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Teaching Mindfulness through Embodiment, Trauma Healing, & Evolutionary Leaps

Updated: Jul 1

In this episode, Dr. Fleet Maull speaks with James Frank of the Engaged Mindfulness Institute about embracing the role and responsibility of guiding others, applying mindfulness in demanding situations, healing from trauma, and fostering personal evolution.


  • Teaching methods and personal growth as a meditation instructor.

  • Teaching and taking your seat as a teacher.

  • Mindfulness and meditation in challenging environments.

  • Embodiment, trauma healing, and evolutionary leaps


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Fleet Maull, PhD, is a renowned meditation teacher and leading innovator in the mainstream mindfulness movement. He founded the Prison Mindfulness Institute, the Center for Mindfulness in Public Safety, the National Prison Hospice Association, and the Global Resilience Summit. He's also the co-founder of Engaged Mindfulness Institute, the Rwanda Bearing Witness Retreat, and The Best Year of Your Life Summit.


Dr. Maull is the author of Radical Responsibility: How to Move Beyond Blame, Fearlessly Live Your Highest Purpose, and Become an Unstoppable Force for Good and Dharma in Hell: The Prison Writings of Fleet Maull. Dr. Maull leads seminars, retreats, and prison programs worldwide. Through these events, he trains correctional officers and police in Mindfulness-Based Wellness and resiliency. https://www.fleetmaull.com/


Podcast Transcript


James Frank 14:51  

Welcome to this session for the Teaching Mindfulness Summit. I'm James Frank, and I'm joined by Dr. Fleet  Maull. Fleet, Welcome.  


Fleet Maull 15:00  

Thank you. It's great to be here.  


James Frank 15:03  

I'll read a brief bio about you. Fleet Maull is an author, Meditation Teacher, and Entrepreneur. He is a developer of Neuro-somatic mindfulness, the deeply embodied neuroscience and trauma-informed approach to meditation, offering an accelerated path to healing, awakening, and integration. He is both the Zen Roshi and the senior teacher in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. He founded HeartMind Institute,  an education platform for embodiment and resilience training courses and summits. He's also the founder of Prison Mindfulness Institute and National Prison Hospice Association, catalyzing two national movements while serving a 14-year sentence from 1985 to 1999. Dr. Maull is the author of Radical  Responsibility: How to Move Beyond Blame, Fearlessly Live Your Highest Purpose and Become an  Unstoppable Force for Good. So welcome, Dr. Fleet Maull.  


Fleet Maull 17:06  

Again, thank you for having me.  


James Frank 17:10  

To get started, would you tell us about your journey into mindfulness and how you became so involved in the mindfulness teaching world?  


Fleet Maull 17:22  

I think I was always a spiritual seeker from childhood. I came out of adolescence in 1968, graduating from high school, a classic, angry young man with some trauma background and family stuff. There was a big hole in my gut. I was looking for something real because I didn't feel particularly connected to the world I was in; it didn't feel so authentic. And so, I was searching and ended up traveling in Latin America for quite a while. But even before that, I read some books on Buddhism and Hinduism in high school.  And that was the first thing I read that made sense to me. And then I read a Zen book and realized, 'Oh,  that's me, that's what I am'. There wasn't a lot going on where I grew up. So, I had yet to have the opportunity to learn meditation or get involved with a meditation group.  


During my travels, I met a few people interested in similar things and started trying to practice on my own. As for books, I had a little book called The Secret of the Golden Flower, a Tao's book, and a little meditation manual with a foreword by Carl Jung. So I tried to do that on my own; it was like one step forward, two steps back; I didn't make a lot of progress. I knew I needed more support: a teacher or a teaching a community.  


I heard about the founding of the Naropa Institute, now called Naropa University, in 1974. I was living way up in the Andes Mountains in Peru, and someone brought a copy of Rolling Stone magazine; they had a big feature story about it. And I just knew I had to go there. By then, I had zeroed in on the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, my primary interest. Only a few books were published, but I had them with me: the Life of Padmasambhava and the Tibetan Book of the Dead.  


