In this episode of Redesigning Wellness, Jen sits down with Dr. Mark Thurston, Director of Education Programs at George Mason University Center for the Advancement of Well-being, to discuss the one-of-a-kind classes and programs offered by the center, how he and the university defines well-being, and what he personally recommends in order to attain and retain resilience across the lifespan.
3 Key Takeaways:
- Practice resilience throughout the lifespan, including emerging adulthood
- Develop your own contemplative practices
- Embrace your “gap-moments”
Full Transcript of the Interview
Jen Arnold: [00:02:54] Mark, welcome to the Redesigning Wellness podcast so glad to have you.
Mark Thurston: [00:02:58] Thank you. Glad to be invited.
Jen Arnold: [00:02:59] Now you’re Director of Educational Programs for the Center for the Advancement of Well-being at George Mason University. Do you mind telling us a little bit about the center and what you’re trying to accomplish there?
Mark Thurston: [00:03:10] Sure. So our center began nine years ago from some philanthropy, a husband and wife who have been longtime supporters of George Mason University, which is the biggest public university in the state of Virginia.
We have about 36000 students and this couple were very interested in having courses around mindfulness and consciousness studies and science of well-being. In their own lives, they had been helped by a lot of these sorts of practices and they felt like learning some life skills and learning the science around resilience and meaning and purpose and things like that could be really beneficial to students in the long run.
So they made a very generous gift to the university to fund our center. The center was originally named the Center for Consciousness and Transformation. About four years ago, we changed the name to the Center for the Advancement of Well-being. That really allowed more of the faculty and more of the student body to feel like they could see how they themselves fit into that.
I think the word conscious is a lovely word, but sometimes people get stuck about what it really means. And I think there is a growing sense that our society that well-being is something worth measuring and certainly something worth promoting. And there’s lots of different angles or elements or domains to well-being and it’s allowed a lot more students, a lot more faculty, who see themselves in the work of our center.
Jen Arnold: [00:04:32] I’m going to get to how you define well-being in a minute. So when you said that it was created out of philanthropy and then is funding almost like, “Uh, how do you now fund the center once that generous donation is up?”
Mark Thurston: [00:04:47] So I think a part of what we try to do is create some awareness on campus around these topics. You get a number of different faculty members and lots of different colleges and departments within the university interested in these topics to support some of their research, some of their course development. So that to a certain major, some of the academic components could have sustainability even without the center seed funding. So there’s now a university wide undergraduate minor in well-being.
The courses are taught by a number of different faculty of different departments. So that has a high likelihood of having longevity to it. There’s other things that may be more difficult to sustain without the original funding, such as some of the research or activities. It’s a matter of going out and finding more research dollars. But typically research faculty are always looking for funding. Sorta nothing new about that.
Jen Arnold: [00:05:38] OK, so let’s define well-being there. In the corporate wellness world, it is really starting to change and morph from wellness to well-being. But how do you all at the center define well-being?
Mark Thurston: [00:05:49] Well, we’ve largely approached the difference between well-being and wellness as wellness as a component of well-being, particularly around the vitality and health and body mind wellness kind of component of a broader issue that we call well-being.
So a lot of our materials we kind of narrowed it down to four domains of well-being that we’re especially focusing on. So one is vitality in wellness. Another is resilience, which has certain physiological components and a lot of psychological components, and then purpose or meaning-a sense of direction in life, life making sense. So a broad sense of meaningfulness in the fourth area is engagement and that includes social support, but also includes taking a concern for well-Being beyond just ourselves or just beyond our family or even our university campus.
Well-being should be concerned with the greater good of society or the planet as a whole. So I think that fourth domain is really important so that we crop in our kind of narcissism around well-being.
Jen Arnold: [00:06:52] So let me clarify a little bit on the wellness because you defined a wellness, I heard a little bit of the physical self in there,but you also said mind-body connection, so you clarify that for me.
Mark Thurston: [00:07:03] Well, there certain things like mindfulness as a practice or meditation as a practice that informs or supports several of these different four domains that I just named. I think there’s lots of pretty impressive research around the way in which a mindfulness practice can increase personal health, but a lot of how it’s doing that is to work with our capacity to be present, to be focused, to let go of rumination.
One of the mental things that can undermine our physical health. So I think we’re always trying to approach the mental or even the mental and spiritual components to any. It’s just a physiological improvement that we’re trying to make.
