Sam Beard: Mindfulness advocate is ‘really four 20-year-olds’
It took a personal crisis at age 75 for Sam Beard to arrive at the “starting line, ready to do the biggest thing that I’ve ever done.”
It was back in 2014 when Beard went to a board meeting and learned his salary and pension were gone.
“I had to start over,” he said. “It was stressful and hard to sleep, hard to work, but it’s all worked out great. It got me into mindfulness and meditation and led to a whole exploration of Sam the person. I’m now a better father, a better husband, a better friend.”
Beard was dismayed as he started looking at the numbers around stress in America. The suicide rate among people from age 10 to 24 climbed 56% between 2007 and 2017, according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. During that time, suicide deaths increased from 6.8 deaths per 100,000 people to 10.6 deaths, with 2,449 more suicides in 2017 than in 2007.
“I realized here in Delaware that I know an awful lot of people and I’ve done a lot of things,” he said. “Why not use that door-opening capacity to try to make Delaware a laboratory for all of the untapped powers of your mind and then take that across the country and around the world? After 50 years working with eight presidents, I’ve finally figured out how to get something done so here I come.”
Beard, 80, has made Delaware the testing ground for mindfulness and meditation and other forms of stress reduction.
“Stress in Delaware schools and nonprofits is extreme, especially if you’re dealing with underserved populations,” he said. “We’ve now trained 3,500 people, on the way to 20,000 by 2025. We’re working with the governor and his team and with the teacher’s union, DSEA, Title I schools, compassionate schools, and especially in low-income schools. And then we’re working with places like the Boys and Girls Club, to bring it into nonprofits that are focusing on stress and acting-out behavior, and then mental health.”
Beard said his original goal was to make Delaware the “first mindful state,” but then expanded the scope after talking to First Lady Tracey Quillen Carney, who “helped sign up every top elected official to get behind this stuff. There’s no other state in the union that can say that. We’re calling it Delaware Changing Lives and focusing on trauma recovery, social-emotional learning, then our mindfulness and then Zero to Three,” which is about early childhood development.
“Eighty percent of your cognitive capacity is determined by the third birthday. And after the third birthday,
for the most part, you can never catch up,” he said.
“Sam’s energy and enthusiasm are remarkable,” said First Lady Carney. “I think he’s really four 20-year-olds.”
Beard rattles off the recent accomplishments at a mind-numbing pace. There’s a new nationally certified mindfulness training institute at Wilmington University that he hopes will certify two or three people from each school and nonprofit and reduce the cost of paying consultants to come in.
He’s working with Rita Landgraf and researchers from the University of Delaware to prove that mindfulness meditation reduces stress and has an impact on the quality of education.
Beard’s long-term vision is simple.
“For the most part, no one’s ever heard of me,” he said. “I don’t carry myself as a famous person, but when I do stuff, it’s only successful if it’s self-sustaining, which means people collaborate with other organizations, they’re happy working together, and there’s an extraordinary team in place.”