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What you need to Thrive (Now &) in the Future - An Interview with Mitra Manesh

Episode Summary

Mitra is a mindfulness educator and leader, the founder of Aram 3, and a teacher at UCLA’s Mindfulness and Research Center. Over the last 30 years, she has worked with a wide range of individual and corporate clients including Hugo Boss, CAA, Christian Dior, the Hammer Museum and more. This summer she is launching Innermap, a mindfulness app that brings together mindful storytelling, smart sounds, and a heart rate tracker to help you shift your heart and reset your mind. In this episode, we talk about the power of compassion, and how we can integrate body, mind, and heart in our day-to-day lives, so we can thrive in all aspects of our lives. We talk about the origins of compassion, and why we need to cultivate our self-awareness, so we can build a more equitable future for all. Mitra shares with us a powerful, yet simple technique to cultivate self-awareness and connection to self on a daily basis. She also shares with us a beautiful self compassion practice.

Episode Notes


Today we are here with Mitra Manesh. Mitra is a mindfulness educator and leader, the founder of Aram3, and a teacher at UCLA’s Mindfulness and Research Center. Over the last 30 years, she has worked with a wide range of individual and corporate clients including Hugo Boss, CAA, Christian Dior, the Hammer Museum and more. This summer she is launching Innermap, a mindfulness app that brings together mindful storytelling, smart sounds, and a heart rate tracker to help you shift your heart and reset your mind.

I met Mitra a few weeks ago… although she didn’t realize it at the time! we both attended an event on Intelligent Inclusion and the Future of Artificial Intelligence, at the Hammer museum; and she made a remark that made an impression on me. she talked about the importance of staying connected to the heart, and the power of feminine leadership, when it comes to developing artificial intelligence systems that are inclusive. As soon as I heard her speak, I knew I had to connect with her. so here we are, just a few weeks later, at her office in Beverly Hills.

In today’s conversation, Mitra shares about the power of cultivating compassion, at an individual and global scale. She shares with us about her own journey: why she decided to choose meditation over medication, and what she has learned throughout more than 30 years working with leaders across different industries. She also shares with us a simple yet powerful technique we can use on a daily basis to reconnect with our heart, so we can feel more engaged in all areas of our life. and do stay until the end, because she will be sharing with us a powerful gift: she shares with us a beautiful self compassion meditation that will leave you feeling high.

I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did.

[ How she started this work ]

I was born in Iran and literally walked out of my country, living around the world on four different continents. What initially led me to start this work was extreme personal pain. I always joke that my decision was between medication and meditation. And I chose meditation.

It was the early 80’s and I realized that the outside world, and the outer world, in general, was very challenging for me. I had escaped a system that I couldn't escape from. I was living in Europe. I lived in Paris, and then I moved to Australia, then to Canada, and I moved back to the US, where I had lived in the 70s. So if I was having a good time, I would feel bad because of what was happening in my country. If I was feeling bad, then I was feeling bad because I was feeling bad. It was a no-win situation.

Then I realized that there is no way that I can control the outer world; the only thing that I have a hold on is the way my inner world is going. And as basic as this is... these are the principles of inner work and inner happiness.

***As intelligent as we human beings are, we sometimes think we need to control the outside world in order to feel a sense of comfort or ease. ***But I think I was young and somehow naive. In my naivete, I realized that I can only do something with my inner world. So my journey started there.

I was a trainer and corporate coach, which is another story... in those days there were no coaches, and I was young and slim, so every time I said I was a coach, they thought I was a gymnastics coach. I had to explain that I'm not a gymnastics coach. I had corporate clients, mainly men, because they were usually senior staff. And then I found that my inner work was really helping me. I was using those tools to do the corporate work, and I called it different things. I called it form and substance, inner and outer, all these names… until I came out of the closet and called it mindfulness work.

