback to explore even more deeply and get better results. 

May your mindfulness and agility help you overcome all obstacles and fulfill your goals.

[00:27:15] Call to Action

[00:27:15] Daniel Greening: Don't forget to subscribe, rate the podcast and share with your friends. 

If you'd like to interact, join our private Facebook group called "Mindful Agility Community." Posts and questions are welcome. It's a fairly active crowd. 

The show notes provide references as well as links to additional content.

[00:27:36] Credits

[00:27:36] Daniel Greening: Many thanks to Rob Coles for his contributions to this podcast and to residents of Ukraine. 

Divya Maez and Matt Zimmerman reviewed a beta of this episode. The Mindful Agility Community encourages us and keeps us going. Our co-host and meditation guide is Mirela Petalli. 

Mirela, I normally end with a joke, but I can't do it this time. I just want to say how grateful I am for you, for my friends, and for our listeners. 

[00:28:07] Mirela Petalli: And I am grateful for you, Dan, my friends and family, and our listeners.

[00:28:12] Daniel Greening: I'm Dan Greening. See you next time.