Jen Arnold: [00:07:43] So, you really don’t isolate physical as it’s just the physical. It is all intertwined right. We’re all more multi-dimensional so everything-
Mark Thurston: [00:07:50] I think things are interactive that way. At the same time, there’s a course about nutrition that can count towards the well-being minor. So sometimes we just study things that are physiological or biochemical level and contributes to a bigger picture that we have to paint for ourselves. So I think there’s certainly a place in our consideration of well-being to hone in on something that may just be very physical, but that it’s part of a bigger constellation or configuration we’re trying to make up for the body mind and spirit, or body mind and soul.
Jen Arnold: [00:08:21] Thank you.
Mark Thurston: [00:08:22] I think a a lot of times at universities, were reluctant to use words that may have a religious connotation to it. There’s something about the word spirit that I think couldn’t be more inclusive than any particular religious faith.
Jen Arnold: [00:08:33] Yeah and I think the same can be said for the corporate world, right. We shy away from saying spiritual because we’re afraid to be tying it to religion, which it doesn’t have to be tied to religions. I would say the same in the corporate world.
Mark Thurston: [00:08:44] Yeah. I’m particularly fond of the work that’s been done at UCLA with the Center for spirituality in Higher Education that was funded by a large grant from the Templeton Foundation, and they’ve done some really impressive research work around how students’ lives changed at a spiritual or personal depth level through those four years of undergraduate school, and they had more than 100,000 students involved in their quest for survey research.
And at the end of that research, what they concluded from the sort of factor analyses of things and was that there’s a whole cluster they call spirituality, and another whole cluster of factors they call religion. And I think the five factors they came up with for spirituality are deeply a part of the work that we’re trying to do at our center as well.
So for example, one of the factors of spirituality was the quest for meaning-the search to find something that gives our lives a kind or a star or a guiding principle. Another factor for spirituality was equanimity,or peace of mind, and ability and mindfulness certainly helps with this, but other things do as well. To be able to have some control of our monkey mind. To be able to find a way to be balanced and to have equilibrium mentally.
Another component was compassion, or what they call the ethic of caring, is a quality of spirituality. The other was charitable involvement getting out in the world and doing something-not just you’re saying you care, but being out there doing it. That is a factor of spirituality. And the last one they called ecumenical worldview, which is the ability to get outside one’s own box, one’s own thinking, and appreciate the thinking of other people.
And they were calling that something that’s in essence spiritual. And then religion or religiosity had things that were more rituals and beliefs and certain ways of being and practice with community and so forth. And they said they can overlap. But for a lot of people there are very distinct domains of life.
Jen Arnold: [00:10:37] That’s fascinating. I need to look into that research that can be a good podcast guest as well. So, one of the classes that you teach, and I’m reading this because I’ll never memorize it, is consciousness, meaning, and life purpose. And purpose again, so a lot of this is going into the wellness world trying to help employees connect to their bigger purpose or you know making sure there’s purpose in our work. Tell us about the class that you teach.
Mark Thurston: [00:11:02] So, the whole domain of purpose and meaning I think is really crucial for 21 year olds,and it is for all of us at any age. But I think there’s something very special and it happens for emerging adults. That’s kind of what the scientific community is calling now this age from 18 to 29.
Jen Arnold: [00:11:18] Emerging adults, huh?
Mark Thurston: [00:11:19] Emerging adulthood. You know, there’s even the Society for the Study of Emerging Adulthood as a professional organization. And some of us here from our center are presenting a symposium at the national/international conference in November of that organization.
But coming back to meaning and purpose, I think it’s especially something that young adults, emerging adults there’s a certain amount malleability. They’re still kind of formulating a direction, whether that’s changing majors from their academic studies or figuring out who to partner with, or where they want to live in the world, what their values are going to be. And those are questions that we all need to revisit, if not annually at least with some regularity and come back and know what we believe in what we stand for.
So, in this course it’s not a matter of me telling them what the meaning of life is or what their meaning ought to be, but to study in a kind of academic way what some of the research literature is about how people go about finding or making meaning. To study some of the great thinkers about meaning making, like Viktor Frankl. His famous book Man’s Search for Meaning, we study part of that book. We even have a two-week vision quest experiment. That’s part of the experiential learning of the course.
