September 1, 2016
Mirabai Bush —
Search Inside Yourself: Contemplation in Life and Work

She works at an emerging 21st century intersection of industry, social healing, and diverse contemplative practices. Raised Catholic with Joan of Arc as her hero, Mirabai Bush is one of the people who brought Buddhism to the West from India in the 1970s. She is called in to work with educators and judges, social activists and soldiers. She helped create Google’s popular employee program, Search Inside Yourself. Mirabai Bush’s life tells a fascinating narrative of our time: the rediscovery of contemplative practices, in many forms and from many traditions, in the secular thick of modern culture.

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co-founded the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society. She is the author of Contemplative Practices in Higher Education: Powerful Methods to Transform Teaching and Learning and co-author of Compassion in Action: Setting Out on the Path of Service.

Pertinent Posts

An illustration of contemplative practices showing the breadth of meditation and mindfulness within traditions. It certainly opens up one's understanding about how these disciplines take root and manifest themselves in our lives, non?

Mindfulness Meditations

Meditations, Dharma Talks, and Mindful Conversations

A selection of meditations, dharma talks, and conversations from some sage thinkers and practitioners of today:
» Cheri Maples — The Human Challenges of Police Work
» Thich Nhat Hanh — Mindfulness of Anger: Embracing the Child Within
» Sylvia Boorstein — Lovingkindness (Metta) Meditation
» Arthur Zajonc — Bell Sound Meditation
» Joan Halifax — Encountering Grief: A 10-Minute Guided Meditation

About the Image

A man meditates on the bottom of a beach in Kauai, Hawaii.

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I think there something very wrong with the way meditative and contemplative practice is utilized on the public in today's society.

I can't square her work with Monsanto, one of the most destructive of corporations which, every year, is probably responsible for some of the most environmentally destructive pollution, not to mention the intentional killing of trillions of sentient beings every year, and Buddhism. The story of the infant Buddha's awakening of considering the sufferings of the insects and worms who were injured and killed as his nurse brought him to watch the plowing of the fields leads me to think that any teacher who can ignore that in addressing executives and scientists at Monsanto can't be regarded as an authentic representative of that tradition.

I found this interview, especially the disconnects in the full interview, extremely disillusioning on many levels.

As most Sunday mornings, I was listening to "On Being" on this July 19, at 7AM, and instead of experiencing, as often is the case, a sense of joy at hearing about so many diverse efforts towards consciousness "in this twittering world," I came out of it with a feeling of uneasiness, to say the least, about what I heard (my perception) as a display of the spiritual equivalent of what gene- or white-washing are in other areas of human endeavor. I do not question the value of mindfulness at all. What I question is the overall tone of self-satisfaction of your guest and her apparent uniform spray-coating of what is (for once!) so appropriately called «spiritual technologies» in all sectors of human activities. To caricaturize it one step further: let the thief be a more mindful thief and the soldier a more mindful killer, and let's call it progress. Why not create a new quality label besides organic, fair-trade and kosher, and have «mindful» added to the list? We could have "mindful online invasion of privacy," "mindful meat" on our plates and "mindfully refined crude oil" in our cars. When mindfulness is presented that way and becomes yet another buzzword, I beg to respectfully disagree. I nonetheless will be listening again next Sunday morning and I thank you for this "one of a kind" educational program.

Dear Daniel,

Please permit me to respectfully disagree with you.

Yes, if we had mindful meat (Beyond Meat, or humanely treated animals who die natural deaths?), mindful killers (who understand what they're doing - frankly, that includes anyone eating meat or killing an insect - including me!), mindful teaching, mindful eating, mindful emailing, mindful talking, I think we would be in a much, much better world. And, yes, there is mindful crude oil - it is called natural gas. Beyond this is mindful energy = renewables.

Your calling it "white wash" is kind of like wishing everyone didn't white-wash everything with kindness, compassion, empathy, love. I think each of us will have our own way but we need more of such "meta" white-washing. That kind of white-wash I will take any day. For, what is the alternative? One need not look far to see the type of mindless white-washing that surrounds us (competitively driven, comfort and social-approval seeking power politics and mindsets) and the terrible "wicked" problems that are partly the result of the same.

I agree with Mirabai that mindfulness is PART of the solution. What I found so refreshing about the podcast was how allergic Mirabai seems to any sort of dogma. Even regarding mindfulness, she presents a wholesome tree of contemplative practices. It doesn't get much better than that.

Another reflection I have with my encounter with the traditions in Buddhism is more an enslavement of my soul by willful blindness. There are commonalities between the Christian contemplative life with that of other faiths (I don't know if Buddhism is a faith or a philosophy), and because I am not a Buddhist I can't make that judgment, yet, I think there's corruption in Buddhism as there is in all religions. I don't hear about the corruption in Buddhism as I do in other faith traditions. But, again, there are major differences between what a Christian and a Buddhist believe. I don't buy into the teaching that Buddhists don't have beliefs.

