Category Archives: Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction

THANKFUL: Appreciating Beautiful Gifts from Children and Youth

By LeesaMaree Bleicher

LiseeMaree-Bleicher-300x168-2Visit LeesaMaree Bleicher, along with M. Mick Gardener, at the 2015 Bridging the Hearts & Minds of Youth Conference in their 90-minute breakout session called enlighten: a Trauma Informed Mindfulness Based Therapeutic approach combining Restorative Justice as an answer to youth involved in the criminal justice system. Promoting the concept of: Survivor Empowerment not Victimization of Recovery not Incarceration.

LiseeMaree BleicherAlbert Schweitzer said, “At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”

Nowhere is this spark as bright than in the heart of a youth. Nowhere does there lay a stronger elixir to waken your purpose than in the sparkling enthusiasm of a child’s spirit. And nowhere is there a grander purpose than the need to ease the suffering of a child.

The beautiful thing about helping children is that buried beneath the armor and attitude is this snow-white innocence, this flawless foundation, this feral potential still connected to God, or source, or that which is greater than us individually. This goodness remains steadfast despite the harm adults have done.

Our mission is to guide them back to this place of bliss, if only momentarily. In the shift to recovery, not treatment, we have come to understand “recovery” as recovering that which was lost from us: innocence, joy, light, that feral potential. Discovering the road back to that place of purity and reclaiming our power is the key to freedom from suffering.

Our mission, should we choose to realize it, is to be the guides whose purpose is to steer youth back to reclaim their potential. We do this each time we teach that even in the unbearable moments in life and in the dark of a night of unimaginable pain, there shines a dim but powerful light that will one day illuminate the darkness. And within this light, there shines their power and their way out of suffering.

Ideally we strive to plant the seeds of patience, tolerance and acceptance in our youth.

We affirm: “Life is not fair 8359890249_ed085986b0_b-360x200-1and no you did nothing wrong. No it is not your fault. No you do not deserve what happened to you. No one can make it better, but one day if you just hang on — have faith — one day, I promise you will be OK. One day you will emerge from this stronger and more powerful than you can ever imagine.”

When the testimony of sharing lived experience trumps our cool “professional boundaries,” we make a true and lasting difference. Speaking from the heart and sharing our human experience plants seeds of hope, inspiration, and resilience in youth. Nowhere can we feel the way of freedom from suffering than knowing someone who has walked down a similar path of torment, come out standing steady despite someone else’s best effort to make them fall, and still has enough fierce courage left to tell their story.

Speaking candidly, most youth who like myself come to be in jail, in foster care, or other programs do so by force of their external circumstances. Many come from fragmented, broken homes where they witness and endure unspeakable acts of cruelty from the adults who should be protecting them. Rarely do youth land in these places by their own choice.

Emotional, physical, spiritual, and sexual abuse manifest in the blueprint of our souls and spirits. Such abuse might express itself as a 4th grader bullying his classmate, a youth stealing, a youth who yells obscenities at authority figures, who refuses to eat, who is promiscuous, who skips school, who takes drugs, who cuts their flesh in an effort to feel or not feel pain. It’s the days of silence before an attempted (or successful) suicide where we often mistake the symptom for the cause and fail in our attempts to “treat” them. It’s that approach which undermines the very core of their suffering. And it’s where we as adults fail them yet again.

It was in the vacant blue eyes of an 8-year-old boy named Travis who came to live in my home when I first realized how futile, how misguided, and how inhumane this system to care for children was. It is still raw, and I am not sure yet if I can fully capture how profoundly my time with him altered my heart. This experience both expanded my heart beyond what I thought was possible and then reduced it to nothing when he was gone.

One day while we were together, Travis “disconnected.” Fell silent, withdrawn. And I asked him, “What are thinking about? What makes you so sad? You can tell me anything, and I will believe you. And there’s nothing you tell me I won’t think is important.” After awhile, he came to me and said, “I’m sorry. I don’t know why sometimes I can be happy, and all of the sudden I feel sad. It comes out of nowhere.” I looked at him, cupped his tiny perfect chin in my hand, peered into his blue eyes and wrapped my arms around him. I hugged him tightly and said “I know. And it’s OK. I feel like that sometimes too. And you know what? One day you won’t feel like that all the time. One day you’ll take that sadness and turn it into happy.”

All he was unable to say was conveyed in the way he hugged me back. And in that precious moment when he mumbled “Thank you.” I thought my heart would break.

There was nothing I learned from a text book, nothing from evidence-based practice, and nothing in the foster parent orientation that prepared me for that moment. I reacted from my heart.

My only desire was to ease his suffering and instill within him the tiniest notion that no matter what he felt, it was OK and that it was only temporary.

The reality is that when we come into a child’s life to aid them, they are held in a punitive, restrictive, inflexible system. We don’t always look past that to what brought them into that system to begin with. If we increased our awareness, we would see that few children are delinquent, homeless, end up in jail, or in foster care by their own volition. They come to these places battered, bruised, and sad, having been victimized by adults.

In the months that passed with Travis, after my heart ran ahead of any reason, I watched a sad little boy turn into a bright, happy, fun-loving child who didn’t need medication or to be bounced around from foster home to foster home. What he needed was to be loved.