Anyway, I went to Naropa and earned my master's degree. There was a master's in Buddhist and  Western psychology, which is now called a master's in Contemplative Psychotherapy. It's an in-depth three-year clinical training program. I primarily went there to learn about meditation. I did that program and, in the process, also became a student of the founder of Naropa University, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. I was fortunate to become a close student of his and one of his attendants. I traveled with him a lot. I spent a lot of time with him and did a lot of programs and retreats. However, I still had this shadow life, this secret life that I developed, living as an expat and being involved in small-scale drug smuggling just to fund living outside the system. And so that continued, I would disappear once a year, keeping that secret from my teacher and community. I would go and generate some more money.  


My marriage was falling apart, and I was keeping all my problems at bay with money. I knew all this had to end. It was obvious there was such a disconnect between my deepening involvement in the Buddhist tradition and practice and my involvement in drugs and drug smuggling. But before I could undo it all, it caught up with me, and I ended up earning my way into a federal prison sentence. I spent 14 years in prison.  


But by that time, I had received extensive training and education, both in Western and Eastern traditions and meditation, in particular. So when I got to prison, all the craziness stopped; I was incredibly motivated to transform my life and to serve. My son was nine years old at the time, and I wanted to leave a better legacy for him than his dad went to prison or died in prison. I was not sure that I would get out. And so that was my monastery or ashram time; I was dedicated. I had a job, a day job, I taught prisoners to read and get their GED, and so forth.  


But apart from that, I was dedicated to practice, study, and service. I was involved in my 12-step recovery work and helped to start the first hospice program in prison-anywhere. I led a meditation group for 14  years there. I spent several hours meditating and studying; I would get up very early, at four o'clock in the morning, practice more, and study more. And so I was driven, practicing, like my hair was on fire, as they say.  


That was a very transformative time for me. I got out in 1999, and I've had nothing but opportunities to serve ever since. I started Prison Dharma Network, also known as Prison Mindful Institute; we also have a division called the Engaged Mindfulness Institute, which is putting on this summit. I started that while I  was in prison in 1989 and it's been growing ever since. It's a thriving organization today that brings  Mindfulness-Based Emotional Intelligence and Dharma programs to incarcerated citizens all over North  America and worldwide. We also have a Path of Freedom program, a Mindfulness-Based Emotional  Intelligence curriculum.  


 For the last 15 years, we've been bringing mindfulness to correctional officers, probation and parole officers, other public safety professionals, the community, police, and first responders. And so that's been a big part of my life and my work. It's been going on for quite a while, here we are in 2024.  


James Frank 23:07  

You've had such an extensive career of practice, study, and becoming an elder teacher in this world of mindfulness teaching. And I'm curious: with that range of experience, having both formal Dharma training and this more secular mindfulness approach, what qualifications do people need to become effective teachers? What are some of the things you think people would need to prepare to become teachers?  


Fleet Maull 23:52  

Well, one thing is certain: a strong practice foundation is the critical component. I'll just mention one other thing. While I was in prison, I got very interested in the work of the Zen teacher, Bernie Glassman, who was integrating social action and Zen. It resonated with me, so I wanted to get involved with that. I  asked permission from my teacher, and they granted that. So, I've been practicing in both the Tibetan  Buddhist and Zen traditions for a long time now and have become a teacher in both.  


I referenced that because Bernie Glassman took a very open, broad approach to Zen. He was always very involved in interfaith work. He trained Catholic nuns, Jesuit priests, Catholic priests, Sufi imams, and rabbis as Zen teachers. He empowered them as Zen teachers.  

Although we had a Buddhist meditation group, the vast majority of people who came to it were not  Buddhist. And so I'd always been learning how to present these practices fairly universally. It wasn’t absent of the spiritual component, but it is still in a pretty universal way to be accessible to more people.  


