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  • Elizabeth Sandler

Mindfulness is dying... and living

After 25+ years in financial services, I never thought I would be writing an article about Mindfulness. I have just come back from 5 days of non-doing at a retreat with Jon Kabat-Zinn. I am not naming-dropping to garner credibility; I am a self-professed infant in the world of Mindfulness and Meditation. This acclaimed teacher, or rather learning companion, called upon me to share what two years of research and practice have taught me about Mindfulness. A journey I started in order to validate the purported benefits personally and scientifically -- decreased stress and anxiety, improved memory and productivity, increased health and energy.

After sitting wordlessly for so many hours, I now find myself with a lot to say. Since the workshop was "Vegas Rules," I can't mention anything said there; however, the insights in this article came from within myself – the fortunate by-product of silence and stillness.

Mindfulness is a fight to the death

Humans are the only mammals believed capable of recognizing the eventuality of their death. Despite this ability, many of us live in a half-asleep denial of our mortality. Mindfulness makes us realize that "life is short" if you sleep through it and life is long if you are awake for it. Mindfulness isn't about bucket-lists or living like you're dying, it is about living in the present, not ruminating about the past or aimlessly dreaming of the future.

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."
– Henry David Thoreau

Mindfulness has the power to slow down death, in ways that I expect we have yet to discover fully. The top three causes of death in upper-middle-income countries are heart disease, stroke, and pulmonary disease, all of which are significantly influenced by smoking and poor nutrition. Dr. Judson Brewer's programs Craving to Quit and Eat Right Now use Mindfulness to help people quit smoking and make healthy food choices, respectively. Mindfulness-based health programs have proven more successful in changing actions and behaviors than willpower or chemical-replacement based options. 

Mindfulness is thriving over striving

In the business world, we use words like achievement, leadership, high-potential, accountability, performance, and if you are at a progressive firm, maybe emotional intelligence, empathy, purpose, and employee experience. These words have an essential place in our workplace vocabulary, but they too often infer judgment, not-enoughness, and a need to be better than we are. Mindfulness cultivates a mindset of receptivity and reinforces your awareness and acceptance of who you are at this moment. 

Mindfulness takes you off the long career path with its bumpy "strengths and weaknesses" terrain and puts you at a crossroads. What Dr. Kabat-Zinn calls the "intersection of here and now." For just a few moments maybe don't imagine life as one endless and windy road but rather one with an infinite number of intersections. Perhaps consider how pausing at each of these intersections might impact your decision-making, your relationships, and your life choices.  If you change your definition of success to focus on equanimity rather than achievement it may change how you live each moment.

"As long as our culture defines success as money and power, we’re stuck on a treadmill of stress, sleep deprivation, and burnout." - Arianna Huffington

Mindfulness is too hot to handle

Yoga and Meditation are both Mindfulness practices. Some say Mindfulness is a fad, and maybe the term has been recently overused, but Yoga and Meditation are thousands of years old. According to a CDC survey, Yoga and Meditation now have the same number of participants. Despite Headspace's 40 million downloads and Calm's $1 billion valuation, Meditation's commercial value woefully lags the $80 billion global Yoga industry. Like Meditation, Yoga requires commitment and significant effort. Most of us know someone who moved from the weight room to the Yoga mat only to be surprised by how challenging it is.

Yoga has several mass-market advantages over Meditation, namely, physically visible results and the bias towards doing something active. Plus there is the lucrative retail tie-in; Yoga apparel company Lululemon had $3.29 billion revenue in 2018. Meditation doesn't have Yoga's modern-day advantages, but I expect both of these Mindfulness practices are here to stay. The benefits are too scientifically validated and frequently espoused to be a fad.

Mindfulness is too deep to dabble

If you are intrigued and have been thinking of dipping your toe in the Mindfulness stream, I advise against it. Mindfulness is so profoundly deep and complex that having a superficial relationship with it won't do either of you justice. That said, there is research that meditating even 5 minutes a day has benefits. 