Now, there was nothing I could have offered Travis that ever could have replaced what his parents failed to give him. My love was a Band-Aid to soothe him until he could grow enough to care for himself. But far more miraculous than anything that I gave him was what he gave to me.

One of my tendencies was to over-explain myself; to offer excuses and/or apologies for nearly everything to everyone. One day, I was going on and on to a friend about why I didn’t do something when from the top of the stairs I heard this little voice say, “LeesaMaree, stop that. You don’t have to explain yourself. It’s OK whatever you do.” I froze at his wisdom and the fact that he cared to try to ease my suffering. Wow.

Then, I came to deeply understand the bigger context of this whole boundary thing. And I came to know that anytime we seek to engage in the helping of another being, it is not so simply a gift we give. It is not one sided.

The moment we think this, we have already failed. We as the perceived “givers” are really part of a mutually beneficial healing exchange connected to a greater energy. Once we come to understand and seek to increase our sensitivity and re-establish the heart in recovery and treatment, once we incorporate living testimony in our practice, only then will we make a true and lasting impact.

This time of year we celebrate thanks for Bridging Badgemany blessings. But as a “profession,” we overlook the rich and beautiful gifts that the children we encounter give us: the opportunity to care, to express our warmest compassion, and to ease suffering. All these things alter us. They allow us to ascend toward the deeper meaning of our shared human experience. The next time a child or a parent or someone else says thank you for the work you do, with humility and honor defer him or her and say, “No, thank you.”


(a poem inspired the youth who have walked into my life and left imprints upon my heart)

The leaves fall…fluttering to the ground…landing like a thrush
Awaiting winter’s rush from summer’s dream
I remember summer… bright green and sparkling
and I remember you…your hand extended towards mine…offering me your heart
Giving me that moment…your time…yourself
You said, “Come this way. Here, let me show you… See the sun how it shines?”
Your smile confused the sun and stole starlight’s sparkle
“Listen. You can hear the grass tell its secrets …follow the burrowing bunny, he knows the way…see the Stellar Jay…as he chats up dawn…urging the flowers to wake up…he knows what I am talking about. His blue wings touch heaven”
I ran away from you…but never far… You were everywhere…in everyone
You tied me with a fragile cord of compassion…bound me to the fertile ground…tied me to heaven…left seeds in my hand
You allowed me to fall but not be crushed
Like the leaves, I too have been pink, russet, pumpkin and golden
It was the seeds you left… clutched tight in my hand
One day I remembered…it all came back in one fell whoosh
You cared …You took the time…You forgave me
You gave me another chance and a million more
You listened to me…You reignited the spark
Oh I am so thankful for You
Oh those seeds you left… I planted them under the moonlight…and when they blossomed…I crushed them and stuffed them in my heart
I knew what to do ’cause you said “the best way to show someone how much you appreciate them is to pass on what they gave to you.”
So…I watered the seeds with tears…transformed my fears…infused them with love
Oh I didn’t have it for myself…that care and concern
But I do for them…the ones that come behind me
So I scattered the seeds in the wind of each encounter
Oh, and I did exactly as you taught me …I gave my heart generously and… I fertilized the seeds with glitter…so that those who come behind me will sparkle brighter…than I ever did


Join February’s Unconference: Sitting in a circle and talking about what’s really alive for people

by  Susan Kaiser Greenland

kaisergreenlandsusanSusan Kaiser Greenland, JD, Author, Educator, is the developer and co-founder of the Inner Kids mindful awareness program for children, teens and their families. She is author of The Mindful Child: How to Help Your Kid Manage Stress and Become Happier, Kinder, and More Compassionate (Free Press, 2010).


Have you heard that 2014 will usher in an era of mindful living? It must be true because J. Walter Thompson, a giant advertising agency with considerable qualitative, quantitative and desk research prowess, has identified the top 10 trends for 2014 and mindful living is tenth on the list. What’s more, mindfulness is implicit in several of the top 10 trends. In keeping with this year’s second trend “Do You Speak Visual?” here’s a video teaser:

It’s a funny video and so is characterizing mindfulness as a new trend given its ancient roots in the East and, through Pop icons like Alan Watts, the Beat poets, John Lennon and George Harrison, its decades old roots in the Western zeitgeist. But there’s no denying that mindfulness has become trendy and with popularization insiders are both happy and concerned. If you’re curious about the positive aspects of the growing mindfulness movement check out Mindful Magazine published by seasoned veterans in the field and, if you’re interested in insiders’ concerns, read Ron Purser and David Loy’s Huffington Post article Beyond McMindfulness.

The trendiness of mindfulness has created an explosion of interest in sharing it with children, teens and families and not unlike popularization itself, growing interest in kids’ mindfulness has created it’s own set of plusses and minuses. Last year, Amy Saltzman and Steve Hickman reached out to Mark Greenberg and me to ask if we’d join them in hosting a symposium connected with this year’s Bridging the Hearts and Minds of Youth Conference at UCSD. Together we polled a handful of our colleagues and were especially struck by the following three responses:

* From Chris McKenna with Mindful Schools: “We are looking for issues that are really alive for people and not just theoretical.”

* From Lisa Flook a scientist with The University of Wisconsin, Madison: “How do we engage mindfully (with heartfulness and skillfulness) together and what are mechanisms for explicitly addressing this ongoing group process?”

