Mindfulness training is big in corporate suites, but the connection between mindfulness, compassion and sustainability needs to be promoted.
By Laura Musikanski, Executive Director, The Happiness Initiative
April 2, 2014, was a big day at the United Nations. It was a day for the for-cause/non-profits (“NGOs”) to gather together and explain who they are and what they do for governments at the UN. They call it the CoNGO.
It was also the day a small group of UN-affiliated NGOs came together in the heart of Manhattan to change the world.
The meeting was held by my friend Ken Kitatani, who leads an international spiritual organization called Center for Spiritual Development, Rick Clugston, a mover and shaker who bridges the world of sustainability (he was involved early days in the Earth Charter) and spiritualism, and Kurt Johnson, longtime inter-spiritualist and author of The Coming Interspiritual Age.
Sustainability Development Founded on Spiritual Growth
These three are leading the change to develop a set of spiritual principles that speak to everyone, even the agnostics and humanists. They hope such a set of principles will foster the transformation of our economic, social, natural and personal environments.
Their theory is that spiritual growth is foundational to sustainable development, the fruition of the happiness movement and a new economic paradigm. Ken likes to say we need to connect head, hand and heart. They call their effort Forum 21 – named after Agenda 21, the sustainability action plan developed after the first Earth Summit in Rio.
The day started with Ken, Kurt and Rich setting the stage followed by Grove Harris from the Temple of Understanding. She spoke about what she calls “sacred activism.” With a passion, she urged the spiritual leaders in the room to step into their power and use their practice to support their activism through hyper-local solutions. She gave examples of a low-income community coming to its own aid by growing and sharing food. And then she added:
“Stay at the level of profundity. Think deeply and to use your power for freedom of all and reconstruction of current systems. Be humble. Partake and enjoy pleasure.”
People's Treaties on Sustainability
She was followed by Uchita Zoysa, who flew in from Sri Lanka to talk about his project, People’s Sustainability Treaties. He was equally passionate, telling the story of a young man living in South Asia who worked two full-time jobs seven days a week.
When Uchita asked the young man what he planned to do with his life, he responded, “This is what I will do – I must support my family, my mother, father, sisters.” Uchita punctuated his talk with an exclamation: “That is slavery!” He went on, “when people live with the level of consumption of the U.S., Europe and Canada, by force there will be slavery.”
Uchita's message: a transformation grounded in the sort of principles Forum 21.
Happiness & Community: Youth Take Action
I had been brought in to share information about the Gross National Happiness (GNH) Index. I explained that the origins of The Happiness Initiative were in sustainability and over 33,000 people had taken the GNH Index. I also told the story of a youth council at the Vietnamese Friendship Association.
They had taken the GNH Index survey and scored lower than others on every domain.
With a small budget, the council decided to hold a “Spring Off.” About 200 youngsters gathered together at a local community center to learn how to make fresh spring rolls, an important food in their culture, followed by a spring roll eating contest. After that, the local police force sat down with the young people and answered questions in an effort to build confidence and trust in local government. At the end of the day, the children were happy with what they had accomplished.
Four Pillars of Spiritual Social Change
I also emphasized the need in our country for connecting personal happiness with social change for a new economic paradigm referring to the four pillars Kurt had mentioned earlier: the golden rule, ethics, social justice and contemplation. Grove had talked about the need to convey complexity in simple terms.
Ann Hughes was also in the audience. She is bringing an understanding of mindfulness to children, families, schools and communities. She had not spoken during the day but for her introduction, and sometimes that is enough.
Ken, in his introduction, had talked about one of the goals of Forum 21 was to integrate mindfulness training into public schools. I sat down after my talk and caught my breath. Once in a while you get a moment of clarity.
Mindfulness Training: A Pathway to Compassion?
Mindfulness training has become all the rage in a handful of Fortune 500 companies. Google is doing it. McKenzie is doing it. Aetna, Procter & Gamble and Apple are doing it. Mindfulness training is one of the pathways to compassion. It can connect the mind, hearts and hands. At the end of my day, I wondered if the simple language to convey incredible complexity could be expressed in one word, and if Kurt’s four pillars, in a sense, constructed of the same material: breathe.
Perhaps the Fortune 500 companies have it right. Perhaps the path to connecting happiness and wellbeing at the individual and organizational level is mindfulness – a focusing on the breath or other object for meditation. Perhaps with mindfulness training we can, as a people, a nation, the human race, connect our own happiness to the wellbeing of others and the planet.
For now, my one word to convey the incredible complexity of sustainability, the happiness movement and a new economic paradigm is this: breathe.