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Being mindful in chaos - Suzanne Jewell [Interview]

Being mindful in chaos - Suzanne Jewell [Interview]

Sneha Moorthy
May 7, 2024
Being mindful in chaos - Suzanne Jewel(interview)

About Suzanne Jewell

Suzanne is a global expert and proven strategic marketing and communications lead on strategic initiatives for corporations, start-ups, non-profits, and the community. Suzanne's most recent project is Mindful Mornings Miami, the hottest new one-hour talk show on independent JoltRadio. With a reach of over 200,000, the show focuses on what it means to wake up and live in the world today.

Aishwarya Jain

Being mindful in chaos - Suzanne Jewell [Interview]

We have the pleasure of welcoming Suzanne Jewell to our interview series, I am Aishwarya Jain from the peopleHum team before we begin just a quick introduction of peopleHum, peopleHum is an end-to-end, one-view, integrated Human Capital Management automation platform, the winner of the 2019 global Codie Award for HCM that is specifically built for crafted employee experiences and the future of work with AI and automation technologies.

We run the peopleHum blog and video channel which receives upwards of 200,000 visitors a year and publish around 2 interviews with well-known names globally, every month.


We’re thrilled to have you on our series.


Awesome to be here and welcome to everyone, and my first wish is that everyone is awake, aware and well, today!


Thank you so much for that.

So let me begin with the first question I have for you, Suzanne. You have worked extensively in media, satellite television, brand marketing, communications, so what is it that attracted you to mindfulness as an enabler in organizations?


You know, my experience of living in one place and working on pretty much every other continent on the planet really made me aware that I was always in, kind of autopilot. I was always on.  The media tends to do that, both in the way that it bombards us.

And I find that I personally was really being the same way, and so, in that regard for me, mindfulness became a way to really get present to what was going on wherever I happen to be on the planet for my GPS location, but also where my head and my mind and my body is located. The most recent Harvard study actually shows that 47% of the time that we're out of bed and awakened vertical, our mind and our body are actually not in the same place.  

"The most recent Harvard study actually shows that 47% of the time that we’re out of bed and awakened vertical, our mind and our body are actually not in the same place."

We spend more than 50% of our time thinking about the past, ruminating about what happened, what happened, what happened, or projecting into the future. And when we project into the future, we create anxiety. And when we ruminate about the past, we create and experience depression.

We are not particularly attuned as human beings to be present right where we are right now. And I experienced in my global work that I was doing, I experienced a series of panic attacks because I was anxiety-ridden and I was kind of anxiety-driven.

And I started to realize that if I didn't have a practice like this, I was not gonna be present in my life and truthfully told, I might not even be here if I had not learned how to slow my roll.


Oh, I see that it's quite insightful. It's very interesting to understand how people actually think about more of the past than of the future. And thank you for that.

If you could just, speak a little more about the work you're doing with organizations and what do they typically struggle with?


So what I'm noting is kind of, I'm gonna call it pre Coronavirus answer to that question. So instead of B.C and A.D, I'm gonna call it PC, pre and post.

I'm noting that before Coronavirus showed up as a global pandemic and impacted how we work, a lot of really forward-thinking companies were starting to notice that their own staff was feeling a lot of overwhelm. People were feeling like they're up here with expectations.

Before Coronavirus companies were putting productivity at the top of the hierarchy of what they expected from employees. Now it seems that post and during Coronavirus that the well being of employees have taken at least an equal measure to productivity, and I'm gonna project that post Coronavirus wellbeing is going to literally end up being the most important aspect at work. In terms of the clients I work with, a lot of them were making very bold decisions to care for mental health and the focus and attention skills of their employees.


I see. All right, So I think at least we know what's going to be the single most important factor going forward after Coronaviruses is settled out. That is quite insightful.

So how do you believe the workplace is going to evolve in the future? And what will organizations need to focus on and what has been termed as the future work.