You cannot do the inner work without seeing the fruits of it in your outer world. You don't need to make any effort for it to show. These big companies would hire me to work with them, and I think they saw that something else was showing up: it was the inner, or the heart aspect, (and I'm not talking gender,) but the ‘feminine’ in us. **Masculine and feminine are energies, they're not gender. **So I think it was that marriage, and I called it a marriage or integration of the mind and heart that was so appealing. I've never ever done any marketing work. I've never advertised in my entire life, and I’ve never been not-busy. So I think the attraction was that integration and marriage of the heart and mind space that we're probably going to talk more about today. But that's how it all started.

I moved to Los Angeles, and I realized there is a center called the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA. I was at the Hammer Museum, where they have a half hour drop-in meditation, (which, by the way, I now lead sometimes) I met Diana Winston, our director, who led me into the world of UCLA.

I have a practice, and I mainly do three things: I teach mindfulness and I do one-on-one counseling and coaching. I also take (this work) to the workplace, helping people to live peacefully, in an integrated way, both at home and at work. So these are the three things I do.

[ her perspective on mindfulness ]

***I believe that we are the parent of three children: the first child is our mind, and let's call it a ‘he.’ He is the loudest. The second child is our body, and ‘It’ is the most needy: it gets tired, hungry, thirsty, it wants to move and sleep. A lot of needs come from the body. And the third child is the heart. ‘She’ is the most neglected. ***

So if you paid attention, I called the mind the ‘he, the heart the ‘she, and the body the ‘it.’ The body could be at the service of the mind or the heart. What happens is that one of these children or two of them, in this case, may get all the attention, and that's when integration is not happening.

I'm a storyteller, and I come from the land of storytelling, so this is the story part of our science. I'm not a scientist, as I'm sure you know, but this is how I see the lack of connection and integration between the body, mind, and heart.

***In the past few centuries, the mind got a lot of attention and importance. Intellectuality was very important. Knowing was important and information was important. That era is gone. Information is extremely inexpensive now. A 13 year old child can now have access to information that only presidents of the world had access to when I was their age. But we still giving (too much) importance to the mind. ***

Am I against the mind? of course not. Without the mind, I couldn't cross the street to come to my office today to speak to you.The mind is a fantastic tool for survival, but not a very good tool for ‘thrival,’ and I know such a word doesn't exist, but I make it up intentionally to get your attention.

What got us here won't get us there.*** If I want to thrive, then I need to pay attention to the most neglected child of mine, which is my heart. The idea is to integrate (heart and mind) so that survival and thrival can work together simultaneously.*** If we want to thrive, then we can’t stay in survival mode.

Survival mode asks the question: what is wrong? Imagine if I wanted to protect you, if you were my child, and I was an overprotective mother; I would probably anticipate everything that might go wrong, and more. I would probably make up things, and sometimes we do as parents, what if you went there and you lost your wallet, and there was nobody to help you, and you got stranded in an airport? And you say, Well, I'm just going to have fun. What are you talking about?*** That's exactly what the mind does: it comes up with the most amazing problems that are probably not there. So if there are no problems for it to solve, it will probably make some up for you. ***

You and I probably have experienced this before: we sit there and the mind starts making up experiences and stories. Before you know it, I'm dealing with a disastrous story. My body is now
experiencing it, because it's getting information from the mind, and now I'm in a very tense mood, and I just can't settle down because I feel anxiety, which means that I’m worried about what's going to happen next: **anxiety needs a future. **

***The idea is that we integrate the body and mind, and we allow the body to be at the service of both the mind and heart. That's what the integration story is all about. ***

[ her perspective on storytelling ]

We are all storytellers, by the way: everybody, the question is, who's telling the story?

Is the aware self telling the story? Is the frightened mind in survival mode telling the story? Or is the settled and open heart telling the story? Imagine that there is a very long table, and on both sides of the table are different parts of us: the frightened child in us, the fearful one, the happy one, the jolly one, the succeeding one... all the storytellers in ourselves, because there are many of us here, there's not just one, the question is which one is sitting at the head of the table?

