Tackling from the top: mindfulness meditation at the peaks of Davos

Jungfrau region in Swiss Alps, Switzerland

It is a sign of the times that this year at the World Economic Forum, there were six sessions devoted to the topic of “Mindfulness”. As the great and mighty gather to discuss and perhaps even try to solve the world’s problems, mindfulness continues to make its way into mainstream agendas, starting at the very top.

Admittedly, Mindfulness also appeared as a topic was present in last year’s World Economic Forum. The interesting point is the progress, even if slight, of its voice in the agenda – last year there were 4 sessions, this year there are 6, out of 25 sessions on “wellness, mental health, and the potentially pernicious effects of technology on the brain”[1].

The 6 sessions

Within the 5-day programme that ends tomorrow, there are 3 Mindfulness Meditation sessions led by Matthieu Ricard, the French biochemist-turned-Buddhist-monk, known as the happiest man in the world. According to the Guardian journalists who were there to see it, people queued for half an hour to attend and be guided through the meditation.

There is a panel discussion on “Meditation: Why the hype”, involving scientists, the happy monk, and actress Goldie Hawn:

“Mindfulness meditation increasingly attracts leaders with the promise of alleviating stress, maintaining focus and spurring creativity. How can mindfulness meditation be applied to health, education and leadership?”

“Mindfully Yours” is another session discussing how “paying attention” can change our lives.

And finally, the headline-grabbing “An Insight, An Idea, with Goldie Hawn”, where she discusses how neuroscience, mindfulness training and social and emotional learning can change the world. She has established The Hawn Foundation, which provides a programme called MindUPTM  that “teaches social and emotional learning skills that link cognitive neuroscience, positive psychology and mindful awareness training utilizing a brain centric approach.” 

The implications

What does it mean, that leaders and celebrities are talking about mindfulness at Davos? 

Meditation, in particular mindfulness meditation, is no longer an “alternative” practice in the West.

Due largely to the amount of research from leading universities and the work of some visionary scientists and doctors, the proven benefits of meditation are becoming common knowledge. From counteracting the growing causes of mental and physical illnesses, to promoting better functioning as human beings, meditation’s benefits are being more widely understood and accepted by the mainstream. Davos isn’t the only place that draws top level attention; Wisdom 2.0 Conference in San Francisco last September brought together most business leaders from Silicon Valley to discuss the benefits of mindfulness.

The practical benefits of applying mindfulness in different realms of society are being clarified.

Leaders are interested in focus, memory and better decision-making, doctors are interested in stress-reduction and changes in gene expression, and governments are interested in how it can be used in schools and hospitals for the wellbeing of teachers, students, patients and nurses; mindfulness is never a purely academic topic. The reason it is getting so much attention is for its practical benefits.

Top-level interest in meditation lends hope to ongoing exploration of the “mind” and “consciousness”.

Ongoing scientific research is critical to advance understanding of how meditation works, what it does, and whether it raises consciousness in the way that it’s ancient practitioners said it does. Research is needed to understand what “raising consciousness” even means. The top level interest at Davos hopefully means that the the topic will benefit from continued cross-disciplinary collaboration to aim for answers.


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