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Mindfulness in America

Mindfulness in America

Mindfulness in America brought mindfulness and technology together in NYC last week and I was blessed to attend! Mindfulness is a key piece of my work with anxiety, which is why I want to share my experience of this uplifting and inspiring day of wisdom from mindfulness leaders.

INSIGHTS FROM Mindfulness in America EXPERTS

The day started out with a warm welcome from co-hosts Wisdom 2.0’s founder Soren Gordhamer and acclaimed journalist and author Anderson Cooper.

The first session was with Jon Kabat-Zinn, known as the “father” of the mindfulness movement.   He talked about being non-judgmental in a different way than I had heard before.  He said that it’s not that we never have judgments, but that we can, instead, be aware that we have the judgment and then choose a new perspective.  I loved this quote from him:  “When we take our seat (to meditate) it’s a radical act of sanity, a radical act of self-love”.  I take that with me to my seat now and it feels so good.  Have you tried that approach?

Jewel (who had performed a fabulous concert the night before) joined Arianna Huffington next on stage.  They both affirmed so much of what I have been sharing lately:

  • Anxiety and depression are at all-time highs.
  • Thoughts and feelings aren’t facts.
  • When we have an awareness of our thoughts, there’s a gap before taking action.  In that gap, we can choose to respond rather than react.
  • Being free of anxiety is not a destination.
  • It is possible to go from surviving to thriving.

We shifted to the tech space with Headspace founder Andy Puddicombe.  A former Buddhist monk, he shared his thoughts on making meditation available to the masses (a theme brought up by many during the day).  I was startled to learn that the Headspace app has been downloaded over 21 million times – CLEARLY, we are starved for connection to ourselves!

Arianna Huffington returned to the stage for a delightful conversation with Google’s VP of People, Karen May.  Key takeaways:

  • The more we take care of ourselves, the more productive we are.
  • The importance of taking breaks during the day, breath exercises, etc. so it’s not a cumulative problem.
  • Burnt out employees are going to act out.
  • During a recent 28 day challenge that Ms. Huffington brought to JP Morgan, 64% of their 200,000 employees participated!  They focused on sleep, mindfulness, gratitude and disconnecting from our devices.
  • She advocates keeping our phones out of the bedroom and has a cute phone charging station that makes putting our smartphones to bed part of our nightly routine.

Next up was a lively discussion on Mindfulness, Diversity & Social Justice with Professor of Law Rhonda Magee and Mindfulness Researcher Dr. Amisha Jha. They talked about the importance of bringing mindfulness to diverse populations.   It was scary to hear how stress and poor mood is “like kryptonite to the brain and it depletes our attention”, while it was uplifting to hear that Ms. Magee advocates bringing contemplative practices into higher ed. (For many years, I’ve said we need to teach these practices in school!)

Another shift in the conversation as George Mumford, a sports mindfulness coach, took the stage.  He talked about the “stress of success” and how that’s true not just for his superstar clients like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.  He also reinforced what has become the main message in my work:  “Between stimulus and response is a space – in that moment, we can choose to react or respond.”  I loved this quote from him:

“Mindfulness is to know you’re in a box and get out of it”.

Then the focus shifted from Mindfulness in America to Mindfulness in New York City and we met some powerful people doing amazing things to advance the mindfulness movement in the Big Apple:

It already felt like a full day and it was only lunchtime!  As fate would have it, I “happened” to run into someone I’d been thinking about a lot recently (has that ever happened to you?)  Then,  another #cantmakethisup moment happened when I asked a stranger if she’d like to have lunch together.  When I asked her name, I said “of course!”.  I chose JOY for lunch!

Back from lunch, was perhaps the most powerful and impactful session of the whole Mindfulness in America event for me.  The inventor of the iPod and co-inventor of the first three generations of the iPhone, Tony Fadell, talked openly about the unintended consequences of these devices and how addictive they are.  This is something I’ve been concerned about for 24 years, since I saw a neighbor boy with one of the first hand-held games and thought “oh no, this isn’t good.

