A friend of mine and a partner in a Swiss financial advisory and investment firm in Zurich who knows my work well through participating in one of my earlier courses for a global bank where he was an executive, came to me with the idea of providing MBSAT training to one of his firm’s clients, a European high net worth family.
The first session took place in a resort high up in the Alps, the Swiss mountain range.
The group consisted of 8 family members spanning three generations including three kids (two 11-year old and a toddler of 4 years), their mother, their father (an entrepreneur / head of the family), the father’s sister (a lawyer), his mother and his auntie, as well as the family’s top three advisors: their Swiss lawyer, their Swiss financial investment advisor and their London-based business and corporate finance advisor.
Given this diverse group I was slightly anxious about designing an introduction to MBSAT that would fit them all and be faithful to the high-quality standards we aspire in teaching MBSAT.
It turned out to be a wonderful experience!
While all adults bought in whole-heartedly, the biggest surprise were the kids who were my best-ever teaching assistants. They grasped fast what mindfulness is about and brought key concepts to life with their cheerful reception and reinforced the grownups’ engagement. Even the toddler stayed with us all day from 9 to 5 – quite an achievement! – and brought a happy note to the trainin
The star of this MBSAT course was Tea, the lovely 11-year old girl. She spontaneously set about drawing and visualizing the core ideas. Here is her rendering of the mind’s continuous, never-ending wandering and the ideal we are aspiring: awareness of BETA – body sensations, emotions, thoughts and action impulses! She also reinvented the body scan and made an upside-down version as can be seen in this picture! Thank you, Tea!
This joyful experience with the family confirms a regularity that I have been observing during the past years of teaching MBSAT: The people who seem to benefit most from MBSAT’s content, practices, terminology and teaching style tend to be individuals who are living with the usual level of tribulations associated with a life in a world of VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity) but not with excessive levels of distress that result from job insecurity, divorce, losing loved ones or other acute crises.
I spent some time trying to understand this tendency. It is only recently that I made the connection between my experience teaching MBSAT and Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs and it helped clarify my thinking.
For Maslow people must first satisfy their physiological needs such as food and shelter and also basic safety needs before engaging in higher levels of personal development, in particular flourishing and realizing one’s potential.
Reading studies of the Wellbeing Institute of Cambridge University on the normal distribution of people’s mental states I came up with the curve depicted below positioning MBSAT according to the findings of the Institute.
From this curve individuals on the left side with mental issues and languishing benefit more from what I call remedial therapeutic approaches. The intention is to find ways to bring these people at least to the mean in the center of the curve. There are excellent mindfulness-based interventions with a lot of empirical evidence of their effectiveness such as MBSR and MBCT. What has been missing was a robust mindfulness-based intervention for people on the right side of the curve (people in a moderate state or even flourishing already) and this is where MBSAT is positioned as a strengths-oriented, flourishing approach, secular mindfulness intervention. This is not to imply that there is a one-to-one match between an individual’s mental state and an intervention. Life is way too complex and dynamic for such a categoric conclusion. People can be a data point on the right side of the curve today and tomorrow another on the left side.
Hence, it is more a question of finding the appropriate intervention that is useful for a person at a certain moment in time.