About a month and a half ago I received an email notice announcing the first Mindfulness Leaders Summit to be held in the Washington, D.C., area. Over the next weeks, I visited the site several times trying to look deeper into what it was all about; its mission, goals and who would be presenting. The site announced that more that 500 leaders from 37 countries would be present. Quite honestly, for the most part I did not recognize the vast array of 25 presenters, their backgrounds and books.
Having been exposed to many Eastern and Western traditions over 45 years and as a former monk and practitioner, I knew the various lineages, the masters, gurus, and current teachers teaching some form of mindfulness and meditation toward self-discovery and liberation. Clearly, none of these presenters were on the roster or circuits I was aware of.
Over my own years as an instructor and meditation guide to many, through my retreats, events and tours, and sharing my books, I was not familiar with what I will call another whole development in the spread of the dharma. These were the guys in suits — “The Suits.” I dug deeper to see what had been the sources of their inspiration, their training to be able to bring this ancient practice of mindfulness to a world-class summit for leaders, leaders who were now taking the ancient instructions into the Fortune 500 arena and government orgs, healthcare and international relations.
I was aware of the recent scientific examinations in labs where brain science experts charted the outcomes of mindfulness and meditation on the pre-frontal cortex and how it affected the amygdala in stimulating compassion and empathetic sensitivities. Further, I was aware of the notable claims by sports teams, performers and corporate management here and there employing mindfulness as an overall strategy in the workplace.
I was curious and decided to attend the summit, participate and learn more about this groundbreaking movement. I had a lot of questions. How is mindfulness being presented to those who may have no prior interest, training or background? How are or will they be proposing the use, measurement and effectiveness to orgs that we usually considered to be bottom-line profit driven. And further, had the corporate executive world come to meditation or had practitioners outside the corporate world now penetrated the suits with demonstrated bottom-line value?
So I went. I participated. I focused with intensity. And as the summit concluded on Saturday after two days, I reflected on what had taken place and I would like to share a few thoughts. Thoughts? Oh no! Not thoughts. Let’s call them impressions.
This was not a dry, academic or intellectual banter gathering. It was heart felt and I had to chuckle at times as I witnessed the suits hugging each other. The sessions were robust and well presented by the likes of: Mark Tercek, CEO of The Nature Conservancy; Rich Fernandez, co-founder of Wisdom Labs and former Director of Executive Development at Google; Congressman Tim Ryan; and others. In the breaks and lunch period, I mingled and met so many leaders and learned that they were from diverse backgrounds.
I met people from healthcare, education, FBI, State Department, World Bank, a psychologist and those whose only credential was that they sit in silence practicing mindfulness.
One question that arose often in my conversations with long-time practitioners was whether the whole movement would tend to water down the ancient teachings from the East into nice accessible and palatable packages to be sold by corporate mindfulness coaches.
These days there is a high visibility of an industry that has grown around body, mind and spirit awareness. Yoga studios have appeared in every city. Fitness studios, hotels and spas offer it with exercise; cruise lines have classes, and even one airport I passed through recently had a time out room for sitting. There are 200-hour teacher training events offered with certification.
Was and is this the yoga of the masters, Patanjali, the mindfulness taught by the Buddha, or is this just part of the evolution of consciousness raising predicted by the likes of Paramahansa Yogananda and earlier Eastern teachers visiting the West many years ago?
What difference does it make? Who is to say how this conscious revolution is evolving or what is going to take place? This was the question we posed to ourselves.
As those of us who attended departed from the Artisphere convention center where all had taken place, I knew we all had the same question. I knew as I said goodbye with a big hug to the founders of The Mindful Leadership Summit, Mo Edjlali and Eric Forbis, that we would return again next year to meet and to reveal the effects of a most powerful experience. Thank you to all who had the vision to make this possible.