I just returned from NYC from an invitation only conference on the third metric for success: beyond money and power, hosted by Arianna Huffington. I’m not one for mindless flattery, so it is with great sincerity that I say that Arianna is a force to be reckoned with. She’s extremely bright and incredibly effective so perhaps it’s no surprise that the event was so successful. For me, however, the event cut both ways. It’s been forever since I attended a conference without being a speaker. This was even more unusual since the event was really a conference on the importance of being mindful. Not being acknowledged by speaker after speaker was a blow to my ego. At times I felt like saying, maybe shouting, “yes, yes, I couldn’t agree more since I’ve been studying this since the 1970’s and making all the recommendations that were being presented as new.”
Let me respond now to a few of the questions asked but not really answered.
Katie Couric said she had trouble with the idea of meditating and asked for an alternative but none was given. We’ve been researching mindfulness without meditation for over thirty five years. Actively drawing novel distinctions is the essence of mindfulness. One can simply ask themselves how the person they live with, the job they are doing, or/and the environment they are in is different is several ways from the day before and make a practice of looking for novelty. When we travel we expect everything to be new and so we notice, become engaged, and enjoy ourselves. The problem is that when we’re not on vacation we suffer from an illusion of stability and think everything we once experienced is the still the same. Everything is always changing and looks different from different perspectives. Bringing that expectation of not knowing to our daily lives will encourage us to actually notice and be in the present.
Dr. Mark Hyman, who I like and respect, responded to Katie by saying essentially “no pain , no gain,” a statement with which I strongly disagree. If there is pain, probably best to find some way of gaining. But one can gain painlessly. Mindfulness is effortless not painful. In fact, humor relies on mindfulness. A joke is funny when you understand something in one context and realize you didn’t at first see that it could be understood very differently. There may be some effort in one trying to be mindful through the practice of meditation, but , again, there is a path to mindfulness without meditation.
Someone else briefly mentioned that schools should teach mindfulness. In my 1997 book, the Power of Mindful Learning, I discuss how our schools actually promote mindlessness and how easy mindful teaching/mindful learning actually is.
Several people spoke about the importance of taking moments out of the day to renew ourselves. This would certainly be an improvement over a 40 hour mindless work week. The problem I have with this is that it implicitly suggests that work has to be tedious or stressful. I’m sure among this very successful audience I wasn’t the only one who loves the work we do. If we are working mindfully, the work is rewarding and energizing without the need for renewal. Many years ago we did research where we had people performing the exact same task but for half it was defined as work and for half as play. The former group had trouble paying attention to the task while for the latter it was enjoyable. If you feel you NEED a vacation, chances are you’re doing your work mindlessly, in which case, renewal breaks are important.
Several spoke about the money that corporations would save in health care costs by teaching their employees to be mindful. Many companies are reluctant to break up the work day for time for meditation. For those companies mindfulness without meditation is a lively alternative. Moreover, we have data providing evidence that mindfulness without meditation results in greater creativity and innovation.
Once I thought about how nice it would be to live in a world where our healthcare, corporations, schools and the general culture were more mindful, it ceased to matter to me whether this came about with or without meditation or some combination of the two. I settled into my chair and completely enjoyed the rest of the event.