Brian Kimmel is an organizer with Wake Up International, a world-wide network of young people practicing “the art of mindfulness.” The Wake Up network grew out of the Plum Village Meditation Center in France, under the guidance of Nobel Peace Prize nominee Thich Nhat Hanh. The Wake Up movement was formally launched in Summer 2008.
Yesterday, Kimmel — along with a group of Buddhist monks, nuns and experienced lay practitioners — held a “meditation flash mob” at the University of Oregon. Flash mobs are groups of people who assemble suddenly in a public area, perform a random act for a short amount of time, then disperse. While flash mobs are usually associated with satire or entertainment, they have been used — as Wake Up International uses them – to promote other purposes such as meditation or social commentary.
EDN interviewed Kimmel on Wake Up and the concept of using flash mobs for meditation purposes.
EDN: How did your group get started?
Kimmel: It is part of seeing how overloaded with stress and anxiety a lot of students and adults are, and noticing that this is the next generation that needs to bring our society into a better place. So we are wanting to help bring relief, to help people have less stress, less anxiety, and to be able to deal with strong emotions and have healthy relationships. It started around 2008 in Europe. We had our first tour on the East Coast last summer. And now we’re on a Northwest tour. It is sponsored by a Buddhist organization involved with Nobel Peace Prize nominee Thich Nhat Hanh. We offer mindfulness workshops in colleges and non-sectarian places. It’s not religious.
EDN: Your group organizes flash mobs for “mindfulness.” What does mindfulness mean to you?
Kimmel: Mindfulness means being in the here and the now. It means being available to what is in life, right before you, being in touch with life. And not getting carried away by negative emotions. So maybe living free in the moment. And being connected to your heart, body, and mind.
EDN: When people think of mobs, they usually think of mindlessness, not mindfulness. Is the juxtaposition of these normally contradictory concepts intentional?
Kimmel: We take whatever is there and try to use it as a way to get back in touch with life. So yeah, but we also just use it because everyone is using flash mobs. We didn’t really invent that. But we started doing it because people know about the concept. When we do flash mobs, we don’t use flyers or anything. We just walk and sit in silence.
EDN: You mention monks and nuns being part of this. What faiths or practices do they come from?
Kimmel: We have a wide range of people coming to our events. Same with the organizers. We have people of all ages between 17 and 35 and coming from all over the United States. We have a monk from Sweden, some from Vietnam. Two from Texas, some from California. I grew up in the Seattle area. All walks of life are at the flash mobs and mindfulness workshops. Usually we tour with the Buddhist monks and nuns but we have some from other traditions. We have one who was a Catholic priest.
EDN: Meditation is culturally associated with Buddhism. Is this a primarily Buddhist movement?
Kimmel: The mindfulness meditation is in many — if not all — traditions. Even secular traditions, Native American traditions. So culturally speaking, mindfulness, or being awake to life, is not strictly Buddhist. When we offer a presentation on the mindfulness practice, it is a very simple awareness of the breath. A lot of us have learned from our teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, but it’s a very simple practice we all can share.
EDN: In traditional thought, the Buddha is not a follower of pop culture. But flash mobs seem to be part of pop culture. Do you think the Buddha — if he were alive today — would be a part of a flash mob movement?
Kimmel: Sure, why not? I’m not too sure that flash mobs are part of the culture. If they were, there would be a whole lot more people attending them. I think that is why we choose to do flash mobs — it gets us seen and heard and it’s more available to the people who might not see it. It gets us out into the world. We aren’t stuck in a meditation hall. We are out trying to help the world. So yes — I do think the Buddha would be in a flash mob.
EDN: If there’s one thing people can do right now, wherever they are and whoever they are, to be more mindful of life and its happenings, what would that be?
Kimmel: Stop. Stop what you’re doing and come back to your breath, to your sense of your feet on the floor, and just be where you are.
Wake Up International has two upcoming mindfulness workshops in Eugene: at the University of Oregon tomorrow, Saturday, September 29, and at Hendricks Park, Sunday, September 30. Both are free and open to the public ages 17 – 35. For more information, visit their events page at http://us.wkup.org/events.