The Zen Leader welcomes guests Betsy Nelson and Mary Masi from the Sarasota Mindfulness Institute to the show to discuss mediation and mindfulness.



Intro:Welcome to The Zen Leaderwith Lara Jaye. Whether you’re a leader at home or in the boardroom, Lara provides the tools to help you get unstuck in different areas of your life. Now, here’s your host, Lara Jaye.

Lara Jaye:Good morning, Sarasota. It’s Lara Jaye with The Zen Leader.I hope you’re all doing well this morning. Today, in the studio, I have a couple of amazing ladies from the Sarasota Mindfulness Institute: Betsy Nelson and Mary Masi. The ladies have joined us. I reached out to them a couple of weeks ago about a program that I saw on their website that just looked amazing that I felt like my audience would really resonate with and would want to know more about. So, I invited the ladies, and they’re here today. Good morning, Betsy and Mary.

Betsy Nelson:Good morning, Lara.

Lara:How are you?

Mary Masi:I am well. Thank you.

Lara:Good. Welcome to the studio here at WSRQ. Betsy, tell me… we’re going to start with you, Betsy. Tell me a little about you and your role at the Sarasota Mindfulness Institute.

Betsy:Well, Lara, I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and my specialty areas are working with couples and people with cancer, and along the way I did some training in couples, kind of emotional regulation and mindfulness and kind of learned that science was finally looking into those areas, and discovered — and this was back in 2009 — mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is a treatment for recurrent depression. As I looked into it further, I knew that was something that I needed to bring to this town That medication is something that many people don’t want to utilize, and I respect that, and that we need to have some treatment options that are effective and that are outside of the medication protocol. So, I got pretty committed to leading this group and I had a meditation practice, like many middle-aged adults, it was on and off. I had meditated, stopped meditating, meditated, stopped meditating, and I realized that for me to sustain a meditation practice, I needed a group to meditate with and I wasn’t really a Buddhist, so I didn’t really want a Buddhist Sangha; I wanted a secular group of meditators.

Lara:So, something non-religious.

Betsy:Something non-religious.

Lara:Got it.

Betsy:So, we started the Sarasota Mindfulness Institute.

Lara:So you were part of the beginning of it?

Betsy:I am the beginning of it.

Lara:You are the beginning. That’s awesome. “It’s all about my needs and have a group to support my meditations.”

Betsy:That’s how it’s supposed to be, right?

Lara:That’s awesome. So, this was back in 2009 and, at the time, you’re full-time working, a licensed social worker, and you had a lot of people coming in with depression. I, myself, suffered for a decade with depression and took a lot of different medicines, and it help a little, but then it just numbed me out.


Lara:Then I couldn’t function like I wanted to. I didn’t have the energy I wanted to, I started gaining weight, a lot of those symptoms. But I wasn’t that depressed anymore, but I really didn’t care about anything. You know? Nothing.

Meditation, and we’re going to talk about that, it is the one thing — I have this article on my website — that catapulted me to plan to redo my life, to change everything. The things that aren’t important just begin to fall away. Or, at least that’s what happened for me.

Betsy:Yep. Yeah. The data are pretty clear on this that we don’t actually accept people into the program, the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program, who are currently in a major depressive episode. Because in that state, meditation can actually deepen the depression and we don’t want to have that happen, obviously.


Betsy:So the data are pretty clear that it’s in an inter-episode, between episodes of depression, that this treatment, that this class, is extremely effective. It will really help the person develop the capacity to resist going in to depression, to live life in a way that sees it exactly as it is and doesn’t put a whole bunch of stories and layers, and filters on that can bring on a depressed mood.

Lara:Why did you pick depression? I mean, there are so many different things that we could meditate and focus on. Was that just your specialty and what you wanted to dive in to?

Betsy:No. It was that that was what appeared when I was at this conference, was I wasn’t very familiar with this Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, which is the original program. Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy is an offshoot of MBSR. It was the cognitive therapy program that I became familiar with and it is specifically great at addressing recurrent depression.

Lara:Got it.

