Cultivating Inner Wisdom: An Interview with Laura Bennett

Oyl + Water didn’t start out as a mindful marketing company. I didn’t declare my WHY on day one, and I didn’t have my Mindful Marketing Manifesto as part of my business plan. I didn’t have a business plan. I didn’t start with a clear vision for how I was going to do what I’ve done. I started with how I wanted to feel.

If this makes you uncomfortable, trust me, I feel ya. It’s taken me a minute to fully accept that much of my professional maneuvering has been in response to how I have felt about a situation. Whether it’s saying yes or no to a client, offering or retiring a service, hiring or firing a team member – I have built bulletproof arguments for all of them, but the truth is, I went on gut.

I give a lot of air time to the first four pillars in our Mindful Marketing Manifesto. They’re super fun to explore in business and in our personal lives. But it’s the last one – Mind your Body, Listen to your Gut, Speak from the Heart – that sets the foundation for Mindful Marketing. When I reflect back on every tough decision I have made in business, I know that I have relied most on my inner wisdom to:

  1. align my body with health
  2. get quiet
  3. respond truthfully to what arises

It’s not the only way to navigate through challenges – I’ve tried more aggressive tactics, trust me – but it’s the practice that has proven most successful, most sincere, and least painful.

As our culture of Mindful Marketing has evolved, it has become more and more important to me that we practice what we preach in any way that we can. First, so that we create a culture of mindful leaders within the company, and as a team, deliver thoughtful, innovative and robust marketing strategies for our clients. But, on a deeper level, I want to shift the expectation of how business is done and prove that we don’t have to sacrifice health, heart and sanity to be successful.

Last fall, my dear friend and Oyl + Water’s Cultural Engineer, Toni Hernandez, introduced me to Laura Bennett and I felt an immediate spark of shared purpose. Her background fascinated me – a military leader turned midwife turned Mindfulness teacher – and I got right away that she had a clear sense of self, and a call to serve. I listened to that gut instinct and invited her to join me on an adventure to build a Mindfulness Program for our company and our community.

June 6th marked the pilot class in our 13-week summer program. With weekly classes and monthly workshops, our aim is to cultivate mindfulness in our community, and have a meaningful conversation about the necessity of this practice in our personal and professional lives.

In a brief interview with Laura Bennett, she shares her path to mindfulness, dispels a few myths and paints a realistic picture of what this practice can bring to our lives. Meet Laura.

How did you become aware of and begin your mindfulness practice?

I was introduced to mindfulness by an Army physician colleague when I was in the Navy stationed in Japan. I had some critical leadership roles in my organization during a time of significant changes and challenges leading up to, during, and following the Great Tohoku Earthquake, tsunami, and radiologic disaster. I was in charge of many projects and preparations for a major inspection, and I led part of the disaster response for special populations in an uncertain environment including taking actions that were unprecedented. All the while, I was a wife and mother of two children who were adjusting to living in a new country.

Mindfulness was fascinating at first look. My curiosity about it led me to take a deep dive in to the neuroscience and research about mindfulness. The science and results of research studies highlighting its benefits compelled me to practice. Mindfulness practice brought me clarity, a sense of ease, and joy. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was amidst a severe case of burnout. The awakening experience to the syndrome of burnout was very enlightening. I delved into that research as well. Burnout is common and infectious. I began to see others who were suffering from a new perspective and understanding. Alleviating burnout, particularly in the military, healthcare, teachers, and in leaders became a particular passion. So I began speaking about it in various settings and I developed training courses and programs.

You have had a career in the military and as a Nurse-Midwife, what made you choose to move into the work of mindfulness and resilience?

Truthfully, I don’t like to see people suffer. It makes my heart hurt. It brings me joy to see people happy, thriving, helping, and empowering one another. I want to see people be happy and successful within their personal definition, not someone else’s definition, not chasing someone else’s dream. I’ve had the experience of being measured as a success with many achievements and awards. I was proud but unhappy and didn’t know why. Mindfulness practice allowed me to recognize what I needed and how to create joy. I’ve heard the same from people around the world. This drove me to teach mindfulness and other resilience skills so that I could have an impact on a broader scale than I can have in my individual clinical practice. The experience has been powerful and inspiring.

Why do you think mindfulness is needed in society?

The pace of modern life and the constant stressors in our culture takes its toll on us both physically and mentally, whether we recognize it or not. Stressors come from our phones, work, family, the news, and traffic, just to name a few! Stress related illnesses and drug and alcohol abuse are on the rise. People can’t sleep. Traffic aggression is a problem. Decisions from the family to global level are made with judgment clouded by stress and competing interests rather than a place of mindful clarity. This has a negative ripple effect. Service professionals like doctors, nurses, police, and teachers report high degrees of stress and consistently report very high rates job burnout. This not only affects their life satisfaction, it decreases their life span and their effectiveness in their jobs. This has consequences for all of us.

