Making room for wellbeing

Global leaders speak

Acuity Group

Jon Kabat-Zinn, a father of the mindfulness and meditation movement in America, traveled to Beijing in November to help lead a cross-section of Chinese leaders and thinkers in a seven-day retreat. Chinese government workers, health care professionals, academics and scientists attended the well-being workshops, but it was the presence of several Buddhist monks that most surprised Kabat-Zinn. He was flattered, but also puzzled -- what enlightenment could an American possibly offer to monks steeped in a culture and tradition of mindfulness going back thousands of years?

The statistics around stress and burnout begin to explain the growing appetite -- and need -- for a different, healthier way of living and working. In late 2012, the World Health Organization estimated that more than 350 million people worldwide suffer from depression. In the U.S., self-reported levels of stress have increased 18 percent for women and 25 percent for men in the last 30 years. In some cultures, death and suicide related to overwork are common enough that countries have specific wordsfor them -- "guolaosi" in China, "gwarosa" in Korea and "karoshi" in Japan.

Last year, Kabat-Zinn, the American mindfulness advocate, helped establish a program for British lawmakers, including meditation lessons. Since then, according to Ruane, the British MP, 68 members of parliament have attended. Next month, he said, an all-party parliamentary group devoted to mindfulness will expand the conversation on how members, regardless of their political affiliation, can apply its lessons to actual policy, from education and health care to business and the prison system. "We can see policy implications for mindfulness across all of government," Ruane said.