Business Insider

Jerry Brady: Mindfulness an ancient way to find wisdom, purpose

Attendees at the Wisdom 2.0 Connect conference Jan. 22 in Boise closed their eyes in a group meditation exercise.
Attendees at the Wisdom 2.0 Connect conference Jan. 22 in Boise closed their eyes in a group meditation exercise.

At a recent conference in Boise, business leaders were advised to “practice mindfulness.” Mindfulness, we learned, enables us to be less distracted and more creative, think more clearly, and make better choices. But what exactly is it?

The title of the conference, “Wisdom 2.0,” gives us a clue. Mindfulness comes out of the spiritual realm, most recently from Buddhism, but goes back to early Christian contemplative prayer and to almost every spiritual tradition. It is an ancient, deeply human way to become quiet and find wisdom and purpose.

To be mindful is to be fully awake to the flow of our thoughts and emotions. This fosters curiosity and openness rather than expectation and judgment. Mindfulness is the opposite of having a full mind. Think of simply watching a leaf float by on the water compared with watching a dry fly in hopes of catching a fish. Artists and athletes have learned to lower attachment to immediate results — catching a fish — and consequently becoming more creative, more “in the zone.”

Typically, we become mindful by quieting ourselves through meditation in the morning and remaining as present-minded as possible through the day. The Statesman’s story on the conference was headlined “Mindfulness in the digital age,” because mindfulness offers a way to counter our addiction to all things digital. Wisdom 2.0 started in Silicon Valley for a good reason.

Of itself, mindfulness would seem to be value-neutral: Wouldn’t a fully present mind be as necessary to fuse a bomb as to defuse one? Yet the practice tends to wake us up to higher purposes, such as expanding empathy and compassion, because that’s our basic nature (a subject we’ll address in a future column).

As with everything else, we must have a clear intention and train with a good teacher. Mindfulness training complements rather than replaces conventional business advice and planning.

Wisdom 2.0 was an early event at Jack’s Urban Meeting Place, perhaps because JUMP aspires to be a center for creativity. Interestingly, the largest contingent at the event was a dozen leaders from the plant science division of Jack’s old company, Simplot, where Dana Menlove, founder of Boise’s Center for Mindful Work, trains them in mindfulness. Who would have guessed?

Jerry Brady is a member of Compassionate Boise, a new organization encouraging compassion in all aspects of life. This column appears in the Feb. 17-March 16, 2016, edition of the Idaho Statesman’s Business Insider magazine.