***And my invitation to my students and clients is to allow the “aware self” to be the decision maker, because the “aware self” is the the adult, balanced, integrated part of us that allows all children at the table to speak.

The problem with is that we have given so much importance to the mind, that the heart (feels) very small and doesn't have a say. *

Imagine we had a head ten times the size of the heart. Well, that proportion is not very healthy. What we want to do is to make sure that we are giving a venue, that we are giving an audience and an opportunity for the heart to also be consulted; and for the heart to also tell it's stories.

And what is the heart story? It’s emotions and feelings. How do you feel? Because feelings were always discounted. How I’m feeling has a lot to do with my stories. If you think about what emotions are... they are energies.

In the mindfulness world, we say emotions are e-motions, energies in motion. So this energy that has been created by you and I meeting each other... if I don't acknowledge it, if I don't work with it, it's just going to just play around in a very disorganized way.** Energies don’t die as we know. **They just change their shape and form. So when I allow the emotion to be there, when I acknowledge it, when I accept it… the integration happens naturally, we're giving an arena to both our hearts and mind to have a say. We don't make one quiet and allow the other one to be amplified, because that's what lack of integration is.

**Most people have an over-activated mind and under-activated heart. **

I know that the mind has a lot of fans, and I'm not putting the mind down. I'm saying: let’s allow the integration of the mind and the heart.

[ How do you suggest that we integrate mind and the heart ? ]

I invite my clients and students to set an alarm that reminds them (on the hour, or a few times a day,) to ask themselves, how am I feeling right now? Just name your feelings. Get fluent in the language of feelings and emotions. I'm using feelings and emotions interchangeably here. They're not the same, but that's another interview.

Ask yourself: How am I feeling right now? Name your emotions. If the emotion is comfortable, my needs are probably met. If I'm feeling comfortable right now, I'm probably connecting with you.

If you asked me: What are you feeling right now? I would say I’m at ease, because I'm feeling connected to you. But say I was not connected with you, and feeling tense, then that emotion would be an uncomfortable emotion. The immediate question is: **what are you needing right now? **

Ask yourself:** what am I feeling? And what am I needing?** And the third one is attending to that need in a mindful way. Sometimes those needs are very basic needs. If I'm tense, I may just need some fresh air, a glass of water, or just a small break. Sometimes just changing your body posture, or just being heard: (by yourself, by the way,) what your needs are and what your feelings are, it's sufficient to settle down. We just want to be heard.

There is a beautiful word in the Persian language that is called ‘darde del,’ which literally means ‘the pain of the heart’. This is an exchange that my grandmother used to do with her friends. They would sit there and basically tell each other what was hard in their lives, and then they would be laughing with each other. It was as simple as that in just a few seconds.

**We can ‘darde del’ with ourselves 20 times a day. It’s all about connection: connecting with our selves and asking: **
How am I feeling?
What am I needing?
Then acting based on that recognition.

**What can I do in order to help myself, serve myself? And to feel a bit more comfortable?

[ How many times do you recommend doing this? ]

I always say: meet yourself where you are. I would say three times: breakfast, lunch and dinner. and whenever you’re feeling uncomfortable, just ask yourself. But then you have to be connected to yourself to know you are uncomfortable.

So if I'm feeling uncomfortable… then ask: What is it? What am I feeling? Name it. It doesn't need to be accurate. What am I needing? Ask that question and then just pause. Sometimes what I need is just a glass of water, or maybe a little bit of connection. Usually it's very simple, and you can just ask a question to find out.

[ How can we cultivate compassion and mindfulness now,
and in the future? ]

Let's look at compassion from both perspectives: individual and collective consciousness. Compassion is staying kind when things become difficult, and things become difficult quite often for us as human beings.