If I may be honest about the mind project I think what is being created is two shadows instead of one. I don't say this to offend and you are free to disagree.

I went on a retreat sponsored by the Center for Contemplative Mind, and it was a wonderful experience. Mirabai Bush in particular was a wise and warm presence.

I do have some worries about the potential watering down of the message in corporate contexts, but look forward to learning more. It was a great interview.

I agree that we are looking for love. I have most encountered this with my children's generation utilizing technology like Facebook, etc. I had an interesting talk with personnel representing the YMCA. This person had mentioned that persons' in administrative positions don't get the same acknowledgement that a teacher might get because they are the rule enforcers. I could appreciate that although I disagreed with the statement.

This is where I have carried Thomas Merton with me on my journey (hopefully you can appreciate). Merton writes in his book No Man Is an Island, "To put it in plain language, it is hopeless to try to live your life in a cloister if you are going to eat your heart out thinking that nobody loves you. You have to be able to disregard that whole issue, and simply love the whole world in God, embracing all your brethren in that same pure love, without seeking signs of affection from them and without caring whether or not you ever get any. If you think this is very easy, I assure you that you are mistaken" (pg.157).

I thought about this a lot. Let's take schools for an example. If students, faculty, and parents are expressing appreciation in their words and deeds for an education community then administration is indirectly part of that appreciation. That's the part of being in an administrative role that might not be acknowledged directly. However, if this is not happening maybe something needs to change. Now, obviously we have SOCAS, nevertheless, I think Merton's insight, if you will, can be reflected on by the secular.

Anyway, my point is I think modern technology affects the way we all understand love.

Excellente program. I learned a lot

For years, I have found a lot of peace when I run, which I do on Sunday morning at a nearby park. The peace persists and suffuses my life. Sauna once a week is also amazing, after exercise, and promotes health. I do stretches every morning which also enhance my day, this morning to the accompaniment of "On Being" who guest was Miribai Bush.

I would encourage those interested in this practice to investigate dharma reflections by Ajahn Sumedo and Ajahn Jayasaro on You Tube, or in writing.

Wonderful. I would invite your guest to return to the contemplative practices of the Catholic Church. As Jesus said to the Apostles in the Gospel today, 'Come away with me.' Come away and be with Me. He is our Teacher, but he is also our Master - and a good Master, one who wants us to spend time with Him. Adoration is very popular among young people and very powerful for them.

Meditation is fine as long as it's a stepping stone, a preliminary step to contemplation of God, adoration.

Some programs work better for me unedited and some work better produced. If I had started with the produced show this time I doubt if I would have finished it. It was the ordinariness of the conversation and the woman interviewed that kept me listening. I passed the program on to a friend. Still smile when thinking of the football player holding the leaf.

I was delighted to read comments that have in common a deep discomfort with an interviewee's input that I had compared to the spiritual equivalent of white-washing. Actually, in my previous comment I had written "green- or white-washing" to allude to the widespread reduction of ecological practices to a mere "green-wash". With the probable intention of clarifying what must have been read as a typo, my comment has been edited to read "gene- or white-washing". The "gene" word being out of the bag, Antony's comment about your guest's work with Monsanto comes handy to forecast a technological breakthrough : MGMO's, "Mindfully genetically modified organisms", a bit more expensive, but so much better!
No, thanks!

I tuned in while driving. I found the interviewer's name dropping more off-putting than Mirabai's (naming herself after an Indian saint, not very original) gloss. On the whole I found it inspiring, if a bit kitchy. Sad to hear she works with Monsanto, vying for most evil corporation in existence. If I was in a room with Monsanto execs, I'd be doing my best to get them to see that they're destroying the planet, but I might be off the mark. Perhaps not the only way but the best way they could realize this is by experiencing their internal connection to the greater whole. Maybe then they'd stop trying to own the world or kill it. Perhaps Mirabai sees her efforts most effective by helping them come to this on their own, in this way. Personally, I think we need both. Come down out of the clouds and recognize we need to serve the physical plane. By the way, the guy 'meditating underwater' is not meditating; at least not deeply. He's wondering how long it will take them to snap the photo, how long before he can take his next breath. In accepting our physical limitation we may find our connection to greater perfection.

The traditional view of Enlightenment's omega point has been the attainment of Nirvana but I submit that for we pragmatic Americans, Enlightenment may be not so self-involved but more to steadfastly and firmly commit to a progressive effort to embrace the attempt to better 1) Self, 2) our important relationships, 3) our communitites--immediate, nationally, globally and universally and to embrace attitudes and holistic actions towards bettering the world. Submitted humbly and sincerely as would a bodhisattva.

