Add meditation, visualization and movement to veterans, children, teachers, healthcare professionals and leaders, and what do you make? Stronger communities. Living more fulfilled lives. In healthier bodies and minds. This is the mission of the Mindful Nation Foundation, a “pay it forward” non-profit that partners with local leaders, mind-body service providers and visionary donors to help reduce the stress of our complex lives with evidence-based contemplative practices.
I met Mindful Nation’s president, Krishna Pendyala, last February at the Wisdom 2.0 conference in San Francisco. He was leading a panel of U.S. veterans, participants in Mindful Nation’s “Veterans in Mind” program. Each identified as having PTSD. There was a combat veteran who served in Vietnam. There was a servicewoman who was a survivor of sexual harassment and assault. There was a servicewoman whose husband is an Iraq War vet who was exposed to numerous explosions during his tours of duty. They were four months into a year-long mind-body training program, offered through Mindful Nation partner, Center for Mind-Body Medicine, and they were there to tell their stories. Four months later, I got the chance to talk to Mr. Pendyala about “Veterans in Mind.”
PR: What has happened since February? In Wichita last week, the Wisdom 2.0 panel participants spoke again at a Mindful Nation press conference, and you were marveling about their progress.
KP: The whole idea was how do we create a peer-to-peer, which is veteran-to-veteran, community-supported program that can identify other people in need, because the key thing is veterans trust other veterans. Our goal was to expose a cohort of veterans as a core group. These people were sent to advanced training. They did the first introduction to mind-body techniques in October 2014 and then they practiced it as a cohort.
It’s an 11-month program. In the process, what I have seen is the personal transformation in each of these veterans. They personally came up with the name for their program, the Homefront Initiative. Each person shared in the announcement of the Homefront Initiative, saying what this has meant in their life. JR who is a Vietnam veteran—before he began the program, he called me and said, “I’ve had some troubles. I just want to let you know that I don’t want to bring a bad name to your program and if you don’t want me to go for the training in San Francisco, I’m happy to back out.” I said to him, “No. This is why we want to do it. We want to help people who are unable to cope with some of the realities of life, learn some skills to be able to handle them. It is especially for you, given what’s going on, that you should go. It has nothing to do with us looking good or not looking good. Our whole goal is to help people who are not doing well.”
Last week at the presentation, he was the first to go and he said, “What this means to me: In December my wife and I were talking out our marriage and last night we were walking holding hands.” This is all since last October.
When another participant, Autumn, missed her daughter’s first-year birthday to go to the first training, the whole family supported her. She’s married to an Iraq veteran who has been exposed to seven or eight blasts. At the Wisdom 2.0 panel in February, she said, “My husband makes fun of me, that I’m going to pray to rocks and things like that.” I said, “Autumn for you, that shouldn’t be a real problem. He’s right next to you. He could be the beneficiary of what you learn.” And here we are, June, and at last week’s presentation, she said, “He is practicing meditation.” February he is laughing, June he is gaining benefits. This is all within one year. October will be 12 months. If you can see that kind of transformation in people’s lives with no drugs, no surgery, no fancy therapy — look at the cost effectiveness of this intervention, if you want to call it one.
PR: How did Mindful Nation begin?
KP: U.S. Congressman Tim Ryan wrote a best selling book called Mindful Nation. We met at Wisdom 2.0 in 2012, and collaborated to start an organization that brings a mindfulness approach to people in our society who are in stressful situations, and also to people who are what we call first responders.
PR: Talk about who you train and why.
KP: There are five pivotal segments of society that we’ve identified, you can see them on our website. Under veterans, you have veterans and first responders. Think of veterans as national servicemen and women and first responders as the community servicemen and women. First responders protect and serve local communities. Military and veterans have served and protected a nation. Local and national. That’s one pivotal segment of society split into two groups.