Betsy:So, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction is a program that is really just out there because it’s a wonderful thing for all of us to do to reduce our stress. Jon Kabat Zinn founded this program about 30 years ago. He had gotten a faculty position at the University of Massachusetts and with Mass General Hospital. He was a Buddhist meditator and realized that his meditation practice was really making a difference in his equanimity in life, so he went to the pain medicine doctors at Mass General and said, “Listen, I want to try something. Send me your failures.” The pain doctors thought, “You know what? There’s really no risk in sending this guy our failures. They’re failures. They can’t control their pain. We don’t have anything to give them, so it isn’t going to hurt for them to try something else.”

In fact, the majority of these people experiencing pain developed a new relationship to their pain so that they were in a much better way of working with pain than they were…

Lara:All through meditation?

Betsy:All through meditation.

Lara:How does that… How would that work?

Betsy:Well, the interesting thing about pain is that, in some ways, all bets are off. We can’t really tell somebody specifically how they’re going to work with their pain. What we suggest to them is that they observe it carefully. If you observe pain carefully, you see that it’s less continuous than you thought it was. It’s less fixed than you thought it was. Instead of having this giant, tight mass of something — because that’s a perception of our pain, rather than the actual experience of pain — we begin to see that pain ebbs and flows, that there are periods of time where we may have some background pain, but the foreground information is much more interesting, and we get engaged with that.

Lara:When I was extremely depressed and in counseling, as well as on medicine, I picked up a book and the name of it was What is Your Depression Trying to Tell You?I kind of feel like that’s what you’re saying with the pain and the depression and meditation; it kind of helps you dive into it. What does it want to talk to you… or what is it saying? Is that kind of what you’re talking about, in some ways?

Betsy:Yes and no. One of the things that we learn through mindfulness practice is that we are constantly creating stories and constructs about things. In fact, what we learn through the practice is to recognize the story as a story and to see that the story itself has repercussions on our mood and on our…

Lara:Like a story from the past?

Betsy:No. Even like making a story out of pain. If we can just see pain as pain and work with it exactly as it is, it may very well be that we’ll see that there were times in our lives that we tightened around some particular pain and that we’ve never lost that impulse. The meditation may demonstrate that to us. And that in the meditation, we see that, so now we learn to relax into that pain, instead of tightening against it. But without sort of the sense it’s going to… that there’s something else that’s going to tell us. We may learn about our past experiences or the way that we’ve created a relationship to pain that’s a locked down sort of relationship, rather than an opened-up and accepting relationship.

Lara:Can you give me an example of how that might work when you’re actually in the practice of it?

Betsy:Sure. We follow, very carefully, the breath and the body. If your listeners were going to come away with one message, the message would be: Attend to what’s going on in the body. We utilize the breath as a way of just recognizing what’s going on in the body. It gives us something to focus on that gives us some stability in our attention, so we observe what’s going on in the body.

We might, for instance, have an experience where we have some sadness. Now, we could begin to focus in on the sadness by observing where the feelings are occurring in our body. So, maybe you get a tightness in your throat. Now, in my meditation, I bring my attention to my throat.

What I notice is that memories and thoughts will come into the picture, and what I want to do is just loosen the grip on those. That’s really extraneous information. The important information is just what’s going on in my body. I continue to breathe and I continue to feel what’s going on in my body, and usually it will change in some way. So, we just continue to observe it, no matter how it changes, no matter what…

Lara:Not, not judging it as good, bad, wrong, right.

Betsy:Not judging it. Yeah.

Lara:Just let it come up.

Betsy:Exactly. And not going along with the stories that emerge as we’re doing it. We might have a memory that the cat died [00:10:00]when we were 7 years old or something and there was some difficult family experiences around that cat’s death. Right? Maybe this comes up in this moment that I’m feeling the sadness. What I don’t want to do is get off on the story about the cat. I observe it. There’s a Zen expression, “Like writing on water.” You observe it, like writing on water. Right? You write on water and immediately it’s gone.

Lara:It disappears.

Betsy:Yeah. The cat comes up? We just let it go; we don’t tighten around the cat. We allow ourselves to continue to feel what’s going on in our lives.

Lara:No resistance. What we resist, persists. So just kind of let it flow through.


Lara:That’s beautiful. Very nice. Very nice. Thank you, Betsy, for this. When we come back, after break, we’re going to dive even more into this, and I’m so excited that Betsy and Mary are here from the Sarasota Mindfulness Institute. If you have any questions, I invite you to email me. Questions, comments, I’d love to hear from you at info@larajaye.comor visit me on, and we’ll be right back, after break, with The Zen Leader.