Mirabai commented that "meditation reduces cortisol levels". There are peer-reviewed studies indicating that Transcendental Meditation reduces cortisol levels ( ).

However, Transcendental Meditation differs significantly from other forms of meditation and contemplation, primarily in that it is effortless and involves no control or focusing of the mind. So to say that "meditation" reduces cortisol levels is certainly unknown and likely inaccurate.

Krista, your comment a few minutes later that you had trouble sticking to a schedule even of your six-minute program further substantiates that, indeed, Transcendental Meditation is different from other meditation practices. About two thousand people in the U.S. begin Transcendental Meditation each month. There are tens of thousands of long-term practitioners who would never miss their twice-daily program because the experience is so restful and provides such great physiological and psychological benefit. I think you would find a show exploring the differences between Transcendental Meditation and other types of meditation and contemplation extremely engaging and worthwhile. Just my 2 cents!

I was saddened and disappointed to read some of the reflections on this particular podcast. And though I'm aware of the irony that I'm judging the judging, which could be a little bit of the pot calling the kettle black, I'd still like to say that I think it can be easy to look at someone else's journey and decisions and contributions, and just sit in judgment. It can be dangerous though too because then people might become less willing to take risks to try something new or different or unpresedented because of the potential backlash. Speaking for myself, I once tried for a period of time to help out with the services at my church because I wanted to contribute more to the community in my own small and imperfect way. But within a year I stopped because it felt more like standing in front of a firing squad than among community. We human beings are not perfect and at some point that has to be okay so that we can follow the words of Dr. Maya Angelou: "I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better."

Nice to learn about the mindfulness approach to email :)

At the research platform slowLab, we have explored various Slow design experiments to increase awareness, presence and physicality in an increasingly digital society. One of these is the software TypeTrace, created by Japanese interaction designer Takumi Endo.

Endo, trained as a composer, reflected on the monotonous march of typewritten characters, so different from the real human experience of composing a text – be it an email or a note to self. He developed a software linked to the keyboard that captures the unique rhythm of the person typing: natural pauses for reflection, the breath, shifting in one's chair, reaching for a sip of coffee... all of these cause the characters one is writing to expand and grow larger, so that the resulting text rises and falls to mirror the unique conditions of its composition. It reminds the person writing of his/her human-ness, and, importantly, transmits that on to the end recipient.

Another fantastic episode. Thank you Krista and team. A couple things to comment on. First, Krista, please stop referring to meditative and contemplative practices as "spiritual technologies." That phrasing sounds so forced and EST-like. Just call them meditative and contemplative practices. There is no need to make up hip language to make these ancient effective practices sound like they have just been invented. Next, 6 minutes of meditative and contemplative practice is a great start, 10 minutes will be more. That's how I do it. I'm pretty lame at meditative and contemplative practice but I believe my small efforts are better than none. Lastly, Congrats to Mirabai on training whomever asks her. Okay, Monsanto as a company has engaged in very questionable initiatives but the company is made up of people. And the more people engaged with meditative and contemplative practices, the better. Once again, On Being feeds my soul like no other show. Please, please, please keep up the inspirational work. Thank you.

I greatly enjoyed this interview. It felt like a confirmation that we are possibly in another cultural shift. While I agree with the responses and reflections about not wanting to 'white-wash' atrocities or to use mindfulness to 'make everything okay,' I do believe that, more often than not, the line between the sacred and the profane is very thin. What I heard and appreciated was that spiritual practices should not be relegated solely to houses of worship or even a private devotional life.
Throughout this interview, my mind kept thinking of the Contemplative Leadership program through Oasis Ministries for Spiritual Development. It is a training that dives into this question of how do we lead from a more contemplative place. Through my work with Oasis (affirmed by interviews like this and others at On Being), I have come to understand that living contemplatively moves one to living more compassionately.
...And I believe the world can use all of the contemplatives we can get!

I so enjoyed this podcast and especially the reminder to do what you love, and the three breaths trick.

What a difference in tone, between this episode and those in which the voices come from the heart!
Within minutes I knew I had heard this before, with its catalogue of corporate achievements in "spiritual technology" implementations. To me it epitomizes the subjugation of anything sacred by mercantile forces and the horizontal exploitation of vertical callings. That is the very process in which yoga mutates from spiritual practice to fashion industry, meditation from detachment technique to ego validation and productivity tool. It is also the very process in which sacred words become mundane and empty. When will someone copyright the 3 letters G O D because they are "majority shareholders" in GOOgle DOODle?
In short, thanks, but no thanks.

I thought one of the most insightful portions of the interview was Mirabai Bush discussing coming to peace with the various "selves" of her psyche. Ms. Bush's comments highlighted for me the war occurring each day between certain aspects of ourselves and how we must end the dysfunctionality. A very thought provoking interview.