Mr. Fadell talked about the dopamine hits we get when we hear the alerts on our phones and how pulling from the top to get our email is like the one-armed bandits on a slot machine.  Take a minute and do both motions and I’m pretty sure you will get goosebumps like I did.  He shared “these devices are all consuming…if we let them.  You’re in control of your own life, no matter what”.  (Are you willing to turn those notifications off?)  It was chilling to hear him wonder if his grandkids will think he’s “the guy that destroyed society”.

Soren Gordhamer returned to moderate a panel on Responding to our Times:  Mindfulness, Ethics and Right Action in a Changing World. This was an insightful panel and I had many valuable takeaways from all of the panelists.

From Leslie Booker:

  • Your practice has to be your work and your work has to be your practice.
  • We need everybody at the table. Let’s all come together and figure out a collective way to move past this.
  • Find the humanity in everyone.  We need to fall back on love.

From Jonathan Rose from the Garrison Institute:

  • We can only heal the issues in front of us when we realize we’re all in this together.
  • We have to build the world we imagine.  We have to dream the world we want to create.

From Joanne Page from the Fortune Society:

  • Shared Kurt Vonnegut’s  quote: “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”
  • We can change the world we’re in by simple truths like the Golden Rule, Core Values, etc.

Anderson Cooper returned to the stage to be interviewed by Karen May.  He was delightful!  Open, funny, charming are just a few words to describe this magical half hour!  He shared his journey with mindfulness and how he tries to mono-task (instead of multi-task):  “When I’m in the car, I’m focusing on the trees going by, the breeze on my face…”  He said how initially he felt anxious, but then he realized his day was better.

He got a lot of laughs when he shared “By cutting back on Twitter, my life is demonstrably better!”  Like many others during the day, he also advocated for unity:  “We talk left, we talk right, but like a ship, we move forward.

As Jon Kabatt-Zinn is considered to be the father of mindfulness, the next speaker Sharon Salzberg is a world-renowned meditation teacher.  I’ve had the privilege of being on retreat with her and she is a beautiful and wise teacher.  I could write a whole article just on what she shared, but here are a few takeaways:

  • So many people say, “I tried it once and I failed at it.”
  • Mindfulness is not about inhabiting our lives but observing our lives.
  • People ask “What’s the dose? What’s the least amount of time to meditate to see the benefits?”  Neuroscience says 8 minutes, but I don’t know how healthy it is to go for the bare minimum!

Next, we were led to the science of mindfulness with psychologist, journalist and author Daniel Goleman.  He explained how clinical psychology looks for what is wrong, while mindfulness looks for what could be right. He also shared that meditation and mindfulness are mental fitness and that mindfulness changes your relationship with pain and disease.

He has done extensive research into what meditation can and can’t do for us and how we can get the most out of our practice, sharing that even beginner meditators can experience more attention and focus, improved working memory and some stress recovery.

LinkedIn VP Scott Shute and Eileen Fisher then shared what they have learned from the personal practices of mindfulness and then introducing and implementing the practices in their companies.  Mr. Schute’s advice for those who want to bring mindfulness to the workplace is to “Build a community – a lot of people are waiting to be invited.  You don’t have to have it all figured out”.

“Mindfulness lets us take control of that spirit, that life force that lets us be a force in the world”. Arianna Huffington

The day,  Mindfulness in America, wrapped up with a fabulous conversation with David Simas, CEO of the Obama Foundation.  Interviewed by Jon Kabat Zinn, Mr. Simas shared a moving story about his parents, who emigrated to the US from Portugal.  When his parents experienced a tragedy, their neighbors and family lifted them up and said that’s what we need to do now.  He talked about the “deep collapse of trust” in our society today and how the collapse of trust lead to a sense of tribalism vs. a sense of community, and how mindfulness is needed now more than ever before.

He received a standing ovation as he closed with “We have a responsibility to take what we learned here today and not simply leave it here.  Take it far and wide to the community”.  And that is what I will leave you with as well.

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