Lara:Welcome back. I’m Lara Jaye with The Zen Leader and we are here this morning with a couple of ladies from the Sarasota Mindfulness Institute, Betsy Nelson and Mary Masi. Welcome back again. This morning, we are talking about just meditation and the Mindfulness Institute and all that it brings to Sarasota.

Betsy, I want to ask you specifically about the MBSR, the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program. Tell me a little bit about that.

Betsy:Sure. This is a program that’s taught around the world. Probably every year, tens of thousands of people take it. I think that’s not an exaggeration at all. When you read about research studies that demonstrate that mindfulness has had an effect on whatever it is, what they’re studying — heart, health, cancer, psoriasis, or whatever it might be — what the research… the treatment group is a mindfulness-based stress reduction group. So, that’s almost always the treatment group in these studies. It’s the kind of the gold standard of mindfulness in a Western model.

It’s really an in-depth program. We meet for 8 weeks and we meet 2.5 hours each time we meet for those 8 weeks, then we have a day-long retreat towards the end of the 8 weeks. So, it’s a really intensive dive into mindfulness and we ask people to meditate every single day, while they’re taking the class. We remind them that they may not like it, and that’s okay, but they won’t know if this is effective for them or not unless they actually do it. So, it’s a small commitment of their lives to do…

Lara:How long do you ask them to meditate every day?

Betsy:Well, that’s always the interesting question. Right? If you meditate a little, you have some little results. If you meditate a lot, you have some bigger results. If you give yourself over to mindfulness in your life, you transform your life.

Lara:Exactly. It transformed mine. I completely agree.


Lara:Whatever you can do.

Betsy:Whatever you can do. If you start with 10 minutes, that’s great. Jon Kabat-Zinn asks the people in his program, and actually Mary can speak more about that because she’s actually taken a class up in Massachusetts. My belief is that they ask them to do 30 to 45 minutes a day, and 30 is the minimum. Is that correct?

Mary Masi:That’s correct.

Betsy:So, it’s a really deep dive into mindfulness practice. It’s based on a very short teaching of the Buddha, called the Ānāpānasati Sutta, which “Ana” is the in breath, “pana” is the out breath, “sati” is mindfulness. So it’s a teaching on the mindfulness of the in breath and the out breath. Over the course of 8 weeks, we unfold the meditation practice the same way that it’s unfolded in this very short, 16-verse, sutra. So, we meditate on the feelings in the body, we meditate on perception, we meditate on thought, and we meditate in open meditation, sort of a Zen-type meditation. So, we take in whatever is arising and passing, moment by moment.That’s the way the sutra opens up.

Lara:What does “sutra” mean?

Betsy:A teaching. Just teaching.

Lara:Teaching. Okay.



Betsy:And there’s a little bit of cognitive therapy principles thrown in. But the class is really about the experience that each person has while going through these 8 weeks. In one week we’ll ask them, for instance, to focus on things that are pleasant and what is their relationship with things that are pleasant? How do they notice them? How do they know it’s pleasant? What arises in their body — and in their mind — when they are encountering pleasant things? Do they try to hold on to it? Do they try to augment it? Do they try to look for more?

Then we do the same thing with unpleasant things. Then we would do that with difficult relationships. So, we have sort of a focus each week in our informal practice of mindfulness. When we’re not sitting on the cushion and we’re encountering life, as it is – that is the informal practice of mindfulness. Are we there, in this moment? Are we actually observing what’s going on, as it’s going on, exactly as it’s going on, without making something else out of it?

Lara:Would you say that’s the definition of “mindfulness?”

Betsy:It’s exactly the definition of “mindfulness.”

Lara:People are using “mindfulness” and “meditation” interchangeably some. Can you explain that a little bit?

Betsy:Sure. There are many, many forms of meditation. Probably most of them, if not all of them, are beneficial. They are beneficial in different ways. Mindfulness meditation is about being alert in a very relaxed way. So, it’s not about trance. It’s not about transforming this moment into some other experience. It’s being exactly in this moment, as it arises and as it passes, without making anything else out of it.

