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Mindful : February 2016
his practice deepened, he discovered that if he became more compassionate and shifted the way he acted, he could create a sense of well-be- ing and safety in himself and others. Another thinker who had a profound impact on him was the philosopher Martin Buber, who wrote in The Way of Man, that a “divine spark” lives in every thing and being. But over time that spark becomes “encrusted in an isolating shell” and the only way to liberate it is by “hallowing” everything and making it holy. “For me, that’s what it all comes down to,” says Mumford. “Each person has a uniqueness, a divine spark, a masterpiece within. Our job in life is to find what that uniqueness is and share it with the world. It’s like a chrysalis. You’re a caterpillar and you have to go inside and struggle to get out. But the struggle gives you the strength to fly.” Mumford had to make some big changes in his life before he got to that point. He quit his job, earned a master’s degree in counseling psy- cholog y at Cambridge College, and started teach- ing at the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center, where he lived for several years. While there, Michael Jordan (R) hugs teammate Steve Kerr after Kerr made the game-winning shot to beat the Utah Jazz and capture the Bulls’ fifth NBA title in seven years, in 1997. Both students of George Mumford, they credit him with refin- ing their inner game. Jordan is now majority owner of the Charlotte Hornets, and is widely acclaimed as the greatest player in NBA history. In his rookie season as an NBA head coach last year, Kerr led the Golden State Warriors to their first NBA championship in 30 years, in spectacular fashion. He encour- ages his players to exude joy, mindful- ness, compassion, and competition. he met Jon Kabat-Zinn and did an internship at Kabat-Zinn’s stress reduction program at the UMass medical center. Around 1991, Jon tapped George to head up a state-funded project to teach mindfulness to more than 5,000 prison inmates. In the beginning, the job was unsettling. In fact, the first prison he visited felt so emotion- ally toxic it was four days and lots of meditation until he could get back some equilibrium. But George was buoyed by the inmates’ enthusiastic response. At one meeting, he started talking about getting trapped in a fight-or-flight mind- set and he could tell he’d hit upon a hot topic. “ How’s that shit working out for you?” he said, as the room burst into laughter. “They under- stood,” he recalls, “that what I was saying was that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. So if the shit ain’t working, you’ve got to change something, and it’s usually the mind.” Another breakthrough came when he was leading a g roup in meditation and the warden’s voice came over PA system. This was the most hated man in the prison, and the inmates imme- diately started grumbling. So George turned it into a teachable moment. He told the g roup → PHOTOGRAPH©REUTERS February 2016 mindful 49