At SIYLI, we are deeply fortunate to be connected with many incredible organizations, governments, and initiatives supporting the growth of mindfulness in society. In this context, I was delighted to be invited to the UK Mindfulness Initiative’s event celebrating the release of their latest report, Mindfulness in Westminster: Reflections from UK Politicians. The event, held in September at the Houses of Parliament, was a powerful affair attended by policy-makers, researchers, mindfulness teachers, organization leaders, the Oxford Mindfulness Foundation (OMF), and current and former Ministers of Parliament, including Sir Lindsay Hoyle (Speaker for the House of Commons), a member of the House of Lords, and the delightful Chris Ruane, whose invitation brought me there. I traveled with Kelly Boys of Foundation for Mindful Society, and we were floored by the passion and depth of practice of the people in the room.
But let’s back up—what is this report, you may ask. The Mindfulness Initiative has been in operation for ten years, supporting both policy and programs to bring mindfulness into government, healthcare, education, business and environmental initiatives in the UK. Part of this effort has included bringing mindfulness courses into the parliament, for MPs and their staff to participate, and the Initiative has put out this report to synthesize the impact, both personal and professional, of practicing mindfulness on the lives of these politicians. Over 800 MPs and staff have gone through this programming, offered through the OMF and Awaris, and it was powerful to witness first-hand people speaking about this impact. Among many insights, the interviewees in the study “report communicating more effectively with constituents, colleagues, and family, demonstrating attentive listening and a higher level of empathy towards mental health concerns. Notably, mindfulness seems to help politicians transcend their immediate emotions and consider the broader consequences of their words and behavior…. [Mindfulness] also appears to have fostered an environment in which politicians viewed each other more often as ‘human beings’, regardless of political affiliation.”
For this trip to celebrate the report’s launch, I was traveling as briefly as I could manage–having left two young kiddos at home in San Diego, I needed to balance time to network in London with time to be a Mom. But the short 4-day trip was beyond worth it. There were many powerful moments during the celebration event. At one moment, two MPs rose to the podium together, Jessica Morden of the Labor Party and Tim Loughton of the Conservative Party. They stood together speaking to and embodying what it’s like to argue against another politician on the floor and then go and sit in meditation right next to them—shifting to truly see the other’s humanity, and then learning to work together from that place—to “disagree better.” I was floored by this good-natured connection between these two, who have been on opposing sides of political fights for years.
Another highlight was getting to meet the dedicated people who are involved in the Mindfulness Initiative. One such luminary was Dr. Cathy-Mae Kerelse, who leads the DEI efforts within the Mindfulness Initiative. Cathy-Mae quietly unfolded several initiatives she’s working on, including a project to survey and map the resources available for youth in environmental activism, and particularly ensure that the voices of youth activists from indigenous groups, the LGBTQ community, and the global south are well represented in the survey. Hearing her speak of this project, and the idea that mindfulness could ultimately be a support to help sustain these activists’ dedicated work, left me inspired beyond anything I’d felt in some time. As we at SIYLI continue to ask questions like, “How can mindfulness be truly accessible?” and “Can mindfulness help disrupt society’s harmful/oppressive systems?”, we look to the wisdom of both individuals like Cathy-Mae and communities who have been practicing mindfulness for millennia.
I mentioned that it was by the grace of Chris Ruane’s invitation that I was at the event. Chris is a long-time member of the Initiative, and a former MP who has dedicated his post-parliamentary career to bringing mindfulness into governments worldwide. Chris and his wife Gill were incredibly kind and generous with their time to everyone who came to London for the event. Not only was Chris’ kindness on display, but his playfulness was there too—during the speeches, he started demonstrating his animal noises, ones to which he had subjected the parliamentary floor in his MP days. His jovial nature had clearly enabled him to campaign successfully for mindfulness more than once.
Encounters like these kept happening throughout the trip, and I was struck how every single person I had the chance to meet was dedicated, heart-driven, and rife with a sense of deeper purpose. Every. Single. One.
And it wasn’t only that the people were inspirational, but the entire set of projects I learned about kept pointing back to the intersection between wellness and society—with questions like, how can mindfulness support the environmental movement? How do we keep elevating the discussion of mental health among those active in policy-making? Can mindfulness resource us for systems change? These are the questions that we at SIYLI are grateful to be a part of today.
Following the trip, we continue to explore potential partnerships with Sharon Hadley from the OMF, and with the team from the Foundation for Mindful Society, all in order to keep engaging these important questions.
We look forward to what’s ahead!
~Lindsey Kugel, Executive Director