So I really think that this is my own belief system that being human at work actually works.

And I'm gonna share a little philosophy that I believe. When the industrial revolution began and basically put human beings into a cog in a wheel,  an upper level of productivity that according to Milton Friedman, economists existed purely and only for the sole purpose of investments and ROI (Return On Investment) and that it was only and wholly responsible to its shareholders.

I believe that this experience we're in is going to break apart a lot of what that structure is and reason of being is about and why work matters and also how work fits into the human experience. And I do believe that that shift of yes, companies are still gonna have to make a profit.

But if you look at the cutting edge research and management styles that are coming out of Harvard school and Stanford and other varying institutions like the Wellbeing center at the London School of Economics. So some of the most leading institutions on the planet you're noting, that well-being health is becoming a priority.

You take a look at Deland. And for the first time in human history, you actually understand they've put the well being of people at the top of their economic focus over necessarily GDP. And so I do believe we're living in a very interesting time that the topic of the future of work is going to fit into being human.

It's gonna fit into life at home. It's gonna fit into how we are well enough to be able to be productive with our wellness and productivity really being on equal measure.

And I also think this topic of what we're doing now, too, is going to because, past the pandemic, we're going to figure out really much more conscious ways of connecting with each other because we have to socially distance. Human beings are wired in our minds and in our bodies to be with one another.

"Human beings are wired in our minds and in our bodies to be with one another."

So we're going to develop a real hunger to want to be in the presence of other beings. And I think that even that part of work will be about being able to have social connections.

Research shows that loneliness and isolation kills. So work may end up being a part of the element that provides the connection when we're all able to be back in the same physical space with one another, and we, as human beings need it, we literally need to be connected, if you look at some of the living wisdom that is out there, For example, Thich Nhat Hahn, the
Vietnamese Buddhist teacher, he talks about the fact that not only are we interconnected, but he also calls it to intervene.

And if you look at ancient wisdom such as the ubuntu philosophy in South Africa, Ubuntu when translated means I am a person because of other people, I am because you are.

So the belief becomes, what happened to someone in China impacts me in Miami, and so much of what this is breaking through is our sensations of separation and separateness. And we're really realizing Wow, how well you are, Aishwarya, in India matters to me because it maps. So I really think that the future of work is gonna tuck me tied very directly to being human at work and allowing people to say I have a sick child I need to care for or I'm not well, so how to work with me. But sharing that, I really do believe that this time, in unprecedented times of human history, that we're going to find out that being well and being human is gonna be the Future of work.

"Being well and being human is gonna be the Future of work."

And I really believe that that future will be put as a priority. Not only am I well enough to work, but that my work is gonna work with me to be able to be at work. And so I think that we are watching, um, a great shift to take place right now about the future of work.


I absolutely agree.  So the shift is from business centricity to actual people centricity, and in the end, we're all social beings. Humans are social beings.

So it's important that you talk about the well being of the core of any organization, right?


Yes. I mean, they even talk about it. If anyone's familiar here in your listenership with what's called human-centered design.

So in the startup space we use human-centered design as a way to solve a problem because you put the human at the middle of the problem, you don't create a product and then push it out into the marketplace and tell us why they have a need, instead, you flipped the script and you put the human at the center of the problem.

You ask, what is it that they actually are seeking and design the solution around the human with the challenge?


Wow! that is that's great thinking and that is revolutionary in a sense, and it will change a lot in the coming future.


Yes. So the next question I have is how doesn't employee experience design needs to change to include aspects of mindfulness?


So I'm gonna give you what I call good news, the geek that I am, cause I absolutely love mindfulness. It really, it saved my life, to be honest. Sharing with you that the news I received because I'm getting my master's degree right now in mindfulness. Who knew you could? But I am. I'm nine months away from completing my degree in mindfulness at the Greater Good Science Center at U C. Berkeley.

