Last week Sona and I travelled 3 hours north of Stockholm to spend a week with like-minded people at a 'mindfulness week' conference. It was quite a remarkable experience. The location was stunning in a small Swedish village on the shores of the famous Lake Siljan. The night didn't arrive before it was morning again. If I looked out the window at 2 am it was still light! This alone has a tremendous effect on the spirits and I felt energetic the whole time I was there.

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We were there at the invitation of our friend and colleague Dr Ola Schenstrom who founded the Mindfulness Center in Sweden some years ago. He had teamed up with Anders Liden, a meditating entrepreneur, to host the week with the intention of running a similar event annually for the next ten years. Ola is a highly idealistic guy who was very involved with the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War in the 80's and 90's. He is now in his mid sixties and shows no signs of slowing down in his wish to make the world a better place for future generations. The conference was very, very idealistic - even radical.

Various topics were covered including mindfulness in society, health-care, leadership and nature. I gave a key note talk on Breathworks 'Mindfulness for Health' courses as a self-management intervention for people living with long-term health conditions and chronic pain. Here are some of the scary statistics I quoted:

  • 1.5 billion people worldwide suffer chronic pain (3+ months)
  • 1 in 5 in Europe suffer moderate to severe chronic pain (2006)
  • In recent 'Health Survey of England' = 20 million people in the UK suffer chronic pain: 31% of men, 37% of women
  • In USA some 116 million people suffer chronic pain = $635 billion a year
  • The problem worsens as population ages: 57% over 75's suffer daily pain in UK.
  • If include all chronic health conditions = epidemic proportions. This is taking up increasing proportion health care spending.

Giving the talk, and attending the conference, made me reflect on whether I need to work a little more 'politically' to raise the profile of self-management interventions such as mindfulness. It is obvious to me that teaching people skills to help themselves (which includes seeking external health care as appropriate, of course) is the way forward in this new world we live in. Not long ago the bulk of public health spending went on acute care; now it goes on chronic conditions. This is due to the massive burden of chronic health conditions to both the individual and society as we live longer and modern medicine is increasingly able to keep people alive. Cancer, for example, is increasingly being seen as a chronic condition as more and more people are successfully treated, but left with long-term effects to manage.

Being around visionary people at Tallberg has had a big effect on me. It was galvanising and inspiring. On the last morning I had a spontaneous breakfast with three remarkable women who are all working tirelessly in their fields of endeavour. Here we were gathered from across the globe sharing our vision: Lucia McBee who teaches mindfulness to elderly people in New York - surely one of the most neglected groups in our culture; Katherine Weare who works developing mindfulness for kids, including the very successful .b programme; and Merle Lefkoff who is radical to her core having spent her life travelling the world as an international mediator. She was going from the conference straight to Jordan to do some work with young women activists involved in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. It was amazing hooking up with these women, as well as all the other idealistic radicals at the conference, and I look forward to our connections deepening over time.

I hope to go to Tallberg again next year to continue this vital work of trying to make the world a better place for all of us alive now, and all who will follow behind.