Of the three breathing exercises at the Wisdom 2.0 Connect conference in Boise, the second was the longest.
Michele Tae instructed the 200 attendees to close their eyes and focus on their breathing. Tae, the director of Mindfulness Center Idaho, occasionally rang her singing bell. She told them to think of the thoughts passing through their minds like clouds in a vast, blue sky.
Such exercises help people discover “mindfulness,” which encourages people to live in the moment without being distracted by their chirping Facebook alerts or a son’s hockey schedule or the chewing sound in the next cubicle.
The goal of mindfulness, the attendees were told, is to quiet noise so you can focus on the task at hand, be it performing your job or giving full attention to your spouse or the store clerk talking to you.
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The $90 tickets sold out.
Marissa Lovell, an account coordinator at Red Sky Public Relations, took notes throughout the Jan. 22 conference. The 22-year-old Boisean said she was given her ticket when her boss couldn’t use hers.
Lovell said she spends her workdays glued to email and Twitter on her computer and smartphone. At the conference, she resisted urges to check her phone or to tweet speaker comments.
“My job calls me to be on my computer, searching all of the time,” Lovell said. “I think the take-away is trying to be all there, all of the time, and that will really change how my days go.”
Wisdom 2.0 was created in 2009 as an annual conference in the Bay Area. The 2016 event, scheduled for February in San Francisco, is expected to draw 2,400 attendees from 20 countries, according to the conference website.
The conference’s popularity spurred additional Wisdom 2.0 conferences in big cities such as New York and London. Boise is among the first cities to host the offshoot Wisdom 2.0 Connect conferences, which feature local speakers.
Jim Everett, the recently retired CEO of Treasure Valley YMCA, led off the 10 speakers by asking attendees to stand up, find a stranger to touch and profess love for the stranger.
Everett talked about the need to think of children as “of potential” rather than at-risk, and for adults to live enthusiastically.
“We don’t stop playing because we grow old,” he said. “We grow old because we stop playing.”
Tom Magnusson delivered a lecture from his wheelchair about how he chose to adopt an optimistic mindset after a spinal injury robbed him of the use of his legs.
Martin Tubach, a Boise ear, nose and throat physician and surgeon, talked about the need for medicine to embrace a mindful approach that considers the source of physical and mental problems rather than just treating symptoms.
Healthwise founder Don Kemper and Molly Mettler, Kemper’s wife and Healthwise’s senior vice president of mission, spoke about the value of creating a supportive corporate culture.
John Michael Schert, longtime professional ballet dancer and former executive director of the Trey McIntyre Project, received what might have been the largest ovation after explaining the role mindfulness plays in the creative process.
Great dancers don’t think about steps, Schert said. They think about the ideas behind each movement, making each pirouette or plié more emotional than mechanical.
Living in the moment has become more difficult with technology demanding more of our attention, he said. “How many of you wake up and within 10 seconds reach for your phone?” he asked.
“Presence” was a popular word throughout the conference, as were “passion,” “awareness” and “empathy.”
Simplot’s plant sciences division holds weekly mindfulness classes hosted by Dana Menlove, founder of Boise’s Center for Mindful Work and emcee of the conference. Simplot sent 12 employees to the conference.
Attendee Carolyn Volk, youth environment education coordinator at Foothills Learning Center, said mindfulness is a new word for concepts rooted in old-world religion and spirituality. Volk said she hoped to take the speakers’ messages to heart by clearing her head and approaching each day as a fresh start.
Volk said she would try out some of the breathing exercises.
“That’s easy for a rookie like me,” she said. “We can all think about our breathing. It’s an easy way to keep the monkeys out of your mind.”
Deb Roman, a family doctor in Eagle, said she knew about mindfulness in a medical context before the term hit the inspirational conference circuit. She said she tries to use mindful principles while speaking to patients to better understand where they’re coming from and to better explain their conditions and options.
“Sometimes we’re nice, but we’re not present,” she said. “We’re thinking about other things, or about what we can say next. For me, the work of being present is to be out of my head and to be fully in the moment with you.”
Here’s some day-to-day practices that can cut down on mental clutter.
1. Turn off phone and email notifications for emails, Facebook, Twitter and other apps.
2. Turn off your cell phone even for short periods, such as meals.
3. Try to start fresh in conversations, setting aside previous disagreements or baggage.
4. Question your motivations and your feelings. Are you chasing the right result for the right reasons?
5. Focus on your breath when you feel overwhelmed. Train your mind on slowing your breathing. Even 30 seconds or one minute can be relaxing and provide clarity.