An earnest, over-stuffed infomercial for the potential and benefits of practicing mindfulness, multi-hypenate Rob Beemer’s “The Mindfulness Movement” demonstrates the practice, offers an abbreviated history of its growth in the U.S., and cites examples of the therapeutic, scientific, corporate, academic and athletic benefits of living a more conscious life.
After kicking off with celebrity endorsements (Oprah, Patrick Dempsey), the film clunkily interweaves the traumatic stories of people who found mindfulness to be a literal life saver with testimonies from those who incorporated it into their careers, used it to help prisoners, addicts, cancer survivors and at-risk youth, or who just wanted to share the feelings of calm that it brought them. Although the film doesn’t go that deep, given these strange times, it could benefit from the curiosity of the anxious and distracted who are seeking tools to cope with stress.
The backstories of executive producer Jewel Kilcher, a noted musician; former ABC newsman Dan Harris; athletic coach George Mumford; and Sharon Salzburg, co-founder of the Insight Meditation Center, are clumsily divided into three chapters. In the first, they discuss their traumas, in the second, the succor they found in mindful meditation or cognitive restructuring, while the third provides a sort of “where they are now.”
The recounting of Jewel’s difficult teen years involves some cringe-worthy recreations of a teen wandering the streets that feature the director’s daughter. Jewel didn’t have the benefit of formal mindfulness teaching. Rather, she developed her own methods that stood her in good stead. Now, her Never Broken foundation teaches these tools to at-risk teens.
Harris, a self-confessed “fidgety skeptic,” used mindful meditation to cope with panic attacks, addiction and stress. He’s now the author of a book and a meditation app, both titled “10% Happier.”
In pulling himself out of his own dark place, Mumford, a former college athlete and addict, gave a lot of thought to what motivates people. He later used that knowledge to help NBA coach Phil Jackson’s Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers win championships.
Salzburg’s story encompasses meditation study in India as a college student, an experience shared by Joseph Goldstein and Jack Kornfield, her fellow founders of the Insight Meditation Center. Indian mindfulness practices also played an important role in clinical psychologist Daniel Goleman’s decision to concentrate on what’s right with people as opposed to what’s wrong. A deeper dive into the Indian connection and the Western secularization of the practice would make a fascinating documentary on its own.
Respected academics such as Jon Kabat-Zinn, Richard Davidson and Diana Winston explain the neurological benefits of the practice, including how mindful meditation can rewire and restructure the brain, slow the brain’s aging and stop inflammation. Meanwhile, practitioners such as Fleet Maul, founder of the Prison Mindfulness Institute, discuss how it can put prisoners in charge of their own physiology, offering an important sense of control in a place where they have very little. Likewise, we see instructors using the practice to help veterans suffering from PTSD, police officers learning to listen and respond rather than instinctively react and therapists incorporating it with other tools to break addictions, stop anxiety and manage pain.
There are even political converts such as U.S. Representative Tim Ryan, who thinks meditation can heal the heart of democracy. Businessmen, including Harvard fellow Bill George, tout the potential for societal change, imagining how much better the world would be if people were not governed by impulse and emotion.
A substantial amount of the film’s footage was provided by the various institutes represented by interviewees. The tinkly score from Spiritual Production Music runs the gamut from annoying to unobtrusive.