Life

Friday 22 August 2014

How Arianna Huffington became the queen of serene

Stephen Milton talks to media tycoon Arianna Huffington about mindfulness and Ireland

Published 10/06/2014 | 02:30

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Taking time: Arianna Huffington talks during a Thrive event in New York
Arianna Huffington's Thrive
Look to the wisdom of ancient living, including meditation.

So Arianna Huffington is human after all. After a lengthy exaltation to the Zen powers of 'well-being, wisdom, wonder and giving' – the focus of new book Thrive which promotes an inner peace counter to the challenges of modern life – the serene veneer slips.

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The editor and chief of 'The Huffington Post', a sparkling megalith of unbridled success, reportedly pocketed a modest $21m from the $315m sale of her established news site to AOL in 2011.

A concurrent $105m suit against AOL and Post founders Huffington and Kenneth Lerer was subsequently filed on behalf of nearly 9,000 unpaid bloggers, understandably keen for a cut of the handsome reward.

They argued that their volunteered work, 'whitewashed the HuffPo's fence' in the six years before its sale, laying the foundations for what is now one of the most popular news sites in the world. So surely some recompense was in order?

Arianna's pacifistic glow twitches. She applies a fixed, combative stare and shifts in her seat.

"This is a completely silly discussion," she says through a gritted smile. "The lawsuit was completely dismissed two years ago.

"Anybody who talks about suing for appearing on a platform where you choose to appear without anybody prompting you to, is missing any understanding about the web."

While the site offered an invaluable launch pad for many unpublished writers, can she acknowledge a comprehension of their claim? Put herself in their shoes, as it were.

"Look at Tumblr (micro-blogging and social networking site). It sold to Yahoo for $1bn. Did anybody say, 'Give me my cut of that?' Because the content that made Tumblr successful and lead to the $1bn sale is produced by people who are not paid – do they get something for it?

"Yes, they get a community that they can talk with. If they don't get anything for it, they wouldn't be doing it."

It's a liberating, semi-terse exchange. Prior to it, the mogul, author and political and social raconteur had dreamily relayed the ostensible steps to a well-rounded existence, the basis for book Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Happier Life.

It sermonises the profound, transformative effects of meditation, mindfulness and giving that are necessary to rid ourselves of stressful pressures.

"Though sometimes," she says, "I'm not a hundred per cent what I believe in. I'm a work in progress."

Sitting on a couch in London's latest haven for the high-roller, Chiltern Firehouse, the 63-year-old is smooth and captivating. In a monochrome, terribly structured suit ensemble, she appears implausibly tranquil for a CEO of a multinational corporation.

But then, the Greek born, Cambridge scholar, who once ran against Arnold Schwarzenegger for the governor seat in California, is the working blueprint for her preaching's.

Based upon our drive for money and power as two legs of a three legged stool, the 'third metric'– or third leg – recognises the importance of inner well-being as a definition of success. Ranking life balance in favour of burnout.

"We're entrenched in the idea that in order to have a successful life y you have to be constantly exhausted. Everyone is so busy.

"But people have a lot more discretionary time that they let on. Somebody's watching House of Cards, somebody's out there shopping," she says.

"The way people make it appear is that they work all the time when really, they don't."

A eureka moment came when the mother of Christina (24) and Isabelle (22) – from her broken marriage to oil baron politico Michael Huffington – broke her cheekbone and injured her eye after collapsing from exhaustion and a lack of sleep seven years ago.

'The Huffington Post' had been launched less than 24 months previous and she was tragically running on empty.

Following her recovery, Arianna started yoga and meditation and banished all forms of electronic communication from the bedroom, focusing instead on getting seven hours of undisturbed sleep each night.

"If I'd practiced some of the things in the book when I was younger, it would've eliminated so much unnecessary stress, anxiety and fears.

"I was always interested in the more spiritual side of life and comparative religion. I learned to meditate, learned philosophy.

"But the difference now is incorporating this into my life in a sustained way, as oppose to sporadically."

While taking time out to focus on 'the third metric' is an entirely admirable exercise, many argue it's a method primed solely for the wealthy and established.

Practically speaking, it appears a mere luxury to those struggling, including first-time homeowners or overextended working parents.

"Whether you're struggling or at the top of your world, the more we cultivate our own strength and resilience, the more we'll be able to navigate our lives more effectively."

Huffington will share her experience and teachings this October at the One Young World summit in Dublin's Convention Centre with fellow speakers including Bob Geldof.

An international conference bringing together some of the world brightest and best young minds with international leadership potential, she relishes the prospect of standing in front of a largely Irish audience.

And luckily, we possess the inner groundwork for Third Metric success. "The Irish are so open to mindfulness and connecting with our inner essential selves."

"When I was with (former partner, writer and academic) Bernard Levin, we used to go to Dublin every year and the Wexford Opera Festival.

"And that's where I learned the Irish have a humour and so much depth that helps with life's little problems. And I love to bring humour in to my speeches a lot.

"In fact, I'm going to make the audience in Dublin laugh a lot," vows the glossy-haired tycoon.

After establishing 'The Huffington Post UK' in 2011, and based on her musings of our fair nation, Huffington Post Ireland must surely be in the stars?

"We want to be everywhere and really love to be in Ireland.

"It's certainly something to work towards."

So who is Arianna Huffington then? Mother? Mogul? Emancipator of the world's pressures and pains?

"I'm not just the editor and chief of 'The Huffington Post', or the author of Thrive, I'm a combination of so much more.

"That's who we all are. For each one of us to learn that who we are in our essence is so much bigger than what we realise. That ultimately, is what's really important."

'Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Happier life' is out now.

Arianna's tips for a work/life balance

* Get thirty more minutes of sleep than you currently do each night. And if possible, nap during the day. Nothing worse than appearing like a zombie.

* Give yourself a break from digital, communicative devices. Unplug from the system regularly

* Look to the wisdom of ancient living which points to more mindful living, including meditation and mindfulness techniques

* Banish multi-tasking. Focus on one project at a time.

* Embrace the wonder of life. Live in the now and stop focusing on what's to come and what has passed.

Irish Independent

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