Interview by Victoria Dawnson
The art of Melissa Sutor’s life, like the art of meditation, lies in the action of beginning again. And again. Born to a teenage single mother in rural Alabama, she became the first person in her family to graduate from college. At the University of Notre Dame, in Indiana, she was the first African-American in the graduate program for computer science and engineering and was on track to earn her PhD before she recognized a fundamental mismatch. Sutor set out for California, with its promise of Silicon Valley and progressive values. However, the tech field left her spiritually parched. She and her husband planned a grand exit strategy: a trip around the world. After traveling together for eight months, they agreed to end the marriage. Sutor continued her travels solo for over a year, connecting with other travelers and learning from locals.
Today, Sutor is remarried and works both in California and in Maui, Hawaii, where she lives. Equipped with a master’s degree in counseling psychology and formal training in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Sutor founded the Dragonfly Healing Center in Maui. There, she teaches MBSR classes, leads retreats for women in tech and science, and does consultation, working at the intersection of mindfulness, technology, and social good.
When you recall your childhood in Alabama, do you see sources for your eventual embrace of mindfulness?
During my formal study of mindfulness, I was reading about and practicing attentive listening. I found myself reflecting on my grandma. One of her favorite things was to sit on the porch, looking out at the trees. My sister and I would sit with her. We’d listen to the crickets and the birds and the wind in the trees, and it was beautiful to just connect with myself, with nature, and with my sister and grandmother. We were practicing just being. Come to find out, years later—wow!—that’s mindfulness. Another foundational piece, also from my grandma, was the practice of gratitude. Every morning, when she woke up, she would speak gratitude: “Thank you, Jesus, for another beautiful day.” It didn’t matter if it was storming or raining outside, she would give gratitude for the gift of another day.