One hundred fifty people sat in the big meeting room, hands on laps, eyes closed, feet flat on the floor.
“Bring your attention to this moment,” Janice Marturano instructed. “Be open to sensations of warmth or coolness, sensations of fullness from breakfast, or perhaps hunger.” Minutes later, the meditation ended with the traditional strikes of little hand cymbals.
Buddhists? Old hippies? New Agers?
Nope. The room was full of hospital executives and managers in lab coats and scrubs, jeans and sports coats at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center. And the teacher was Marturano, once a top executive at General Mills.
The founder of the Institute for Mindful Leadership, Marturano is about as far from woo-woo as the spectrum allows — and a sign that meditation has snaked its way into every sector of our lives. The hospital employees were learning a practice shared by millions these days: college students, parents and prisoners; soldiers, the overweight and the lovelorn; the Seattle Seahawks, public school kids and members of Congress; Oprah, Chopra and Arianna.
And perhaps you. What? You’re not meditating?
Meditation, primarily a 2,500-year-old form called mindfulness meditation that emphasizes paying attention to the present moment, has gone viral.
The unrelenting siege on our attention can take a good share of the credit; stress has bombarded people from executives on 24/7 schedules to kids who feel the pressure to succeed even before puberty. Meditation has been lauded as a way to reduce stress, ease physical ailments like headaches and increase compassion and productivity.
Religious practitioners have long claimed that, adopted by enough people, meditation could bring us world peace. Now we hear that from Chade-Meng Tan, a Google executive charged with making the company more mindful. You needn’t even put down your phone, with apps like Insight Timer, which has guided meditations and ways to track your stillness.
It has moved from its Asian, monastic roots to become a practice requiring no particular dogma on a path not necessarily toward nirvana but toward a more mindful everyday life. Some serious advocates worry it’s becoming another feel-good commodity.
The practice of mindfulness meditation has become more widespread at a time when the fastest-growing group demographic is made up of people who say they are unaffiliated with a particular denomination, said Varun Soni, the dean of religious life at USC, which has launched a university-wide effort toward mindfulness.
“Every religious tradition changes when it moves to a new place,” Soni said.
In the case of meditation, it’s also moved full force into the academic realm. Aside from the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, the UCs in San Diego, Los Angeles and Berkeley are among universities that also have meditation programs. Hundreds of research papers have been published. At Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass., students can earn a master’s degree in mindfulness studies.
“It’s mind-blowing,” said Sharon Salzberg, co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society in Massachusetts and one of the people who brought Buddhist meditation to the United States in the 1970s.
“It fits a lot about the American spirit,” she said. “You don’t have to join anything. It’s very private. It’s a very direct answer to an awful lot of stress and confusion.”
Excerpt from LA Times article Meditation Booms as People Seek a Way to Slow Down by Mary MacVean