In this meditation, we stay very relaxed, attentive, and curious about this moment. We can also do that same thing as we live our lives. So much of our lives are spent thinking about what used to happen or the conversation we had 10 years ago with somebody that didn’t go so well, or what could go wrong with making dinner tonight, or how about that trip we have planned 3 years from now?

Lara:Right. The past or worrying about the future.


Lara:Instead of actually being here, right here, present, enjoying the moment.

Betsy:Right. Exactly.

Lara:There you have it. How will that improve my life, if I am present and mindful? How is that going to make a difference in my life?

Betsy:Well, that’s always the interesting question. Actually, Mary and I encountered this in our class on Tuesday night.


Betsy:We have a person in the class who is kind of a skeptic about the whole process. The only way you can answer that question is to do the experience, is to live in the experience of being mindful. Make every attempt you can to do your meditation during the day and to open up to present moment experience as you live your life, and you will get an answer to that question. I can give you an answer for me, but it’s not very interesting. The interesting answer is what happens when you do it.

Lara:It’s different for everyone.

Betsy:Of course it is.

Lara:The amazing thing I found about meditation and being mindful is it’s cumulative. Kind of like exercise and building your muscle is that I felt like it built up every day. It’s not something that just changes you overnight.

Betsy:That’s right.

Lara:It’s not magic.


Lara:Well, it kind of is, in a different way.

Betsy:And it’s hard work.

Lara:It is.

Betsy:Yeah. Maybe for the first 3 months you have these really wonderful experiences and it’s all kind of blissful, and I’m learning everything every day, and I’m getting more calm and patient, and people like me better. Then, maybe after 2 years, people are like, “You’re the same old curmudgeonyou used to be. What happened to your mindfulness practice?” “Well, I’m still doing it.” “Well, it’s not working.”

Lara:[LAUGHTER] Mary, what about you? What happened to you when you broke in to mindfulness and meditation? What was your life before and then after?

Mary:Well, in terms of meditation, I was brought to meditation at 14 years old by my father. He was a Transcendental Meditation person, TM. The youngest you can get a mantra is 14, so he took me to meet this elderly man, wearing a diaper — who I later found out was the Maharishi who had worked with the Beatles — but the experience was lost on me because I was 14.

Then, over the course of my life, I had an on and off meditation practice. I experienced many different kinds of meditation and stumbled across the Sarasota Mindfulness Institute through a conversation with a friend and started to read about the Mindfulness Institute, or mindfulness. I think someone brought me to the Mindfulness Institute when it was in Betsy’s office somewhere. [LAUGHTER]

Lara:Just in its infant stages.

Mary:Yes, in its infant stages. What I found there was that I really, although I was a meditator, I was meditating to be in some other state. I found that getting in touch with what was actually going on in the moment for me helped with [00:20:00]both depression — and I am a person who has suffered most of my life with social anxiety — and being able to be present with what was happening in my body, in the moment, helped me realize when anxiety was arising and, therefore, to deal with it better before it took me.

Lara:That’s fascinating, what you’re saying. So, instead of meditating… before, you were meditating to go somewhere else. Now, it’s “I want to feel in my body.” Is that what you’re saying?

Mary:Yes. Yes.



Lara:And that made a difference for you?

Mary:A very big difference in my daily life, and being able to, as she said, take mindfulness off the cushion and be very present in my body during my daily life really, mostly for me, even more so than depression, helped me with the social anxiety.

Lara:Give me an example of social anxiety that you have or that you did have, that you don’t anymore.

Mary:I was able… I would get very nervous and my body, actually, would shake, and my voice would tremble, and I would be unable to respond in ways that I was capable of responding and would often run from situations. You know? Find a way to politely dismiss myself from a meeting because I could no longer stand the physical aspect of being so anxious. With mindfulness present in my body, I could notice when a hand might start to shake or notice when butterflies started to arise.

Lara:You could just feel it and then just kind of let it…

Mary:Just sit with it. And, as she said, experience it in the moment, and rather than making a story about, “Oh, no. Here comes the anxiety and it’s going to get bigger…”

Lara:And to be afraid of it?


Lara:Instead, “Okay, it’s here. Let it go. Oh.”

Mary:Yes. Yes.