Now it’s not as a elaborate, as you know, going off into nature for a week. Obviously with the lifestyles of students gave, they can’t do that. But can we sort of embed with them an urban or suburban emerging adult lifestyle a way of having a little two week experiment to open ourselves to inspiration or new insight about meaning and life direction?
So every student has a question for their vision quest. We all have a little program plan that I review and sometimes edit with them about things they’re going to do during that two weeks. That opens up some space, some time and some space, to get inspired or to capture a new vision.
Jen Arnold: [00:13:07] Now, Mark do you give them that question or do they?
Mark Thurston: [00:13:10] They formulate that question. I give them lots of examples. I’ve been teaching this course for eight years now, and each semester fall and spring. So I’ve got a lot of students who’ve given me permission to use both their question or their little vision quest plan as examples for fellow students coming along after them.
And I think there are some really profound results that come out of that. Many students say, “this was very useful. I want to do it again. Maybe over the winter break or during the summer break when I could really devote even more time and energy to it. And I’ve done this with a lot of mid-life adult as well. Not built into an academic course, but it goes right to the heart of one of these four perks of well-being here at the beginning of our interview. Meaning making is a key component of well-being.
Jen Arnold: [00:13:55] Yeah,Mark I want to take the class! I want to go on a vision quest! That sounds amazing. And I really want to commend you all because often times when you’re in college, I mean 18 to 21, you’re expected to pick this major and that you’re going to stay with the rest of your life and you’re given no–well, you know limited guidance right. And it’s just amazing that you guys give them the space and the resources and the tools to look inward and help them pick a path, even if it’s not their forever path, but feel comforted in the path.
Mark Thurston: [00:14:27] So, we don’t have a major in well-being or consciousness studies. There’s this academic minor, which I think is a way of flavoring any other discipline. So somebody could be a music major but fall under a well-being minor, or somebody can be a business major and then have a well-meaning minor, or somebody in psychology major, so forth. And in part because there are a lot of immediate occupational career track things out there to come out with a degree in well-being.
But to say OK I’m an accounting major and I also have this minor in well-being where I learned a lot of self-care methods. I learned how to work with my intuition and my analytical mind. I developed some professional and life skills that are going to make me a really good employee. I’m a resilient person. I think that flavoring of their traditional discipline for their majors is a really strong way to go about working with these young adults.
Jen Arnold: [00:15:24] Oh, absolutely. I mean there are so many in the workforce, I know I struggled with resilience in the workforce. I mean you’re given all these changes on a very constant level in the workforce. To have the skill of resilience going into the workforce, you’ve got a leg up I think on a lot of other people who are going out to the workforce today.
Mark Thurston: [00:15:40] But I appreciate your comment about like, “oh I’d like to take that course!” We actually have people calling and saying, “oh can we just drop it and take this course and that course?” The university is not set up that way, but we’ve developed some programs that are sort of continuing ed and sort of certificate professional development, personal development kinds of programs. People want to know about those they could contact me and I can tell them about those.
Jen Arnold: [00:16:03] Are they online at all?
Mark Thurston: [00:16:05] No, they’re not at this point. They all would involve living at least at a commutable distance to Washington D.C..
Jen Arnold: [00:16:11] How about Raleigh? You know I’m about five hours away. It that commutable?
Mark Thurston: [00:16:16] They don’t seem to come from that far. A lot of it’s kind of around Friday-Saturday slowly kinds of programs.
Jen Arnold: [00:16:21] You know, it’s very interesting and I would love to get the word out obviously on this podcast, but if I can link up anything in the show notes, I would love to. Just your contact information at a minimum. But I am selfishly very interested in that. So when we spoke earlier obviously we had a chat before we got on this that podcast, you mentioned a mindful living learning community. And Leigh Stringer also mentioned this and that’s how I knew a little bit about it, but What is that?
[00:16:46] So living learning communities, something that’s found at most universities I think. Student affairs are what we call university life here on this campus within housing. It’s sort of the home base for this and it’s a dorm floor, or sometimes it’s so big it’s a whole dormitory that has some thematic linked to it.
But the students are taking at least one credit course in common. So we have a sustainability living learning community and all those students are interested in sustainability for environmental studies things like that. And they’re taking a one credit course together. But then they’re also living on the same floor. They know that everybody on the floor has that common interest.