So it's a very fascinating program based on neuroscience and F.M.R.I results and E E Gs. So all of that kind of brainiac kind of physiology-based science. I really believe that what China just announced, what I've heard through the grapevine is they're recommending mindfulness meditation practices to all Chinese citizens because when you learn the practices of how to slow your roll, you actually build immunity into your immune system and one of the biggest things that no one has done, whether it's at work or whether it's in your personal life. No one's handed us a little instruction manual that says, 'Hey, this means to be human.'

Did you know, for example, that you have five basic emotions as a human and you can express them in 500 different ways? Did you know that when you aren't breathing properly, you actually send your body into an experience of called, fight, flight, or freeze? Did you know that if I take my elbow and I have you do this with me?

So put your hand up and do this with me, Aishwarya. This is my adrenal glands. This is at the top of your kidneys. This is your spine. Okay? Fold your thumb into your palm. This is the medulla back here. It's the oldest part of your brain. It's called the primal part of the brain. It's called the reptilian part of the brain.

Fold your fingers over the front. This is the prefrontal cortex, the most evolved mammalian part of the brain. When you're not breathing well or you're in an adrenaline-addicted mind or you're in one of those Oh, my God. I'm so nervous. I can't think straight, go like this. You just flipped your lid.

And when you flip your lid, you lose all of your executive, logical, rational function, like how to make a good work under deadline. How to make sure you are making a pivot in a business decision that you've lost money in a market, you need to decide.




So what happens? What happens if you learn mindfulness with science? One of the ways you learn how to bring yourself back on line is called the anti-anxiety breath.

So you take a dignified seat, sit very calmly in your seat, drop your shoulders back a little, lift the heart cage just a little. Breathe in through the nose for a count of six. Hold for one. Push out like a straw for a count of eight. Take the turn and breathe in again through on a count of six to the nose. Hold for one. Push out like a straw. Do another one on your own. In for six. Hold for one. Push out like a straw. It flipped your lid, I just helped you start to bring your prefrontal cortex back on line.

What I just did by teaching you the anti-anxiety breath is that your nervous system has two parts, one is called the 'sympathetic'. The other part is called 'Parasympathetic'. Your sympathetic nervous system doesn't have sympathy for you. It's actually all your autonomic functions, your breathing, your digestion. Save you, if the car's about to run you over. It will send you into fight-flight-freeze. Your parasympathetic will actually instead calm you down.

And what that does is what we just did is like a parachute, and it brings you back down to Earth and it takes that activated system, curls all of that, and you come right here back on line.

Interestingly enough, nobody gave you an instruction manual. Nobody's taught you how to be Human. We're in this really interesting moment that the techniques and the tips of mindfulness that not only can help us at work can help us be more human and help us work through major difficulties because here is, for example, an interesting experience.

The three of us that are on this call right now are in two places that are hot spots on the planet. We could be really activated in this state of nervousness, but in this small call right now having done that breath, we're actually okay.

And Mark Twain said something, the American author said something really interesting, 'My life has been full of difficult moments, most of them which never happened because most of them happened up here.' Most of them don't really happen.

And they are mostly made up in our mind that, you know, and I'm not trying to at all minimize the people who have lost someone and by no means trying to delude anyone that these are very sobering times.

But when we know how to be able to create a practice to slow ourselves, we can actually just at least help ourselves be calmer through whatever storm or however big the wave is that we might be experiencing.


Wow, that is very fascinating. It's amazing how human biology actually works. And you can leverage that to your benefit.  And it's true. You know, most of the difficult times are actually psychological, and they're actually in your brain and not really happening.

So, how important of a role will technology and digital make in the inclusive workplace of the future?


You know today, not only because we're talking from Miami to India, I'm really thankful for technology and digital. You know, I'm really struck that, here I am, a former global TV executive, who worked in a very I've worked for the Gates Foundation in Ethiopia, Vietnam, Bangladesh.

