By Gretchen Ki Steidle, Global Grassroots and Conscious Social Change

Mindfulness is being aware of the present moment whatever it is, without judgment, yet with curiosity. Paying attention to what is. So why does it matter and how do we do it? And what does mindfulness have to do with convening and accelerating the impact eco-system?

Recently, mindfulness has found a place beyond the meditation cushion and firmly in the business and public sectors. Organizations are recognizing the results of greater productivity, focus, creativity and collaboration that come with mindfulness practice.  And service professionals, aid workers and international development staff operating in conditions of high stress are finding mindfulness is critical for self-care, trauma healing, and protection from burn-out and disillusionment. A 2011 meta-analysis of psychotherapeutic research supports a long list of benefits, including: increased positive emotions, decreased emotional reactivity, less stress and rumination, enhanced awareness and memory, less anger and conflict, increased immune functioning, and improved ability to express oneself. In other words, the more we practice paying attention, the more positive we feel, the healthier we become and the less stress we experience.  

Benefits go beyond the individual and can extend directly to our work in the social impact arena:

  • Increased attention brings a higher quality to our relationships. Mindfulness supports us in building connections with deeper human understanding.  
  • We become aware of not only injustice and the suffering of others, but also our own unconscious patterns of behavior. We see more clearly what is required to advance change because we understand how change happens in ourselves first. This brings greater compassion in working with others, our stakeholders, perpetrators and opposition.  
  • Mindfulness allows us to catch ourselves before slipping down the slope of emotional burn-out.  Instead we know when to take time out for self-care to ensure greater resiliency.  
  • With practice, we listen better – to our own wisdom and that of others. We let go of our own agenda and recognize the contributions of others for optimal creativity, flexibility, and effectiveness.  
  • Finally, we find meaning and inspire others by acting with intention and encourage others to contribute their full potential.

Unfortunately, we’re not so good at being mindful.  A 2010 study revealed that our minds wander 46.9% of our waking hours, yet people were found to be less happy when their minds were wandering. We know we can benefit from it, but we actually have to practice it.

Conventions or accelerators can serve as a dedicated space within a welcoming environment for exploring these tools for the first time. Incorporating mindfulness can improve convening by giving participants time to reflect on, find meaning in and integrate the insights and ideas they are exposed to throughout their gathering. It offers a rare opportunity to invest in their own restoration to prevent burn-out in their field of work.  And it provides space for connecting more deeply with other participants, which is often rushed with content-rich schedules.  Finally, mindfulness significantly reduces stress and supports clarity, creativity, collaboration and positive emotional states, which are of great value to organizers in maintaining perspective during the planning and implementation phases.

So how might mindfulness be encouraged at your convention? Here are four areas of consideration:  

Consider your participants’ interests and level of experience.

To encourage maximum engagement, first explore your community’s interest and experience, so as to draw upon their expertise and align offerings with their personal and professional goals.

The following three questions can guide your exploration:

  1. What are the goals of your clientele?
  2. What do they want to learn?
  3. What expertise do they have to offer for greater ownership and participation?

1. What are the goals of your clientele?

  • Wellness and stress-management
  • Creativity
  • A desire to be more reflective, unplug and slow down
  • Seeking greater insight and clarity
  • Wanting a deeper connection with colleagues, experts, supporters and other stakeholders
  • More insightful problem-solving
  • Stakeholder understanding and engagement
  • Social innovation
  • Collaboration
  • Organizational change

2. What do they want to learn?

  • Techniques to practice mindfulness
  • Ways to teach it or introduce it into the workplace
  • How it is relevant to social change
  • Research on the benefits of mindfulness
  • How to translate mindfulness into personal resiliency, conflict resolution, creative ideas, deeper engagement, compassion, more meaning, and better time management.

3. What expertise do they have to offer for greater ownership and participation? 

Consider exploring the range of experiences that you can draw upon from your own membership to incorporate into workshops, panels, lectures and dialogue:

  • PERSONAL: Individual mindfulness practices
  • ORGANIZATIONAL: Methods for integrating mindfulness into the organization
  • SOCIETAL: Frameworks and tools for applying a mindfulness lens to social issue solutions-design
  • OUTCOMES: Research, metrics and impact
  • BEST PRACTICES: Models and case studies of integrating mindfulness into advancing social innovation

Explore holistic options to engage the mind, body and emotional self.

When designing mindfulness content, it is valuable to provide a holistic range of options that allow people to nourish the whole self, including their physical, emotional and intellectual wellbeing:

  • Body / Movement: Consider offerings in qigong, tai chi, various forms of dance, mindful walking, yoga, or time to convene or take breaks in nature.
  • Emotion: Consider choices of music that inspire reflection and serenity, incorporate performing arts, art exhibits or participatory initiatives that inspire new ideas, wisdom, or connection among participants.
  • Mind: Offer avenues for sitting meditation, guided mindfulness practices, relevant readings, journaling, associated documentary film or intellectual discussion.

Create specific spaces conducive to mindfulness

While there are many opportunities to integrate mindfulness directly into your existing programming (such as with a moment of breath, silence or reflection), it is also valuable to create specific spaces that support people in carving out time to slow down and be mindful.  For example:

  • Create quiet spaces that are private and an escape from the business of conference activity for a refuge for reflection.
  • Use dimmed light, pillows or meditation cushions to foster comfort.
  • Use access to nature, plants or natural sounds to foster serenity.
  • Ensure these spaces require people to unplug from technology.
  • Incorporate questions or quotes for reflection on note cards, signs or other places that are visible to people as they move in and out of the space.
  • Offer a library of books to peruse for additional guidance.

Offer a wide range of opportunities for members to engage mindfully.

It is essential to offer a diverse portfolio of experiences that allow every person to find a practice that serves their needs best and a method of practice (e.g., group, individual, guided, silent, etc.) that makes mindfulness accessible and valuable for both the novice and more experienced practitioner.  Following are a range of ideas for consideration:

  • Create opening and closing rituals to clear minds with a few deep breaths, a moment of silence, or in contemplation of a thoughtfully offered question. This allows for quieting mental clutter and setting collective intentions.
  • Weave throughout the conference spaces and times dedicated to solitary practice and quiet reflection. No networking. No devices.  
  • Create community through organized and guided group practice sessions in meditation, mindfulness, breath, yoga or other modalities.
  • Offer one-on-one sessions with experts or wellness practitioners.
  • Integrate time into a session for reflection and journaling.
  • Use dialogue and information about the science of mindfulness to improve cognitive understanding
  • Introduce apps that allow technology to help support mindfulness practice.
  • Use small interactive groups or tables at meal times to meet daily to explore questions, readings or practices.
  • Foster new offerings through competitions among participants.

The many benefits of mindfulness are only accessible if the appropriate space, opportunities, practices and time are offered in alignment with the community’s interests and needs. By fostering these, change leaders in the impact economy will be served by their capacity to step back, reflect, cultivate self-awareness and invest in their own personal sustainability.