So we have 38 students that occupy the entire floor of one of the newer dormitories here. It’s called a Mindful Living LLC, or living learning community. And they take of course that some Tuesday afternoons from 4:45 to 6 o’clock about mindfulness and they also have a mindful practice room in the doom.
It’s a place where they can go to sort of set up and decorate in a way that supports meditation practice. It’s just sort of a matter of students finding other students who share some of their interests. But we have people who are drama majors, people who are anthropology majors, people who are preparing to be public school teachers. I mean the majors are all over the place, but then they share this personal interest around mindfulness and well-being.
Jen Arnold: [00:18:11] Now did you say that their incoming freshmen or they’re mixed in ages?
Mark Thurston: [00:18:14] Well, for this year we have 22 of the 38 students where it’s their first year on the floor. And I think 18 of those are freshmen and four are sophomores. But it’s still their first year on this particular floor. And then the remainder, the other 16, are people who are coming back for second or third year to be on the mindful living floor.
Jen Arnold: [00:18:34] How long have you had it in place?
Mark Thurston: [00:18:36] I think this is our 8th year.
Jen Arnold: [00:18:39] And what benefits have you seen throughout the years?
Mark Thurston: [00:18:41] We’ve done a little bit of research that’s more program evaluation than it is hard research because it wasn’t a matched control group, and so forth. So we have kind of before and after data around some assessments of certain well-being measures, like resilience. So even knowledge about well-being topics. And as we might expect, there are groupings and scales but it’s not publishable research yet.
So I think the stronger evidence is really more anecdotal. Some of the letters that students write back to us, or the eagerness to re-up and do it for another year. We have a lot of those students that decide they want to do the well-being minor. This kind of becomes a portal for them into some deeper academic studies around these things. I think the number of students that continue to stay in touch with us two, and three, and four years later is also strong evidence that something good is happening with this.
Jen Arnold: [00:19:32] Yes, and I’m fine with just evaluation and anecdotes that’s fine. It doesn’t have to be serious academic research. Don’t worry because that’s meaningful too, right? The letters and the notes and everything. So is this one at George Mason that you can replicate at other schools? Have you had interest in trying to replicate it?
Mark Thurston: [00:19:49] Well we’ve been in touch with other schools that are interested in a lot of the components of what we’re doing campus wide around well-being and around mindfulness. I don’t know that there’s been conversations about trying to replicate the mindful living learning community. That may have happened without me knowing.
This is actually the first year out of the eight years where I’ve had my finger in the pie. In the past, it’s been colleagues of the center either teaching the course or working administratively with the floor. So I’m a little bit new to some of the dynamics of that program. I’ve just been out of the loop in terms of whether other universities have been in touch with our housing department here to learn from us.
Jen Arnold: [00:20:31] What about the well being minor? That seems like something that could complement anyone’s course of study at other universities. I’m not aware that there is one at any other university.
Mark Thurston: [00:20:40] You know, I’m not sure there is either. There’s a University of British Columbia Simon Fraser University that’s made a big commitment to well-being. There’s a private university in Mexico that’s largely a science and technical school university with 15,000 students that committed to being a well-being university. In fact, the president of that university is coming to speak here on our campus next week. In terms of the academics, we’ve made some visits to other schools.
My wife and I went down to Wake Forest. We did have a couple of days of interaction with their faculty and some of their student affairs professionals. There’s actually been more interest that I’ve seen around mindfulness as a topic academically. There’s an association for contemplative practices in higher education. That’s been around for more than a dozen years and I have annual conferences and sort of collegial ways of networking, and that’s been trying to bring mindfulness practices into co-curricular as well as academic curricular courses. So if we think of well being kind of in a broad way that includes mindfulness, includes body-mind wellness. I think this is a growing trend on a lot of campuses.
Some of it has been around concerns for suicide prevention programs. Some of it has been just a little more proactive, with the sense that universities have an obligation to do more than just train somebody with technical skills to get a job, but they need to equip them with life skills so they can really survive in their career.
There’s a lot of professions, like teaching, where the half-life is like three years or something like that. Well, you know with the prospects for longevity are not strong and it seems pretty evident that students need to learn things about self-care and resilience working within teams and groups. I mean there’s more than just learning some of the mechanics of the profession. Many universities are waking up to that. Well-being’s part of the remedy they are trying to apply.
