From Curiousity to Compassion: why we share mindfulness with those around us.

We strive to actively co-create A Mindful Society with all of you. Every year, we run interactive workshops inviting attendees to share their experiences, motivations, questions, and more. After each event, we analyze the resulting data to help define the content and theme of the following year’s event. In this way, we make space for flowering discussions which capture the heart of the issues that are most important to address in the moment.

In 2015 we were “Integrating Mindfulness into Society”; in 2016 we advocated for “Change from Within”; in 2017 we were “Finding Common Ground”. This year, we are exploring the journey From Curiousity to Compassion” based on some powerful discoveries about what inspired all of you to bring your personal practice out into the world. The story starts at last year’s event.

At A Mindful Society 2017, we collected stories of how 140 personal journeys from curiousity to compassion manifested through the 6 Phases of the Mindul Champion we uncovered in 2016. (We’ve blurred the names on each post-it in the photo above to maintain confidentiality)

At A Mindful Society 2017, we explored personal motivations for sharing mindfulness and compassion with others. We asked all of you to write and post what inspired you to transition through different phases in your journey. 140 of you generously shared your story with us on sticky notes. After the conference, we analyzed these stories of transition and change from members of our community. The result was a new perspective on the elements and intentions that inspire us to deepen our practice and broaden the ways in which we share it with others.

From Curiousity to Compassion” captures the common journey we’ve discovered: what starts as an initial interest in practicing mindfulness becomes a clear intention to advocate for a new way of being within the communities around us. This isn’t about your personal practice. Many teachers and facilitators do a wonderful job exploring that. The thread that draws A Mindful Society together is an interest in championing mindfulness and compassion in our communities, families, and organizations. How does someone with an initial curiousity blossom into a mindful leader? How can we nurture this development to help scale and integrate the movement into societal systems like healthcare, education, leadership, technology, government, and more?

The thread that draws A Mindful Society together is an interest in championing mindfulness and compassion in our communities, families, and organizations.

Common Elements and Intentions

In 2016, we discovered that the path to becoming a mindful leader seems to progress through a few common phases. We each may have different approaches, techniques, ideologies and motivations, but we tend to start with an initial interest, then work on committing to personal practice. Next, we diverge and explore either sharing the practice with friends/family, bringing it to our vocations, embodying intensive practice/service, or some combination of these.

In 2017, we asked attendees to share their journey across these phases. The prompt was for each attendee to document what inspired them to move from each phase to the next. Analysis revealed a few common elements which consistently lead us toward bringing our practice out into the world.

  • For some, friends and family lead us to open up about our practice.
  • Others clearly describe a specific event or retreat which shifted their motivations.
  • Many cite embodied practices like yoga and martial arts as playing a huge role in their motivation to share the practice with others.
  • Spiritual/religious traditions inspire some to deepen their practice and commit to service.
  • Specific media like apps and books (many in the community cited books by Jon Kabat-Zinn) seem to motivate sharing the practice too.
  • There are also those who grow curious about the practice, but don’t take it seriously until an event of personal suffering.
  • Finally, some get serious about mindfulness and compassion as a vocational interest (perhaps as a leader, teacher or healthcare professional), and that springs them into a virtuous cycle between their personal practice and their professional work.

Intention: An Organizing Principle for A Mindful Society

At our annual conference, we have traditionally grouped people and content together based on their professional sector (i.e. healthcare, education, business, technology, government, etc.). We thought of the conference as having distinct “tracks” for these specializations. In fact, you can see it directly in our logo — puzzle pieces representing these different tracks come together to form a unified whole.

We’re starting to see this approach as an oversimplification. By analyzing the journey of 140 diverse individuals with a wide range of life experiences and backgrounds in our community, we found six common intentions which drive us to bring our personal practice out into the world. The individuals in our community relate to mindfulness in many different ways over a lifetime, but also within a single day: as a family member, a parent, a student, a teacher, a caregiver, a patient, a professional, a sufferer, a leader, a citizen, a human being, etc.

Just because someone comes to the conference as a healthcare professional, doesn’t mean they’re not deeply interested in mindful parenting. Just because someone is motivated to bring mindfulness to their own children, doesn’t mean they’re not deeply interested mindful technologies. These fields and stages of life are all interconnected, and we limit dialogue when we divide the conference into professional sectors.

Our logo uses puzzle pieces to represent different societal systems which come together to form a unified whole. However, in terms of structuring the event itself, this organizing principle is an oversimplification.

This year’s conference structure will embrace the many sides of each individual with a different organizing principle: intention. While professional sectors certainly define our work, they don’t necessarily define how we relate to that work. This year, instead of dividing by professional sectors, we’re structuring the event to promote dialogue around six common intentions which appear to drive us toward a mindful society:

  • Philosophy and Theory— theory, frameworks, philosophies, science, dharma, conceptual understanding, canonical study
  • Inspiring the Next Generation — education, parenting, youth groups, teens, child development, setting an example
  • Addressing Vulnerability — health, wellness, mental health, inclusion, diversity, inequality, intervention, poverty, helping those in need
  • Coping with Suffering — depression, anxiety, stress, grief, injury, pain, death, coping with personal trauma, challenges in daily life
  • Community and Leadership — organizations, team culture, family dynamics, local meditation groups, spiritual friendship, decision-making
  • Commitment to Practice — courses, solo retreat practice, residential practice, monastic lifestyle, technology/apps, motivation

As a thought experiment, skim the list once more and think about which of these six common intentions best describes why you’re interested in A Mindful Society? Why are you reading this article? Why are you coming to the conference? Why are you interested in mindfulness and/or compassion, whether personally, professionally, or both?

Using intention as an organizing principle serves the community by creating many more opportunities for cross-pollination. Note how each of these six intentions has the potential to bring people together across disciplines / identities / labels / experience levels / etc. Scientists beside spiritual masters, teachers beside parents, indigenous healers beside medical doctors, business leaders beside community leaders, new practitioners beside residential monastics.

Fostering a More Integrative Dialogue

Our conference has always driven towards integrative dialogue. These six common intentions have helped us structure this year’s event to promote diversity and inclusion. In fact, when planning the conference schedule, we even took measures to ensure every time slot and every session had balance across each these common intentions.

By bringing the focus to intention, we are asking presenters not only to speak about professional work but also to highlight the personal values and experiences underlying their work.

We’ve also sent detailed analyses to all presenters, inviting them to address a diverse audience. By bringing the focus to intention, we are asking presenters not only to speak about professional work but also to highlight the personal values and experiences underlying their work. As an attendee, we hope you’ll bring this holistic tone into your every interaction at the conference too, moving quickly from initial pleasantries to deep intentions and the many ways we relate to mindfulness (we’re even planning an activity to help with this!).

To put it simply, we suspect you’ll find that people who may seem different from you in superficial ways actually share your deepest intentions. Instead of defining yourself based on a societal archetype or profession, we are hoping to empower you to choose how you’d like to relate to the community. The invitation is to cross-pollinate with a wider range of people at the conference. You’ll be surprised at how much there is to learn and share with those that seem different but have the same underlying motivation.

We’re hoping intention will be a powerful organizing principle for this year’s conference. We can’t help but wonder — could it be a powerful organizing principle for our society as well? What would the world look like if we truly gathered around our deepest intentions in personal, social, and professional communities? Let’s find out together.


Jay Vidyarthi holds the Design Thinking and Technology Chair for A Mindful Society. Follow us on Twitter for updates!

Interested? Join us at A Mindful Society 2018 on May 25–28 in Toronto!