Betsy:And just as a scientific aside: When people ask, “Why should I do this?” There are all of the scientific answers. One of the things that we know is that introversion is a function of an overactive right hemisphere. Mindfulness meditation actually improves the function of the left hemisphere, and we find that people become less introverted, less shy, and more able to come forward and to be more optimistic because the left hemisphere is the optimistic hemisphere.

Lara:Beautiful. When we come back from break, we’re going to talk more about that. I am Lara Jaye with The Zen Leader. We’ll be right back.


Lara:Welcome back. I’m Lara Jaye with The Zen Leader. I invite you to email me any questions or comments on the show. You can email me at info@larajaye.comor meet me at my website, You can also find my guests today, Betsy and Mary, at the Sarasota Mindfulness Institute. Betsy, what is the website for you?

Lara:Tell me: Right now, you just started this week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, MBSR, an 8-week class. Do you have any room left for one or two people?

Betsy:We could probably take one or two. Yes.

Lara:Just one or two?


Lara:All right. When do you meet?

Betsy:Tuesday nights, 6:00 to 8:30pm. If somebody wanted to join the class, they would need to be in touch with me beforehand.

Lara:Got it.

Betsy:It’s not a drop-in.

Lara:And how could they get a hold of you? Through the institute? Through the website?

Betsy:Through the website.

Lara:Got it. All right. Right before break, we were talking with Mary and Betsy. Mary, tell me a little bit about your experience in the class.

Mary:In taking Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, MBSR class, I was reluctant at first. Then, the structure of the class really was an inviting container, each week focusing on some aspect of mindfulness in my life.

Lara:So, what Betsy was saying earlier about relationships or something not pleasant.

Mary:Pleasant experiences, negative.

Lara:Got it. Okay.

Mary:And then being able to come back and share that with a group who was going through the same experience, have questions about meditating. In our MBSR class, we ask people to meditate a minimum of 10 minutes a day. As a new meditator, there were many different physical experiences and mental experiences that came up. It was very nice to have a group that I could rely on weekly to go in and talk about those experiences, to hear other people’s experiences, and know that I wasn’t alone.

Lara:Were you ever scared meditating?

Mary:I wouldn’t say fear, like maybe a nightmare. But sometimes some uncomfortable and disconcerting things could come up in meditation, and it was very nice to have Betsy as a mentor and to also know that other peers in the group were having similar experiences.

Lara:And I feel like too often, when I’m meditating, things — especially if it’s something unpleasant that’s coming up — I feel like it’s stuck in my body and I can feel it. Meditation helps me to release that.


Lara:But again, that can be scary. But for new meditators out there, what would you… Mary, as you were new, walking into it, what would be your recommendations for new meditators?

Mary:Be patient with yourself and allow yourself to have whatever experience you have while you’re meditating. It’s okay if one day you sit down for your 10- or 20-minute meditation and you realize you spent the entire time sitting on the cushion thinking about whether or not you were meditating. That’s okay.

Lara:Grocery list. [LAUGHTER] Take the pressure off, right?


Lara:Yeah. Take the pressure off. I find that it doesn’t appear as if it’s useful, but it really was. It really is. But when we start throwing judgment on it, good or bad, it was a good meditation or it was a bad one or “I didn’t visualize anything this time,” or “Nothing came up.” Then, we, again, start throwing stories on it and make it even a bigger mess. Right?

Betsy:Yep. Yeah. If you really dig down in to the meditation itself – and while we’re a secular institute, I want to say that this practice does come out of the Theravada tradition, which is a Buddhist tradition, of Vipassana meditation. “Vipassana” can be roughly translated as “insight.”


Betsy:There is really sort of like two wings to this meditation. The first wing is one of developing stability or concentration – that we want to be able to stay present in this moment. We do that by focusing on the breath. There’s lots of traditional exercises, like counting “1” and taking a breath, counting “2,” taking another breath, and doing that up to 10, starting over, and then checking to see if you have some more stability. So, there’s all kinds of ways that we can help people to develop some ability to stay present in this moment, without the mind doing what it always does, which is to go all over the place, all the time. Well, what happens is it starts going less often and, in some ways, less far. Like we catch it more quickly.

Lara:So, the breath and counting. It seems so simple.

Betsy:It’s simple, but not easy, as Jon Kabat-Zinn says in “Mindfulness for Beginners.”