* From Wynn Kinder with Wellness Works: “ Collaboration and cooperation are messy.”

bridging2014badgeWe went back to the drawing board and the symposium morphed into an Unconference with this Native American adage in mind: “In the circle, we are all equal. When in the circle, no one is in front of you. No one is behind you. No one is above you. No one is below you”.  Steve carved out a morning for mindfulness veterans, newcomers, and those in-between to sit in a circle and (borrowing from Chris) talk about what’s “really alive for them.” We chose this format with professional group facilitators to ensure the “mindful, heartful and skillful process” that Lisa highlights in her comments above. And, we promise to remember Wynn’s prompt that “collaboration and cooperation are messy”.

Here how the Unconference morning will break down:

* The 1440 Foundation has generously underwritten a significant portion of the event including breakfast starting at 7am.

* We’re honored that Sharon Salzberg will lead a meditation at 8:30am.

* Small, facilitated groups will meet for an hour and a half.

* We’ll conclude with a panel discussion moderated by Mark Greenberg.

Like much of the cutting-edge and field development work that’s happening in the mindfulness world, the Bridging the Hearts and Minds Unconference wouldn’t be possible without a generous grant from the 1440 Foundation.

Veterans slated to join our working circles include Sharon Salzberg from IMS, Mark Greenberg and Christa Turksma from CARE, Jim Gimian and Barry Boyce from Mindful Magazine, Vinny Ferraro and Megan Cowan from Mindful Schools, Lisa Flook from University of Wisconsin, Madison, Randye Semple with USC and UCLA, Lidia Zylowska co-founder UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center, Wynne Kinder from Wellness Works, Chris Willard who wrote A Child’s Mind, Rona Wilensky, Lesley Grant with Marin Mindfulness, Amy Saltzman from Still Quiet Place, Steve Hickman with UCSD and me.

We hope you’ll join us.

The Unconference will be held on the morning of February 7, 2014.  For more information and to register visit the UCSD website.

Staying : turning towards what is difficult [ Part I]

By Char Wilkins,

charwilkinsChar Wilkins, MSW, LCSW is a mindfulness-based psychotherapist who works with individuals, couples and groups incorporating the intention and skills of mindfulness as a foundation from which to explore one’s life. She leads  MBSR, and Mindful Eating/Conscious Living (MECL) retreats for our Professional Training Institute and programs in her own practice for the general public.

When challenging or unwanted thoughts, emotions or behaviors arise most of us want to avoid or distract ourselves. We may use food, drugs, work or exercise to temporarily sooth, comfort or numb the difficult internal experience. Unfortunately, repeatedly coping in this way creates a habituated pattern that carries with it more shame and fear, and the hope of change slips further away into a seemingly endless out-of-control cycle.

There is of course, a reason why in mindfulness-based work we turn towards what we believe to be so difficult that if we don’t run, we won’t survive. And that is because when we come to know the taste, texture, temperature, shape, sound and movement of the unwanted thought, emotion or sensation, it is no longer a lurking shadow threatening to overwhelm us. It is felt and known for what it is: just a thought. Observed and held in awareness without judgment, it takes its right-sized place in the scope of who we are. Turning toward the difficult offers the possibility of freeing ourselves from the very patterns we fear the most.

Perhaps you’re thinking that this “staying with thing” is not the way you want to spend your day off. It’s not a comfortable thing to do. It just doesn’t have the same feeling that you get when you’re angry, depressed or anxious and think: ” A day at the beach is what I need.” or “A hot fudge sundae would do the trick right about now.”   But one getaway is never enough, is it?  And then, of course, returning is too much. This jumping back and forth we do is wearisome. That’s why the practice of mindfully staying with what is here right now, is so important. Ultimately it conserves energy, time, wear and tear on body and soul, and so much drama is avoided.

I’m aware that I ask participants in MBSR, MBCT and MECL programs to do a very challenging thing: be present to what is arising in the moment and to allow it to be known. It isn’t easy to not turn away from, to not disassociate, to not to run.  Bolting is the norm. If it doesn’t feel good, leave. Leave the person, place or thing. I’m not suggesting that you stay if you’re being abused. I’m talking about the everyday moments when we think, “I wouldn’t have to get so angry if only he wouldn’t ____________.  If she’d just ______________, I’d be happy.” As I’ve sat with clients and participants over the years, I’ve watched so much “bolting,” that recently I thought a new reality TV show entitled “Extreme Bolting might get higher ratings than the X Games since more people bolt than Cave Dive, go Wingsuit Flying or attempt Extreme Ironing. Look it up, it’s worth it.

In Part 2, I’ll share how in working with women who have experienced abuse or trauma mindfulness of the body can help them learn how to stay with what is difficult.

Listen on Monday September 9, 2013 from 12:00pm-1:00pm to Char Wilkins, MSW, LCSW, in a special teleconference  exploring how we sometimes use food which temporarily soothes, comforts or submerges the difficult internal experiences.


Finding the Toolkit Within: An MBSR Teacher Training Experience

by Chandra Beal

CB_np_headshot-2Chandra Beal is a Massage Therapist and Yoga Teacher in San Diego. She is currently expanding her understanding of mindfulness with a plan to teach it in the community.

