I have spent my career as a Ph.D. practicing psychologist, and I am also the co-founder and Director of Education for Heart Based Institute. We specialize in training mental and medical health providers as well as business teams and organizations to fully experience the many benefits of heart-centered living to improve client outcomes, decrease professional burnout and enhance well-being. In sharing a little of my background, I feel it will help explain what fueled my passion to co-found the Heart Based Institute and why I believe our teachings are so valuable and uniquely effective in providing both personal and professional meaning and fulfillment.
A LIFE ALTERING CAR ACCIDENT
When I was a college student in 1973, I experienced a life changing event that shifted my entire paradigm. I was the passenger in the front seat of my friend’s Volkswagen bug. A car crashed into the side of the vehicle and caved in my passenger door all the way to the stick shift. I had a near death experience and was catapulted out of my body. I saw a review of everything I experienced in my life, as if I was watching a video. People have asked me if I saw angels or a beautiful tunnel of light. Actually, the experience scared the hell out of me.
When I got out of the hospital I began searching for the real meaning of life. Who am I, why I am here, why do I exist, and what is this life about? I came to realize that the “who” I thought I was, was an image I created in the world of my mind. I became aware of how my mind seemed to run on autopilot and that I was having thoughts and reactions to the environment that I didn’t consciously choose to have. One moment I was frustrated or worried; the next moment I was feeling insecure or self-critical; and then the next moment I was being self-righteous or judgmental of others. I realized that within a very short period of time, my mind could take me on a roller coaster ride of mental preoccupations, emotions, and reactions. And this was routinely taking place from the time I woke up to the time I went to sleep.
I got honest with myself and admitted that all of these mental and reactionary adventures were happening without my permission. It was as if my thoughts and their triggers were running the show. I realized that this ongoing barrage of limiting mental, emotional and judgmental expressions was directing my life. Every time I acted in response to this incoming storm, I felt justified, self-righteous, and this, in turn, reinforced my judgments of myself, others, and my worldview.
WAKING THE SLEEPER
I came to realize that the real me was basically sleeping. I began to read a number of spiritual books and in 1975, after receiving my bachelor’s degree, I was accepted into the Peace Corps. My journey took me to the Himalayas of Nepal. I spent nearly three years studying and doing meditation practices for extended periods in Nepal and Northern India. I learned to quiet the monkey mind that liked to jump from branch to branch. I felt so much freer, and I experienced many of the benefits that mindfulness provides, such as learning to identify and detach from limiting patterns and experiencing a heightened state of awareness. Being able to experience myself as a witness and an observer of my content rather than identifying with the content that passed through my mind felt very liberating. I thought: “This is it! This is what I have been waiting to experience for my whole life!”
When I returned to the U.S. I felt a new sense of purpose. I realized how important it was to help others recognize their own autopilot modes and help them shift to a more conscious state of being. I saw the opportunity to bring mindfulness techniques to the field of psychology and received my Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from Florida State University in 1987. I began implementing meditation and the principles of Eastern psychology into my practice and worked with a multiplicity of client populations and conducted workshops and trainings for federal, city, and county agencies as well as University, hospital, non-profit, corporate, and community settings.
Up until this point, everything I had studied and taught consisted of what I refer to as a mind-based approach. This includes mindfulness, yoga/eastern psychology, energy cultivation, cognitive behavioral therapy as well as other psychological modalities. The common thread that I incorporated with each was to use the mind as the vehicle to heal the mind. Being in a state of mindfulness was easy for me to experience, and this state brought much relief compared to being in the autopilot mode of my past. But something still felt incomplete.
HITTING A MIND-BASED WALL
In the year 2000, I came to another critical juncture in my life. I felt that I had hit a plateau and over the last few years my personal and spiritual growth had slowed dramatically. I felt like I was eating ice cream that was missing its sweetness – that a very deep thirst from the core of my being was not being satisfied. And, I realized that while I was not being actively judgmental, there was a subtle arrogance (and sometimes not so subtle) lurking in the back of my mind.
I also came to realize I was not alone in feeling like I had hit a wall. Many friends and colleagues who had practiced mindfulness and other mind-based meditation approaches admitted to me that they felt their spiritual growth and meditation practice had stagnated. In addition, I noticed many of the human service providers I interacted with on interdisciplinary teams were experiencing high levels of burnout and compassion fatigue. The mind-based approaches that they had studied did not appear to be significantly alleviating their distress.
From my experience in working with individuals and groups, I also came to understand that the mind-based approaches I was teaching to others were limited because they were not supporting people to experience a state of heart-mind alignment in which the heart and mind are truly working together as a team. While the mind-based practices I taught brought relief, I felt a far deeper level of transformation was not only possible but deeply needed.
What I discovered beyond the level of mindfulness is continued in Part 2…