Lara:And you’re telling me and our listeners that it’s really going to make a difference if I start breathing and…?

Betsy:Yeah. Then what happens when we develop even a little bit of stability in our attention, now what we can do is open up awareness to the other wing, which is the insight wing. We begin to observe the mind like we would observe any other sense. For instance, if you are meditating on sound, you are able to hear the cars as they go by, the ceiling fan as it turns over your head, maybe your heartbeat, the bird that flies past the window and is singing while it’s flying. All of these noises – some of which are very constant, some of which come and go. Sometimes in my meditation I use sound as my object for focusing my meditation.

I can also, then, use the mind. I can sit there with a breath and I can observe when a thought arises, and I can observe what my reactivity to that thought is. By getting to that level, that’s where the “insight” piece comes in because we can begin to see the habitual patterns of reactivity.

Lara:We can see the things that trigger us.

Betsy:Yes. And we can feel the way in which the body responds to it. As we are taping this, today is Inauguration Day.


Betsy:Lots of people have lots of feelings about this day. Some people are joyously celebratory and some people feel angry and disenfranchised. Then there’s people in the middle. All of us have responsibility for what our reactivity is.

It’s the thing I’m sure we’re going to be talking about in our meditation group today. Our reading is on Sisyphus, which I think is just perfect that that’s the reading that we have for today. Sisyphus is sentenced to this eternal punishment of pushing [00:30:00]this giant boulder up the hill and then having it roll back down, and starting all over again.

Is it a punishment or is it not? If we just see each moment, as it is, sometimes we’re pushing the boulder up the hill. Sometimes we’re walking back down the hill to start all over again.

Lara:There’s an ebb and flow to life.

Betsy:Well, this is our lives. In every moment, we’re just doing what we’re doing. If the moment that I have a rock against my hands is simply this moment of having a rock against my hands, and it’s not a story about eternity, it’s just that in this moment in I have a rock against my hands. I am not in hell. I’m in mindfulness. So, the reactivity that we have to the situation is the suffering. What the insight meditation does is it gives us the ability to start understanding and having some compassion for our own reactivity.

Lara:Let me ask you about that. So, all of us have reactivity and things that trigger us into maybe saying things unkind. I know I have, myself, when something hits me, and it really has nothing to do with what was said, but it may be something from the past that was coming up for me, would you say that meditation and mindfulness will help that? Will help lessen the triggers?

Betsy:Yes. I love this expression that Charlotte Joko Beck has, which is that we begin to encounter life the way air encounters life. If you throw paint up, into air, nothing sticks. If we begin to see ourselves and work through these layers of filtering, and reactivity, and all of these perceptual biases we have, the fewer perceptual biases I have, the fewer things stick. This process is one where we begin to shed all of these limitations that we think that we have, all of these perceptual problems that we have. We begin to being open to what’s actually there.

Lara:And what’s actually happening.

Betsy:What’s actually happening. And then things don’t have to stick.

Lara:Then we’re not going around, being triggered as much, if we’re staying mindful.

Betsy:That’s right.

Lara:And life is so stressful, I feel like, especially for, in the world, today, and today with what’s happening, the inauguration and all that, all that the world is encountering, the people, and I feel like there are so many of us that are hurting in different ways, and we unknowingly hurt other people or trigger other people. We just don’t know what’s happening. I feel like meditation, if everyone could even take 5 minutes a day, would start something, some kind of practice. It would make a difference.

Betsy:Yeah. We’d have fewer downstream effects on ourselves and on others, and that’s a wonderful thing.

Lara:It is a wonderful thing. Mary, what about you? Have you found for yourself that the reactivity had lessened?

Mary:Yes. Most definitely. I found that during MBSR, probably about Week 6, I got it. I sort of opened up and really got how I was able to drive home from work and remember the drive home, rather than having the drive…

Lara:You were present.

Mary:Yeah. I was present for it, rather than it being a time where I was remembering everything I thought I had done wrong at work all day. Then, a couple of years after joining the Mindfulness Institute, I had a very serious surgery and I think mindfulness very much helped me through that, in that I wasn’t so worried about whether or not I was going to get better. I was able to be present with whether it was pain or whether it was healing and be really aware of feeling better each day.