In June I packed a suitcase to spend a week in the desert, my meditation cushion and yoga mat taking up most of the space. I journeyed to Joshua Tree, California with about 50 other people for the inaugural Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Teacher Training through the University of California at San Diego’s Center for Mindfulness.

I looked forward to the training for months, counting down the date in my journal. As a long time meditator and yoga teacher, I was excited to expand my experience of mindfulness and pick up the tools to begin teaching MBSR. In preparation, I intensified my mindfulness practice, almost as if I was cramming for an exam. With a curious awareness I observed myself practically swallowing the required reading. I was certainly in a hurry to learn this mindfulness stuff!

As I set off I said a little prayer to myself, that I remain open to whatever the training would bring and meet it with simple awareness. Retreats and group trainings can be intense and life-changing, and I felt some fear of the unknown as I drove off into the desert.

The first hour into the trip I had an ache in my chest. I was already missing my loved ones and feeling homesick. I couldn’t wait to go to the training and now I felt reluctant. Being in between, in the present, was difficult.

The first night we gathered for a lavish dinner, prepared by our own chef who would nourish us all week. We chatted at group tables like the first day of school, with all the excitement and trepidation of what was to come. People had traveled from all over the world and came from different backgrounds, but all had a desire to share mindfulness. Every conversation was inspiring.

The first night we simply sat. There were no student introductions. The teachers, Susan Woods and Char Wilkins, never wrote on the white board. No syllabus was handed out. We simply practiced sitting. That night I felt resistant. I can meditate at home, I thought. I didn’t like the desert. I didn’t like the bed. I didn’t like not having agenda. I couldn’t sleep. I wanted to go home.

The second day we also sat. A lot. I tried to remember my intention to be open to the experience. I also wondered when I was going to get my toolkit. My mind was hungry for the didactic side of learning, the ‘meat’ as I called it. Little did I realize I was already chewing on it. My back hurt from sitting longer than I was used to. But still we sat, extending our practice to remaining silent during our breaks.

By the third day the group was growing restless, everyone wondering how much longer we had to sit, and when we were going to actually talk about teaching this stuff. I felt like I was at meditation boot camp, sleep deprived and frustrated by my own inner blocks, but soldiering on, sitting on my cushion. Meeting my own resistance with my breath.

Then we began to explore the eight-week curriculum in detail, interspersed with practice. We practiced sitting and walking meditation. We worked in pairs with the body scan, and experienced facilitating the group in mindful inquiry. We dipped in and out of experiencing and teaching, which helped to ground us in mindfulness itself.

I began to realize that maybe my toolkit was within. My own practice was going to be the foundation of this work. I wasn’t going to pick up a kit and run; I was going to have to embody the teaching myself. But if I got stuck, all I had to do was take a breath. The practice and the teaching were interwoven like a net, one I could safely relax into.

On the final morning we gathered for a beautiful ritual led by Susan and Char. Sitting in a circle we passed a ball of yarn, each person taking saying a word about what was happening in the present moment. Taking hold of a length of string, they passed the ball on to the next person. Observing the growing web of connection between us all, I chose the word “unity”. Some people cried. We hugged and held hands. We had climbed a little bit of the mountain together.

Then we passed the scissors, a symbol of impermanence, and cut apart our united web, each person taking a section of yarn as a reminder of their experience as we dispersed around the globe to continue our inner and outer practice of this work. I went home, put my notes in a drawer, and sat on my cushion, ready to begin using my toolkit within.

The UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness Professional Training Institute has partnered with experienced clinicians and mindfulness teachers Susan Woods, MSW, LICSW and Char Wilkins, LCSW, to offer two 5-day MBSR teacher training retreat programs.

MBSR: Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction 5-day Teacher Training,                                                                                                             November 11-16, 2013 at Chapin Mill Retreat Center, Batavia, NY 
March 23-28, 2014 at Sevenoaks Retreat Center, Madison, VA

Advanced Training for MBCT and MBSR Teachers: Embodying Mindful Presence and Investigating Mindful Inquiry,                                July 20-25, 2014 at Chapin Mill Retreat Center, Batavia, NY

Help Support Local Mindfulness in Action by Contributing to a Global Vision: mindfulTV

by Barry Boyce

Barry BoyceBarry Boyce
Editor-in-Chief-Mindful Magazine

A longtime professional writer, editor, and trainer specializing in applications of mindfulness and awareness to everyday life, Barry is editor of The Mindfulness Revolution and served as developmental editor for Congressman Tim Ryan’s book, A Mindful Nation. Barry is a member of the Formative Board of Directors for the UCSD Center for Mindfulness Professional Training Institute.

Friends of mine from Baltimore were presenting a program on mindfulness and yoga for at-risk youth a few weeks ago, and I attended for several days. What struck me most was the sharpness and the dedication of the school teachers (K-12), social workers, and caregivers who took part. One of them was from humble Hagerstown, Maryland. (You know the sort of place: people say, “I think I’ve heard of that” or “I drove through there once.”) I know Hagerstown. I grew up in an even smaller town nearby. There are plenty of at-risk youth there, to be sure.

         Meeting the teacher from Hagerstown, and others like her, told me that mindfulness is reaching beyond the big cities now and into the towns and villages, and it’s being delivered by people who care a lot about the health and well-being of our communities—in every dimension: bodily health, mental health, education, social cohesion, and more.

