Shauna Shapiro on The Power of Mindfulness: What You Practice Grows Stronger at TEDxWashingtonSquare (Transcript)

Here is the full transcript of internationally renowned mindfulness expert Shauna Shapiro’s TEDx Talk on The Power of Mindfulness: What You Practice Grows Stronger at TEDxWashingtonSquare conference. For more details about the speaker, read the bio here.


Book(s) by the speaker:

The Art and Science of Mindfulness: Integrating Mindfulness Into Psychology and the Helping Professions

Mindful Discipline: A Loving Approach to Setting Limits and Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child


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Shauna Shapiro – Internationally renowned mindfulness expert

If in rush-hour traffic, you can remain perfectly calm; if you can see your neighbor’s travel to fantastic places without a twinge of jealousy; if you can love everyone around you unconditionally; and if you can always find contentment just where you are, then you’re probably a dog, right? We hold ourselves to these unrealistic standards of perfection and then we judge ourselves and we don’t live up to them.

The thing is we’re not supposed to be perfect. Perfection isn’t possible, but transformation is. All of us have the capacity to change, to learn, and to grow no matter what our circumstance is.

As a professor and scientist, I study how people change, how people transform. And one of the most effective vehicles I’ve found is mindfulness. My own journey into mindfulness was unexpected. When I was 17, I had spinal fusion surgery, a metal rod put in my spine. I went from a healthy active teenager to lying in a hospital bed unable to walk. And during the many months of rehabilitation, I tried to figure out how to live in this body that could no longer do what it used to do. The physical pain was difficult, but worse was the fear and the loneliness. And I simply didn’t have the tools to cope.

So I began searching for something that could help, and eventually this search led me to a monastery in Thailand for my first meditation retreat. At the monastery, the monks didn’t speak much English and I didn’t speak any Thai. But I understood mindfulness had something to do with paying attention in the present moment. My only instruction was to feel the breath going in and out of my nose. So I began: one breath, two breaths, my mind wandered off; I brought it back. One breath, two breath, it wandered again, sucked into the past or lost in the future — and no matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t stay present.

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Now this was frustrating because I thought meditation was supposed to feel like this. And instead it felt more like this. Being present isn’t so easy. In fact, check it out for yourself. I’ve been speaking for about three minutes; have you noticed your mind has wandered? All of our minds wander. Research from Harvard shows the mind wanders on average 47% of the time. 47%! That’s almost half of our lives that we’re missing, that we’re not here.

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