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A Legacy of Mindfulness: Meet the Center's Mindfulness Teachers

October 2, 2015

ERIK STORLIE As a graduate student in English at Berkeley in 1964, Storlie began practicing meditation at the San Francisco Zen Center with Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, developing a deep admiration for meditation and the health benefits that come with it.

For the next 30 years, he dreamed about bringing secular meditation classes to colleges and universities, making them available for academic credit.

“As a teacher, I want students to be curious, to work with meditation and find their own way into practice,” says Storlie. “And I also want them to dip into the current scientific knowledge about meditation and mindfulness, as well as the thousands of years of history in the Eastern and Western ‘mystical’ traditions, and in the many varieties of indigenous wisdom.”

Storlie’s students appreciate his unique teaching style, as well as his interpersonal communication style. “He’s delightfully frank and good humored,” says a former student. “He’d be the first to tell you his own follies with a joke and a shrug, and that’s the same kindness he accords everyone else. Erik likes to say, ‘You’re the boss.’ When he says that, he means that you’re in charge of your own life. It’s up to you to pay attention to what makes you happy and what doesn’t, and then base your choices on what you find out.”

Storlie credits one of his good friends and mentor, Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, with easing the path toward acceptance of secular meditation. “He wanted to present meditation to the public in a non-religious format,” says Storlie. “Mindfulness has evolved into a broader term than ‘meditation,’ but both have at their core a devotion to knowing one’s body and mind deeply, coming to stillness, and touching the vast ocean of mind that lies below and gives rise to all our thoughts and experience.”

Storlie teaches academic courses in mindfulness at the Center for University of Minnesota undergraduate, graduate, and professional students.

 

SUSAN MILES Minnesota District Court Judge Susan Miles isn’t one to mince words. “The world would be a better place if everyone practiced mindfulness,” she says.

A judge for nearly 19 years, Miles took up mindfulness practice as a way to better cope with her daily career stresses. “After experiencing a significant difference in my own life which I attribute to my mindfulness practice, I felt called to share with others the benefits of greater enjoyment of their personal and professional lives,” she says. “My job involves hearing and deciding all manner of cases, often in an emotionally-charged atmosphere. Cases all come down to listening to and dealing with people, whether they be lawyers or laypeople, sanguine or not,in as calm and even-handed manner as possible. Mindfulness plays a big role in doing my job well.”

Miles became a mindfulness instructor in 2013. “I personally benefit from every story I hear from a student describing the difference mindfulness practice has made in his or her life,” she says. “I consider myself to be a patient listener and teacher whose objective is to make the practice as accessible as possible to all.”

In addition to being a mindfulness teacher in the Center’s community classes, Susan also teaches the Center’s “Mindfulness for Judges and Lawyers” workshop.\

 

ROBB REED Robert “Robb” Reed has spent his entire career as a teacher. Whether it was teaching English to corporate executives in Tokyo, teaching in the Minneapolis Public Schools, or leading mindfulness courses, Reed has always had a special talent for guiding and coaching others.

“I was first introduced to mindfulness in 1993 when I attended a retreat led by Thich Nhat Hanh,” he says. “I came home with the passion and resolve to make meditation a life-long pursuit. My first efforts to teach mindfulness came more than a decade ago when my daughter was in elementary school. I wanted her to learn these skills, too, so I helped co-found and teach the children’s mindfulness program at Common Ground Meditation Center, my spiritual community.”

He didn’t stop there. “In 2012, my professional life and my mindfulness practice came together in a tangible way. The Center for Spirituality & Healing team invited me to work with them to bring mindfulness to the public schools. It has been a wonderful and fulfilling experience.”

Reed is currently working to help create the Center’s new “Mindfulness in Education” initiatives, and teaches Center MBSR courses in the community.

 

JEAN FAGERSTROM has been a counselor at the Walk-In Counseling Center for more than 17 years, and has worked with the National Alliance on Mental Illness-Minnesota, in their educational program. Currently, she is also an intake counselor at Catholic Charities. Her ability to learn from her students while teaching provides her a great deal of energy.

“I became a mindfulness teacher because it combines two of my core interests: spiritual growth and psychological health. I’m deepening my own practice and always learning as I teach,” says Jean Fagerstrom, who has been teaching mindfulness at the Center since 2007.

A long-time meditator, Fagerstrom is aware of the powerful benefits of a regular mindfulness practice. “Meditation has helped me be centered, grounded, and stable in the midst of surprising life changes, and it helps me with having a perspective, understanding that this is how things are right now and they will inevitably change.”