Jen Arnold: [00:22:38] Yeah. Meditation is, really mindfulness rather, is really a hot topic now. I think it’s on every magazine cover that I’ve seen recently and it’s great that it’s finally getting a little bit into to the mainstream. So keep spreading the word. We need it as much as possible. Now, you guys have an annual well-being conference and you have it I think it’s April every year. Is that correct?
Mark Thurston: [00:22:59] Either seven or eight years in a row, we’ve had an annual Leading to Well-being Conference. It’s sort of the intersection of leadership studies and well-being science, and we usually have 400 or so people that come. There’s usually a couple of keynote speakers. This last year we have David Brock, who has done a lot of really innovative research around what he calls “neuro leadership.” That’s kind of the intersection of neurology or neuroscience in leadership.
And Arianna Huffington, who has made a big commitment to well-being and sort of public awareness around well-being. And then there’s breakout workshops. Some of them are for coaches, some are for O.D. professionals, some of for people who are in higher ed. So there are concurrent workshop things alongside the plenary sessions with two keynoters. It’s really been a high energy program each year.
Jen Arnold: [00:23:48] And in this past year, you said it was building resilient organizations, correct?
Mark Thurston: [00:23:53] Right. We were kind of honing in on resilience in particular.
Jen Arnold: [00:23:57] And so this year, when we talked again earlier, you talked about a different track maybe for next year.
Mark Thurston: [00:24:04] In April, we’re going to do something about appreciative inquiry. And so it’s going to be a different angle where we try to engage the local community and our campus community in this movement that’s been around for a couple of decades called appreciative inquiry. It has close relationship with positive psychology and sort of trying to see what’s going well within an organization or within our group setting. And then how can we magnify or build upon what’s going well? So instead of the approach of you know, “what are our weaknesses and how are we going to remedy that and what’s going wrong? How can we fix it?”
Focus more like positive psychology does in a more individualistic way…what’s going right within the organization what can we learn from those successes or can we build on them or extrapolate from those things that we can really appreciate about what we’re doing well? So we’re going to do a big summit for an appreciative inquiry.
We had had David Cooperrider for our annual Spring leading to wellbeing conference a year and a half ago. He’s at Case Western and we kind of got inspired by what he had to say and said, “okay we need to be doing that here.” So that’s what we’re going to devote our spring of 2018 energies to.
Jen Arnold: [00:25:18] And I’m looking that up. I’m hopefully going to get a podcast guest to talk about that based on your recommendation. But before you know you are looking for new things to bring in. Going, “hey we could use this thing here at George Mason.” So, kudos to you.
Mark Thurston: [00:25:29] We have senior leadership here at the university It’s very interested in that, so that makes a big difference when the president and people right on down understand that the university needs to be more than just getting people ready to pass a licensure exam for their profession. They’re really committed to a bigger kind of education for the student.
Jen Arnold: [00:25:50] And that’s commendable. I’m already thinking if maybe my kids may need to look at George Mason when they’re old enough to look at colleges. One’s four and one is six months. Got little ways to go, but at some point you guys are on my radar. Now look let’s translate this a bit. Obviously, you work with students but all the work that you know is very relevant to the corporate world. You’re preparing these folks to get their first job. So let’s talk about… I want to get two pieces of advice from you. One is is there a book that you would recommend about most professionals read? And as we’re looking at I’m looking at European bookshelf and there are a ton of books, I imagine this is a hard question to ask you. Is there a book that has maybe changed your perspective or your life or one that you would recommend?
Mark Thurston: [00:26:36] Especially if I think of myself as somebody who works within an organization?
Jen Arnold: [00:26:40] Yes, or perhaps it’s just for you and in the well-being space.
Mark Thurston: [00:26:44] Well, I think a cluster of books that have to do with developing a personal mindfulness practice is probably the strongest thing I could advocate. I mean there’s more scholarly work-
Jen Arnold: [00:26:57] Not scholarly work-more of what a layperson can read.
Mark Thurston: [00:27:01] You know, I think it’s critical that people develop some type of a contemplative practice, and it doesn’t have to be sitting in a chair for 10 or 30 minutes a day chanting or wrestling with our mind to be focused. There’s a place for learning seated mindfulness practice. But I think we need to cultivate ways in which we disengage from what I called earlier, “the monkey mind”, or the sort of discursive ruminating tendencies of the mind, that really make it difficult to connect to our problem solving and creative functions that reside in the psyche. And for me, that’s largely been around having some seated practices, but I’ve also found ways of which being out in nature supports that for me.