         At Mindful magazine and in, it’s our mission to present mindfulness, awareness, kindness, and compassion to a wider audience, and we’ve been hard at work doing that. So, I’ve been so delighted that we’re able to search out stories of people bringing mindfulness into every corner of society, and share them with a wider world. When I hear from a would-be-father who saw our piece on Mindfulness-Based Childbirth and Parenting and gained a new appreciation for the significant event he’s about to enter into, I know we’re having an impact. The fact that we can tell the story of the first police department in America to systematically introduce mindfulness into their training means we are breaking new ground. On, users can get a window into all the help that’s available for someone who wants to work more effectively with the overwhelming stressors in their personal lives and in their organizations.

         We would like to go one step further, though, in sharing the stories and the work going on in the world of mindfulness and related practices. We want to add sound and moving pictures. I want our growing audience—community really—to make face-to-face contact on their computers and smartphones with people just like them (You are not alone!) and people who are role models for making a little bit go a long way.

         When I look at the little video of my friends Ali and Atman in Baltimore, the mindfulness and yoga folks I mentioned above, I’m struck by how much of a difference it can make when I’m able to see someone and hear what they have to say—with all the intonations and facial expressions (and sometimes animated graphics) that go along with that. Likewise, I’m struck with how powerful four minutes with Frank Ostaseski talking about Finding a Place to Rest in the Middle of Things can be, or Jon Kabat-Zinn on the Benefits of Meditation.Mindful-TV-CROP-logo

         Doing a lot more of this kind of storytelling is a key part of our business plan. Internet TV is powerful. It’s arresting. And it reaches more people because, for one thing, you can get a whole lot in a short time and you can access it anywhere. Adding another channel for these important stories, advice, and instruction is a way to leverage more change. It also creates a rich archive of the pioneers of this movement. We need to record in moving (in both senses of the term) images more of what the people in the mindfulness world have to offer and deliver it to an ever-widening audience. That’s why we’re starting mindfulTV.

         Your support for mindfulTV not only helps us innovate, it also supports Mindful’s ongoing work and helps us reach sustainability. For more information on our mindfulTV initiative, and to learn about our crowdfunding campaign that’s taking Mindful to the next level, go here.

The UCSD Center for Mindfulness and Professional Training Institute fully support Barry’s vision and mindfulTV. We encourage you to donate now to help mindfulTV take advantage of the 1440 Foundation’s matching funds.

When listening is everything you ever wanted

The UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness has partnered with Susan Woods and Char Wilkins to offer a 5-day program entitled: Advanced Training for MBCT and MBSR Teachers: Embodying Mindful Presence and Investigating Mindful InquiryJune 9-14, 2013 at the EarthRise Retreat Center in Petaluma, CA. The following is the second in a series of periodic posts by Susan and Char, sharing their vision and wisdom in formulating and offering this training, and exploring the territory of teaching mindfulness in general. We invite you to get to know them through this series and perhaps to reflect on your own relationship to mindfulness teaching.

CharWilkinsBy Char Wilkins, LCSW

On the opening page of Mark Nepos’s book Seven Thousand Ways to Listen, he quotes an epigraph by Abraham Heschel:

 [We] will not perish for want of information; but only for want of appreciation . . . What we lack is not a will to believe but a will to wonder . . . Reverence is one of [our] answers to the presence of mystery . . .

There is a longing for connection that we all experience and repeatedly hear as participants in our MBCT and MBSR programs speak of disappointment, fear and hope.  And we notice that as we cultivate the ability to listen to each one of them, we begin to hear the themes of need and desire that weave us together in our collective humanness. We begin to hear that indeed, no one is alone in the tangle we call life.

reflectionsNepo believes that if we limit our existence to only what we know, we blind ourselves to the “mystery.” Mystery is about open-eyed wonder, appreciation and gratitude. So when we engage in mindful listening, in which our conditioned mind and heart open in sincere and kindly curiosity, we create a pathway not only to the mystery of what is present in each moment, but to the possibility of a peaceful connection to self and others.

We ask our clients and participants to listen not because it’s a Mindful Rule, but because listening is a threshold between our inner and outer worlds. It’s an entryway to pause in, a vantage point from where we can see our own limiting beliefs and also the possibility of choice. From this doorway we can begin to hear harmonies that strike a chord within, where perhaps before we only heard the dissonance that isolated and left us feel disconnected from ourselves and others.

In our teaching, we become aware that it isn’t the dissemination of information that connects people intra and interpersonally, but rather being listened to- their story heard and appreciated. We may call it group dynamics or breaking the isolation or normalizing, but in the end I believe it is simply the reverence of listening. This is what MBCT and MBSR offer teacher and participants: the possibility of discovery through wonder and freedom through listening.

