My name is Gabriel Kram, and I’m grateful that you are here. I am the Founder of Applied Mindfulness, Inc., the Convener of the Restorative Practices Alliance, and the Co-Founder of the Academy of Applied Social Medicine. I’ve been meditating daily for the past twenty-five years (I’ve missed a few days here and there), and for the past fifteen years serving in a variety of professional roles that closely accompanied the development of what has come to be called the Mindfulness movement in the United States. From the beginning, these professional roles placed me in contact with several of the founding luminaries of the mindfulness movement, including Jon Kabat-Zinn, developer of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, the most widely-studied and replicated Mindfulness-Based Intervention (MBI) in the world, who served on the Advisory Board of the Mind Body Awareness Project, at which I taught for several years and then directed for three. (His son, Will Kabat-Zinn was one of our core instructors.). I also, while directing MBA, had an opportunity to work closely with both George Mumford, who had studied with Jon for many years at what was then called the UMass Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society, and gone on to work closely with Phil Jackson, the coach of the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers, during the period of time that the Bulls won the Championship three times in a row (the Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen days). Fleet Maull, a mindfulness teacher who had trained under the great Tibetan teacher Chogyam Trungpa, and who was the first person to bring mindfulness into prison settings, was also one our advisors (and still is). While many of these practices focused on the development of single-point attention (concentration) and equanimity (dropping the resistance to the flow of incoming experience, be it pleasurable or painful), what touched my heart most during this formative period of professional mindfulness work was spending time with Vinnie Ferraro, who I brought on as our Training Director at MBA in 2007. If you haven’t had the chance to spend time with Vinnie, it is his radical vulnerability that is most disarming. And though he is a student of both Vipassana, under Jack Kornfield, and other distinguished mindfulness teachers, Vinnie is, by temperament, passion, and example, undoubtedly a teacher of heartfulness. This experience reconnected me with my own root teacher of awareness, a remarkable man named Gurucharn Singh Khalsa, who was the first person I’d encountered in my life who seemed to be thinking with his heart, and living fully from it.
While I feel that that the modern mindfulness movement has made, and continues to make important contributions to the evolution of consciousness in the West, we’ve also had a front role seat to closely observe a variety of it’s limitations, including:
Its continued focus on internally-oriented practice, despite the fact that
Its failure to integrate a neurophysiological lens, or the ability to track present moment nervous system states, thereby leading it to make unhelpful and sometimes harmful practice suggestions. For example:
It’s unconscious whiteness, which I hope is changing, but which unconsciously replicates norms of middle-class white behavior and expectations which are then deployed as implicit cultural norms. E.g., asking a room of people who don’t know one another to close their eyes. This is not safe for many people in non-centered social locations. Its depiction in popular culture has also, unerringly been as a lifestyle for white folk. See our article on this subject. Time says its Ok for people with Brown hair to practice mindfulness.
It’s corporatization and co-option as a tool deployed by single-bottom line capitalist companies to extract more labor from their employees, and most alarmingly by several social media giants whose products are perpetrating neuro-developmental and social harms. Facebook, forgive me for saying this, is not a ‘mindful’ organization. Mindful organizations don’t harm the mental health of their users, engage in surveillance, undermine democratic institutions, nor do they deny their accountability when asked to answer for the above. As an aside–No organization with a single bottom line is a mindful organization, because single bottom line organizations are designed to externalize costs to someone else. That's what they were built to do.
Nobody is perfect, nor is any movement perfectly represented by its participants or the media. In aggregate, I feel that the mindfulness movement is a positive force. That said, I question whether even using the word mindfulness is the right term for the kind of stabilization of awareness in a relational embodied felt sense that is, for me, and in our conceptualization, the goal of practice.
Which brings you here, to this course, after a somewhat lengthy introduction. Welcome to your Heartfulness course! We are really happy you are here.
There’s a marvelous story about a mindfulness researcher going to visit a monastery of Tibetan monks. The scientist comes with advanced western scientific equipment to show the monks that it is possible to measure mindfulness. As he begins to outfit a monk with the equipment, a tittering begins to pass through the assembly. Confused, he stops fastening the straps on the EEG helmet to the volunteer, turns to the translator, and asks, Why are they laughing? The translator replies, They’re saying that if you want to measure mindfulness, you’ve got the equipment connected to the wrong part of the body. He then places his hand on the center of his chest. Here’s where you should be measuring, he says.
At a certain point in European intellectual history, identity became equated with thinking, and the mind with the brain. When we say the word mindfulness, it has overtones of something mental, something cognitive, and yet this isn’t what we are talking about at all. Heartfulness would be a more faithful translation. What does it mean to begin centering our awareness—our intelligence–in our hearts, rather than our heads? This is neither an academic, or a merely theoretical question. The practice of heartfulness is this understanding. It is the practice of locating our center in the heart, rather than the head. Many cultures have understood that this is the proper center of intelligence. In Aramaic, for example, the word for heart is leba, which means the center of courage, intelligence, and feeling. The word courage itself come from the French word for heart: coeur. To lead with the heart. Our own culture now, at the leading edges of neurophysiology, by way of the Polyvagal Theory, and the science of neurocardiology, is beginning to substantiate what many ancestral cultures have always known. The heart is not merely a mechanical pump, but a center of intelligence, feeling, awareness. In fact, most of the cells in the heart are neural cells, not muscle cells. To practice heartfulness is to practice feeling, relationship, to practice connection.
Our team has assembled this course to take you deeply into the fundamentals of applied mindfulness, or heartfulness, as we conceptualize it. Applied Mindfulness is the name of the organization that we founded in 2010, as we began to pioneer this approach, which emerged out of work at the Mind Body Awareness Project, continued in our work with Dr. Nadine Burke Harris at what was then the Bayview Child Health Center, then The Seneca Family of Agencies, and then developed in working with hundreds of organizations in medicine, mental health, and human services. We’ve taught well over 1,000 trainings in this area, serving tens of thousands of people. We hope that you find this course exceptionally useful to the training of your attention and the opening of your heart. As some of our Native American mentors have told us, “The greatest distance in the world is the 18 inches from the human head to the human heart.”
We look forward to accompanying you in your journey traversing this most important of terrains.
With Sincere Appreciation,
Founder, Applied Mindfulness, Inc.
Convener, Restorative Practices Alliance
Co-Founder, Academy of Applied Social Medicine