"We need both technological innovation and a transformation of the heart. There is no livable world without Wisdom.
No livable world without Mindfulness or Genuine Human Connection.
– Soren Gordhamer, Founder, Wisdom 2.0
At the Wisdom 2.0 conference I found powerful confirmation, hour after hour and from one day to the next, that the questions that are driving me these days are widely shared.
In some way, I had hoped for and expected this. What I did not expect was to find in speaker after speaker clarity and depth, focus and passion in bringing answers to some of these questions. Click on the portraits below for names and info on 24 of the speakers who impressed me. Click here for the full list of speakers.
Many of the people pictured below, Nadine Burke Harris, Vivek Murthy, Jose Egurbide and others, are devoting their careers to bringing ethics and compassion into programs and policies that affect people on a large scale. Marianne Williamson and David Simas operate partly or wholly in political arenas. Mingtong Gu and Gopi Kallayi bring a renewal of ancient body/mind practices to wide audiences. Prophet Walker and Eldra Jackson III are among those who have triumphed over very difficult life circumstances and gone on to create structures that offer hope and a way forward to others who are struggling.
One defining feature of the conference was that speakers were encouraged to share personal stories that revealed the roots of their passions and the pathways leading to the important positions they occupy today. These life stories brought clarity and logic to the information presented, whether about healthcare or prison reform or political evolution.
Nadine Burke Harris told of an experience early in her medical career where she had to console a child whose paranoid-schizophrenic mother had died in a car accident, with the little girl in the back seat. She was reminded by this of her own childhood and paranoid-schizophrenic mother. She also talked about her ongoing determination to remain present in the worst moments, like this one, and not look away. Burke Harris's passion led her to research the ongoing health effects of childhood trauma. She also told of realizing that sexual abuse and other childhood traumas were not confined to the under-served communities of Bayview Hunters Point where she worked, but were shared among the wealthy communities where she would go for her gala fundraisers. The strength of Nadine Burke Harris's intelligence, her pursuit of research and results, and the power of her compassion are all entirely remarkable.
In a different arena we heard about how Rick Doblin's (b. 1951) childhood was marked by stories of the Holocaust and then the Cuban Missile Crisis. We then understood how his drive to discover other ways of being and doing fueled his pioneering work in Psychedelic Studies.
Jose Egurbide is Assistant Chief of Criminal and Special Litigation Branch, LA City Attorney’s Office. This is the second largest municipal law firm in the US. Egurbide spoke of arriving in the US as an immigrant at age 11 and being ostracized and bullied because of his name, Jose. Looking for more justice, he studied law. He talked of his path from "trials and convictions to best outcome for all". Jose Egurbide became involved in victim-offender mediation and then was invited to create and implement a restorative justice program "to successfully divert first-time, non-violent misdemeanor offenders away from the Criminal Justice system before any criminal charges are ever filed."
... and these are just three among many, many beautiful, powerful personal stories and life paths presented at the conference.
It is not possible to talk about Wisdom 2.0 without mentioning "Mindfulness". One definition of mindfulness, is "... the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us." My own sense of mindfulness relates to Leonard Cohen's "crack where the light gets in". In the depths of despair or depression, or in the throes of jealousy, anger or resentment, one can become aware that the reality that seems so present and evident is not actually the whole story. This can become that little crack ... and a bit of light can start to shift the picture. And then of course one doesn't have to be trapped in tough emotions to step back, step back to a place of calm and compassion, not that it is necessarily always easy. In any case, the themes and energies of mindfulness and compassion were omnipresent at Wisdom 2.0. Of the many contexts where we heard about the introduction of mindfulness education and techniques I will mention two:
Yizhao Zhang told an amazing story of visiting Bhutan and falling in love with the country's people and culture. Before leaving, she climbed to the "wish fulfillment Temple" where she wished that within five years she would return to Bhutan and spread mindfulness training. Five years later exactly she received an invitation and went back, along with her mentor Rich Fernandez of the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute. She went on to work "with the government to share mindfulness and emotional intelligence programs with 28,000 civil servants across all 10 ministries and 40 agencies." Yizhao Zhang's bubbling enthusiasm and joy as she spoke of this work were infectious; the itself story was surprising and lovely.
Sounds True founder Tami Simon anchored the "Inner MBA hub" at Wisdom 2.0. The hub was a showcase for the new program Simon has organized together with LinkedIn, Wisdom 2.0 and Mindful NYU. This Inner MBA, "Look within, Go beyond" aims to "help businesspeople grow in consciousness so their organizations can grow in consciousness and become unstoppable forces of positive change". As I began to learn a little about this I went from skeptical to impressed and very curious. I look forward to following developments.
Finally I want to mention the sense of community that was beautifully curated by conference hosts Wisdom 2.0 founder Soren Gordhamer, assisted by Michelle Gale, chief of staff at Autodesk. Both hosts embodied and shared a sense of being relaxed and in the moment; and that this moment was just a wonderful place to be, and to be together. One result was that, in one case after another as audiences we rose to our feet, moved by not only the clarity and vision but also the courage and heart expressed by a presenter. Speakers were touched. We were a large crowd, but there was a sense of intimacy (I was given to understand that some 1500 people attended, though many more choose to witness the event remotely due to coronavirus concerns). The feeling I come away with is to be strengthened in my resolve to clarify and bring into the world the dreams and visions that I myself carry.
Of the many many other stories I could tell about this event, I have put together just one more, about the round table I hosted. You can find it here.