Can Mindfulness Change the World?

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Photo by Saketh Garuda

Almost anyone who has maintained a dedicated mindfulness practice for a significant period of time will tell you its changed them. They’ll tell you they are less reactive, more patient, kinder, less easily ruffled – things that used to push their buttons no longer do so. They may smile as they recount how family, friends, or co-workers have commented on the change in them. If this is the result of mindfulness practice for individuals, just imagine the impact on our world if it was practiced on a massive scale.

Soon enough, we may not have to imagine it. Even as this post is written, the power of mindfulness is being harnessed all over the world to transform suffering and increase opportunities for love and joy. Politicians and journalists, athletes and scientists, and people across the spectrum of cultural and religious ideologies and identities are practicing. Programs have been studied and delivered in the realms of public safety (among first responders, the military, and the incarcerated), healthcare (for patients grappling with physical and mental illness and among health care providers facing burnout), education (for teachers and students, including those at high risk) and in business (for both leaders and employees). Some of the findings include stress and pain reduction, better health outcomes, improved emotional regulation, greater resilience and decreased burnout rates, increased task and community engagement, greater prosocial and less antisocial behavior, improved ethical decision making during critical incidents, and a focus on restorative over retributive justice.

The interesting thing is that, rather than taking us on a little mini-vacation from our problems (a popular myth about mindfulness), the practices actually help us face difficulty. They help us build insight and skills that we can take into our daily lives. Mindfulness teachers Pat Rockman and Evan Collins from the Centre for Mindfulness Studies wrote in their article for Mindful magazine, How We Learn to Observe Our Own Biases, “We are rather asking people to turn toward challenging mind and mood states and then decide whether or not they need addressing through investigation, self-care, or skillful action. This is important for all of us, and even more so for those who are subject to various forms of oppression, prejudice, or trauma…” 

The manner in which we practice, adopting certain beneficial attitudes, helps to align our intentions and behavior with our highest values. Happiness and wellbeing tend to beget happiness and wellbeing in a beneficial and self-perpetuating cycle. Researchers conducted three studies of people’s happiness levels and their concern and willingness to take action regarding a social problem. They found that generally happier people showed more concern and willingness to help than less happy people. “People who experience more joy and happiness probably have more energy and more resources to be able to give to causes they care about,” speculated researcher Jill Suttie.

As we begin to embody the practices, we are increasingly able to look at ourselves honestly and unflinchingly. Those of us who have benefitted from inequality begin to recognize our privilege and work to dismantle it. Those who are oppressed begin to see unexamined reactions as the consequences of living in an unfair system. We all start to sense our common humanity – that we are each a small, but integral part of the greater tapestry of being. We see that the wellbeing of one is unsustainable in a vacuum. We are better able to stay connected with our deepest values, even when they are inconvenient, challenged by circumstances, or unappreciated by others. We are also better equipped to accept the inherent ambiguity of living, understanding that many things are complicated and unknowable, and that this doesn’t have to prevent us from living nobly.

I define community-engaged mindfulness as the discipline and practice of bringing mindfulness—awareness with compassion—into engagement in community, using and adapting mindfulness and compassion practices as aids in community-engaged, social justice work. – Rhonda V. Magee

The Midwest Alliance for Mindfulness is helping practitioners move beyond the realm of individual practice into engaged mindfulness connecting with the greater community. Our organization partners with a number of other businesses in the Kansas City Metro working toward the greater good. We regularly sponsor special events that raise awareness and money for philanthropic causes. We also coordinate the Mindful Kansas City initiative, a collective effort toward a kinder and more resilient community. Together we are inspiring a revolution from the inside out!

Kushlev, K, Drummond, DM, Heintzelman, SJ, & Diener, E (2019). Do happy people care about society’s problems? The Journal of Positive Psychology.

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