'Woo woo': Pat Croce gives WCU $250K for mindfulness studies

Pat Croce said he became aware of mindfulness after his wife asked him to slow down.

In a banquet room at West Chester University, more than 250 students, faculty, alumni, and others focused on their breathing as they inhaled and exhaled, appreciated the gravity holding them to the Earth, and silently acknowledged their fellow human beings.

"It sounds a little 'woo woo,' " Pat Croce said, "but truly, we're all here. We're all mindful."

Croce, former 76ers owner, Philadelphia icon, and entrepreneur, said he discovered mindfulness last year, after he turned 60 and stopped to take stock of his life.

Now the buzzword has become a passion. He spends about five hours a day studying mindfulness, he said. He is learning Chinese and has several characters tattooed on his wrist, including symbols for "now" and "the way."

And on Thursday, he and his wife, Diane, announced that they were giving $250,000 to the school's Center for Contemplative Studies.

The center, founded in 2011, is designed "to improve physical and mental health and well-being," according to the school's website. It offers yoga, meditation, and mindfulness workshops. Thursday's gift will help pay for faculty and graduate assistants, and spreading the word about the center.

"It is our aspiration to become a national leader in this field," Mark Pavlovich, vice president for advancement and research and sponsored programs at the university, said at the announcement event.

In contrast to the rambunctious, get-pumped music played at 76ers games, calming instrumental music preceded Croce's speech about the relationship between good leadership and mindfulness, during which he drew Chinese characters on a drawing pad propped on an easel.

Croce, a West Chester alumnus, said mindfulness has taught him to live in the moment, not the past or the future.

A motivational speaker, author of both self-help and pirate-theme books, and owner of six restaurants and bars in Key West, Fla., Croce said he first became aware of mindfulness after his wife asked him to slow down and he read The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama.

The energetic and passionate guy who once climbed the Walt Whitman Bridge to hang a 76ers banner said he tried to sit still for 10 minutes and realized he couldn't.

"I've always trained the body my whole life," he said. "But I never trained the mind."

He encouraged students to start now.

mbond@philly.com

610-313-8207 @MichaelleBond