Everytime I log onto my computer or do a search for meditation, Mindfulness comes up and sits at the forefront of all queries. The startling popularity and trend for this paradigm is taking a faddish stronghold in nearly every major societal system: Criminal justice, Education, Legal/Governmental, and Health Care Systems.
In the recent Mindfulness summit Mrs Mindfulness, Melli O’Brien interviewed many of the trail blazers in the Mindfulness community including John Kabat-Zinn, Joseph Goldstein, Tara Brach, Ruby Wax, Professor Mark Williams, Dr. Rick Hanson, Dr. Daniel Siegel, Professor Paul Gilbert, Tami Simon, Elisha Goldstein and Vidyamala Burch.
Daily in October, 2015, Mrs. Mindfulness interviewed one of thirty- one individuals. Near the end of every interview, she asked each of them the same question based on a statement she had recently heard from Joseph Goldstein: “Mindfulness has the capacity to change the world from the inside out”. The question she posed to each of those being interviewed was phrased something like this: “from your perspective, what do you think would happen if mindfulness really hit critical mass, as in 1 billion or 2 billion people. What kind of world would that create and what kind of changes would we see?” The responses were all very individualized, thoughtful, and dare I say….mindful. My favorite, and possible my favorite interview throughout the entire summit was Mark William’s.
I’m not sure if it was his sexy British accent, his thoughtful and supremely broad perspective or the way he integrated his brilliance and copious compassion in speaking about Mindfulness, but he is my new Mindful crush.
Here is a man, a researcher, an academic…. Professor Mark Williams is Emeritus Professor of Clinical Psychology at Oxford and was also the Director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre until his retirement in 2013. He with colleagues John Teasdale (Cambridge) and Zindel Segal (Toronto), developed Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy for prevention of relapse and recurrence in major depression. He is also co-author of the best selling book ‘Mindfulness: Finding Peace In A Frantic World.’
He brought a litany of thought provoking issues in response to Melli Obrien’s question about Mindfulness hitting critical mass.
He pointed out that in the ancient teachings of Mindfulness, known as Vipassana, a moment of mindfulness never came without a moment of compassion, equanimity, kindness, or joy. Simplifying it even further, he said that a practice of any one those qualities will foster Mindfulnessbecause in their existence compassion, equanimity, kindness, and joy are a family of qualities.
To me, that was refreshing. Many of us in the western world through our compulsion to over think have a tendency to analyze and dissect a tradition or paradigm to the point of puree. We over process and over intellectualize craving certification and proof of mastery an intellectual place. What I hear him saying is Mindfulness as a practice is a place of intent and action. To practice kindness is to practice Mindfulness. To practice the quality of joy is practicing Mindfulness. In this way one can teach him/herself mindfulness by cultivating any one of these qualities.
Brining mindfulness to a place of humility, Professor Warren, commented that as Mindfulness is really taking hold, it could easily become a panacea. He describes a sort of frenetic popularity of Mindfulness. In his response to the posed question he suggests that “after the froth has died down, the frenetic activity has gone, and the tide is out” that which remains on the beach of Mindfulness will become sustainable.
There are positive indications of changes occurring in the health care system, the education system, the criminal justice system, big corporations, and, in Britain, the parliament system. Not surprisingly, the British government has made legally binding changes that include mindfulness in their process. People in these places, in these systems, are propelling these changes not because of the evidence they are seeing and reporting, but because of their own sense of value of and experience with Mindfulness. There is an increase in the individuals embracing Mindfulness and a need for further increase in changes in these systems, through individuals, to cultivate a different approach to life.
In the education system educators are beginning to recognize their blind-ended request to students to pay attention without teaching students how to pay attention and attention acquisition is shifting from being identified as a soft skill to the foundation of all learning. In the words of Professor Williams, “if the mind is not tending, learning will not occur”.
Professor Williams also describes that the expectations in the work world have changed monumentally over the past 20-30 years. Historically, People worked 8 hours a day and if they worked overtime it was acknowledged in their pay. Suddenly, he says, hours and compensation are considered ”old fashioned”, and an issue for the union to handle. He goes on to say that concurrently the definition of excellence in the work place began to be defined as working as much as you would like to work and began to be modeled to the whole world by a few small start up entrepreneurs in Silicone Valley. We have created a new template, a gold standard to work well beyond 8 hours, into evenings and over weekends. Now every generation has to rediscover the fact that after about 8 hours of work the brain stops working, it goes to sleep. Now every generation has to rediscover that you can be more productive if you take short periodic rests.
Professor Williams used Henry Ford as an example. In 1915 henry Ford increased the salary of his workers and cut their working hours. What he saw was an increase in productivity. In the decades that followed other large companies followed suit.
Professor Williams, in a way, called out top influential companies to reproduce what Henry Ford modeled: that after about 40 hours of work per week productivity is an illusion, taking breaks enhances productivity and creativity benefitting the bottom line immeasurably, and that some influential company /CEO (Google) needs to model this in order to change patterns of thinking and self destructive behaviors of wanting to be the last person to leave. It has come to be an accepted way of thinking that leaving after 8 hours of work is for losers
Evidence is showing that contemporary desk jobs actually require more of a rest break than factory workers and if the brain dos not get a rest, it will take a pause anyway resulting in the ever predominate “foggy brain”. The brain needs nourishment and rest built into evenings during the workweek and a break on the weekend. “If Mindfulness can do that CEO by CEO, company by company, if Google could say ‘we pay you to work and we pay you to take breaks’, the rest of us are going to have a hard time changing this pattern” states Professor Williams.
Speaking from a social reform and mental health standpoint Mark Williams reported that the research being done on depression indicates that it will affect 20% of us, essentially 1 billion people on the planet. In our societies the people that depression will have the greatest impact on and who will be affected the most are those with the fewest resources, the most isolated, and the poorest.
For Williams one of the most important things that can happen is that Mindfulness will be built into the systems: health, education, social, legal, and criminal justice, so that it is not just the people who can afford to go to Mindfulness retreats that benefit from it. By building Mindfulness into these systems it will be available to the poorest and the most vulnerable teaching them a more active problem solving approach to improving their resources.
He sums up his perspective by pointing out that at the end our lives we won’t be able to practice Mindfulness but hopefully our loved ones or caregivers will be caring for us through Mindfulness…. compassion, joy, equanimity, and loving-kindness. He says, “At the end of my life it won’t matter that I was a professor at Oxford University. The question is are we looking after the people who cannot look after themselves? That is the acid test for a compassionate society.”