Mindfulness walks, engaging with music in a way that allows me to kind of drop more into my intuitive mind and out of my analytical mind. So there’s room for lots of individual differences and I know what people’s resistance is, or at least part of the resistance is, “I’m too busy to do this. I’m not getting everything done on my list already. Don’t tell me something else to add to my list.” It kind of reminds me one of my faculty colleagues taught a course here and he said in a group setting of faculty, “the first 20 minutes of my class is a meditation.” We said, “how can you afford to do that!”
Not meeting financial afford, but how are you going to get the learning objectives done when the first 20 minutes is meditation. His reply was, “How can I afford not to? Because the quality of what happens in the student interaction is the quality the learning that happens. After students have had a structure where they disengage from what’s troubling them and worrying them and really calming, they can be present to each other. It’s just got to be done. How can I not afford it, how can I not do this?” So even if it’s not 20 minutes, I think any organizational professional needs to have something, maybe five minutes a day, maybe it can be done even at the office where they,you know, hold the calls.
Even somebody who is in a cubicle, there could be some way to disengage from the kind of discursive ruts that we get ourselves into. One person’s called this cognitive fitness and we don’t doubt the importance of physical fitness. So why would we have any skepticism around the importance of cognitive fitness? And that takes some discipline. It takes some effort. It’s like physical fitness.
Jen Arnold: [00:29:27] I’m writing that down cause I love that…cognitive fitness.
Mark Thurston: [00:29:30] Well, I’ll tell you where I first saw that line. It was in an Atlantic magazine article called, “How Meditation Works.” It was published in 2013-it’s on the internet. Just type in [00:29:40] Atlantic How Meditation Works and it’s right there available. And the author [5.0] uses that phrase cognitive fitness. I just found to be a really useful term.
Jen Arnold: [00:29:50] Absolutely. Now one thing that you talked about when we had the pre-call chat was gap moments. Talk a little bit about what a gap moment is and how people can make the most of it.
Mark Thurston: [00:30:01] You know, you had asked me what some kind of a practical way this could be instituted. So there’s a notion within the field of consciousness studies that we need to be able to take focused practice into day life and we need to be able to live mindfully. So it’s not just sitting there for that 10 or 20 minutes and being very mindful and deeply concentrated. How then does that affect our emotional regulation? How does that affect my attentiveness? How does that affect my creativity? And it’s just scary to see how quickly we go on automatic pilot.
We are very predictable creatures and it really takes an act of will. Something that’s often forgotten in the study of psychology, how important volition is. It takes an act of will to come back and be mindful. And I think the place to do that is in these little sort of interruptions or the sort of gaps that happen. They are typically a minute to three minutes long.
The classic example is that you have to drive in traffic to get to work in the morning, like people from Washington D.C. area do, virtually everybody’s commute has one or more times where you’re going to be sitting at a red light for a minute or more. How do you use that minute? Are you just listening to the news and stewing about what a mess the world is? Or are you sitting there trying to worry about how you’re going to deal with a personnel problem when you get to the office? I mean sometimes there’s a place for doing those things, but it’s also a minute even with eyes open when you could just read attentively and notice your surroundings and practice being present to what is right now. Or let’s suppose I’m going to walk this afternoon from my building where my office is across the campus to the library…it’s a five minute walk.
How do I use that gap when I’m doing something with my body, but that takes about five percent of my attention to make sure I don’t run into somebody or stumble. And what am I going to do with the other 95 percent of my attention during that five minute gap so to speak. And if we can cultivate the purposeful use of those minutes, I think we can do a whole lot towards enhancing our well-being. Maybe I’m not going to try to meditate during that five minute walk to the library, maybe I’m going to use it to just be appreciative. Keep my eyes open and to see things that I appreciate about being on a great public university campus. And getting a chance to be in the lives of these young adults, and living in a country where I’m free to teach the kind of courses I want to teach. There’s a way that I could use those minutes that would be cultivating well-being even if I’m really busy.
