We sat down with Brandon Nappi, Founder and Director of Copper Beech Institute, to learn more about Mindfulness. Brandon will be joining us at Grace Farms on March 4th for Living Gracefully through Mindfulness, an afternoon of guided meditation, conversation, and storytelling that will offer simple ways to live calmly and with resilience.
Grace Farms Foundation: Where did the concept for the Copper Beech Institute originate?
Brandon Nappi: Copper Beech emerged from the need to find community in a world that often feels confusing and lonely. We were seeking to create a safe place to ask the most fundamental questions that we as human beings can ask: How can I live with grace and ease amid the inevitable challenges of life? How can I connect with others in the midst of division? How can I live a life of compassion and service? What aspects of my heart and mind need healing so I can live more peacefully?
GFF: How has it evolved into the organization that it is today, and what do you hope for the future?
BN: We began by creating a weekly practice group, and what began with a few people, grew into a thriving nonprofit organization that now welcomes over 1000 people each year. We’ve taught mindfulness within large corporations such as ESPN, Aetna, ConEdison and the Huffington Post, and we’ve worked with small nonprofits that are seeking ways to manage stress as they seek to live out their mission.
In addition, we recognize the growing and urgent need to serve communities with significant exposure to poverty, trauma and violence. Copper Beech Outreach programming seeks to eliminate barriers to contemplative practice by making mindfulness practice available each week to vulnerable and at-risk populations.
GFF: How would you describe mindfulness to someone who is unfamiliar with the practice? What are the benefits?
BN: Mindfulness is a practice of intimacy with your direct experience and with life itself. There is no need to run away. There is no need to avoid or to cling. With some training, we can learn, more and more, to “be with” any and every feeling without running away. We can “be with” a five-mile traffic backup. We can "be with" a relationship that is not going the way we would like. We can “be with” sickness or pain. We can learn to "be with" that thing that wakes us up at 3 am. This “being with” is mindfulness. Mindfulness is not esoteric or otherworldly. Mindfulness is the most ordinary thing there is—it’s hanging out with life the way it is.
GFF: What are the benefits of mindfulness?
BN: The fundamental benefit of mindfulness is the gift of being fully present within our own lives. We miss so much of life awaiting something in the future or agonizing about the past. Nearly half of the time, research suggests, we are not really present to what is happening. With a limp half-heartedness, we are missing life and ignoring what’s important. Mindfulness practice offers a way to cultivate deeper presence, which is the foundation of nearly every human endeavor.
GFF: How is mindfulness different from other types of meditation or prayer? Can people of any faith practice mindfulness?
BN: Mindfulness and meditation practice can be practiced by people of any faith or background. At our weekly meditation group at Copper Beech Institute, Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, people who are spiritual but not religious, and atheists all gather together to practice mindfulness. While we each might claim a different ideological understanding of the world, what unites us is our common commitment to compassion, peacemaking, awareness, and presence.
The primary difference between meditation and prayer is that meditation has the primary purpose of cultivating attention in the present moment, and prayer has the goal of cultivating intention to surrender to the divine. Without attention, there can be no intention. In other words, if we are chronically distracted and unmoored from the present moment, it will be very difficult to cultivate the intention to pray.
GFF: Can you describe an instance (or two) in which you have seen concrete examples of the impact that mindfulness can have on individuals and institutions?
BN: When we were first married, my wife Susan used to ask me, “Are you listening or waiting to talk?” Ouch! That was an important moment for me when I realized that in the moment I was not actually hearing her, but preparing for what I was going to say next. I have become a must better listener and a more patient father as a result of my practice.
GFF: How did you personally become involved with mindfulness?
BN: I came to mindfulness for the reason that so many do—I was convinced that I could live more gracefully and with greater ease. In particular, I was looking for a way to work with stress, persistent sadness and intense feelings. I discovered in mindfulness not a way out, but a way through, and through the practice I felt as if parts of my life that I didn’t even know were missing had been given back to me. And, I saw in my teachers that disciplined and trained presence could provide a way to stay grounded and stable no matter what life presented in my path.
GFF: What about Grace Farms as a place makes it possible to do this work effectively. In other words, why practice mindfulness at Grace Farms?
BN: More than anything, I always feel immediately at home at Grace Farms. This sense of warmth and connection is a hallmark of our work at Copper Beech Institute, so when I encountered these values so vibrantly embodied at Grace Farms, I felt drawn to being a part of the work. I see in the community at Grace Farms the nexus of social justice, art and care for the earth. Mindfulness practice only amplifies and deepens this work.