Our children are noticing our stress and feeling it themselves. In one study, 65% of children ages 8 – 18 years with working parents said they are worried about their parents, and they wish their parents were less tired and stressed. Today’s teens are feeling stressed with 30% reporting feeling sad or depressed because of school stress and 31% report feeling overwhelmed. Mindfulness is an effective, widely accessible life skill that is shown to help all of these things. It makes sense for everyone to know how to utilize it. It could help solve a lot of problems that we face from early childhood on.

In the last five years or so, Mindfulness has become a Movement. From CEO’s of major companies to yoga apparel, “Mindfulness” is a buzzword. What are the pros and cons of the Mindfulness zeitgeist?

One of the big pros is that the awareness about mindfulness meditation has increased rapidly due to evidence from medical and other scientific research on the many mental, physical, social, and work-related benefits of mindfulness practice. It’s exciting how modern technology and the scientific method have validated what spiritual teachers have known for 2500 years. People like me need to know that mindfulness has scientific backing. Media coverage has compelled people to inquire into mindfulness who might not have otherwise. Opportunities to learn about mindfulness are abundant and accessible to nearly everyone with all types of learning styles.

A challenge faced from the mass marketing of mindfulness is that the messaging can be shallow and miss the mark of conveying the essence of mindfulness, as well as misrepresent its importance and what it takes to develop a practice. Without proper knowledge and support, trying to develop a mindfulness practice can lead to frustration and disappointment. That’s why I am passionate about providing individualized support and excited about partnering with you and Oyl + Water. It’s fun and meaningful to help you realize your vision of supporting the community and spreading mindfulness in the business world. Mindfulness in business is key to creating a large, healing ripple effect throughout the world. After all, we are all consumers, aren’t we?

Regarding mindfulness as a buzzword, I am glad that you bring that up. These days you hear the term mindfulness used widely. But it doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. The mindfulness I am referring to is a meditation practice and a mental mode of being. The mindfulness practice of awareness is a 2500 year old deliberate process of paying attention moment-to-moment with acceptance of what is. During the practice there is always a focus of attention, often on the breath or sensations of the body. It can also be attention to thoughts and the environment. Mindfulness practice cultivates a mental mode and state of being characterized by a deep and open awareness that is kind to ourselves and others, accepting, patient, and without preconceived notions or judgments. Some people wonder if this means you become “wishy-washy”, naïve, or weak. It does not. In fact, the practice helps with being firm and decisive from a place of compassion, wisdom and confidence. Who would not appreciate that?

Ultimately, mindfulness practice is brain training that affects our neural circuitry and the habits of the mind. We are naturally wired to have a “negativity bias” in our thoughts or to think of the worst thing first. Mindfulness training increases our abilities to avoid our unhelpful trains-of-thought, mental disruptions, and negative self-talk. It literally changes our brain matter and creates clarity, focus, and a mind-body connection for more accurate responses, positive experiences, and optimal human performance.

You mentioned that mindfulness meditation helps to foster clarity and focus. Can you expound on this and explain the difference between clarity and “answers”?

Clarity is the quality of being clear. To have clarity is to see clearly without judgments, notions, or reactions that interfere with what lies in front, beyond, and even behind you. One of my favorite meditation teachers, Thich Nhat Hanh, uses a still pond versus choppy pond water as a visual to explain clarity. If you look at the moon or yourself in still pond water, you see a clear reflection. But in turbulent water, you cannot see an accurate reflection or perhaps any reflection at all. When our mind is turbulent, busy, over-active, or our emotions reactive, we can’t see an accurate reflection of what is around us or even within us to be able to generate clear perceptions or optimal responses. Our stress, anger, frustration, preconceived notions, even joyful excitement are conditions for misperceptions that cause a lack of clarity and over-reaction. Therefore, it is difficult to find the best answers or know what choices to make when you are not calm or fully aware. Mindful clarity is important as we cultivate relationships and navigate life, especially when we are in changing environments or come to crossroads in life where we need to re-evaluate relationships, careers, goals, and other situations. We often hold tight onto our set courses or prior beliefs. This holds us back, creates unease, prevents forgiveness, and leads to unhappiness.

Answers are merely choices made in response to a question or situation. Choices are generally made with some knowledge base, but maybe not. They certainly aren’t consistently made with clarity. Mindfulness meditation cultivates insight and helps us tap into our inner wisdom. We are the experts on ourselves. But we often don’t listen. We ignore our own signals or don’t trust ourselves. We look outward rather than inward for validation and answers. There is a better, more effective and joyful way. Mindfulness is the path to awareness. I love setting others on the path, a journey that even prisoners who practice mindfulness call freedom.

We invite you to join us every Tuesday, from 6-7, at Oyl + Water.

 

2 responses to “Cultivating Inner Wisdom: An Interview with Laura Bennett

  1. I enjoyed reading this interview and felt easily connected to Laura’s insight. Thank you Oyl and Water and Laura for providing a space where the community can come together to cultivate mindfulness in our daily lives. This is the direction to move in for all of us to start living authentically from the heart. There is so much to receive in the present moment. Every moment is a gift, and our awareness of it can be transformational in itself. If mindfulness is a buzzword and kindness is the new cool, I am all in 🙂 Thank you beautiful ladies!

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