For some people, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought additional stressors such as adjusting to working from home and supervising children who are virtually schooled. You might find yourself multitasking between home and work tasks, now all under one roof.
Thanks to neuroscience research we know that regular mindfulness practices reduce psychological distress, anxiety, depression, job strain, and emotional exhaustion ( a dimension of burnout). It also boosts personal accomplishment (a dimension of burnout), self-compassion, relaxation, and quality of sleep. Even more good news. There's a brand new type of mindfulness on the horizon known as Meditative Story.
What Is Meditative Story?
Earlier this year I spoke to one of the founders of Meditative Story, Arianna Huffington, founder and CEO of Thrive Global, who told me about this new way to meditate: "Meditative Story is a response to a deep cultural need in our hyper-sped-up world to have time to recharge—an innovative listening experience to reset during or after a busy, stressful day so that stress doesn’t become cumulative. Meditative Story brings stillness, inner peace, and calm. And it fosters work-life balance and burnout prevention, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic."
As a mindfulness practitioner myself, the conversation with Huffington aroused my interest, and I wanted to know more. I spoke with the co-founder of Meditative Story, Deron Triff, also the co-founder of WaitWhat, to get more specifics about this creative new mindfulness practice.
Bryan Robinson: Welcome Deron, tell me a little more about Meditative Story.
Deron Triff: Meditative Story was created by WaitWhat, a media start-up founded by June Cohen and me, in partnership with Arianna Huffington’s behavior change tech company, Thrive Global. June and I led TED’s media organization over a combined 17 years. Meditative Story is a first of its kind podcast that combines mesmerizing personal stories told by extraordinary people—some famous, others you’ve likely not heard of—with mindfulness prompts offered by our host and meditation guide, Rohan Gunatillake, a world-renowned authority on mindfulness and meditation, all accompanied by an original musical score that rivals the best in filmmaking.
Robinson: There are so many types of meditation: open awareness meditation, guided meditations, walking meditation, insight meditation, etc. How is Meditative Story different and what is its value over other types?
Triff: If you do an image search for mindfulness and meditation, you’ll see endless pictures of people with their eyes closed, sitting cross-legged in a position that most of us struggle to get into. But we believe mindfulness doesn’t have to look like that for everyone. Meditative Story was created to help people find an alternative way into mindfulness through story that has nothing to do with the traditional world of meditation. By taking what typically occurs on a cushion and introducing that same wisdom and that same state of mind, through mesmerizing narratives—interspersed with meditation "prompts" and breathtaking music—we're seeing the kind of response from our listeners that speaks to a breakthrough in the world of mindfulness practice. Something very special is happening.
Robinson: You're right. Most people think of meditation as sitting on a cushion and going inside and getting in touch with themselves. Doesn't meditative story pull you out of yourself and into someone else's story?
Triff: Storytelling is the oldest and most effective teaching tool that we, as a species, have. Stories reinforce values for us, reassure us of our shared humanity–our challenges, our capabilities, our hopes, and ambitions. The powerful personal stories told on the podcast are specific to the storytellers, and yet our listeners have shared back with us the many points of intersection they find in them. They listen themselves into the experiences of our storytellers and instinctively identify some part of their own life that rhymes—emotionally and spiritually. The mindfulness prompts offered by our meditation guide present an opportunity for listeners to look into their own lives and to sit with the feelings and memories that arise for them.
Robinson: What evidence do you have from listeners in terms of the effectiveness of Meditative Story?
Triff: Seven months, 28 episodes, and more than three million downloads into the podcast, we have learned through Apple Podcast's metrics that Meditative Story’s "listen-through" rate is 115 percent, which we believe to be among the highest listener engagement metrics of any podcast in the world. We’ve been top-performing content creators in podcasting for more than a decade, going back to the launch of TED Radio Hour. This listen-through rate reminds us of the early days of TED. It is widely recognized in the industry that an average listen-through above 70 percent is high.
Robinson: What are you hearing anecdotally?
Triff: Again and again, listeners say they come out of the experience feeling deeply restored and rested. We keep hearing: "This is different!" "It works!" One listener told us that the unique combination of story with meditation is “a great way to ease into a somewhat intimidating practice,” and that he “found it much easier to focus and be present when captured by a story and asked provocative questions along the way” than he was able to when he used traditional approaches. Others have told us they listen on their way to work to get “grounded and ready to take in the day with a little more perspective.” One mother uses it to slow down when she finds herself trying to do too many things at once. Perhaps the most powerful email we received was from a listener struggling with mental illness who thanked us for giving him hope and validation and that he used the prompts in the podcast alongside his treatments and found them extremely helpful and healing.
Robinson: Why does meditative story work?
Triff: First and foremost, the high-sensory descriptive language we guide our storytellers to use. As one listener put it: “The imagery helps my mind to visualize and accept all that I’m feeling. It helps me relax. In time, I’m free from thoughts and emotions.” And there is something as well about the reflective, observational style of the brief meditation prompts coming in and out of the narrative without taking the listener out of the story, creating what one fan described as an opportunity to “pause and connect your thoughts, feelings, and sensations throughout each tale,” while another called it “the perfect space for reflection and resetting.” But more than anything else we hear that it is the musical composition, which is equal parts cinematic and ethereal that listeners love most. "Soothing.” “A treasure.” “Superb.” “Gorgeous.” “Transportive.” These are just a few of the ways the music has been described in emails and reviews.
Robinson: Why is it important to have yet another way to meditate with so many other types already available?
Triff: There is a deep cultural need for a wider and deeper toolset for wellness, both digital and otherwise. The renaissance in audio has made it possible for people to listen not only in the mornings or before bed but in their earbuds or in their cars during a daily commute to find moments of respite throughout the day. At this moment, in particular, one in which we are all confronted with a greater degree of uncertainty and tumult than perhaps any other in a century, people are hungry for wisdom, solace, inspiration, validation, and catharsis.
Robinson: How can prospective listeners access Meditative Story, and what is the cost?
Triff: You can subscribe for free to Meditative Story on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. You will receive a new Meditative Story every week from a storyteller who will transport you to the time and place where everything changed for them—a story that may be deeply relatable to your own life.
Robinson: Where do you envision meditative story going from here?
Triff: We believe it has the potential over time to become a highly curated platform like TED, for thousands of storytellers, sharing their own story for the ages. Last year we experimented with a series of group listening experiences, and they’ve been incredibly powerful to participate in. We hope to launch a live event series, bringing together live storytellers, world-renowned composers, and experiential media into a stage format that is unlike anything in the world today. We also hope to adapt Meditative Story into an anthology series for television that provides an appealing antidote to the adrenaline-fueled, violent offerings that dominate Amazon, Netflix, and Apple TV today. When we find the right partners, we’ll know it’s time to move these initiatives forward.
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