So, the Prison Dharma Network was initially developed as a support network for both prisoners and prison volunteers who were interested in Dharma Buddhism, particularly meditation. But over the years,  it became more interfaith. We have a lot of people involved at Prison Dharma Network who are teaching  Christian meditation, yoga, Contemplative Judaism, and many other forms. And then, along the way, we wanted to be able to access the world of prisons. We wanted to serve incarcerated citizens beyond the prison chapel venue because many prisoners never go to the chapel. They might be involved in drug education programs or other personal development programs. So, we wanted to get mindfulness into the correctional system in a more secular way. And once we started working with correctional officers,  we had to become more secular.  


To give a little background, I am deeply committed to faith-based and Dharma-based work in the world. I'm also very involved in the secular mindfulness movement. I have been very inspired by Jon Kabat Zinn's work and have trained with him, Saki Santorelli, and others.  

I think the primary prerequisite for teaching mindfulness is to be a mindfulness practitioner. That may seem obvious, but in today's culture, I'm not sure it's so obvious. I think sometimes, we all want it now.  And the traditional ideas of apprenticing are not very popular concepts in the world today. People may want to do a weekend program. If somebody's relatively smart and clever, they can do something beneficial, and develop a following without really being a deep practitioner themselves.  


But in the end, I don't think that's so beneficial.  In our work with Engaged Mindfulness, we bring mindfulness to sectors where there is a lot of trauma,  people in communities have been placed at risk, under-resourced and marginalized, and so forth.  


Anybody coming into any mindfulness class, even if they are a regular middle-class person coming to the local Y to learn about mindfulness, I think they're yearning for something. And I think what they're yearning for is depth, change, and transformation. I think they need and want somebody who can model that. It doesn't mean you have to be enlightened, but that at least you have a practice and you're a committed practitioner. It’s vital to have some experience so that when you teach or offer the practice,  you do so from within your practice. You're not doing it conceptually or as something you've done a bit but haven't deeply embodied or internalized.

  

We train aspiring mindfulness teachers to teach from an embodied place of practice. When they offer instruction or give a little talk at a mindfulness class, they are practicing while they are doing that. They are embodied and self-aware, aware of their body, breath, and vocal tone. They are present and aware of the environment.  


Facilitating or teaching mindfulness is a practice that you're practicing as you do it. How much you practice determines your ability to do that authentically and skillfully.  

 I think that's the first prerequisite: having a consistent daily practice. In the community in which I was trained, I trained with Trungpa Rinpoche. We had a role called 'Being a meditation instructor'. That role was somebody who was a little further ahead than you; it didn't mean they were a Dharma teacher.  Some became Dharma teachers, but they just met somebody a bit further along who had been trained.  


The training to become a meditation instructor was quite intense. There was a lot of role-playing and figuring out how to handle various situations. If you were going to continue in your role as a meditation instructor, you needed to maintain a daily practice of an hour a day, so that when you were guiding the practice, it wasn't from your memory. For example, perhaps you had practiced a lot in the past but were not practicing that much today. In that case, your guidance would be coming more from memory.  That is not fresh, it's not real, it's not being right there in the moment.  


I think it's that commitment to a daily practice and to continued deepening, as well as to doing at least one teacher-led silent mindfulness retreat a year. It’s essential to undertake ongoing study and commit to being a lifelong learner. It’s vital that you're continually working to deepen your practice and your understanding. One must be engaging in continuing education to improve one's teaching skills. It's that kind of commitment to ground one's practice.  

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James Frank 31:13 

Having gone through your program, I can attest to the really strong foundation that Engaged Mindfulness  Institute teacher training provides. I've seen you in that role and experienced your teaching flavor. But I  imagine people are watching who don't know your style. And so, I'd like to know if you could tell us a bit about your particular teaching style and its development. Is it different from when you first started? And what are some of the things you value and include now that weren't there 20 or 30 years ago?  


Fleet Maull 31:53  

The way I understand teaching, sharing the practice, and introducing the practice has certainly changed and evolved over the years. We're very fortunate at Engaged Mindfulness Institute to have quite an incredible online faculty, as well as the teachers who lead our groups and so forth, all very senior and deep practitioners. We're very fortunate and we're very confident that students are going to encounter somebody who has that depth of practice.  


