What does an American celebrity who had a meltdown on national television have in common with a refugee facing the terror and uncertainty of fleeing his war-torn homeland have in common with a British woman dealing with incessant chronic pain? All these people advocate using contemplative practices to cope with the stress of modern life. In the last 20 years, the ancient practice of mindfulness has become a mainstream phenomenon that is hyped as a wonder drug that can reduce stress, change brains, improve relationships, and even treat chronic disease and depression. But while media headlines hail the “Mindful Revolution,” the backlash has also begun, with prominent scientists now warning that the “compelling” meditation research is poorly designed, exaggerated, and may even be dangerous. So who to believe? Can our modern-day troubles really be transformed by learning to contemplate the inner workings of our own mind? Amidst all the ambiguity, why should we put meditation on our daily To Do list? From the producers of the acclaimed documentary The Connection, comes My Year of Living Mindfully, a film which follows journalist Shannon Harvey, as she enlists a team of scientists in order to put meditation to the test. The stressed-out mother of two young kids, who has insomnia and an autoimmune disease decides to meditate every day for a year to find out if it really can revolutionise her health and happiness, or if it’s just another over-hyped, self-help fad. Throughout the year Shannon travels the globe to meet scientists, celebrities, and tribal elders, as well as chronicle the moving stories of people who are using mindfulness to face unimaginable suffering. She meets Vidyamala Burch who lives with a horrific spinal injury, as well as Maha Ghantaheh, an aid worker in Jordan who is facing one of the biggest humanitarian crises of our generation, and journalist Dan Harris, who turned to meditation after having a panic attack live on U.S. TV. Featuring interviews with leading scientists including molecular biologist-turned Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard, as well as best-selling author Daniel Goleman, and the “father” of contemporary mindfulness, Jon Kabat-Zinn, My Year of Living Mindfully is insightful, captivating, and grounded in scientific evidence. At the end of her year, after more than 400 hours of meditation, Shannon’s scientific team scan her brain, test her immune function, measure her stress hormones, and analyse her DNA to see what if anything, has changed on a biological level. As she faces her moment of truth, Shannon knows that there has never been a greater need for a simple and effective solution to help people cope with the stress of modern life. In the midst of a chronic disease epidemic, when the WHO has warned that mental illness will soon be the biggest burden of disease, Shannon wonders; if her year-long self-experiment fails, what other solutions are left?
How does the project meet the aims of a philanthropic foundation?
This project would appeal to those with a philanthropic mission to raise awareness and spark mainstream, meaningful discussion about the importance of taking an evidence-backed, whole-person, whole-life approach to the chronic health epidemic.
At a time in which the World Health Organisation has declared that two in three people will be diagnosed with a chronic disease, when more people will die by suicide than are killed by soldiers, terrorists or criminals combined, there is a desperate need for a fresh approach to human health and wellbeing.
One thing we know is that the conventional medical approach, which relies primarily on drugs and surgeries, is not working. The majority of patients are treated as parts on an assembly line that need to be kept moving in order to meet corporate bottom lines. This has paved the way for an opioid addiction crisis and an illness epidemic, in which people are slipping through the cracks and healthcare costs are rising more quickly than incomes.
Through evidence-backed public discussion, the core values of healthcare need to be reestablished so that health is seen, as the WHO so eloquently defines it, as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
While our doctors and other healthcare professionals mean well, the majority don’t know where to start and don't have the time, money, or resources to invest in keeping up to date with the latest peer-reviewed science highlighting the connection between chronic stress and disease outcomes.
Meanwhile, in the new media landscape, anyone with a website can call themselves a health expert and quality journalism and traditional media institutions are facing extinction. Additionally, the Internet has become awash with pseudoscientific celebrity endorsements, online programs, blogs, apps and videos which promise miracle cures and over-simplified solutions to complex problems. This results in a general distrust within conventional medical circles of anything considered holistic or integrative, regardless of it’s scientific credibility.
There is a significant need for an entertaining, explorative and nuanced perspective on the role of mindfulness and contemplative practices in both preventive medicine and in the management of chronic physical and mental illness. But this project is more that just a film; it’s a global Impact Campaign, designed to ignite informed discussion, debate and more importantly, change.
What outcomes do you hope to achieve by making this film and how will you measure its impact?
Aims & Objectives
The purpose of this project is to reach a global audience and provide quality, unbiased health knowledge that inspires change. There are three primary aims:
1. To provide an entertaining, explorative and nuanced perspective on the science of mindfulness and its role in helping people cope with chronic disease, mental illness and the stress of modern life. This will be done by constructing a compelling narrative, which is woven around reputable information that is delivered by the world’s leading mindfulness scientists and teachers.
2. To highlight the value in including contemplative practices in mainstream medicine and encourage new thinking about a whole-person approach to health. This will be done by telling the unique stories of people who are successfully using mindfulness alongside conventional medicine to face their physical and mental health conditions.
3. To provide a widely available, high-quality resource for mainstream audiences that endures long after the traditional “release window“ usually assigned to documentary films. This will be achieved through partnerships with mental health and mindfulness-based partner organisations, via an Impact Campaign, involving a world-wide premiere tour and “Host Your Own Screening” program. (See below.)
What is your education and outreach strategy?
The release of My Year Of Living Mindfully will draw on, adapt and improve on the strategies we have used in the past to successfully activate communities and tap into established audiences in order to launch films that make an impact.In the last four years, through our platform www.thewholehealthlife.com, we have been building a loyal online audience that engages with our weekly email, blog, podcast and social media. We have also established relationships with key organisations that have an interest in promoting information about mindfulness and have an ability to reach grassroots audiences via email lists, social media and events. These organisations will partner with us for our premiere tour and host screenings in Australia (Sydney and Melbourne), the U.S. (New York, Boston, Washington) and the UK (London). We are working on establishing additional relationships and hope to also hold premiere screenings in regional Australia, Jordan and Israel. Each of these screenings will involve panel discussions and audience Q and As. Through our Host Your Own Screening (HYOS) program, we will also facilitate 500 community-led screenings worldwide. We’re confidant this is achievable as we already have an existing database of over 300 organisations and individuals who have hosted our previous film The Connection, which is about the mind-body-health connection and covers similar ground to this new film. We have developed a digital back-end that makes the process easy and accessible for interested hosts.By releasing the film independently, rather than signing a restricting deal with a traditional distributor, we also hope to create a wave of enthusiasm that extends well beyond the immediate audience and influences thought leaders and change makers. When we released The Connection via our grass-roots Impact Campaign, it enabled community screenings to take place in medical centres, hospitals, universities, schools and wellbeing organisations around the world. This successfully encouraged mainstream discussion in influential settings. For example, the film is now shown regularly to medical students at Harvard, Tufts, Monash, Duke, Murdoch and University of Leicester, among others.