I have been absorbed in my own world of dedicated traditional practice in my specific Buddhist tradition for years. I have certainly been aware that mindfulness meditation practices, in various forms, and--of course--yoga, have become increasingly popular. I was surprised to see, however, how many business leaders, such as Bill Ford from Ford Motors, and many (apparently famous) tech entrepreneurs such as Bill Evans—formerly of Twitter—and top executives from Facebook, Google, and Linked-in are willing to be “out” not only about their meditation practices, but the role that compassion and wisdom play in their world view. This was complemented by many researchers and grass-roots activists who are working to bring these practices and compassionate values to their communities and the world.
Two members of Congress spoke about the intersection between their political work and their personal practice… Tulsi Gabbard and Tim Ryan, and I was impressed with their humility and good heart.
Marianne Williamson, a prolific and popular writer and lecturer on spiritual topics, was perhaps the biggest surprise. She speaks in a style that obviously draws from Christian preachers, even through she is not that, and initially I had the impulse to leave the room, because the studied style of professional speaker on the circuit usually sends a signal to me that I am about to be hustled. But, what a pleasant surprise when the message she sent was to throw down the gauntlet to the all of there, especially the business leaders, to use all that brain and financial power to do real good in the world… and specifically to get together and do what needs to be done to eliminate extreme poverty in the world.
But more important than the big talks were discussions I had with individuals about their current work and projects that I am working in. I have a project I am in the formative stages of, and it was very good for me to see the big picture of what will certainly be an eventual revolution in the U.S. – balancing inner life and outer work and new values that inevitably come out of that. As San Francisco goes, so goes the nation. Eventually.
These people were mostly coming from the doing side and trying to bring in the contemplative side, and I come from the contemplative side and am moving into doing. I just listened and watched, like a beginner all over again, asking myself again and again “what can I take from this into my work?” “What do I bring to the table as a strength.”
Inside I watched my various reactions to the environment, from my snarky anti-authoritarian side, to my pride rearing its head, and also (not unrelated) what would push my buttons. I found that my own capacity to actively engage with others – almost everyone there was a total stranger – needed to be balanced with unengaged times, some lunches alone, and a few chair naps. There were a lot of sub-spaces, including a meditation room and a yoga room, which I admired from afar.
I recommend this gathering—if you or your organization can afford it—to folks who are engaged in wisdom and compassion work, in any setting, as a way to expand and connect in the larger world of people who will get the significance of what you are doing.