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Caroline Yetman

Mindfulness – a Q&A with the masters, Joel & Michelle Levey

Last week I had the honour of interviewing world class mindfulness gurus, Joel and Michelle Levey, from Wisdom at Work, to get more insight into the work they do with organisations like Google, NASA and The World Bank.

I was particularly excited about this because I am on a personal mission to develop and share my own experiences of mindfulness with others – to help people become less stressed, more resilient to change and ultimately happier and more empowered to do stuff they really love. As part of this, I am currently developing a new initiative at NM to help bring mindfulness into the team and through our work with our clients (watch this space!).

The Q&A is documented below. If you like the sound of this, and would like to know more, join us at our Meaning conference in November where the Leveys will be talking and running a workshop,

They will share their experiences and deep understanding of how mindfulness can promote leadership, change resilience and collective intelligence from insights with their work in government, healthcare, business and even the armed forces.

Here’s the Q&A

Q. What’s your background and what’s the journey you’ve taken to get to where you are now?

Joel -

“It’s quite a challenge to sum up two lifetimes of full-on exploration into the further reaches of human potential. But we’ll try and be brief.

For me, I started doing consciousness research, exploring the nature of the extraordinary human potential, back in the late 60s and early 70s where I ran a consciousness laboratory at the University of Washington. We did a lot of work with brain studies, neurofeedback etc. and that extended into working in clinical settings where we both ran medical programmes for major medical centers on mindfitness, and ways people could develop adaptability and resilience in the face of change in their lives.

That naturally blossomed from the medical work environment into organisations because we realised it made much more sense to work with whole organisations who were at times fairly toxic in terms of their culture which would take huge tolls on human beings.

So we would teach individuals, groups and whole organisations ways to develop more healthy and high-performing teams and organisational cultures. That’s what has lead us to working with hundreds of different organisations and tens of thousands of people around the world.

We’ve been stretched to learn – getting calls from companies like Google asking us to develop their global meditation and mindfulness laboratory, of which there are locations around the world. We’ve been asked by Intel to develop retentional leadership programs which have touched the lives of leaders all around the world. We’ve helped develop the first mindful organisation cultures on record.

We keep getting invitations to step into new territory which stretches us. It just goes to show how universal these methods are and how easily accessible they are in any given setting.

Recently we were asked to take part in a parliamentary roundtable on mindfulness for the British government. We were asked how the British society could adopt mindfulness in education, business, health care and many areas of British society. It was an absolute honour and we were very inspired by it.”

Q. Tell us a bit more about what are you trying to achieve?

Michelle -

“Our area really focuses on helping people to thrive, not just survive, in these VUCA times – to develop people’s capacities for individuals, teams, leaders, orgs. The purpose is really to help people live and work together”.

Q. This sounds challenging. What are the biggest challenges you face in doing this?

Joel -

“These days, it’s probably quite paradoxical – there’s a huge amount of interest which is rippling out of orgs around the globe. But what we’re seeing is that many orgs are taking a fairly superficial approach to it – they’re doing a bit of an inoculation, doing a bit of skills training or mindfitness, but they’re not always taking a really comprehensive approach to it in these current times as much as they had in the past.

Now though, there are far more resources, time and attention available to do this in a much deeper way – to build mindfulness and complex systems thinking deeply into the fabric of the organisation, to help the way people work together, to make decisions and set values.

So I think the main challenge we have is to take this wooly, profoundly valuable work and take it deep enough so it can realise the full potential for the transformation of individuals and organisations.”

Q. You both sound massively proud of the work you do, and it’s really infectious. What are you most proud of in your work?

Michelle -

“I would say I am most proud of seeing and appreciative of the amount of success we’ve seen in people transforming and progression their lives, their work and relationships. We’ve seen people after a few years and they’re still practicing this and sharing their work with others and seeing the benefits. As well as the amount of enduring friendships we’ve made through our work over the years”.

Joel -

“I’d like to add that I am also proud that people find so much value in the work we do. They see so much value that they then get their leaders, friends and partners involved in this work as well.”

Q. Finally, what will you be doing at our Meaning conference, what should people expect and why should they join us?

Joel -

“At the conference, our hope is to explore the difference and meaning in our lives so that we can realise when we’re more fully awake and truly living and working on purpose.

When we’re clear on how we can tap into the full dimension of who we are individually and manifest it in such a way that expresses itself into a great vitality and wisdom through our work and parameters.

So often,  people approach their work from a place of overwhelm, stress and exhaustion, mindlessness. This cuts them off from each other, their own capacity to think, to really reason deeply or to access anything resembling the really fantastic potentials they have.

We’d like to really help people really find their capacity to realise their potential”.

Michelle -

“We will also be drawing and sharing inspirations and insights from successful programmes from thousands of people all over the world. It will be profoundly practical, to help encourage confidence and passion for people to skillfully apply to their own places of work, to have more authentic interactions and create more choice in their lives.”

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