I have a not-so-modest proposal: Mindfulness can change the world.
Okay, I’ll pause here, because I know what you’re thinking. Yes, I’m from California. Yes, actually, I have spent a little time in the “People’s Republic of Berkeley.” Okay, a lot of time. And yes, you guessed it, I do teach mindfulness, yoga and meditation seminars to all types of organizations, from corporations to schools. All of which is to say that, on this topic, I’m biased. But that doesn’t mean I’m wrong.
Let me rephrase: I believe that we can find ways to improve our own lives that directly benefit the lives of others, from the people in the next cubicle to the people in places that we can’t find on a (non-digital, non-search assisted) map. We can bring more clarity and joy to our own lives and, by doing so, bring joy to others. We can start small, by paying more attention to the present moment. Next, we can get a bit more ambitious, and make mindfulness a part of our educational programs and our daily lives. In short, we can change the world by fostering greater “mindfulness” — attentive awareness that promotes focus, creativity, and compassion — and we can do it at every level: personal, institutional, societal, and global.
Maybe, before we go further, I should tell you a bit more about myself. I’m an attorney and an entrepreneur. I first became serious about yoga as a college soccer player. Then, I thought of it as just another form of exercise. It was only during my sometimes-very-stressful years as a law student and a big-firm lawyer that I came to understand the incredible power of yoga and meditation to transform and improve virtually every aspect of my life. With time, I saw that this power also offered remarkable benefits for my professional life.
It’s no wonder, then, that everyone seems to be catching on. Yoga, meditation, and mindfulness, foundational elements of ancient Eastern beliefs and practice, have become certifiable modern “trends.” Wisdom 2.0, the non-conference-like conference (think tribe talks, yoga lounges, and nap time in the Google Chill Lounge) drew thousands of us together to discuss integrating mindfulness into business, technology, and society. From Padmasree Warrior, CTO of Cisco, to HuffPost’s own Arianna Huffington, modern thought leaders are integrating mindfulness into their lives and their institutions, and it’s working.
For individuals, mindfulness is exciting because it helps us to discover new and powerful dimensions of ourselves. For groups and organizations, mindfulness is exciting because it can lead to better communication, greater empathy, and a culture of creativity and innovation.
Dynamic corporate cultures have witnessed how mindfulness and social awareness are important components of an effective modern business strategy. Consider one of the most prominent business trends to emerge in recent years: “conscious capitalism.” From Patagonia’s “Common Threads” program to Warby Parker’s “Buy a Pair, Give A Pair” strategy, to my own company’s “OM for OM” initiative, this movement underscores the growing connection between businesses, consumers, mindful practices, and social good.
It’s because Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, spends his years outdoors that he works to protect the environment that inspires his designs. He is also pioneering the industry by challenging his customers to recycle more and buy less of his merchandise. As Joseph Campbell, the great mythologist, would say, Chouinard found his bliss (being outside and protecting nature), and remains true to it. In turn, millions of others remain true to his brand. This is the authenticity and compassion that mindfulness can help us find.
So how can organizations adapt to a rapidly evolving digital landscape while also promoting social good? Well, amid dramatic technological advancements and the ever-increasing proliferation of access to information, business practices are being revolutionized. In the new “connection economy,” amidst an increasingly crowded marketplace, companies must tell their stories, attune their messages, and operate with genuine authenticity to connect with consumers. This is what moves people to buy, work with you, and believe in you. Building these connections with others starts with knowing yourself. This principle is as salient for institutions as it is for individuals.
As Dan Pink says in his book, To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, on the new art of selling: “Make it personal and make it purposeful.” Sales today, as Dan describes them, are about being attuned, buoyancy, and clarity. Do these words sound yogic to anyone else? Yep, they do. Turning inward is how we begin to find clarity and harmony, which allow us to be more productive, communicative, and innovative. Finding this sense of balance is vital for becoming personally effective. And instilling widespread balance and focus among employees should be a foundational goal for all companies serious about competing in this new landscape.
It’s what Bill George, former legendary CEO of Medtronic, said was the key to effective leadership: going from “I” to “we,” and why Google’s Chade-Meng Tan thinks the greatest companies have compassionate leaders. After all, to inspire means “to breathe into.” And the fact that yoga, meditation, and mindfulness all come back to the breath is no coincidence.
And mindfulness at work doesn’t mean trading suits and spreadsheets for peacock-patterned leggings and kombucha tea (though I’m a fan of both). It simply means finding ways to become more aware, tapping into our reserves of creative leadership and compassion, and then practicing these skills. Because it’s always a practice.
Mindfulness is not only “on-trend.” It’s an ancient principle, as relevant today as it was thousands of years ago. It can help us grow more attentive, creative, resilient, and successful. In doing so, it can create ripples of awareness and positivity that will reverberate through our communities, our society, and our world. This is why mindfulness is not only cool, but crucial for the future of our society. As Richard Branson says, “Let’s do business like there is a tomorrow.” But to create a better tomorrow, we must start by being more mindful today.