Over the years, I have experienced two primary changes. One is steadily practicing in a more deeply embodied manner and then, over time, teaching practice in that way. My first teacher, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, emphasized the synchronization of body and mind and a deeply embodied approach.  


When we first learn to practice some kind of mindfulness, we tend to practice above the shoulders, up in the head, because we have this incredible discursive, busy mind. And so we're getting caught in thoughts and coming back and caught in thoughts and coming back, and the whole thing is happening up here, it’s mostly a cognitive exercise. I struggled in that way for quite a while, even though I was receiving good instruction.  


Then, I began to realize that for myself, and then after Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche's death, I continued studying with other teachers who also emphasized this deeply embodied approach.  


As neuroscience started coming more online, I started understanding a lot more about accessing the body's internal landscape through what's known as interoception, our body's capacity to perceive the internal somatic landscape.  


My practice became steadily more embodied by exploring that internal somatic landscape to its depths, literally down to the bones. Continuing my study of neuroscience relates directly to that.  


 Today, I teach in a very embodied way. If you come into my class, it's going to be hard to miss that because I hammer on that and guide people deep into their bodies. I realize it's not easy when you ask someone to feel their body.  


Often, people come to me on a break and ask what I am talking about. They don't get it. I’ll ask them if they feel their hand, and often, they don't. So then I'll do an exercise with them. I'll have them place their hand on a table and focus their mind until they start feeling, and sometimes, it comes alive. They begin feeling sensations in the hand.  


So, we're so disconnected from our bodies in Western culture. A friend of mine says that in Western culture, our bodies have been relegated to being nothing other than brain taxis, just like a taxi, a vehicle to carry these supercomputers around.  


 I think it takes a solid intentionality to drop in as a body. It's very effective because developing a deeply felt sense of the body anchors us in the moment. When we're practicing from the shoulders up, it's challenging because it's all cognitive, But when we bring the body into it and feel the body, it helps anchor us in the moment. That is much more tangible.  


Current neuroscience shows that by focusing on the body and doing what my teacher Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche called 'Synchronizing Body and Mind,' we're facilitating a shift from the default mode network, a set of neural networks in the brain that has its purpose.  


In modern humans, it is somewhat overactive. It's that ruminating, busy part of the mind that is constantly thinking about the past and future, what other people are doing, self-sensing our opinion, etc.  


That chatterbox up there makes it hard for people to meditate when they first try. So that's the default mode network. But when we focus, the mind gets quiet. You may not be able to sustain that, but it will for a moment. So when we focus on the body, we yoke our attention to the felt experience of the body. It is not so much that we look or observe the body but rather feel it directly. Initially, there's a sense of observing and feeling. And then it's like being the body; that's one practice trajectory.  


This facilitates a shift from the default mode network to what's called the task-positive network,  which stabilizes attention. And those two networks, at least to a degree, it's a little bit of an oversimplification of brain science, but it's still valid, at least to a degree, they're mutually inhibitory. So, to the extent that you bring on the task positive network, the default mode network starts to go offline. 

 

That's also wonderful for our practice because we don't have to struggle with thoughts. The mind will quiet down gradually by itself. You know, a lot of people get the idea of meditation that it is about not having those thoughts, and they struggle with their thoughts. And, of course, you try to push thoughts away; they just come back with a vengeance, right? So, the real, actual instruction is just to let your thoughts be there. But if we don't have that felt sense of body, then thoughts are like rush hour traffic; it can be really hard to make progress.  


So, emphasizing the body helps people settle much more quickly, stabilize the tension much more quickly, and then have access to deeper states of awareness much more quickly because there are a lot of people who begin mindfulness practice because somebody told them it was good for you. They read about it and try it, but they quit because it's too hard. It's too dull. They're not having a positive experience with it. But we're good instruction people very quickly can go 'Oh, yeah, this is doing something, I feel something.'


