In April of 2011, I was thinking what I could do that was really memorable for my 50th birthday in June. I was speaking with my daughter about her nineteenth birthday in May and suggested we go to Stratton Mountain Resort in Vermont where a dear friend owned a ski house. She liked the idea so I looked at their website to see what was going on and, lo and behold!, a four day yoga, outdoor and music festival called Wanderlust was scheduled to be there on my birthday!
There are no coincidences in life. To me, this was a pure, clear sign to GO and see what unfolded. I went as a volunteer helping direct friendly yogis and yoginis and for one truly blissed out day, attended all the classes and speakeasies I could handle. The concentration of like-minded and like-hearted people of all ages, incomes and genders gathered over the four days was intoxicating and transformational. The vibe was very familiar to me. Wanderlust’s potent mix of programming and people in the mountain setting with Nature all around, re-ignited inner fires felt since I was a kid.
From that point on, I was driven to learn as much as I could about mindfulness, meditation, yoga, life-balance and the stories of others on similar paths. I have visited some of the leading mindfulness, health and spiritual centers and people who work at them. For the last eight years as a therapist, writer, speaker and mindful living advocate, I have witnessed profound changes happening within thousands of people. These centers are on the front lines shaping these inner shifts that directly impact life choices, relationships, careers and the trade-offs resulting from the growing, powerful desire for more balanced living. These choices will affect our societal values, the products we buy, the medical treatments we seek, traditional healthcare and the role of insurance companies.
Here are some lessons and observations accumulated along the way to share with you.
Money Creates Complex Relationships
The retreat destination centers I’ve gotten to know attract inspired, amazing teachers who come and share their expertise. The centers charge tuitions to create revenue. Additionally, they extend themselves to individual donors, foundations, and corporations for needed resources to perpetuate the values and programs they stand for. My sense is they feel difficulty asking in a direct manner because it may reveal deep, systemic needs in the first place. This is a tough, “what have you accomplished lately?” society. Perhaps admitting “need” is perceived as showing weakness or failure to succeed. Rather than position needs as opportunities for strategic partners to use the relationships and unique assets the centers possess to further their own objectives, organizations never clearly express the need in the first place. The result is continuous struggle. It reminds me of when tests were given back in school. I didn’t want my scores seen by everyone, especially if they weren’t that good. Appearances became more important than learning the material. Organizations are created and run by people and are imbued with all our human strengths and weaknesses.
Centers that heavily rely on volunteers to work hours and donate funds can find themselves out of step with the real world. Leadership and boards can fail to establish a balance between their revenue goals, the need for professional hires and how to integrate them with committed yet under qualified volunteers. Years of relying on volunteer hours creates false assumptions of staffing and resource needs required to accomplish their goals. Board leadership must help provide resources to center management to hire qualified people adept at integrating with existing staff. Not being able to offer reasonable compensation to professionals who possess the skills and sense of mission to help the organization grow is unacceptable. I wonder if some think the “life of service” is supposed to be hard, full of sacrifice and even painful. Life is supposed to be fun, challenging and all you want it to be, not a long slog. Work mindfully and purposefully to know, accept and love yourself. We all seek to be happy, experience loving kindness inside and out, and work for money and prosperity. Once volunteer-based centers get this balance right, the prosperity and abundance they seek will come flowing in naturally, from manifest values and efficacy of action.
The Need is Great
Mindfulness and spirituality-based centers from the 60s and 70s are undergoing mid-life assessments, testing the values and programs that have brought them this far and determining what combination will take them into the future. Simultaneously, American society is undergoing radical change too. Aging Boomers are searching for ways to stay younger longer: some are looking to make up for lost time or heal past regrets, and others have experienced losses in middle life and are searching for their spiritual centers. These powerful desires, time-availability and disposable income are creating vast markets. Their power is reflected in their purchase-choices from expensive skin treatments, eating organic foods, adopting yoga practices to attending life balance retreats.