**(We have to) ‘allow’ for us to have difficulties, allow ourselves to make mistakes, because we are a work in progress. Letting go of the perfectionism that exists in many of us. **

We're evolving beings. Since you've entered this office, our consciousness has changed because of the questions that you had. So really, consciousness and compassion are two C's that are very close to each other.

To me: **Mindfulness is being conscious and present, with a sense of curiosity and compassion. I see that many people define mindfulness without bringing compassion to it. **I always think about the great criminal minds of the world. I'm sure they were very present. I'm sure they were very conscious, and they had a lot of curiosity. But they did not serve humanity, and they did not serve themselves either. So compassion is a huge element of mindfulness that gets overseen sometimes, and people (often) don't include it in their definition.

You cannot afford not connecting to your emotions. What got us here won’t get us there. We got into technology, we got into success, we got all these wonderful things.

But, if we don’t fill in this gap between the mind and the heart, between having compassion, and really being intelligent, with a capital I, versus the little I... (the intelligence that comes from information and knowledge, and the capital I, the intelligence that comes from wisdom, compassion, and the heart.)

We cannot afford to go any further without mending this gap between the mind and the heart. You talked about artificial intelligence and robots, and I see the fears that people have that this artificial intelligence takes over, and we cannot do anything about it.

But who is making these robots? we are. So imagine that I'm giving birth to a mechanical child that I know is going to lead the world. Don't I want some compassion in that child? Why wouldn't I pay attention to the way I raised this child? If I don't instill the principles of compassion in this very powerful child that I'm giving birth to and raising… then it will be out of our control.

The level of consciousness that is creating the AI’s of the world.. that will determine the initial consciousness of the AI’s of the world, and the starting point for where they're going. We’re telling them to go north or south, exactly like a parent and a child. We're giving them the foundational principles, and then they will be independent, quite soon.

[ How do we bring compassion into these technologies? ]

If I don't have it, I cannot share it. It's very simple. If you ask me for an apple right now, I can't possibly share it with you, because I don't have an apple.** If I don't have self compassion, I cannot possibly have ‘other’ compassion. If I don't have self consciousness, I cannot have a neutral consciousness.** I'm not talking about judgment. I'm talking about consciousness for other people. There is no other place to start. I don't know if it's even possible to bring consciousness to something when I don't have self consciousness. When I have no idea what I'm feeling, what I'm doing, where I'm at, no awareness of that… how can I be aware of you? And if I am, that won't be called awareness that probably is called judgment, which is a completely different experience.

**There is no other way except to start with ourselves. Understand that as Rumi says, that which we're searching for is sitting right here in our room. **

We believe that all the answers are outside of us. But again, as Rumi said: “I've been knocking and knocking at the door, and I’ve been complaining and complaining that the door doesn't open, and when the door opens, I realize I've been knocking from the inside. I've been inside all along, and shouting and complaining. And judging that I have not an in, into this world.”

**We all have an ‘in,’ but the ‘in’ is inside of us, not outside of us. **I cannot possibly go and teach if I'm not practicing. And by the way, failing... by practicing, I don't mean perfect, but just practicing. One of the things that I do well is teaching. And the only reason for that is because I practice what I teach every day. And I fail, and I practice again, and I fail. And I practice

[ Talking about practice, would you mind guiding us through a brief guided compassion exercise meditation? ]

I invite you to bring your body into a comfortable posture, whatever that means for you.
I want to invite you to close your eyes to minimize the distractions. If it’s possible for you, use your right hand and ever so gently, ever so lovingly, and kindly: tap on your heart. It's almost like saying, “Hey, I’m here. Open the door.” If you can do it skin to skin with your bare hand on your chest, it may be even more effective. Just gently tap on your heart.

As you do that, take a very long and conscious breath, allowing your breathing to come to an even and balanced rhythm. I want you to remind yourself that there is nothing to do and nowhere to go right now, except to be here. Just notice your breathing.

Now put your right hand on your chest and allow it to cover your heart.
Feel the warmth of your hand on your heart.