She is also passionate about sharing those benefits, and helping make mindfulness accessible to students in all walks of life. “I hope that I can make the teachings accessible and relevant for everyone, allowing for differences in personality,” she says. “The MBSR course offers many tools for mindfulness, and participants may find some more useful to them than others. I ask everybody to try all of the practices offered, but at the end of the course we say to continue practicing what works for you.”

 

For MERRA YOUNG, meditation and teaching are not just her jobs, they are her way of life. “Meditation has transformed my life and I love it. I’ve found it to be transformational in my own life, and in
the lives of the clients that I work with, “she says. Young, a psychotherapist with her own private practice, is a co-founder of the Midwest Meditation and Psychotherapy Institute. “I offer supervision, consultation, and mentorship to other people in the mental health professions and I very much have been what I call a ‘Mindfulness-Based Integrative Psychotherapist,’” she says.

Young, who also teaches an academic course at the Center titled, “Emotional Healing and Happiness: Eastern and Western Approaches to Transforming the Mind,” has a broad range of clinical experience, including life transitions, grief, spirituality, health and illness, women’s issues, eating disorders, and addiction recovery.

“I have been integrating mindfulness in mind body spirit practices in the mental health field and working with different populations for more than 35 years,” she says.

In addition to her mindfulness training, Young also has a background in Vipassana meditation and Yoga.

 

JEAN HALEY’s teaching extends well beyond the classroom.

“I try to ‘walk the talk’ when teaching and embody the qualities I admire most — humility, compassion, and presence,” she says. “My long personal mindfulness practice, which includes two to three months a year of silent retreat practice, is the basis for everything that I teach, and I continue to learn new and exciting things as I deepen my own practice of mindfulness.”

As a clinical social worker who teaches in a variety of settings — including the Center, the Shakopee Correctional Facility, and a private practice — Haley believes that mindfulness meditation has had a great impact upon her life.

“The practice has transformed me in ways that I could never have imagined at the time,” Haley says.

After spending years as a higher ed administrator and prior to becoming a social worker, she served as Vice President for Information Services and Technology at a small college. Haley’s passion for mindfulness led her to step outside her comfort zone and enter a new phase of life.

“When I decided to switch careers ten years ago as a result of what I had learned through my mindfulness practice, I knew I wanted to incorporate mindfulness into my professional work as a psychotherapist,” says Haley. “I also knew I wanted to work with both individuals one-on-one and with groups. I love the energy of people learning from and supporting one another!”

 

For SUSAN FLANNIGAN, healthcare isn’t just her job, it’s her passion. Flannigan has been a primary care provider in a family practice for 25 years, and has also worked one day a week in a chemical dependency treatment center for the last 24 years. Mindfulness has transformed the way in which she works with her patients, and has led to her becoming an MBSR teacher at the Center.

“I have found the meditation practice to be beneficial in my own life and I wanted to give others a chance to experience the same benefit,” says Flannigan. “From a public health perspective, I see it as an ideal method of health promotion and prevention health care.”

Flannigan brings with her a scientific background, research awareness, and knowledge from her clinical and meditation practice to support the content of the program. Her inspiration to become a mindfulness teacher surfaced when she learned about all of the benefits that being mindful can have.

“I was motivated to become an MBSR teacher to help my patients with pain management, especially those with a history of chemical dependency,” she says. “It provides skills to live a healthier life in mind, body, and spirit, improves management of chronic diseases.”

 

Alex Haley

As a high school student, Alex Haley had a math teacher who started the first few minutes of class with moments of quiet reflection. As a college freshman, Haley had a professor who started class on the first day with 20 minutes of silence.

“That experience showed me the patterns of how people reacted when they were put into a new and different situation,” he says. “I was completely fascinated by this experience, and that’s one thing that led me to being a mindfulness practitioner and teacher today.”

In law school, Haley learned how mindfulness skills can help people thrive in challenging environments.

While working full time as a corporate lawyer and business manager, Haley continued to focus on his mindfulness practice. “I was spending weeks and months in intensive retreat practice,” he says. “I would go away while working full time, and was using pretty much all of my vacation to go to mindfulness and meditation retreats.”

Now, as an assistant professor in the Center’s mindfulness program, Haley wants to create bridges for new mindfulness opportunities. “I want to be a translator,” he says. “I’ve had to spend a lot of time on a more traditional track moving into the corporate world. I want to help bridge the worlds of the contemplative community with that of the business and legal communities.”

Interest in mindfulness as a strategy for supporting teachers and students in educational setting is increasing dramatically. The Center, long a leader in providing individual and organizational education in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, is partnering with the Trust for Meditation Process to discover what makes some of the early leading programs around the nation so effective, and what teachers and administrators here in Minnesota need to implement mindfulness programs. Additional partners are encouraged to bring their ideas and resources to the initiative.

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