Younger generations in mid-life are changing too. Partly because how they see their parents acting and partly they have their own sense of a life in balance. These families often have two-wage earners; feel great pressure finding time to enjoy life and worry they won’t be able to. Employment is unreliable and they can feel lost in a sea of choices that do not include their wants or needs. Their kids are products of the Internet age. Multi-tasking, texting relationships and constant motion rules their life experiences. They are making different choices with school, friends, romance, college, how money figures into their hopes and dreams and how to be more conscious of our effect on planet Earth.
All these generations have in common the primal, collective need to cultivate and grow greater self awareness, acceptance and peace. How centers communicate their unique approach to this bedrock issue to these diverse groups will determine a lot. Whether it is a small, religious retreat center or a multi-location medical spa destination, the need is profound and there is room for everyone. The people who go to these destinations and cultivate mindful living practices are powerful Influencers, having exponential effect on the many they connect with in their lives.
Mindful Living and Finding the Way
People who are awakening to their kind and loving natures are “feeling” more, and it’s not always a pleasant experience. Centers are trying to adapt to provide tools for this process without losing their identities. Consumer brands like Prana, Lulu Lemon and NIKE, Stoneyfield Farms, Clif Bars, magazines such as Self and Real Simple and many others are taking notice and moving into these emerging market opportunities. Yoga, music, food and Earth festivals such as Wanderlust and Burning Man are springing up with vibrant, multi-day experiences. What are the original keepers of bedrock teachings and tools of mindful living to do? People want and seem to expect a “quick fix” when it comes to living this dream of balanced living. Product marketers, media and magazines are getting very good at visually depicting this ideal life. “Spiritual materialism” has become a common term. What happens when people eventually realize quieting the mind and doing their inner work is a difficult endeavor fraught with things they never expect, without even a sniff of a hard timeline for “enlightenment”? Perhaps all the commerce and choices are good in they at least provide more people with an access point, whatever their income, to discover their loving, kind natures, and that is worth all the misinformation and snake oil salesmen who enter these new markets to make a quick buck! False paths are, in fact, valuable lessons when you really learn who you are and what you want. They should be embraced and seen as valuable experiences on our way to actualization and enlightenment. Take it from me, this is WAY easier said than done!
This quest of the many for life balance and dealing with the “now” is where the centers of mindfulness, yoga, meditation and the healing arts have profound opportunities to fill the void by connecting their timeless values with these needs.
How do Organizations Remain Nimble as They Grow?
Organizations are mechanisms created to frame a set of values embodied by goods and services. As they grow, layers develop. Successful organizations struggle to maintain transparency, constantly on the lookout for layers that obscure baseline values, even as costs rise. They worry they will become lost to their original missions, and one day, loyal supporters will be gone, either through aging or changing interests. New potential followers see the world differently. How do organizations renew themselves and remain relevant to the groups they serve and the new ones knocking on the door? It takes intense focus and courage to stay true to core values and maintain a clear voice so existing followers can hold on and new followers can find them. Like meditation itself, it’s about staying still so people can find you, not moving whenever a little discomfort is felt.
People and organizations are quite alike. Inner work is necessary for both so questions can be raised and truth discovered. Otherwise, when adversity comes, neither will be able to stay steady and weather the storm. Without a commitment to daily practice of quieting the mind and inner work, both will not usually make real changes unless forced to do so. That usually comes from personal catastrophes like losing a friend or loved one, getting sick or some other life-changing event. For organizations, it comes down to severe revenue drop offs or ill-fated investments. Happily though, there are a few and growing number of people and companies who commit to daily practice, dealing with “what is” and making choices that are right, not necessarily easy. In doing so, they live on their edges where life itself unfolds.
I remain committed to the mindful, spiritual path. This is life. I am O-P-E-N. Onward.
About the author: Bob McCandlish is a strong advocate of mindful living, a published writer, poet, massage therapist and experienced public speaker on the Connecticut shoreline. His life as a son, father, professional athlete, brand marketer and communications specialist has manifested in his living fully from his kind and loving nature and helping others do the same. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 203-779-9215. To learn more, please visit www.handsonexpressions.com .