Most of us could use more mindfulness in our lives. Whether it’s fully present listening when someone is speaking, remembering to chew our food slowly and deliberately, accepting a triggered emotion when we get cut off while driving, or staying grounded in difficult parenting moments — there are ample opportunities to become a more conscious human being. One of the joys of working at a retreat center is the gift of supporting folks on their personal development intentions to become more mindful.
One of our key partners in providing mindfulness-based programs here at EarthRise, for the past 10 years, is the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness. UCSD Center for Mindfulness is a “multifaceted program of professional training, education, research, and outreach intended to further the practice and integration of mindfulness into all aspects of society.” They offer a broad range of mindfulness-based programs including their flagship Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Teacher Training (MBSR).
At their latest retreat, I was able to connect with UCSD Center for Mindfulness Associate Director, Christy Cassisa, to understand more about their work.
RUSTY: What exactly does the UCSD Center for Mindfulness do?
CHRISTY: At our Center in San Diego we offer a wide range of mindfulness-based programs to the public, including the eight-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindful Self-Compassion classes, our own mPEAK program, and various specialty classes for different populations such as for those in the workplace, youth, and parents. The Center also houses the Mindfulness-Based Professional Training Institute (MBPTI) through which we offer a Certification pathway for MBSR teachers as well as public retreat options.
RUSTY: What’s the history of the Center and what drives your work?
CHRISTY: We are part of the larger UCSD Health organization, housed within the Center for Integrative Health. Since it was founded over 15 years ago by Steven Hickman, PsyD, who began the Center for Mindfulness (CFM) teaching MBSR to cancer patients, the CFM has grown in the broad variety of programs and number of people trained. Over the last 10 years or so, various entrepreneurial spirits have made their way to the CFM, bringing with them ideas for programs for youth and parents, visions of training a more mindful workforce and leadership, and dreams of peak performance through neuroscience-supported mindfulness trainings. As a result, our CFM has grown from one man lugging meditation cushions around a hospital into a robust blend of mindfulness-based teachers, teacher-trainings, and unique offerings.
Broadly stated, our vision is to be an active facilitator of a more mindful and compassionate world. Specifically, our goal is to be a leader in the establishment and delivery of a variety of high-quality professional trainings and solid industry standards for teaching. We continuously innovate in the development and delivery of programs designed to reach those populations who could most benefit from the practice of mindfulness and compassion. And we want to participate in cutting-edge research to support the premise that these practices are truly impactful and have the capacity to improve the world.
RUSTY: What is the impact of your teacher training programs?
CHRISTY: Since 2014, we have had almost 600 people either moving through or completed the various stages of our Certification pathway, for MBSR, Mindful Self-Compassion, Mindful Eating, Conscious Living, Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy and our mPEAK teacher training programs. We also provide access to over 30 highly experienced mentors, who help guide and refine our teachers-in-training through the certification process for these programs.
RUSTY: What’s the future look like for the Center?
CHRISTY: We are so excited when we think about the future of our CFM! We have recently added Dr. Fadel Zeidan to our team. Dr. Zeidan is an amazing pain researcher and is also an assistant professor in the Anesthesiology department. He has been exploring non-opioid alternatives to pain management, including mindfulness and other meditation practices, through several NIH funded grants. He is also excited about future research potential around self-compassion and in collaborating with other departments within UCSD Health. I am also somewhat of a new addition, just recently having shifted from directing our Workplace Programs as a teacher to a more formal role as Associate Director, and will soon be moving into the Acting Executive Director, as Dr. Hickman steps back to focus on other endeavors.
Several of our programs have tremendous growth potential. Our mPEAK program, for example, which stands for Mindful Performance Enhancement, Awareness, and Knowledge, really shifts the focus of mindfulness from a wellness model to more of a performance model. It brings in concepts like flow, resilience, focus, and peak performance, and is one of the central offerings in a multi-year contract we are working on with the Department of Homeland Security. This program has shown great potential in terms of offering a unique doorway to mindfulness practice to those who might not otherwise be open to it. We’ve also developed an mPEAK teacher training program — really a “coach training” program — that is becoming very popular too.
We’ve been actively pursuing a greater integration within UCSD Health, bringing our expertise in mindfulness-based wellbeing to the healthcare providers within our own healthcare system. We are putting together MBSR programs for nurses and are exploring building a new program specifically focused on the health and resilience of physicians in the coming year.
With the explosion of mindfulness and self-compassion into the popular media, and the increasing wealth of research being conducted, we expect our retreat-based offerings through the MBPTI to continue to grow and we are also making particular efforts to welcome a more diverse range of participants. Our workplace programs continue to grow as well, as organizations of all kinds are realizing that investment in the health and wellbeing of their people pays for itself in numerous ways.
RUSTY: Why have you chosen EarthRise for your retreats?
CHRISTY: EarthRise is a special place with its rolling hills and wooded areas.This peaceful and serene setting is a wonderful environment to immerse oneself in the practice of being present and connected — to each other, to our community, and to this wonderful world we live in. And I definitely can’t forget to mention the fresh, healthy, and tasty meals that support our groups as we learn and practice. We are very happy to partner with EarthRise in our efforts to expand the reach of this important work.