Jen Arnold: [00:32:39] I love that. And I found recently for me, I’ve been taking in too much input. So if I go on a walk, I’m listening to something. And what I found is when I take my headphones out and just appreciate and just let things be, I come back so much more refreshed. You know there’s gap moments-
Mark Thurston: [00:32:56] I think everybody’s had a taste of this. You know, even like you’re on a long car trip and you stop at a restaurant. It’s a scenic overlook. It’s a three minute scenic overlook and you just feel inspired and you get back in the car and you’re rustling with traffic again. In those three, minutes nature inspired you. You had a taste of how even in a short period of time, something could change in us.
Jen Arnold: [00:33:18] And I think what you just said at the beginning to the falsity of we don’t have enough time right. We’re too busy there’s, too much on our to do list. And what you’re saying, what I’m hearing, is you don’t need a lot of time. You need one to three minutes and to make use of what we’ve got. I think those are great words of wisdom.
Mark Thurston: [00:33:33] And also just changing the quality of how you go about doing some of the things that are on the list and have to get done.
Jen Arnold: [00:33:41] Tell me more about that.
Mark Thurston: [00:33:42] I got to drive to work. It’s a 30 minute drive. But I can change the quality of my attitude. I can do something different with those red light moments. I’m still doing something that had to be on the list and change the tone or how I’m doing it.
Jen Arnold: [00:33:56] Very, very important. Change the mindset. Now I am going to just come back to the question about a great book, or a few couple books, or anything that you would say, “this is a must read!” or changed your life. And maybe it’s the Victor Frankl Man’s Search for Meaning you mentioned.
Mark Thurston: [00:34:12] That’s certainly one of my 10 favorite books I’m also fond of Care of the Soul. Thomas Moore’s bestseller from the mid-1980s. But I think he introduced the word soul in a way that’s broader than just religious connotation, that kind of wholeheartedness that we can bring to life. It’s a way in which we can appreciate the little things of life, that we deeply celebrate how much we are wired for social connection, and how important the quality of our relationships are. It was a very influential book for me I should have been more prepared for it.
Jen Arnold: [00:34:47] No, I put you on the spot for that one, Mark. You know, I just figured that books are something that usually my audience likes to dig into, but those two I will definitely link up in the show notes. I haven’t heard of that second one.
Mark Thurston: [00:34:59] Great.
Mark Thurston: [00:35:00] Well Mark, anything else anything else you want to leave my audience with? Any final words of wisdom?
Mark Thurston: [00:35:06] I think continuing our own journey and our own inquiry to always be clear about our own values is really important. I think some of the best organizational development work is around strengthening people’s sense of why they’re doing what they’re doing. Both an organizational mission and a personal mission within the context of the bigger mission, having practices that cultivate well-being in mindfulness and contemplation I think is really important. And I think resilience and understanding that resilience is more than just protecting ourselves from adversity. It’s even more than just being able to bounce back from a hardship. There’s a kind of resilience that allows us to actually grow into something better that we can be thrown off kilter, we can have an illness, we can have a professional setback, we can come out of it in a way with resilience really makes us a better person.
Jen Arnold: [00:35:55] I’m writing that down because, “grow into something better…” I think that is a key phrase. I really like what you just said about them. Mark, thank you so much I appreciate you talking to us and giving us more of an insight into the center.
Mark Thurston: [00:36:07] Thanks for inviting me.
-Care of the Soul by Thomas Moore
-Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
–How Meditation Works by Liz Kulze
Mark’s Full bio:
Mark Thurston, Ph.D. is Director of Educational Programs at George Mason University’s Center for the Advancement of Well-Being. With an academic background in psychology, Mark has worked for 35 years in adult education related to consciousness, holistic health, and personal transformation. He is author of numerous books related to personal spirituality, dream psychology, meditation, and the transformation of consciousness. Mark’s research interests include mindfulness, conflict transformation, the role of intentionality in groups, and aspects of consciousness which can be experienced in the dream state. His courses at Mason have recently included “Conflict Transformation from the Inside Out,” “Practices for Reconstellating Conflict,” and “Consciousness, Meaning, and Life Purpose.” His current courses for Fall 2014 are NCLC 595 “Leadership and Mindfulness” Wednesdays at 4:30 – 7:10 pm and NCLC 355 “Consciousness, Meaning and Life-Purpose” Wednesdays at 1:30 – 4:10 pm.