Bring up meditation to someone who’s never practiced and there’s a decent chance they’ll envision loin-clothed yogis, sitars and chanting. It was this initial reluctance – and out-dated stigma – that Jesse Israel wanted to do away with.
Meditation has been a meaningful part of Israel’s life for over a decade, and he wanted to introduce it to people in a way that would feel fresh and inviting rather than aloof and exclusive. So he created Medi Club, a safe space where likeminded individuals could meet to explore mindfulness, spark up new conversations and maybe even party a little. Medi Club’s manifesto? Modern meditation, minus the new age-y trappings that might turn off those who just wanted a little quiet and bigger connections. The concept was so successful that Israel was inspired to go even bigger. The Big Quiet was formed – a mass meditation that brought together hundreds of people in Central Park for equal parts introspection and socializing. Six events later, and The Big Quiet is a certified success.
We sat down with Israel before the next event at Manhattan’s sprawling Oculus building to talk about modern day meditation, why the current generation craves connection and why it’s OK to have a little fun with your practice.
Kit and Ace: What is it about meditation that draws you?
Jesse Israel: I had been practicing meditation since my early 20s. I'm 31 now. It's something that's been a pretty meaningful piece of my life. In many ways, it gave me the courage and the clarity to leave my former company. Seeing that other people were starting to learn meditation really spoke to me. What I saw was that there were very few places to practice in groups that felt modern and in line with the way that I was living my life. I decided that I would start to put together group meditation for young entrepreneurs, creative and active people in New York.
KA: Is that how Medi Club came to be?
JI: I sent an email to some 40 friends and acquaintances that were learning mediation or practicing it, and said, "Hey, let's come together once a month. We'll share our meditations. We'll play some hip hop. Maybe we'll talk a little bit, have some good food and hang out." We did our first one in December, 2014. We decided to call it Medi Club, and it worked. People loved having a space to share quiet in this busy city, with other people living busy lives.
KA: What was the experience like for you personally?
JI: At our first Medi Club I shared some of my fears around the career changes I was going through, and the challenges I was experiencing in my life. I did this right after we meditated, and it really resonated with the room. I remember being really nervous to share vulnerably, but there was something about it that just woke people up. I shared, and then a bunch of other people shared, and we wound up having this great conversation around fear. When it was time to do the next Medi Club a month later, we had twice the amount of people there, ready to meditate, and ready to talk about what was going on in our lives as modern young people.
KA: How did this momentum translate into the Big Quiet?
JI: After four or five months of doing Medi Club, we realized there was an opportunity to share this value system and this type of experience on a larger scale with the rest of the city. We created The Big Quiet so we could do just that. The first one was at Central Park. Our Medi Club community spread the word and made this mass meditation happen. The city liked it. It was a way for people to go to something that felt like a meditation event, but in a way that didn't feel too weird, because of the music and the DJs and the venue. That was a really important piece to when it all started. I wanted to be able to share meditation with other people in a way that didn't turn me off, in a way that wasn't too dogmatic, or spiritual or overtly new age‑y. It needed to feel in line with my lifestyle and the lifestyle of my peers.
KA: Is that sense of community the main driver behind Medi Club and the Big Quiet?
JI: Yeah, absolutely. The main driver is to be able to experience more connections. What I've seen, and what research points to, is that our generation is more disconnected and lonely than any generation before us. The loneliest people are those that are 35 and under -- it's interesting, because that's the age group you think of as being most socially and digitally connected. There's this real yearning for community: the support and meaningful, deep connections. Where previous generations had other social communities like religion where they could explore values and support and connection, our generation is the first to really take a step away from religion. There's a real gap in regards to where we can have meaningful communities, where we can find that connection.
KA: Why is it so important for you to foster this sense of connection?
JI: I share that same yearning. I have that same hunger to want to connect. I feel most alive when I'm facilitating that type of experience. That's why I like huge group bike rides and mass meditations. There's something that really enlivens me and empowers me and fills me up – when I can not only feel that deeper connection with other people, but when I can enable other people to experience it as well.
Join Israel at the next The Big Quiet: A Mass Meditation and Sound Experience inside the Oculus.