6 Phases of the Mindful Champion

Those working to champion mindfulness and compassion in their communities know that motivation poses a major obstacle. There can be no mindful society without individuals committing to the practice. Yet according to a discovery outlined in our last article, we don’t seem to naturally look for support in this area. How might those working to bring mindfulness to society best engage the motivation of their students, patients, clients, colleagues, peers, or citizens?

At our events, attendees are encouraged to share their unique experiences to fuel integrative articles like this one.

We decided to explore the question of motivation further at the 2016 edition of our annual conference. Motivation is a personal thing, so we knew we had to go beyond a simple brainstorm. We decided to invite the mindfulness champions who attend our event to walk through an interview process one at a time. Myself and two wonderful facilitators (gratitude to Lesley Look Hong and Torey Taferner!) set up 5 questions on the wall exploring personal motivations for starting, practicing and sharing mindfulness:

  1. How were you first introduced to mindfulness?
  2. What are your challenges with this practice?
  3. In what ways do you share the practice with others?
  4. What action can / do you take to make a more mindful society?
  5. What support do you need?
Attendee insights were organized to facilitate analysis. Each column represents a different question. Each colour represents a different sector of society(education, healthcare, etc.). The height of a post-it note represents years of experience sharing mindfulness with others.

We captured everyone’s insights and ended up with a rich tapestry of experiences to study. We found out that our community varies widely in experience, practice, background and more. Yet the journey of sharing mindfulness itself appears to be fairly uniform in many cases. Individual histories reveal a wealth of unique stories which often follow a natural, common trajectory. We dove into data analysis after the conference and took our first stab at articulating 6 clear phases.

From Curiosity to Community

PHASE 1 — “I am curious about these practices and I want to learn more for my own personal development.”

The first phase represents an informal introduction to contemplative practice. People often fondly remember the journey starting with a curiosity fostered by yoga, martial arts, books, presentations, or therapy. Those of us who teach formal mindfulness classes would be smart to remember the power of these informal resources to inspire complete beginners.

PHASE 2 — “I am practicing occasionally/regularly either on my own or in a group setting for my own personal development.”

Those who connect and identify with the process and values tend to begin some sort of semi-regular personal practice. Some report exploring individually using a wide range of materials, while others join some form of community to practice in a group.

PHASE 3 — “I have introduced and shared these practices with close friends and family.”

When it comes to sharing the practice, the first place people tend to go are close friends and family. Many describe the practice as an intimate personal thing, which might explain why we tend to spread to those close to us first. This also might explain why many shy away from the practice when it becomes a part of work/school/etc. — how might we overcome this?

PHASE 4 — “I am committed to incorporating these practices into my existing community, workplace, vocation, team, clients, students, etc.”

Once we get more comfortable with mindfulness and the benefits become clear, some make the leap to bring the practice to work. Educators might share with peers or students. Those in business might bring elements to their teams. Healthcare and wellness professionals start to research and apply mindfulness and compassion to the way they care for patients.

PHASE 5 — “I am guiding, leading, teaching group sessions which are dedicated directly to mindfulness and/or compassion.”

There’s a smaller group who start the transition from bringing mindfulness to work to making mindfulness their work. They start to teach dedicated classes in either personal, community or professional settings. Some in phase 5 even describe mindfulness and compassion as core to their professional interests and goals.

PHASE 6 — “I have dedicated myself fully to embodying and sharing the values of mindfulness and compassion in both my personal and professional life.”

The final phase is much less populated, so we have more to study here. That being said, those few with more than a decade of experience sharing mindfulness tend to stress a full embodiment of the practice in daily life. In other words, they try and live in every interaction in such a way that mindful values are transmitted to all the people they contact.

During the conference, attendees are free to browse all their peers’ insights. But be wary, if you hang around too long, one of our friendly facilitators is sure to come invite you to participate too!

These 6 phases represent a first sketch of the journey from curiosity to community. There is more work to be done to clarify and confirm these phases. But the larger point still stands — while practices, methods, and philosophies differ, there seem to be common steps on the path to becoming a mindful champion in your community.

While practices, methods, and philosophies differ, there seem to be common steps on the path to becoming a mindful champion in your community.

When thinking about your place in this journey, you may find some individual differences — that’s expected. Also, remember that these phases are not about one’s personal development in mindfulness practice. Instead, they are a study on how we grow to share our mindfulness and compassion practice with those around us. So, you could be a mindfulness practitioner with decades of experience who’s in phase 2, or you could be a beginner who’s already inspiring others in phase 4. Both are perfectly fine phases of your unique journey!

Shaping the Vision

As an organization, we’re getting a clearer picture about our role in this movement. There are already many meditation retreats out there and the number of venues for academic research on mindfulness is growing. A Mindful Society represents a different side of the coin — we feel our role is to inspire, cultivate, support and embed mindfulness champions into the wide range of communities and systems that make up our society. We are not here to force anything. Instead, we’re here to support those bringing change from within their communities.

At our 2017 event, we are planning to explore these phases further. Not only to help understand them better, but also to understand how we might support someone to move the next phase (if that’s what they want to do). This will help us identify actions we can take to help create a mindful society by supporting champions directly. Hope to see you there!

Jay Vidyarthi holds the Design Thinking Chair for A Mindful Society. Between keynotes, workshops, and practice periods, we host and capture structured conversations for articles like this one. Follow us on Twitter for updates!

Interested? Join us at A Mindful Society 2017 on April 21–23 in Toronto!