That’s the most urgent community in need. Then comes the most important community in need, which are children. Because children, we’ve all said, are our future. How are we preparing them? They spend most of their time with teachers. So teachers became our avenue to reach children because it’s the most scaleable approach to reaching them. If you reach a parent, you may impact three to five kids, but if you touch a teacher in a positive way you may have the potential of helping 2000 to 3000 children during their career.
So we chose to reach teachers for two reasons: 1) being the channel, and 2) given the statistics that we have that over 80% of teachers disengage in the act of teaching within the first three years in their work, and 50% quit within five years. Imagine we’re entrusting the future to that statistic. It’s very important that we work with teachers because we entrust our children to them, and because they have such a strong influence on our children’s lives. Self-care for teachers is really the focus, not for them to necessarily teach these principles to their kids.
A central focus of our work is self-care, whether it’s veterans, whether it’s first responders, whether it’s teachers. Then you come to same thing for health care professionals and other professionals, because burnout is huge in teachers and huge in the healthcare community.
Last but not the least, are what we’re calling leaders — heads of corporations, heads of organizations, and anybody who can impact others in learning how to create a more compassionate, kinder culture. Everybody goes to work and spends anywhere between eight to ten hours at work. If that place is draining, and there is no form of renewal, how is this equation going to last? Through education, you can see that it’s in a leader’s interests to actually—you’ve heard the goose that laid the golden egg? Don’t kill the goose! As a culture, we’re in the habit of doing this. How do you enlighten, so to speak, company leaders or educate them to take care of the goose and you’ll get golden eggs forever.
PR: You’ve got other cities coming to you — Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Austin — are they starting mindfulness programs in their communities?
KP: Yes. The Mayor of Jackson, Wyoming contacted me, and a gentleman who was involved in these programs in Austin. Someone who heard me speak at the Mindful Leadership Summit in DC last year just contacted me and said, “In Cincinnati, we’re the people who fund these programs.” Cincinnati is ready for it. We met with several stakeholders after the Homefront Initiative press conference. They said, “I heard you present what you’ve done in Wichita. We’d like to learn from you and have you speak.” This is great progress, because our strategy is to create this at the local level.
P: How can people engage with Mindful Nation’s movement?
The opportunity to engage is as open as anyone’s creativity. People can sponsor a veteran or a teacher by getting in touch with us. People and organizations can sponsor a veterans’ or teachers’ program in their area and we will send trainers out to do the training in a local setting. Maybe they sponsor a classroom, a child, a healthcare worker, a school’s teachers. Anyone can think of something like that and support Mindful Nation’s endeavor to help veterans rebuild their lives, help other veterans in need, and to help our communities’ first responders. You can also go to our page and donate through the donate button. We have a contact button there too, so reach out with your ideas for your community.
Most of the time we find that the people who need the help cannot afford it. I came up with a category of what I call visionary donors. There are traditional donors and visionary donors. Traditional donors want large proposals, evidence, etc. It takes a long process and we don’t have the staff to write those proposals. So I look for people who believe and are willing to take a chance. I can tell you that everybody who has taken a chance on us is so thrilled that they did because of the results. Those are the people I’m calling visionary donors; private funders, like 1440 Foundation, and hopefully others looking for ways to support their local communities.
Out of this process, you get big transformation, the transformed. The whole thesis of how we can create a mindful nation is with an ambassador-led, pay-it-forward community. An ambassador is somebody who has personally received the benefit, has had a personal transformation in their life, and now cannot help but share it with others. That is the strategy that we’re building on. If we can’t pull off a mindful community, the dream of creating a mindful nation is too far off.
One of the other analogies I use is if you lose 100 pounds, do you need to go tell anybody anything? Just walk around and people will probably come up to you and say, “What did you do?” That’s the approach. So when this veteran, for example, JR who was this angry man, now is laughing and is softer. Anybody who knew him from the past would say, “What happened to you? What drugs are you on?” Then comes his story. It’s an invitation for him to share his journey. Wouldn’t that be inspiring? That is the approach.
Please visit Mindful Nation and take a look at, be a part of, share about the movement they’re making one community at a time.