Mending and Deepening the Encounter Between Doctor and Patient Through Mindfulness

We are updating this blogpost to call attention to an amazing event that has come together primarily as a result of the original posting back in September. After sharing this article with our colleagues around the world, and across the Southern California region, we received an outpouring of interest. We have since invited Dr. Krasner to come to San Diego on May 11, 2013 to present a daylong workshop on mindful practice entitled “Mindfulness in Clinical Practice: Our Patients, Ourselves.” This event will include an hour-long presentation on the Neuroscience of Mindfulness by Tom Chippendale, MD, Director of Neuroscience at Scripps Health and longtime MBSR teacher.

stressed-docs-1.25.12As the skirmishes and battles on healthcare rage loudly on in the political and financial arenas of our society, there is a darker, more troubling process unfolding “on the ground” in the day-to-day practice of medicine and healing in general. Within the crucible of the doctor-patient encounter, where human suffering is intended to meet compassionate and effective healing, something isn’t working. Patients aren’t satisfied with the quality of care they receive and doctors are experiencing declining job satisfaction, burnout, “compassion fatigue” and are feeling increasingly alienated from the profession that once inspired passion and dedication. Physician and physician-in-training suicide is a rising and troubling outgrowth of this underlying malaise in the system.

Dr. Mick Krasner, Associate Professor Clinical Medicine at the University of Rochester School of Medicine & Dentistry, and his colleagues, have done groundbreaking research on the potential to address this growing phenomenon. In the Journal of the American Medical Association, they shared the results of a 2012 study of the impact of an extensive course in mindfulness, communication and self-awareness on 70 community physicians. The results are striking in demonstrating the positive effect of this program on physician well-being and satisfaction, including improvements in scores on measures of burnout, mood disturbance, emotional stability and depersonalization.

Mick Krasner, MD

Krasner and his colleagues have now taken their results to the examining room, so to speak, and drawn on them to develop a powerful training program in what they call Mindful Practice. More than just a gathering of health professionals interested in exploring what it would mean to bring mindfulness into their lives both personally and professionally, Krasner notes that “What has become clear is the imperative for what Saki Santorelli calls a ‘Collegial Sangha’ and that is what has been the outcome of our trainings. …this need for community and its absence in many of our health professionals’ work lives is a real force in the loss of meaning in our profession, reduced adaptive capacity and resilience to withstand the changing nature of our work, and the growing trend toward burnout.”

“…isn’t a boundary also a place of meeting and coming together?”

This effort to powerfully change the nature of the healing encounter through the mindful practice of the clinician arises out of exploring what has traditionally been referred to as the “boundary” between patient and doctor. Saki Santorelli, the Executive Director of the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, writes eloquently in his book Heal Thy Self of the pitfalls and opportunities of boundary-making. He says, “The usual meaning of boundary is “dividing line” – a separation between two things. But isn’t a boundary also a place of meeting and coming together?” He goes on to write “These intertwining movements are similar for us as patients and practitioners. Yet all too often the hard, impenetrable borders of this relationship are carved out of a process of identification that divides self and not-self into mutually exclusive entities. Unconsciously, this process winds up shaping the entire interaction. I am not suggesting that these roles are the same. They are not. But they are just that – roles. And behind these roles lies a much larger field, our shared humanness.”

Ron Epstein, MD

Ron Epstein, MD

Two 4-day retreat-style courses have been developed by Krasner and Ron Epstein, Professor of Family Medicine, Psychiatry, Oncology and Nursing at the University of Rochester, and are offered through University of Rochester Medical Center’s Center for Experiential Learning. The first was entitled Promoting Mindful Practice in Medical Education and Practice and was offered on October 31-November 3, 2012. The second course is Mindful Practice: Focus on Serious and Life-Limiting Illness on May 1-4, 2013. Both programs are offered at the beautiful Chapin Mill Retreat Center in Batavia, New York.


Krasner M. S., Epstein R. M., Beckman H., Suchman A. L., Chapman B., Mooney C. J., Quill T. E. (2009). Association of an educational program in mindful communication with burnout, empathy, and attitudes among primary care physicians. JAMA 302, 1284–1293. doi: 10.1001/jama.2009.1384.

Beckman HB, Wendland M, Mooney C, Krasner MS, Quill TE, Suchman AL, Epstein RM.. The impact of a program on mindful communication on primary care physicians Academic Medicine 2012; 87(6): 815-819

The Truly Mindful Workplace: A Reality Whose Moment Is Arriving

Christy Cassisa, J.D.

Christy Cassisa

By Christy Cassisa, J.D.
Co-Director of Workplace Initiatives and Giving
UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness

If you follow workplace mindfulness in the news, you’ve had quite a bit of reading material in the last few months. Businesses of all types have embraced the fact that the wellbeing of their employees improves the health of the company.  One quarter of large US companies have launched stress reduction programs of some sort, and many of those are also incorporating mindfulness and meditation trainings.  Many well-known names such as Google, Aetna, General Mills, AOL Time Warner and Target have brought mindfulness and meditation to their people.  Mindfulness is being hailed as the next great thing in the efforts to improve the performance, health and overall wellbeing of employees and leadership alike.

Mindfulness In Leadership
Both formal studies and informal self-reports show that leaders who practice mindfulness have more mental clarity and flexibility, are able to listen better and as a result, make better decisions.  Enhanced emotional resiliency and self-awareness arise as a natural byproduct of mindfulness practices, and these in turn can lead to more effective and inspirational leaders.

