My friend Keith and I met back in 2017. He graduated from my Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program at the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center. He has a gentle spirit and is one of the kindest people I know. He's a true seeker and inspires me to continue to follow that faint, but very important whisper of the heart. Keith is a civil engineer by trade and will soon be a trained mindfulness meditation teacher through Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield's program. Keith has, and will be, teaching mindfulness in the Ames, Iowa area. He is currently developing a website focused on meaningful gatherings and to finally have a place to drop his many musings and poems. His email is email@example.com if you’d like to be added to his email list for announcements.
What brought you to take Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction?
There was time in my life where I was that perfect example of the human doing. Success was measured by that next win and things were always running in fast forward. It was a situation of holding and using everything. Attempting to control that which was uncontrollable. A coil-wound heart – getting tighter and tighter.
But there was always a realization that these things, these doings, were always a cover. Then one day, out of desperation, I leaped into what at the time was the unknown. I walked away and slowed, in the desert and on the mountain trails of New Mexico. I sat in contemplation, although at the time I didn’t know its name. "My path must change," I said, "or it will literally be the end of me." I recall the exact time and location, forever held as a sacred place for me now. The change is within me and how I interact with the world. My journey began there, without my knowing it. But I needed help. I started saying “yes” where a “no” would have occurred in the past and took a local mindfulness class and purchased some resources that led me to the “process” of MBSR and ultimately to the “community” created practice of good friend, Allison. I am forever thankful.
What did you discover about yourself during and/or after the course?
There were several personal characteristics that MBSR helped me see with more clarity. One of these characteristics was my tendency toward worry and anxiety (my response was to do something as noted above), or maybe more correctly, the thoughts and stories that I connected to these emotions and their physical impact on my being. How they were very often drawing me out of the present moment. The practice of mindfulness helped cultivate this awareness and observe how these thoughts can come and go. When observed in a non-judgmental way, they shift, change, and more often than not, dissolve into nothingness. So, one answer was to do nothing, or what often appears as doing nothing. I also found that I'm often not fully present with people and/or when I was doing something. MBSR has assisted in shifting my management style and has become incorporated into mindful movement in a natural manner. I have noted that it comes up in airports regularly. Lastly, and related to the others, was my lack of embodiment. The practices in MBSR have provided me the opportunity to increase this exponentially and this has led to greater empathy and compassion. It is said that we don’t just practice for ourselves but also those around us. I have seen this and agree. This practice has led to deeper and more meaningful relationships with people in comparison to the past.
Why do you continue to practice mindfulness? What’s the big deal for you? What are your deeper intentions?
There are several reasons I continue to practice mindfulness and why I think it is important. As time has passed, and as noted above, it has allowed me to work with my thoughts and emotions with more wisdom and compassion. It has impacted my interaction with the people around me. In general, it has led my heart to expand. I feel more deeply, both the difficult and the joyful. The simple and complex. I often experience these things with more clarity by simply being there. Notice what was once unnoticeable. The “human doing” visits me over and over but it doesn’t normally last as long as it used to. But this is the practice of mindfulness, so I welcome these visits. I am there with people, truly there, and mostly unafraid. It’s a big deal, overall, for all the above reasons. The toughest part, for me, is to not hold on too tightly to the act of “achievement” in all this. My past has shown the result of taking that approach.
Has mindfulness changed how you live or your outlook on life? If so, how?
I think, as you can see from my answers above, I am fortunate to have found MBSR and mindfulness. For me, it comes out in the “noticing”. Patterns of living and acting are difficult to change and mindfulness is a practice that I come back to again and again as I “notice”. Or maybe it should be called “forgetting and remembering”. This noticing may not always be immediate but as time passes it becomes more and more natural in its occurrence. Often other people notice the difference in your energy and response before you do, and that has happened with me. Overall, I believe it has made me a better manager, sibling, friend, and son.
What do you do for your career, hobby, volunteering?
My current career is in academia. I am the director of a technical training program and have a civil engineering background in transportation. However, I am currently in a mindfulness teacher certification program and this may lead me in the direction of my “vocation” in the relatively near future. I’m embracing the unknown on that question right now. My hope is to organize meaningful gatherings for others. Gatherings I’ve currently defined as exploring subjects that are “un-Google-able”, with food of course. Currently, as a hobby, I write articles/columns about different subjects of interest. The last one was on hope and resilience. I also write what I call poetry (no formal background in it) and post them as a guest on blogs. But a new website idea may serve that need in the future. Currently I am volunteering at the local hospice house and I am a founding board member of a local Soto Zen Buddhist group.
Some of Keith's poems:
To our Knees
Loving brings us to our knees – The joy of loving can at times bring us to our knees, but to avoid the joy that it brings for the purpose of avoiding the pain, denies the fact that pain is inherent and inevitable in life. What better thing is there than love for one to embrace this eternal truth? What better sacrifice than the heart? This is what it is to be human. To be part of the greater existence of what is.
The Prayer Mat
prayer mat of
of common good
To read more of Allison's blogs: