How can we talk about mindfulness to diverse groups while maintaining a unified community?

When doing the incredible — and incredibly challenging — work of bringing mindfulness to society, we need to work together. At the same time, we often take very different approaches to introducing and teaching mindfulness. People come from all walks of life and learn in different ways, so a one-size-fits-all mindfulness program doesn’t seem appropriate. How can we talk about mindfulness to diverse groups while maintaining a unified community?

We brought this question to A Mindful Society 2015, where we led a design thinking workshop with a group of attendees: mostly professionals bringing mindfulness to healthcare, education, business and government.

Attendees at A Mindful Society 2015 trying to explore and answer this complex question. Our design thinking workshops take place in a public area, where attendees are free to come and go, listening and contributing as they please.

Celebrating our Differences

On the first day of the conference, the group was quick to chat about different approaches to mindfulness and how they connect with different people. There was a lot of agreement on which specific dimensions should be considered when tailoring language and approach. Mindfulness is not a one-size-fits-all — those introducing and teaching this intimate practice need to adapt based on:

  • Socio-cultural background and language fluency.
  • How open or skeptical participants are about the practice.
  • Demographics (socio-economic status, age, gender, LGBTQ).
  • Profession and education level.

Sometimes we find ourselves guiding lots of people at the same time. This can be more challenging. The group agreed that this situation demands us to be extra mindful of diversity. Try to keep an open mind while facilitating dialogues. Try not to generalize too much. Instead, make it clear that you’re speaking from your own experience. Avoid making unfair assumptions about your participants and remember that everyone’s experience is unique.

Unifying as a Single Movement

On day 2 of the conference, discussions elevated to a systems level. The group shared a lot about how to advocate for mindfulness programs to decision makers in your organization. In our post-conference analysis, we found a clear tension between tailoring for diversity and unifying for advocacy.

When leading a session, we can explore different approaches to mindfulness. We tailor our practices, acknowledge conflicts, address resistance directly, and create containers for productive dialogue. There’s a humility in keeping a beginner’s mind and remembering just how much we don’t know. We want to create programs where facilitators can be authentic and practices adapt to meet participants where they are.

If different practitioners are using different concepts, different language, and different practices, mindfulness can appear fragmented and messy to decision-makers.

At the same time, we need to find common ground if we’re serious about societal impact. If different practitioners are using different concepts, different language, and different practices, mindfulness can appear fragmented and messy to decision-makers. The question is clear: if every program is different, how can we represent mindfulness as a single grassroots movement taking place in all sectors? When advocating for systems change, we need to project a unified front with consistent language and secular values.

A Fluid Community of Practice

At our events, design thinking workshops always involve a lot of passionate discussion about how to best bring mindfulness to society. Which concepts are important, which elements are too controversial, which practices are best, which approaches work with which audiences, etc. Attendees draw from their deep and broad experiences to share insights and informed perspectives with each other. This is healthy dialogue for a forum like ours, where the goal is to dialogue with peers and learn from each other.

When we step out into the world to advocate for mindfulness, we need to contain this debate to a degree. The hallmark of a good advocacy group is its ability to dialogue internally with peers while presenting a consistent and unified case to the public. If we can attain this type of fluidity together, we can have more impact on the way our society teaches youth, supports workers, cares for those in need, and makes complex decisions.


Jay Vidyarthi holds the Design Thinking Chair for A Mindful Society conferences and events. Between keynotes, workshops, and practice periods, we host structured conversations which are captured and analyzed for articles like this one. More to come, so follow us on Twitter for updates!

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


Gratitude to our friends at Pivot Design Group for helping us facilitate this group discussion at the conference.