Lara:Beautiful. Fascinating conversation today with the ladies from the Sarasota Mindfulness Institute. We will be right back after break.


Lara:I’m Lara Jaye with The Zen Leader. Welcome back. This morning we have Betsy Nelson and Mary Masi from the Sarasota Mindfulness Institute. Betsy, for a beginner just starting out, is there a class? Maybe they’re not quite ready for the 8-week class. Is there anything else that you can send them to at the Institute?

Betsy:Oh, yeah. Great question. There are two options: One is, if you want to just jump right in, we have drop-in meditations every Wednesday night at 6pm and every Friday at noon, for an hour. We don’t meditate for an hour. We meditate for about 25 minutes to half an hour and then there’s a book discussion and that kind of thing.

Then we also have — and this is really, I think, a lovely thing we have — a wonderful new teacher who has just moved to our community and she has been teaching meditation for many, many years and was actually the first person to be… I think the word is “ordained”… by Suzuki Roshi, who wrote the book “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.” Is that what it’s called?


Betsy:“Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.” One of my favorite books. It’s just lovely to have her here, so she’s teaching an Introduction to Mindfulness course for us and she’s doing one that starts this Thursday, but it’s full. Nobody else can join that class. We have 20 people signed up for the next one, so we’re really starting to plan these intro classes out. Currently, it’s 4 weeks, but I think we’re going to move it to 2 weeks and lengthen the sessions. But that’s a way to know what to expect when you get to the drop-in group. Some people are fine just coming to the drop-in group. We give pretty good instructions, so it should be comfortable.

Lara:And again, what’s the website where they can find your or a phone number? We don’t actually have a phone at this point.

Lara:Okay. Where are you located at?

Betsy:We are currently meeting at the Unitarian Universalist Church on Fruitville, just east of [Geneva?].

Lara:Okay. For a beginner starting to meditate, if they maybe cannot get to the Institute, what would you recommend for them to start? Just step one. What would be that?

Betsy:Great question. One would be Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book, “Mindfulness for Beginners.” Another would be to be seeking out guided meditations on the Internet, and Jon Kabat-Zinn has a number of those. Tara Brach, Jack Kornfield. These are a number of really wonderful teachers who have lots of guided meditations on the Internet.

Lara:Fabulous. Mary, do you, yourself, do anything else outside of the Institute? I know you do your own… you do things at the Institute and you do your own private meditations. Do you use anything else yourself?

Mary:I really enjoy walking meditation and I can be found on the beach.

Lara:What would that entail? Just walking and focusing?

Mary:Actually, just being present and feeling the sensation of the heel, the center of the foot, the toes, the shifting of the weight, the heel, the center of the foot, the toes, the shifting of the weight, and remaining present with actually the process of walking and feeling the sensation of the wind on the skin and the breath as you walk.

Lara:That feels a little bit different than if I was walking on the beach, talking on the phone or having the music blaring. Just a little.

Mary:Exactly. Yes. A little different.

Betsy:And Mary is also a very skilled Yoga teacher and the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction class has a Mindful Movement component to it, and at the Mindfulness Institute we have Mindful Movement classes. Currently, mainly Qigong and Tai Chi, taught by Nancy Saum. But Mary brings a beautiful mindful leadership to those Yoga classes and the Yoga component of the MBSR group.

Lara:So, Mindfulness Movement. You mentioned the walking. What were the other names? Tell me, Mary, do you want to talk a little bit about the movement? Normally, I think of meditation and I’m just sitting still, sometimes on the floor or whatever, so talk to me about that.

Mary:Mindful movement. It can take many forms, but the focus of the movement is being present with the sensation of moving the body. Through the beginning of a movement, whether it’s a motion and Tai Chi or Qigong, or getting into a Yoga pose. Usually, in Mindful Yoga, poses are held anywhere from 1 to 3 minutes. Feeling what it is to move the body into the pose and how the body changes over the course of remaining in the pose, and then the shift in the body as we get out of that pose and transition into the next, rather than using music or something where we are in our mind and anticipating. Being very, very present with movement and also breath.

