What President Obama Said When I Asked Him About Mindfulness
When I met President Obama the other day, I introduced myself as a mindfulness meditation trainer. His immediate response was, "I need that!"
And when I likened it to preventative health care, he unequivocally agreed, "Yes!"
Fortunately for me, you don't have to take my word for it. The exchange was captured on video by the White House during a town hall event in Santa Monica at Cross Campus LA. In fact, his answer to the question I asked about net neutrality made front page news.
But in my opinion the real news was our exchange on mindfulness. On a personal level, meeting President Obama was a lifelong highlight. In large part, because of my mom. She passed away two years ago and one of her final independent acts was to vote for him. She was a huge fan! The anniversary of her death is drawing near and some grief has been coming up for me, but as I sat there listening to the president and got the opportunity to interact with him, I really felt my mom's presence.
I felt that my mom and I were both there, enjoying this amazing moment together. It was a good reminder that we may be separated in one way, but we are never truly separate. Mindfulness has helped me experience this sense of connection more completely, which has brought me tremendous relief. And while the event was unprecedented for me, it had certain predictable patterns — like any other life event. You can recognize those patterns and work with them to deepen your mindfulness practice.
For example, as I stood in line with everyone who was waiting to enter the building, I noticed a lot of impatience and anticipation coming up. I located where the feelings were happening most strongly in my body, tracked the experience as it changed moment by moment, and did my best to accept any discomfort, rather than fighting with it.
As a result I was more present for the actual event. Mindfulness helps you work through your resistance to the here and now, so that resistance doesn't spill over into the future. As President Obama spoke, part of me listened to the content of what he was saying. But more of me followed his flow of movement. I watched him as you might watch a dancer and payed closer attention to the sound of his voice, and the ebb and flow of his emotional life as he spoke.
We habitually give the majority of our attention to analyzing the content of what someone else says. But when you emphasize their changing contour of expression, you get a more complete sense of the person you are paying attention to. You would be surprised how easily the mind can manage the task of comprehending content, while experiencing contour. It just takes practice.
You might imagine that constantly practicing a technique like that might make you mechanical — that was my fear when I first started practicing. But, you would truly be amazed at how much room there is in your mind to have normal responses, while practicing a mindfulness technique at the same time.
Maintaining a technique just prevents unhealthy, unconscious patterns from taking over your mind, which can drive and distort your behavior. It also profoundly deepens your awareness skills, freeing you up to be far more spontaneous and available to what is actually happening in the moment.
And speaking from personal experience, continued practice will lead you to life changing results. I suggest building as many moments as you can, into every day. How did practice benefit me the day I met President Obama? It heightened the richness of my experience in the moment and helped me focus, remain poised, stay centered and go with the flow. It allowed me to work through any resistance inhibiting full engagement and it brought more magic to the event, as a whole.
When I started meditating nearly 20 years ago, it was very much a fringe activity. I'm thrilled that President Obama so clearly recognizes the value of what mindfulness meditation offers. As a mindfulness trainer who has witnessed extraordinary results firsthand, it speaks to a progress I consider particularly hopeful!
Here's the White House video of my encounter with the president. (The mindfulness conversation begins at 30:08.)
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