I just returned from Wisdom 2.0, the fourth annual conference held in San Francisco that brought together over 1,500 people interested in ‘how we can live with greater presence, meaning and mindfulness in the technology age.’ While speakers like Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn and Evan Williams, Co-founder of Twitter, gave me a renewed sense of enthusiasm and understanding of the positive ways the internet and social media are being used to connect people, share knowledge and bring opportunity to people all over the world, the inherent dangers of being too wired, too distracted and too stressed because of constant connection necessitates our need to also disconnect and re-tune ourselves on a regular basis. This is where mindfulness meditation can be a key element not only to living with more awareness and focus, but also to increased productivity and creativity.
It was inspiring to hear how many great leaders, managers and innovators such as Congressman Tim Ryan, Bill Ford and Arianna Huffington rely on their own daily practice of meditation to help them stay grounded, make good, sound decisions, and manage with compassion. Perhaps it is a simple practice, but it is not always easy, given the compelling allure of constant technological connection and the nature of our meandering minds.
According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program at UMass, mindfulness is a form of meditation that fosters awareness. Jon said, ‘We get tons of training in thinking and it’s our thinking which can be tyrannizing, causing huge amounts of stress….but no training in awareness. So mindfulness is the awareness that arises from paying attention on purpose, in the present moment and it is non-judgmental. Mindfulness meditation then is the self-regulation of attention.’
Mindfulness begins with dropping in, connecting to your breath and becoming fully aware of the present moment, the only moment we only ever really have. Connecting with the breath, for even a few minutes, is one of the ‘doorways to attunement’ that Arianna Huffington spoke about. And it’s not just through meditation that we can ‘listen to the whisperings’ of our hearts and the universe to foster attention, focus, creativity and innovation, but also through other practices such as yoga, gardening, or a walk in the woods. For me it’s often sitting at the piano and just playing, nothing in particular, but just expressing in melody whatever my heart feels at that moment. While I have a formal ‘sitting’ meditation practice, playing the piano also allows me the focus and flow that, similar to meditation, allows me to turn down the volume of the voices in my head and listen more carefully the song in my heart.
Congressman Tim Ryan, author of A Mindful Nation, expressed it beautifully when he said, ‘Meditation gave me the courage to say, 'This is who I am.' You will always have the salvation of being yourself.’ Fostering that awareness and courage to be yourself starts with creating the space to allow yourself to be, and not always do. It is then we can bring our best selves into the world and use technology as an aid to how we show up in it, not just as a distraction and deterrent.
My own personal vision statement embodies ‘living a life in tune.’ Unlike striving for balance, being in tune means being in continual harmony with myself, with my work and with the people in my life. Practicing mindfulness meditation is the tool, the tuning fork, that brings me to harmony with myself and those around me, and I’m grateful for people like Jon Kabat-Zinn who expounded on this practice:
"We need to learn how to tune our instruments, and then to learn how to re-tune, and re-tune...
I like to sometimes say that even the greatest symphony orchestras with the greatest musicians,
the greatest instruments and the greatest music to play…they don’t just get together on the stage and start playing. They spend quite a bit of time tuning.
So that is in a sense what meditation also is. It’s tuning the instrument so that we know the instrument, that we are the instrument, that we embody the potential of our own being, and that we care for it and take care of it, and harmonize it, so to speak, so that when we take it out on the road, it’s functioning in the ways that can interact and resonate with other instruments, with other human beings, when we speak about community, connection, connectedness…that can optimize wholesomeness and well-being."
Constance Howard is an award-winning singer/songwriter, piano teacher, chocoholic, and impassioned traveler. This blog post also appears at Nashville.com.