Here I am, technically a mindfulness meditation teacher who's figured out of the way to talk about the neuroscience and really the biological benefits of an attention training practice. And who knew that this would actually be the time for my business to take off because of technology?

Who knew that our opportunity to stay connected as humans, when we have to socially distance each other is a blessing that digital and technology exists!

I do believe that not only are we going to push all the limits of the Internet, we're gonna push our limits of how we work differently, How do we connect, virtually, I think between you and I that is really being redone.

I think there's a new human coming through this and work will become beautiful, which means that we build new lives and it will be based entirely on the fact that digital and technology are going to help us get there.


That's quite an interesting perspective. Yeah, I think it's the technology that's going to kind of bind us together in a very different and very new age, way. I agree with you on that. All right.  

The next question is, how do you believe the gig economy is going to evolve? And especially when you consider the growing ranks of millennials in our workforce, How do you think they're gonna evolve?


So, I'm obviously not a millennial. I'm right on the edge of Baby Boom and Gen X. So in transparency, I can share, that's where I'm at. I'm really intrigued by the fact that for whatever reason because I've been both a corporate person and I'm a crazy entrepreneur.

I absolutely love being an entrepreneur. I really think that I do relate. While that is not my birth age, I relate a lot to the gig economy and the millennial mindset because I teach a lot in start-up spaces. I actually teach an entire program being a mindful entrepreneur because to be an entrepreneur, which means you're in the gig economy.

When you're brave enough, the word in French Entrepreneur means to take a risk.  A pretty assured chance you won't succeed and choose to do it anyway. And that's definitely my idea.

One of the things I think that is going to happen in terms of the gig economy is that we are living in our millennials or, like me, a baby boomer, Gen x kind of right on the edge.

I really think that people are going to find new ways to realize that they have the skills and services that they could offer to employers. I think people are gonna get creative, I trust in the human spirit. We've been through very different things. We've made it through two wars, human experiences through the bubonic plague.

We've made it to the other side of many other things. I think it's really important to remember this is not the end of the story. I don't know what that will be, but I do trust. And the human spirit itself is full of innovation.

"The human spirit itself is full of innovation."

You know, just as much as the Coronavirus is capable of re mutating itself, humanity is also very smart. So the way that work is being rebuilt and I think reordered will put humans at the center of that equation with well being as a priority.

You know, in the times before, if you had, let's say, lost a pet the day before, you had to do a big meeting, you go into work on that day will be really sad and carrying a lot on your shoulders and trying not to tell anyone about it.

I think what's gonna happen and I've seen companies already do this. A little example, you have something at the beginning of a meeting. There is a meeting for one minute that is called a Cleary and you say what it is that's on your shoulders. You speak it out loud and you say.

So, today I'm a little worried because your Mom or your friend is sick. Or today I'm a little sad because my kitty passed away. Or today I'm really excited because I'm about to hear from the bank that I put an offer in on the house and we'll see if they finance it.

I think it's really important to know whether we're getting creative about the skills we bring to a current job or whether or not we start to actually go out or create a side hustle. I think we're reaching a state where we're going to really be able to incorporate being human at work and that work is gonna work for humans.

The future of work is gonna be a balanced, symbiotic relationship than just I must do this for my employer. I think employers are gonna find, the call for flexibility is going to be a mutual call, whether it's in the gig economy or with the regular structured workspace.


Absolutely. And I think because humanity has solved the first few levels of Maslow’s hierarchy. Now we are kind of going to the higher-order and the self-actualization part of it which I think also includes the well being and, really the love and the care that we want to get as humans I think that makes a lot of sense.

And as a brand builder and marketeer, what is your recommendation on areas to focus on building a talent brand?


So I really think that, because work is going to be about humans, I think one of the most interesting things about building a brand around talent while there's a huge, necessity for the importance of AI and machine learning to really offer a lot of the way forward.

I think one of the most important things is that AI will never be human and being able to put the human aspect into a brand that is leveraging AI, leveraging machine learning is a good way to create solutions.

