Not Your Standard Media Projects

How mindfulness can engage whole systems within our communities and spur social innovation, from James Gimian, the Executive Director of the Foundation for a Mindful Society.

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When we created the Foundation for a Mindful Society in 2011, we declared a simple mission: to support the work of mindfulness champions to increase health, well-being, kindness, and compassion in society. Back then, we could feel the momentum building and we wanted to help mindfulness enter the national conversation. “Let’s think bigger” was our cry.

Our goal wasn’t just to launch a media operation, but rather to use our journalistic capabilities to curate the field and create the best content to help make this grand experiment successful. We’re proud of the contribution Mindful magazine and have made, particularly in view of how hard the small, talented, impassioned staff has worked, often with limited resources.

With the success of these media efforts, we now have the bandwidth to expand the ways the Foundation fulfills our mission. Two interrelated initiatives have risen above the rest: Mindfulness in Education and Mindful Cities. They are interrelated because mindfulness in schools is the first exposure for many cities and because schools are the heart of the community, where everything in the life of a city plays out.

Our Mindfulness in Education initiative started with reporting on best practices for bringing mindfulness into classrooms plus a downloadable guide for parents and educators who want to bring mindfulness into their schools. Next, we’re creating free content for educators’ self-care, in a way that fits into their work/life and does not create more demand. I’ve been talking about this with leaders in the field and I’m hearing resounding support for this project, and for Mindful as the one to do it.

In just the past month, my exploration of the mindfulness in education landscape has taken me on a tour of schools in Concord and Boston with Ivy Child, on a visit to Millennium School in San Francisco with Jeff Snipes, and to spend time with Daniel Rechtschaffen, one of the field’s leaders. This week I’ll be in Ann Arbor with the Michigan Collaborative for Mindfulness in Education and in Flint with our friends from the Crim Fitness Foundation.

A recent highlight for me was attending a keynote by Wendy Baron and Marc Brackett at the New Teacher Center Symposium. The New Teacher Center mentors up to 40,000 teachers working in classrooms across the country and Wendy Baron, one of its founders, now focuses on bringing Social Emotional Learning and mindfulness into their programs. This is a good example of mindfulness meets the mainstream.

Mindful Cities is an excellent example of an initiative whose time has come; the momentum has been nearly too much for us to keep up with. I recently took part in an Ivy Child-hosted panel discussion on Boston as a mindful city with inspired leaders including Atyia Martin, until recently Boston’s Chief Resilience Officer, and our friend George Mumford. At the end of this month, I’ll be in Baltimore with our friends from the Holistic Life Foundation speaking with a local foundation about Mindful Cities Baltimore. And the Becoming Jackson Whole project in Wyoming is nearing the assessment phase and planning an exciting summit on how cities can flourish.

Essential parts of Mindful Cities are coming together with little effort. For example, I bumped into my old friend Chade-Meng Tan (Meng) the irrepressible pioneer of mindfulness and SEL at Google and the founder of Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute (SIYLI—yes, pronounced just as it sounds). In a casual chat as we strolled a conference floor, Meng shared his dream of making SIYLI training available for whole groups of leaders city-wide, and I offered that Mindful Cities could be the way to do that. Within hours we were talking with SIYLI Executive Director Rich Fernandez about making it happen.

Now, clearly, these two initiatives aren’t your standard media projects. Education budgets and city coffers are strapped, and we’re certainly not going to fund this work by selling more subscriptions in these cities or to teachers. But Mindfulness in Education and Mindful Cities are compelling social innovation projects with high leverage to help people bring mindfulness into their lives, and that’s our mission.

As with many of our initiatives, we didn’t plan things this way, we just responded as calls came to us for help and support. Then we started to notice the patterns that were emerging. What we really liked is that these folks were starting to go beyond mindfulness as just a “me proposition,” to see that it wasn’t about the parts, but about all the parts that make up the whole. People were ready for mindfulness to engage the whole system, to include all parts, which we know is one of the keys to successful social innovation.

Now that’s thinking bigger about this mindfulness thing, and we want to be there to support it.