But, if you are interested in investing the time and space, I have highlighted four programs you could consider (I am not an affiliate of any of these). I've divided these into four generic profiles not to stereotype but to be illustrative:

For scientists, clinicians and anxiety-ridden: Jon Kabat-Zinn wrote the curriculum for the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program in 1979 at the University of Massachusetts. The 8-week MBSR training runs for two hours, once a week plus home practice. It gradually builds from 3-minute meditations and mindfully eating a raisin, to 45-minute meditations and a full day of silence. Certified teachers offer MBSR globally, but make sure you attend a properly credentialed course.For Spartans, triathletes and early-worm catchers: Robin Sharma has been helping clients maximize their productivity via The 5 am Club for over 20 years. The program involves waking up at 5 am (the time is non-negotiable), then doing 20 minutes of vigorous exercise, then 20 minutes of Meditation and finally 20 minutes of personal development (the order is also non-negotiable). Sharma wrote the book of the same title in a story format that may not appeal to all, but Vishen Lakhiani's Mindvalley Podcastwith Sharma explains the system and rationale quite nicely.For techies, entrepreneurs and creatives: Emily Fletcher's Ziva Meditation includes online and in-person program options all founded on three pillars of Meditation, Manifesting (i.e., visioning) and Mindfulness. Fletcher studied Ziva's mantra-based meditation technique in India. For the insomniacs, Ziva also has a Manifesting Sleep program. Don't be put off that Ziva's testimonial page looks like a modeling agency casting book; Fletcher is the real deal.For corporate managers, HR professionals and graduate students: Google's nonprofit spin-off Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute has been delivering its namesake program on developing emotionally intelligent leaders since 2007. The two-day training, available across the globe, starts with Mindfulness and Self-awareness then moves through three more modules before ending with Leadership. My notebook from the course includes a letter to myself, a description of my ideal future and the characteristics of three people I admire.

In my Introduction to MindFitness client sessions, I find there is a wide variety of preferences about how best to introduce Mindfulness. If none of the above seems to suit you or you want something for a group, please reach out, I'll be glad to offer other ideas.

Mindfulness will skip a generation

Given the current growth and trajectory, children are increasingly likely to be exposed to Mindfulness in school. The growing body of studies and research will continue to make the curriculum, budget, and staffing changes to support it. Hopefully, government-funded school systems can keep pace with the privately funded schools. Part of Meditation's beauty is that it is universally accessible -- anyone can do it, alone and for free.

Whether it is because of social media or as the antidote to it, the new generation is being drawn to Mindfulness. Children were the fastest-growing segment in a CDC studymeasuring Meditation practice in the last 12 months; positive respondents 4-17 years rose from 0.6% in 2012 to 5.4% in 2017. 

Jay Shetty, the former monk whose mission is to make "wisdom go viral," has 25 million Facebook followers. His 200,000 new followers a day put the 32-year-old Brit at the top of the non-footballer/non-entertainer list. While previous generations historically ask life's most profound questions in mid-life, the new generation is embracing contemplation at a much earlier age. 

 "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" – Mary Oliver

Standing up for Mindfulness

I am a definite "buy" when it comes to investing in the growth of Mindfulness as an industry. People will increasingly realize it is the solution to the impacts of digital hyper-connectivity, particularly for children and busy workers. It should also find a welcome place in stress-management as the proliferation of Artificial Intelligence forces shifts in how humans communicate and make decisions. 

 "When cultivated and refined, mindfulness can function effectively on every level, from the individual to the corporate, the societal, the political and the global. But it does require that we be motivated to realize who we actually are and to live our lives as if they really mattered, not just for ourselves, but for the world."
– Jon Kabat-Zinn, Coming to Our Senses 

I am a Mindfulness practitioner, investor, and qualified teacher, but I don't say Mindfulness is "Life-Changing." Mindfulness is "You-Changing," and only you can change your life.



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