One such program you may have read about in the Financial Times (The Mind Business) was developed at General Mills.  Janice Marturano, deputy general counsel, phrased it this way: “It’s about training our minds to be more focused, to see with clarity, to have spaciousness for creativity and to feel connected. That compassion to ourselves, to everyone around us- our colleagues, customers- that’s what the training of mindfulness is really about.” More than 400 employees and 250 executives have participated in the GM program, and the results are amazing:  83% of participants reported increased personal productivity and of the senior executives who took the course, 80% reported improved decision-making and 89% reported that they had become better listeners.

For executives, learning to do nothing to achieve more is counter-intuitive. But what they often find once they begin to look is that the very drive that has lead them to success thus far blinds them to the next steps to progress further. And this clouded vision is precisely what mindfulness meditation can clear.

Employee Well-Being
When it comes to employees, the benefits are also well-documented. Company-wide stress reduction programs are nothing new, but with the addition of mindfulness and meditation, employees have shown dramatic improvements in stress levels and overall wellbeing.  Meditation programs have shown employee results such as:

  • Reduced anxiety and increased overall sense of calm
  • Enhanced ability to bounce back from emotionally charged situations
  • Enhanced coping abilities related to everyday stress as well as severe or acute stress encounters
  • Increased creativity
  • Improved memory
  • Increased focus (staying on task longer)
  • Improved teamwork, increased respect and support for colleagues
  • Strengthened immune system
  • Lowered blood pressure

And these results are simply the performance and health-related measures. At Google, employees reported improved marriages, reversed decisions to leave the company, and more. The benefits to the employee far exceed those measured by standard health and productivity scores.

Return on Investment
What, you say, is the value of this kind of program?  What does my bottom line expect to get in return for the outlay of time money and effort into a mindfulness meditation program?

According to the Gallup Business Journal, wellbeing is an employer issue. By the numbers, they reported:

  • People who have thriving wellbeing have a 35% lower turnover rate than those who are struggling; in a 10,000-person company, this represents $19.5 million.
  • Employees with high wellbeing have 41% lower health-related costs compared with employees who have lower wellbeing. In a firm that has 10,000 employees, this difference amounts to nearly $30 million​

So incorporating these measures, your ROI of each benefit may be measured as so:

  1. Stress Reduction:  As a result of reducing the stress of your employees, look for a reduction in health care costs and absenteeism rates.
  2. Improved Employee Well-being: As a result of investing in your people, look for increased retention rates, improved employee satisfaction and overall engagement measures.  And as an interesting additional measure, you might look to your customers’ experiences as a result of this investment in your employees’ health and well-being: look for increases in sales and improved customer satisfaction surveys.
  3. Strengthened Leadership: Leadership Development programs have many measures to use to evaluate the effectiveness of executives, ranging from 360 evaluations to overall company performance. When executives are operating more effectively, the entire company benefits in innumerable ways.

In case you have not been immersed in the news of mindfulness in the workplace, I’ve summarized many of the recent articles below.  Please comment on this post to contribute additional articles as you find them so that other readers can have access to all the latest information and resources!

Note: Christy Cassisa is a former attorney, turned coach, who has recently been appointed as the Co-Director of Workplace Initiatives and Giving for the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness. As she notes, “With all of the excitement surrounding mindfulness in the business community, we feel it is time to opt in. In this effort, we are thrilled to announce the launch of the UCSD Center for Mindfulness Workplace Programs.  Now you can bring the Center’s expertise to your office with a program or workshop tailored for your business or group. If you have an interest in learning more, take a look at Christy’s blog, Mindful Clarity, and/or contact Christy via the Center for Mindfulness at

Workplace Mindfulness Articles

Developing Mindful Leaders– Harvard Business Review, Dec 2011

Meditation Makes You More Creative– Science Daily, April 2012

OK Google, Take a Deep Breath– New York Times, April 2012

How to be Happier at Work– Inc., May 2012

How to kill a thought in a good way– Forbes, June 2012

Meditation Can Keep you More Focused at Work– USAToday, July 2012

Be more mindful for a better workplace– Chicago Tribune Aug 2012

Mindfulness is not a Cure, it’s Better– HuffPost, Aug 2012

The Mind Business– Financial Times Magazine, Aug 2012

Mindfulness-based stress reduction effects on moral reasoning and decision makingJournal of Positive Psychology, Sept 2012

A Guide to Mindfulness at Work– Forbes Oct, 2012

Mindfulness Helps you become a better leader –Harvard Business Review Oct 2012

Multitasking Loses its Cool: Mindfulness is Now In –, Oct 2012

The ROI of Practicing Mindfulness at Work–, Nov 2012

Meditation finds an ommmm in the office– Globe & Mail, Nov 2012

Mindful Multitasking– Levy, U Washington

Why Mindful Breathing Works– Huffington Post, Nov 2012

Lead by Achieving Nothing.  Seriously. Forbes, Nov 2012

MBCT Ushers in the Next Era with Second Edition and Two Innovative Training Opportunities

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for DepressionFew psychological interventions have engendered so much promise and delivered on that promise with such impressive clinical outcomes and research findings as Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). The skillful “marriage” of cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness practice, MBCT has emerged as an effective treatment to prevent relapse in depression and is yielding good initial results in other settings and with other populations as well. With the imminent publication of the Second Edition of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy  (Guilford Publications), MBCT has entered it’s next generation, incorporating the ongoing work of co-founders Zindel Segal, Mark Williams and John Teasdale, with the input and efforts of numerous clinicians and researchers worldwide.