I still think the most important thing because any time I worked with an entrepreneur, I ask, right off the bat. What is the pain point to the problem that you solve? And around the pain point to the problem that you solve once you've identified that, is what is your point of differentiation, and especially for brands that are really learning and leaning into the tech space?

But part of it that is still the best point of differentiation, I believe possible is being human.




We still, literally, don't understand the higher human experience. For the first time in history, the Dalai Lama funded something called The Atlas of Emotions. So we are at a time and space in 2020 where we have cartography maps that were created, whether it was by Amerigo Vespucci, whether it was by Leif Eriksson.  

I'm specifically speaking of someone who came from the European continent over to the American continent, and we could name the Polynesians. We could name all sorts of other people who have been expressed on the geographic physical space of the planet. Where we have not yet got that kind of expertise is the cartography of the inner life.

And I think we've reached a stage where, when you've got the Dalai Lama actually commissioning money to create the first-ever Atlas of Emotions, we're now beginning to understand or at least look at what does this mean to actually have five basic emotions and 500 expressions of those emotions?

I have sat in front of a client that runs one of the largest academic institutions for community colleges in the United States in front of a room of psychologists, and I've asked them, do you know how many expressions of emotions the human experience contains? Most of them don't know and they're trained in psychology.

So we're entering a new space in art, And I really do believe that's going to impact every element of life, of which work is going to be in the pie of how we make up our lives and two great chunks have been pieces of that pie, and one of them is that sleep and another piece of that pie has been work. I really believe that the pie is about to shift.


Right, And I also believe that if we saw the emotional part of it, if we concentrate more on emotions, I think we'll be able to solve a lot of issues that we're facing, the whole anxiety part, the depression part of it. Just by communicating about this and being more vocal about emotions, I think that would really, really help us solve a lot of those issues.


You know, I'm coming to find out with my clients that what you just talked about was called Emotional Intelligence. And then I've got a phrase I've made up called emotional fluency.

So there are some people who might be able to speak several languages. That's like I speak Spanish. I speak a little bit of French, but what I'm realizing is what you just said, which is my journey into becoming a mindfulness trainer, is about learning how to not only feel my feelings, but name them, claim them and win them and in most of the world we've been taught not to feel our feelings.

"In most parts of the world we’ve been taught not to feel our feelings."

I grew up in a family that is very German, very Dutch and very English, even though I grew up in America, and we had a phrase that was called grin and bear it, and that was considered to be the way to be. Just smile through anything and push down what it is you're feeling because you were not allowed to express it.

I believe the time we are in of emotional intelligence and Social intelligence, is an upgrade because you now actually have government officials talking about how well we are. We're actually stepping into a time where we're experiencing the human experience, that is the path to healthfulness which will then lead us to what we do for wellness and mindfulness, and that really means we need to be present. We need to be mindful. We need to be heartful.

"We’re actually stepping into a time where we’re experiencing the human experience, that is the path to healthfulness which will then lead us to what we do for wellness and mindfulness, and that really means we need to be present. We need to be mindful. We need to be heartful."


Absolutely, absolutely. It's time we actually take health very seriously because that will be your world in its true sense, and I agree with you absolutely.


And I think kindness is becoming the new currency. Be kind in the middle of being squeezed either where I live or what I have to eat Or do I have enough toilet paper and yet can I still choose to be kind? Can I choose living kindness to another being? Because I have no idea what battle they are going through and I think this has cracked open our capacity for compassion in a way that humanity has never experienced before.

"Kindness is becoming the new currency."


Yes, and kindness is free of cost. Why don't you use it to, help other people?

And coming to the last question that I have for you with a recent outbreak of the Coronavirus, how do you think the way of life and work will change once you come out of this crisis?


