Two Creative Businesswomen Collaborate to Build a Mindful Community in The Mill District of North Amherst
Fostering empathetic, engaging, and respectful relations among businesses, residents, and visitors
NORTH AMHERST—Shalini Bahl-Milne, an entrepreneur, town councilor, and certified mindfulness instructor, along with community investor Cinda Jones, have teamed up to create a Mindful City in The Mill District. Their goal is to weave kindness, empathy, and intentional living into business strategy, decision-making, and community relations.
Bahl-Milne explained that #MindfulMill is a national prototype for a Mindful City in which residents, businesses, and town officials are informed about how to bring a mindful approach to “how we live, learn, and lead, in an especially tumultuous world.”
“We’re building an experiential downtown in The Mill District. We’re building community. Dr. Bahl is investing in making sure we do this effectively and with soul,” said Jones.
Bahl-Milne’s classes demonstrate mindfulness as the ability to see things clearly, without letting past biases hijack new experiences. “When a community is interested in controversial or divisive issues, in the absence of mindfulness, people get attached to their usual way of seeing and doing things, and they don’t really listen to each other,” she said. “This leads to more friction. It prevents conflict resolution. Mindfulness is the answer.”
With mindfulness practices, people gather information, listen to differing perspectives, and arrive at choices that might involve a new way of looking at something. “Mindfulness is a means toward creative thinking and solutions,” Bahl-Milne explained.
In mindful cities, Bahl-Milne’s ultimate goal is to make government officials, business owners, and residents aware of the benefits of mindfulness and able to implement mindfulness strategies in order to enjoy a more compassionate community that works towards benefiting all its members. “All people have the skills to be receptive and effectively work with others to accomplish successful work,” she said. “If we want to succeed in fast-changing environments, we need to have the skills to know our minds and unhook from unproductive thinking patterns and seek the opportunities to reach our goals.”
Jones first approached Bahl-Milne to learn about mindfulness in order to alleviate her stress through meditation. The power of Bahl-Milne’s mindfulness instruction was life-changing, and Jones said she realized Bahl-Milne had the potential to be “community changing” as well. Jones offered Bahl-Milne’s training to her employees. “Mindfulness supports our mission of Building Community, One Story at a Time,” Jones said. “We’re inspiring people to get off their phones and spend more time with their families, friends, and neighbors, enjoying the spaces and experiences offered in The Mill District. To read books from our free libraries. To celebrate local authors. To write their own stories.”
Beyond educating Jones and her Mill District employees about mindfulness skills such as self-awareness, empathy, and curiosity, Bahl-Milne is offering public events to educate other community members and businesspeople about the essential skills to live and work with people who have different outlooks.
Jones said she has learned that, “In this frenetic impersonal internet age, we can harness mindfulness to live intentionally and foster kindness in our communities.”
One example of how mindfulness can affect a community is seen in The Mill District’s tenant strategy. “Cinda is curating retail tenants who are thoughtful and provide meaningful experiences to residents and visitors, and who compliment other tenants” Shalini said. “It’s purpose beyond profit.”
Bahl-Milne and Jones are creating Mindful Reminders throughout the district. On recycled roofing slate, they have hand-painted signage with messages such as. “Think Less. Dance More,” “Share your Joy,” and “Enjoy this moment. It will never happen again.” These reminders will be linked to micro-blogs explaining the science and benefits underlying the mindful recommendations.
Bahl-Milne holds a doctoral degree in marketing and runs a mindfulness-based consulting business called Know Your Mind; she has a studio in Amherst called Downtown Mindfulness. Bahl-Milne is certified in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction from the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and in a Google program called Search Inside Yourself.
Bahl-Milne offers mindfulness trainings to community leaders, individuals, and business owners. In December 2019, she led a mindfulness workshop for 800 employees of State Street in Boston as part of the Massachusetts Conference for Women. In November 2019, on World Kindness Day, Bahl-Milne held a mindfulness event at Jake’s in the Mill to “give the community a chance to engage in dialogue and cultivate Mindfulness skills.”
Jones is the president and CEO of WD Cowls, Inc., a ninth-generation timber company and the largest private landowner in the state. As the visionary and developer of The Mill District, she has transformed Cowls’ former sawmill site into a walkable, shoppable experiential downtown, reflecting the adjacent Survival Center’s values of compassion, inclusion, and stewardship.
Business owners and community members who are interested in making their communities mindful should contact Bahl-Milne at shalini@KnowYourMind.training. “In today’s economy, business leaders need to offer more,” Bahl-Milne said. “Consumers are more informed and connected, and they’re looking to work with businesses that are more intentional and not just about profit.”
For information on Bahl-Milne’s free mindfulness classes, and to learn more, visit knowyourmind.training.