I often kid that I’m an old woman trapped in a young woman’s body. I was almost the last person on Facebook (just ahead of my mom), only got a cellphone (the retro flip kind) in 2011 and have trouble maintaining an up-to-date blog (ahem). But all it took was a smartphone upgrade to catapult me ass first into the 21st century. At the flip of a switch I’ve become a secret device junkie. Maybe that’s why I felt compelled to get on a plane to San Francisco to go to a tech conference with 2,000 other attendees and one stated question: How can we live with wisdom, awareness and compassion in the digital age?
I’ve been trying to live with a little more wisdom of the capital-W variety since my older brother passed away three years ago. He was an avid meditator, and so meditation became my way of connecting to him. Now I see it as a pathway for many of us to connect more honestly and compassionately with ourselves, each other and nature in a crazy, disconnected world. Still, I check on my phone like it’s a newborn child. What’s the weather outside? Who just texted me? When’s the next streetcar coming? Am I falling behind on work emails? (I really don’t need to look at my phone to know the answer to that one is always yes.) So I’m here in San Fran for Wisdom 2.0, where the tech sector and meditation gurus meet annually for a thought-provoking heart-to-heart on disconnecting to reconnect.
Really I’m here because I want to be in the same room as a handful of Zen masters, hoping their magic enlightenment dust rubs off on me. People like Jon Kabat-Zinn, who introduced mindfulness techniques to the medical community and beyond, and Eckhart Tolle, bestselling author of A New Earth. If only they could text me reminders to get present and be in the now – on stage, Ekhart says he actually texts friends empty space. It looks like this [ ]. The guy is funny. Short prying my way into his circle of besties, I put his books on my phone to get a little inspiration on the go.
I also came to witness the mindful revolution in action. Exec after exec gets up on stage to share their on-the-job mindful meditation techniques. U.S. Congressman Tim Ryan explains how he’s bringing five-minute mindful meditation breaks to troubled schools and veterans, with impressive results. The surprise inspiration comes from the room of 2,000 engaged people who’ve arrived from all corners of the globe – Sweden, Brazil, Israel – mostly because they felt a tug to be part of a greater mindful societal shift. Virtually every single person I meet came here to figure out ways they can bring more mindful awareness to their communities.
Through it all, there’s a call to be more present, to get our heads out of the virtual world (yes, this is coming from the very companies that make the websites and devices we can’t stop checking) and be here for the now with more compassion.
Onstage, Tolle pokes fun at our selfie mania, “status updates” and how our hamster-wheel minds mire us in negativity. That negative mind, as he’s said before, wreaks havoc on our lives and the planet, and we won’t get a grip on global pollution unless we fix our minds first. The only antidote, he insists, is a shift in human consciousness that goes back to being present and aware of ourselves and our environment.
But there’s so much squeaky bubble wrap enveloping our brains. If only being mindful and really present full time didn’t feel as challenging as a 24-hour boot camp. Though it feels a lot better on the soul. After a weekend taking in a good dose of mindful vibes, I have to ask myself: am I really in the now right now? Truthfully, I’m just trying to ignore my cat while he paws at my keyboard to convince me he needs an extra feeding. But, hey, I haven’t checked my email, scanned the web, Twitter or my phone in what feels like an eternity, and I’m pausing to look up at the tree outside my window. I think, at this precise moment in history, that may count as fumbling a little closer toward enlightenment.
So much happened over the 3 days in San Fran it’s hard to squeeze it into 500 words. I’ve got a way bigger piece coming out in the next issue of Corporate Knights magazine discussing the rise of corporate mindfulness and what it all means from an environmental angle so stay tuned for that.