I would love to tell you I have the answers. But I Don't. There's a practice called Zen, the Zen practice called 'I don't know Mind' where you literally learn how to cultivate, I don't know. And there's really interesting freedom that happens when you could get to the point of going. I really don't know and our choice so often, from the poet Rumi of wanting to be right.

We have this thing. We want to be right, and we get really attached to being right, and we assign a lot of meaning to being right. Rumi says, here is a field out beyond right doing and wrongdoing. I will meet you there.

"Rumi says, here is a field out beyond right doing and wrongdoing. I will meet you there."

So what if we dropped off right/ wrong. What if we stepped onto the field of I don't know any interesting things like quantum physics. You look at things like and fill in the blank, but you have a spiritual practice or not. But with someone, all things are possible.

Like with trust, all things are possible. With God, all things are possible. With curiosity, all things are possible. With, I don't know mind, all things are possible! I think we sit at a time where we can choose or to consciously mindfully very presently come through this or we can choose chaos.

You can choose the Mad Max version of everybody fighting for whatever is left and humanity stands at an inflection point of tipping out who's the better angels of our nature or not?

And I think it depends, interestingly enough, on my individual choices and then really fascinatingly if I stay healthy and I stay socially distant, even if I'm not sick me not getting someone else sick literally could save someone else's life.

If so, my wellness truthfully impacts the well being of any other person and my illness also does. And when you look at the word world illness and you look at the world wellness.

The Only difference is I or we and I literally think that, that tiny, subtle inflection point "illness"  that's the same. The difference between illness in the difference between wellness is the difference between I and we and it's right in front of our faces.

So do I make this about me? Or do I actually stand in this moment of transformation individually and collectively and make a choice for the 'we'? And that's where I believe I'm at. What I do is mindfulness. I've got some people wanting me to do an hour-long free zoom class.

I've got other people who I've trained with, in real life who have said, Suzanne, can I buy a six-pack of classes from you for one hour every week for the next six weeks? My team needs you to teach them how to breathe again. My team needs to understand what it means to be human.

And I'm now myself in the entrepreneurial space of offering my mindful way of being human, which is being human. Who knew that I was supposed to go through what I did, which was panic attacks, and ending up in the E R. that has put my tush on a cush learned mindfulness and attention training and be able to be of use and be of service. And for that I basically say thank you.

Thank you for the difficulty I had so I can help other people navigate this storm because I know how to sit. And in the middle of the storm, it's a radical act to just be and to remember also, we've gotten confused in thinking we're human doings and the word is actually a human being.

And when it's the do or the be, you know where I've got people going? Oh my gosh, I'm at home and I have time to, like, clean the garage or clean out a closet.  Wow, what a gift! You have a chance to be. What a gift!


Absolutely. I totally agree with you. You know, I think it's amazing that you're doing something which will support people in getting better and actually is realizing that as humans we've forgotten to be human in all of what we're doing. We're just so task-oriented and narrow-minded that we've forgotten how to live and breathe and enjoy moments that would take your breath away.

Yes, I think people like you really, really help us to get to that point where we need to understand how to just calm down and to breath right? In all of the chaos amidst all the chaos that's going on. And thank you so much for that.


You're so very, very welcome. And I am thrilled because this caused us to have a new connection and a new friendship. And I'm honored in any way that I might be able to help peopleHum or anything else.

Please feel free to reach out, stay in touch and let me know how I might be able to be of service because I'm really,  I'll confess a little moment at the end of this, I considered going into the ministry. And I ended up finding out that I had this call that if anything, was much more interested in every version of the wisdom that's out there.

And so instead I'm realizing, Wow, I'm kind of, a modern-day mystic that helps people become human. It's a different version. And it's how I meant to serve so thank you for the opportunity. And may everyone literally be awake and be aware, be well, and just be!


Let's just be and just keep being human, you know, not human doings but human beings. Well, thank you so much. I really wish you all the best for your venture, all your, the radio talk shows that you're doing. I really wish you all the best for that!

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