When you are introduced to two unlikely people, Harry Bernstein, and he was accompanied by a rather interesting gentleman, Sah D’Simone, transformation coach and meditation teacher.
I shuffled to find the conference terrace in stuffy business casual under a liberal Cannes’ afternoon sun, and when I got there it wasn’t what I expected in the slightest. I was met with an outdoor air, airy venue with chairs that looked like modern art and bean bags. All around me I saw shorts and sandals. Hipsters sipped causally from coffee cups. I couldn’t help but think, What kind of conference is this? I expected to find people dressed like me, sweating through blazers with serious demeanor and ready to blog. Instead, it felt like I entered a trendy social media account, charged with electricity and the willingness to absorb all there was to offer. Things got weirder as three speakers entered the stage, two of which could’ve come straight from a hippie commune. What in the world was going on here?
I soon found out. I was transported to the 80s where a flurry of high stress and strong drinks and cocaine caused the “biggest freak out” of his life in the middle of a live newscast. From the outside someone would’ve just assumed that it was a quick slip up, but according to the speaker it was a wake-up call. He went to a doctor, who urged him to give up his vices. Like many during this time, drugs and alcohol were his solace and destroyer. Though they threatened to destroy him, he found a solution. Next, a man wearing a loose-fitting, flowy white clothes began his origin story. To my surprise, he had been an advertising tycoon since his mid-20s with a reputation for being candid, but harsh. This was not the look of a stereotypical business tycoon. By his accounts, he was reformed. He was burdened by the pressure to keep pace with an ever-evolving industry, to always be at the forefront of advertising. It was a pressure that threatened to break him. But he, much like the newscaster, had found a solution.
When the third speaker commenced, the solution became clear. He was a meditation guru…before that day I had no clue that was even a thing. He began with a similar story to the other two speakers; overwhelming success that wore you down until you were forced to reach out for a lifeline. He gave up the reigns of his successful magazine to travel halfway across the world and become a meditation master. But he didn’t keep his secrets to himself. He went on bring these insights to the corporate world. He would go on to run workshops for large companies like Google. They all told their transformations through meditation. All agreed that because of it they were more efficient and happier. Perhaps the most interesting transformation came from the advertising mogul. Like his co-speaker, he too brought meditation into work. Despite pressures of time crunches, he dedicated spaces to meditation for his co-workers and brought in experts as well. In a sense, this became the integration point between work and home. He learned to “inspire people with love, not fear” which seems contrary to the stereotypical CEO type. Knowing full well the competitive rat race that is advertising and so many other fields, he still encouraged the crowd to maintain their humanity. Instead of succeeding at the expense of others, he advised to have security in your own skills. Though the optimistic approach of doing something well and hoping to get recognized for it, seemed to also run counter to the stereotypical CEO type, here he was speaking at Cannes and still at the forefront of the advertising industry.
But what was most interesting to me was the advice they gave the crowd about meditation itself. They framed meditation not as a clearing of the mind, but as something porous that would let the thoughts out. The trick was to pour your mind through a filter. In this state, it was possible to recognize negative emotion without acting on them. This only confirmed my own meditative practices that I was on the right/write track.
To end this series of unexpected oddities, we were asked to put away our phones, close our eyes, and meditate. There were immediate reactions that swept across the faces in the crowd from self-consciousness to disbelief. Reading our minds, the speakers reassured us that they would guide us through and urged us to take it seriously. As I breathed in and out, focusing on the sensation of my exhale against the rim of my nostrils and let the singularity of this experience filter through my mind, I thought of how something seemingly so simple could spark such great transformation.
Photo Credit: Unknown Photographer