Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche was probably one of the most sought-after person for selfie requests at the TED 2022 convention in Vancouver this week as he walked around the city’s convention centre in his burgundy red Buddhist monk robe.
The meditation teacher from Nepal, who is the head of a monastery, was one of more than 100 main stage speakers at TED, which returned in person to Vancouver for the first time since 2019.
And while topics ranged from technologies and action to mitigate climate change, living online through video game metaverses, and how humans could eventually inhabit Mars, attendees seemed genuinely in awe of Rinpoche, who was described as “possibly the happiest man on earth.”
“Yes he’s very popular,” said Mingyur’s assistant Tsewagn Rinzing Lama as he posed for a photo with American television personality, business executive and fellow main stage speaker Bevvy Smith.
On her Instagram account she said Mingyur, who is 47, “radiates sunshine & happiness! Just being in his presence makes me smile.”
Mingyur, who began meditating at the age of nine to cope with debilitating panic attacks, says many people now seek out the practice as a way to cope with the modern world, which can be full of distractions, suffering and pain.
“Many people are interested in learning meditation,” he said. “We already have peace within us but people have to learn to discover it.”
Meditation, which can be as simple as sitting calmly and focusing on breathing, letting thoughts come and go but always returning to awareness of breathing, has been scientifically proven to increase attention spans, productivity, happiness, physical health and well-being.
“Through awareness we can connect with love and compassion and wisdom,” said Mingyur.
Dan Harris, the former ABC anchorman who had a panic attack while on air in 2004, has spent the time since then on a journey from striving at the top tier of media to embracing meditation and hosting a podcast about its benefits as way to cope with his own anxiety and depression.
As a TED 2022 speaker, he fully admitted to first discrediting meditation as nebulous and, “long rejected it as ridiculous.”
‘Not some new-age, hippy pastime’
But in his search to become less self-critical, more accepting and aware of his thoughts and feelings, Harris did come around to meditation. He first tried it with the help of a book on the subject while on a weekend away with his family.
“I think I just decided to take a leap,” he said, adding he shut himself in a bedroom in 2009 at the house they were staying in.
He sat on the floor, set a timer on his Blackberry and attempted five minutes of meditation.
“And I realized two things: one, it’s hard and two, it’s not ridiculous, it’s really exercise for the brain, not some new-age, hippy pastime. I don’t think I’ve missed a day since.”
He says he thinks many people, including the ambitious, wealthy and influential people at TED, stand to benefit from meditation because developing awareness, self-compassion and self-understanding can actually help them become more able to come up with solutions to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems, such as climate change.
“It’s harder to be a good citizen, be a good friend, be a good person, be good to yourself if you’ve got your head up your ass,” said Harris.
“If you care about changing the world, you need to work on yourself because you want to have enough in the cup to pour.”