Tag Archives: mindfulness

Timeline: Socio-historical Events + Contemplative Events

I just finished a white paper for the Fetzer Institute titled “Assessing the Current State of Contemplative Practices in the U.S.” This is a research area that I’ve been developing for the past eight years — the application of contemplative practices such as mindfulness meditation in non-religious settings, like business.

I thought you might be interested in this timeline that I created for the paper. It occurred to me that, over the past decade, there have been a number of programs, initiatives, and events involving meditation (or some other kind of practice) that have been designed in response to current events, such as the war in Iraq.

When I plotted them out on this timeline and color-coded like events (e.g. politics, science, technology), the relationship between historical events and “contemplative events” became more obvious.

Interesting, eh? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

By the way, the graphics may look a little fuzzy… just click on them and they should open in another window with better resolution. I’m still trying to figure out the best way to convert a drawing that I create in Word into a good graphic file for uploading to blogs. If you have any tips on how to do this, please let me know.


Wisdom 2.0: Technology and Mindfulness

After two rich days at Wisdom 2.0 in Mountain View, CA, I have piles of notes as well as hundreds of thoughts, experiences, and interactions to digest. I feel like I need some mental Pepto Bismol… I guess that’s kind of what meditation is.

Usually I’m the kind of writer who needs to agonize over a subject for days, weeks even, and keeps revising and revising until the words and flow are just right. This time, I’m going to jettison that instinct and give ya what I got right now… a series of impressions coming out of this conference. After all, a few of my brother/sister W 2.0 attendees have already put out their posts (namely One City, MindDeep, Samantha Bell, Beth Kanter), so my ego tells me “Let’s go!” Otherwise it might be months before you see something.

♥ To my knowledge, this is the first major event to ever bring together these two seemingly different strands: technology (in particular social networking) and mindfulness. So right off the bat, this felt like history in the making.

And the kind of people drawn to W 2.0 were the same sorts of folks who would have shown up at that cornfield-turned-into-a-baseball-field in Iowa. You know, if you build it they will come. Many of us looked around the room in awe that there could be so many kindred souls in the same space… people who get a rush out of both tweeting and following our breaths. This doesn’t seem to happen often in our ‘real’ lives.

Huge gratitude goes to Soren Gordhamer who had the vision to see this intersection and create this event to manifest it.

♥ One big theme of the conference: Happiness is good business. Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, is the lead singer of this movement, but he’s not the only one. I was impressed to hear how not only Zappos but Twitter, Google, Facebook, Whole Foods, and Samovar (a group of tea houses in San Francisco) place the physical and emotional wellbeing of their employees as a top priority, and are going about it in creative ways. Meng Tan, Google’s Jolly Good Fellow (that’s really his job title!), started up Google’s School of Personal Growth, and also told us about the free, local, organic food served in Google’s cafeteria.

When I was research director at the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society in 2003/2004, we started playing around with the idea of “Contemplative Organizations,” a concept that emerged out of the qualitative data we were analyzing at the time. These were organizations that used values often cultivated by contemplative practice as their guiding principles (e.g. reflection, interconnection), and they created ways to support this in the workplace, like meditation rooms. One of the companies we studied back then was Sounds True, whose founder Tami Simon was part of this conference.

But what’s happening now is that the scope of that idea has amplified greatly. Google, for example, has 10,000 employees. I had a real sense that a new paradigm of work and leadership is finally busting through, one based more in altruism than greed, leaving the old CEO image of Donald Trump in the dust. Some of that may be generational… I wonder if the 20- to 40-ish year-old generations have an easier time with integrating work and spirituality so that these don’t feel like two separate parts of life.

♥ Something I totally didn’t expect – learning how Twitter can actually support mindfulness and awareness. Greg Pass, Twitter’s Chief Technical Officer, gave a fascinating talk about the aesthetics of Twitter, as he experiences them. He related the art of writing and reading 140-character tweets to the points in a painting… individually they may not say or mean much, but if you follow the stream of tweets over time, you begin to see patterns and themes emerge, which evoke something more so than describe something. In essence, it activates and appeals to a different part of our brain than more ‘objective’ or descriptive essays might (my words, not his).

Greg also spoke poetically about Twitter as an invitation to experience a moment in time more deeply, to give “extraordinary attention” to something in our lives that might otherwise pass us by. Wow… never thought of it that way.

Chris Sacca, a smart-as-a-whip strategic advisor to a number of tech companies, talked about how he saw his email box as “a logjam” that interrupts his “flow and yet for him Twitter “just keeps flowing by…it’s ephemeral.” That quality of Twitter allowed him to dip into the stream of tweets when he could, to be more discerning about how he chose to spend his time and attention, and who he chooses to respond to.

♥ A number of people spoke about the usual divide between these two camps… spiritual folks often have an aversive reaction to social networking tools and technology in general. Roshi Joan Halifax broke that stereotype, talking about her appreciation of Facebook and her Blackberry. She also spoke of the “two ends of the stick” – and these are now my words again: Technology is neither inherently good nor bad. It has great capacity to connect us, to give us new modes of expression, to give us access to a wealth of information and resources, to mobilize us to action from compassion. And it can also lead to dissociation, to isolation.

This theme, too, came up repeatedly during the two days of W 2.0. Lots of people emphasized the importance of skillful means, of bringing the same quality of attention and thoughtful consideration to our decisions regarding how and when we use the social networking tools as we do to other parts of our life.

♥ Finally, one of the big takeaways for me:  I felt very grateful and inspired that at least some of the leaders at major companies like Twitter aspire to support awareness and engagement, in both their employees and the users of these technologies. And I had never thought of information and system design as a way to do this… but these guys are really thinking this through. This obviously doesn’t mean it’s always going to be used that way, but the aspiration is there.

There’s more, lots more, but that’s enough for now. History has been made.

Mindfulness and Social Media: Not an Oxymoron!

Lately, we’ve been talking about the effective use of social media tools like Facebook and Twitter as a part of your communications plan.

If you’ve read deeper into this blog, you’ll know that one of Five Directions’ core values is mindfulness – the practice of loving awareness and attention to everything in our environment.

This may seem at odds with the usual practice of marketing and communications, and particularly social media, which often emphasizes quantity rather than quality, and speed.

But that doesn’t have to be the case. This spring, there’s a wonderful event being held in San Jose, CA (the heart of Silicon Valley) called Wisdom 2.0. Organized by Soren Gordhamer, author of the book by the same name, the summit features speakers from the world of technology, business, and spirituality. Some of the people in the spotlight include Meng Tan (of Google), Greg Pass (of Twitter), Roshi Joan Halifax (founder of Upaya Zen Center), Tami Simon (founder of Sounds True), and Tony Hsieh (CEO of Zappos).

If you’re interested in attending, the dates are April 30 and May 1. You can find out more information here. I’ll be there as a journalist and covering the event for a white paper that I’m preparing for the Fetzer Institute on the current state of contemplative practices in society. Let me know if you plan to attend – I’d be happy to meet you!