Is There Soul in Silicon Valley?

I went to the recent Wisdom 2.0 conference at the Marriott in in San Francisco. The conference focused on the meeting place of high tech and ancient wisdom. It was fully sold out with 2,000 attendees. The energy of the conference was absolutely electric, bristling with excitement and led by a new generation of younger people with a very different life experience and worldview having grown up with digital technology.

Here were the best and the brightest from Google, Facebook, (Apple was notably absent) along with many other major technology companies. Some of the most powerful leading edge corporations in the world with their huge international influence and financial clout came together to meet with leading spiritual teachers to explore how to adopt wisdom practices. What unlikely bedfellows.

My primary reasons for attending were to hear the words of some of the Buddhist teachers I admire most; Jon Kabit Zin, Joan Haliflax Roshi, and Sharon Saltzberg. I was looking for points of alignment to the work I have been engaged in for nearly 30 years creating the Zen inspired spa, Osmosis, with it’s core purpose to create a meditative environment. It was also an opportunity to spend some quality time with my friend Marc Lesser who heads up Search Inside Yourself, an institute that has been created to conduct the training programs inside Google and is now expanding it’s team to be able to serve many more businesses. Marc recognized the need to bring mindfulness practice into the business world many years ago along with with Zen teacher Norman Fisher and has written 3 books on the subject.Congressman

The mind needs time:

Part of the content presented was an honest assessment of the status of how digital age technology is adversely affecting our lives. The hazards of the addictive nature of devices and downside of being constantly on-line were very much on the agenda. The presentation on teenage study habits by Dr. Larry Rosen showed how reduced attention span has impacted productivity. Multi tasking has mistakenly risen as a sought after skill set and desirable quality to possess. Advance studies from Stanford have indicated quite the contrary. Each time attention shifts from screen to screen and project to project there is a measurable drop in attentiveness, as the mind needs time to readjust to the new context.

New breed of business leaders:

I was taken by the sincerity of the young entrepreneurial Silicon Valley people as they mounted the stage sharing various versions of their attempts to re-shape the world using a combination oftechnology and good heartedness. Speakers one after the other mounted the stage to share the ways in which they were working to adopt sensibility’s of wisdom practices into their work culture, their personal lives and their products. It was almost like a contest to demonstrate who could most authentically represent these values in their whole life gestalt.

  • Tony Hsieh from Zappos talking about the number of connections per square foot as the metric he is using to assess the value and success of his efforts in his visionary downtown community building project in Las Vegas.
  • The presentation from showed how they have been able to move companies and governments to do the right thing with their on-line campaigns that bring together people to apply political pressure very effectively. Indegogo, a crowd-sourcing site, has amassed money to help people in all kinds of funky situations and has actually saved lives.
  • It was fascinating to see the depth of effort that Arturo Bejar from Facebook made to protect people from cyber bulling as he took us on his journey from reluctantly attending the conference just 2 years ago to making significant changes to his companies software. I was impressed to watch him share his process of how he evolved mechanisms to reduce incidents where people were feeling harmed. He identified a whole series of psychologists and other experts who helped him arrived at a deeper understanding of human behavior and how the perpetrator could end up empathizing with the upset person.

Kindness and caring for others:

All together this was the most impressive thing about the conference. The Wisdom values are being fully embraced by this community. I am not so naïve as to believe it will be an easy journey and that there will not be a huge amount of lip service, but I really felt the basic intent was very present and solid in the room.

“Onwards, upwards and inwards:”

It was very moving for me to see how much integrity and hope emerged. By the time Arianna Huffinington mounted the stage I felt like the words coming from her mouth were the breath of the Zeitgeist of our times. “Onwards, Upwards, and inwards” she implored us.

In this hyper distracted world of too much information, 24 x 7 media cycle and the unhealthy amounts of screen time we seem addicted to, the very industry that has been instrumental to creating this unwholesome situation is waking up and bringing forward the essential truth of connecting within. There is no question that Osmosis and places like it are very much needed parts of the transformation equation. The gathering was a most inspiring and uplifting experience for me. I left feeling very encouraged about the future. It made be think that it is very possible for humanity to make changes at this critical time that demands it.

Video of all the main stage presentations may be viewed here.