Zindel Segal, Ph.D.

Zindel Segal, Ph.D.

“Ten years have passed since the publication of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy,” noted Zindel Segal recently, “and in that time there has been a productive engagement and interchange with clinicians and researchers who have offered and studied the program with their own patients.  Mark, John and I have been fortunate to be involved in some of these discussions and have learned from many ‘early adopters’ as well as from the increasing volume of empirical work that has evaluated and stretched MBCT to novel populations.  The second edition of MBCT gives us an opportunity to embed this ‘crowd sourced’ wisdom and feedback into an updated and expanded version of the book that offers a few refinements to the 8-week program and grapples, more generally, with the question of how the delivery of mindfulness based interventions can be optimized.”

“Kindness and compassion are the ground from which we practice, the ground from which we teach, and the ground that participants may then use in cultivating their own practice.”                 (From the Second Edition)

Perhaps most notable in the new edition is a chapter solely dedicated to the topic of compassion in MBCT. Segal reports that “an oft-repeated question I hear is ‘what is the role of compassion training in MBCT?’  This reflects perhaps the pervasive interest in bringing compassion to patients who are suffering, as well as an enthusiasm for newer protocols that feature compassion training as a central intervention.  The answer with respect to MBCT is not as straightforward as checking whether formal compassion or loving kindness is or is not taught within the 8 weeks.  It revolves around the deeper question of what exactly compassion means in a clinical context and how it can help address the vulnerability or illness perpetuating factors that keep people locked into symptoms and distress.”

In advance of the release of the Second Edition of MBCT, Chapter 8, entitled “Pausing for Reflection: Kindness and Self-Compassion in MBCT” is available for free by emailing the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness at and requesting a copy.

Book purchasers get access to a companion Web page featuring downloadable audio recordings of the guided mindfulness practices (meditations and mindful movement), plus all of the reproducibles, ready to download and print in a convenient 8 1/2″ x 11″ size. A separate web page for use by clients features the audio recordings only.

As innovative as the MBCT program itself, the 5-day MBCT teacher training offered through the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness is a “wonderful opportunity to experience the intricate interweaving of mindfulness practice and cognitive therapy skills in the delivery of the 8 week program,” said Segal. “Our days are long and incorporate elements of personal practice and clinical training all held within a retreat framework that clarifies intention, observation and self-compassion in the learning process.  If you are interested in learning the MBCT program ‘from the inside’ this is the best vehicle for doing so.”

For those who already have experience teaching MBCT or Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) UCSD is now offering an Advanced Training for MBCT and MBSR Teachers taught by experienced teachers and trainers Susan Woods and Char Wilkins. Intended to focus upon universal principles for teaching mindfulness-based interventions. As such, the focus for this training is less about teaching to the structure of MBCT and/or MBSR and more about intentionally embodying mindful presence and strengthening the facilitation of mindful inquiry.

What Are Your Thoughts? We would love to hear your thoughts on the approach of explicitly teaching compassion and lovingkindness practice within mindfulness-based interventions like MBCT, versus the more implicit approach described by Segal et al in the new 2nd edition of the MBCT book (free pdf copy of the chapter available upon request at ). Please share your thoughts and opinions below.

Advancing & Growing the Work We Hold So Dear

(With this post we welcome the subscribers from our former Bridging the Hearts and Minds of Youth conference blog site.  All future posts regarding the conference will be easily recognized as they will contain the Bridging badge pictured here. We recognize that all the fields our work touches are best served with one unified presence, and this blog is intended to be that place.)

A Message From Allan Goldstein
Associate Director
UCSD Center for Mindfulness

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

When I first read Daniel Goleman’s call in Emotional Intelligence for mindfulness to be taught in schools I could not have imagined that I would be sending a personal message asking for your support for a conference that brings together the wonderful growing community of people now engaged in that work.

For the second year, many of those key people will gather in San Diego, CA at the Bridging the Hearts and Minds of Youth: Mindfulness in Clinical Practice, Education and Research conference to learn, collaborate, and move this work forward. I would like to first invite you to join us in sunny San Diego and secondly, if this is not your field of work, to help us spread the word to the clinicians, educators and researchers that you know in the field.

We are thrilled, humbled, and grateful, that among our exemplary panel of presenters that includes keynote presentations by Linda Lantieri, Margaret Cullen and Tish Jennings, Jon and Myla Kabat-Zinn will be presenting a workshop on “Mindful Parenting: Nurturing our Children, Growing Ourselves.” Jon will also be giving a special public benefit lecture for the UCSD Center for Mindfulness entitled, “Befriending Your Mind, Befriending Your Life:  Mindfulness and the Endless Adventure of Growing into Yourself.” The conference includes several research symposia, a poster session, and numerous breakout sessions. There are also optional pre-and post- conference workshops to choose from. Please view the full conference agenda on our website. Continuing Education credits for physicians, psychologists, therapists and educators will be available.

By all accounts our inaugural conference last February was an inspiring ground-breaking event. Now is the time to become part of our “Bridging” community for the benefit of all youth, now and for future generations. We hope you can join us and help us spread our reach to your colleagues and friends.