If it feels authentic for you gently bring a smile, just a personal tiny smile to your face.
And ask yourself: What am I feeling right now?

You may have many feelings. Choose the first one, the most obvious one.
Then ask yourself: What am I needing right now?

See if you can wish that which you need right now for yourself.
It may sound something like: May I have balance.
May I be healthy.
May I be gentle and kind to myself.
May I connect to my deeper knowing.

Gently bring your attention to yourself.

Notice if you feel any different than when we first started to do this short practice.
Let's take a deep and conscious breath together.

Open your eyes whenever it feels right for you.

Thank you so much.

[ I would love to have you share a little bit about Innermap, the app that you will be sharing with the world very soon. I love that it incorporates storytelling. And it also measures our heart rate. Can you talk a little bit about: how you've integrated the storytelling with meditation, and with the heart rate? And if you'd like to share when it's coming out so that our viewers and listeners can look out for it. ]

I couldn't really invite the world to do the integration of the heart and the mind without doing it myself. So I decided to create this app called ‘Inner Map.’ And to find more information, you can go to Our app is coming out this summer. And the exact invitation that I have for the world is the integration of the heart and the mind. We use the modern technology, and we have created binaural sounds that settle the mind, and we also have stories that are very specifically designed to open the heart, symbolically speaking.

This is our version one. We're going to be growing and growing. But the idea is to marry the mind and the heart. Storytelling is ancient and old, heart- based, and feminine. Binaural sounds and the measurement of the heart rate is modern technology, and the masculine. And we're really bringing the masculine and feminine together. And by teaching through stories, the mind is settled. It's not lectures and classes. You could be driving, you could be cooking, and you could be learning through stories. The same way that I learned from many sages of the world, And I'm very grateful for all the teachers that have had.

[ how does storytelling open up the heart? ]

If you told me a story that I can connect to, and recognize my patterns, that would be very helpful. Because it's one stage removed. you're not telling me. you’re really talking about somebody else that I connect to. So it is not your recommendation, or your lecture that I'm reacting to. But it’s the issue and the suffering, or the experience of the character that you're talking about that I'm connecting to.

You're empathizing. you have compassion for the person, whoever the character is. And these are stories, some of them are my stories. Some of them are my clients’ stories. Some of them are old stories from old cultures, and the characters are irrelevant, but the experience is relevant. And that experience, if you look at the way people donate, for instance, to a cause; all of a sudden, you see a person who wouldn't give $10, giving you millions of dollars, because they can connect to a cause: a cancer because they lost a loved one to cancer, a health issue, or a challenging issue in the world. Somehow they connected to that pain, or that experience. Stories are exactly the same way. We are really donating them the experience. And then they donate their attention to us. Which by the way, attention is our inner currency.

(Storytelling) is something that everybody, connects to, and if they're all relating to the stories, then stories it is.

Thank you so much. It was really wonderful. Thank you. It was a pleasure.

Thank you so much for listening to our interview with Mitra Manesh today. If you enjoyed today's interview, please give us reviews and many stars on iTunes. And if you have any questions or if you have any suggestions for future guests or topics, please do reach out to me at Patricia: patricia@ experiment on and I will be so happy to connect with you. Thank you so much, and have a beautiful day.

 Innermap is a mindfulness coaching app for anyone, anywhere. It combines immersive technology and accessible tools with ancient wisdom and teachings. The app includes:

·      Mindfulness Stories: Short stories that can help you change your narrative, shift your heart and reset your mind. These stories come from Mitra's personal and professional experiences, as well as global wisdom traditions.
**·      Smart Sounds: **Based on the science of binaural beats and created by Ricardo Romaneiro (a celebrated master composer), smart sounds put you in the mind and heart-space of your choice.
**·      Meditation: **Secular practical and unique meditations that can lead you to a more mindful life
·      More original and mindful tools are being developed.
The app will be available on iOS (and Android to follow soon after) on Fall 2019. You can sign-up today for beta at