Lara:For all of these things we’ve talked about today, and for our listeners who are running so hard, busy, busy, busy, as we all are, and numbing ourselves — possibly fast food restaurants — life is life and there is so much going on, and then we ask them, [00:40:00]“Okay, I need you to meditate 10 minutes a day and go for a walk on the beach, and take time and actually not answer emails while you’re walking on the beach or talking on the phone,” and I find that it’s hard to convince people oftentimes to get into this practice. Do you have that? Do you find that it’s almost like sometimes they need something, some kind of stress, something so stressful to catapult them into, “Okay, I’ve got to make changes”?

Betsy:Yeah. I don’t try to convince people. I think that our lives present us with whatever it is that we need to wake up when it is we need to wake up. Sometimes we just need to wake up and we find it out. Some people have medical crises and that’s when they learn that they need to wake up. I think it’s wonderful if it happens before you find yourself faced with a medical crisis, but that’s sometimes how it is for people.

Lara:Hence, for me, it was a divorce and a medical crisis that kind of sent me in to, “Okay, what am I going to do?” and I started with being still and then really learning what to do with mind chatter, and then, thirdly, meditation was what just opened me up to a whole new world of, “Wow, I can actually feel my body and I don’t have to fight it anymore.” I had such a disconnect with my body.


Lara:Tell me about the Institute. Is there any programs for that, the body and disconnect?

Betsy:Yeah. I’m glad you asked that question. We have a really lovely teacher named Lily Myers, who is also a licensed clinical social worker, and she does a Mindfulness and Body Image class a couple of times a year for women only. She does just a beautiful job with that. So, there is a mindful eating component to it… and I haven’t taken the class. Have you?

Mary:No, I have not.

Betsy:So I am a little bit guessing, but I know as much as anything she’s working with the feelings that arise around body image.

Lara:Body image. For women, especially, it’s so prevalent in the disconnect to our bodies, so I’m really excited that you guys are offering that. Tell me a little bit, Betsy, about the Institute. You are part of the Founding Fathers of it. You said in 2009. How has it changed from 2009 to now?

Betsy:Well, we could also be called the Vagabond Meditation Institute of Sarasota. We had a… if you want to learn about impermanency, just join us. We’ve had a number of different homes and we had a home for about 3 years on Dolphin Street, in our own studio, and we got to looking at our programming and realized that we were scheduling programming to support the space. What we really want to do more of — and are starting to do more of — is we want to take mindfulness out to non-profit institutions, to schools, to corporations. We have — I’m going to loosely call it a Speakers Bureau — and we are able to do programs for other organizations on mindfulness.

Lara:That’s so important. Especially, I feel like, in the schools and getting it out there. I know my own kids, after they graduated from high school, said, “Mom, I wish we would have learned how to handle stress.” Just the simple things. I taught them later, but it’s like they needed this when they were little. They needed this to grow with them.

Betsy:Absolutely. And the things that we teach kids first is how to pay attention. The teachers are always saying to them, “Pay attention,” but nobody teaches a kid how to pay attention.

Lara:They don’t.

Betsy:So, that’s what we do. We teach them how to pay attention in a way that’s interesting; not in a way… they’re not being scolded in any way. It’s like, “Let’s find this moment. Let’s find how to live our lives as we’re in our lives.”

Lara:And they don’t need medicine in order to pay attention.


Lara:Have you found that, in the school systems that you’ve gone out to, that it’s made a difference in whatever class or programs you’ve done?

Betsy:The teachers have told us that it does. We’ve only had some brief experiences with the kids, themselves. That’s kind of a long story. I won’t get in to that here. But we’ve done some programs in the Title I schools in Sarasota and then we are currently working in Manatee County, training teachers and administrators in mindfulness.

Lara:Wonderful. Any last words? What one thing, if you could get it out to our listeners, what would you say?

Betsy:Well, I’d want people to know that they will feel, I think, warmly welcomed if they just show up unannounced. It’s how almost all of us start. There’s no reason to be shy about coming to any one of our drop-in groups.

Lara:Great. Mary? What about you? Any last words?

Mary:Do it.

Lara:Do it.

Mary:And don’t ever fear that you can’t do anything wrong. It’s a process and it’s something to be patient with yourself about, but do do it because it works.

Lara:Fabulous. You ladies have been absolutely wonderful today, Betsy and Mary from the Sarasota Mindfulness Institute. Again, the website one more time?

Lara:I’m Lara Jaye with The Zen Leaderand I look forward to seeing you next week.