So that's one part of the embodied approach. The other part is becoming more trauma-informed in your teaching style. We've learned a lot about trauma in the last several decades. In our work, we engage with many well-known clinicians and therapists, people like Bessel van der Kolk, Peter Levine, Pat Ogden, many others, David Treleaven, and Steven Porges Polyvagal theory, and so we are very intent on this trauma-informed approach.  


And so that's shifted away a lot of people teaching. In the old days, we used a lot of what was called command language. So, now sit up straight, follow your breath, you know, come back, right?  It was all this kind of imperative command language. And now the shift is more towards Invitational language. And using present participle, you know, so now, you know, sitting up straight with a relatively upright posture and finding that place where you feel you're able to sort of sustain your practice.  


Now, you're invited to bring your attention, right? So, Invitational language, present participle language. And also, giving people options, giving people options for different objects of mindfulness, where we focus our attention, right? It could be the body, it could be the breath, but for some people, that might be too triggering, so we can offer people the option of focusing on sound or something outside the body, right?  


So, just having a sense of meeting people where they're at and realizing when we're teaching classes,  there could be a diversity of folks in a room. While some may be able to do the way it's traditionally presented, others may need different options and choices. So that's not all there is. But that's some of the primary parts of the trauma-informed approaches to sharing the practice. That's influenced my style of teaching a lot over the last two decades.  


James Frank 40:51  

You are a very dynamic and interesting character. You have been tremendously influential. I want to ask you one more personal question and then shift over to something about teaching skills and methods. As you look back on your journey of being a mindfulness teacher for 50 years now, what have been certain developmental milestones or points along the path, where things have shifted, and you have found yourself in a different embodiment as a teacher, or you have approached the path or the whole view of teaching in a different way. Things of that nature.  


Fleet Maull 41:42  

Well, I've been practicing for over 50 years now, but I haven't been teaching. I started what you could call teaching as a meditation instructor in Trungpa Rinpoche’s community, then called Vajradhatu. And so I  began doing that more than 40 years ago. My earlier opportunities to support others in their practice were being a meditation instructor at programs, weekend programs, and some longer programs or retreats, where the students would have an interview with their meditation instructor once a day, usually.

  

Doing that, then having regular students, ongoing students where I lived in the community, meeting with them once a month, and supporting them in their practice was a start. It was a particular sharing style, not being a teacher, per se. It's more of a supportive role; you're supporting people in their practice,  checking in with them, really helping them clarify their practice, making sure their technique is sound,  and clarifying, helping them with their posture and helping them you know, keep coming back to good technique, which is training ourselves to be with our experience as it is moment to moment. And with nonjudgement, openness, curiosity, and so forth.  


So that was my experience of working with people for quite a while, and then there were also some extended programs. In that role, I would also facilitate discussion groups. Our principal teacher, Trungpa  Rinpoche, would be giving teachings. Then, the following day, there would be a discussion group about that talk, so learning to be a good facilitator and holding that seat as a facilitator.  


Through those programs, I was getting training from Chögyam Trungpa. Every one of those large programs, which we used to call Vajradhatu Seminary, was a three-month program, a three-month intensive retreat, or a residential retreat, where he covered the whole path. And so when I was at those, we'd have ongoing teacher training groups with Chögyam Trungpa, and so I learned a lot that way.  


Experiencing his teaching was incredibly inspiring, to say very the least. But there were also other senior teachers in our community, and so learning from each of them shaped my understanding, and then I found myself in prison. I was able to start a meditation group eventually, they weren't very open to it, but I managed to get one going. But we initially had one meeting a week, and then eventually, we had two meetings a week, three hours on Saturday and two hours on Wednesday evenings.  


You have to be careful when you're a prisoner in a prison. It's a very egalitarian environment. You don't want to stick your head off too much. Also, the staff and the administration are not comfortable with prisoners being in roles of any kind of authority. And with your fellow prisoners, you don't want to seem like you're something else.


So, I tried to take a facilitative role in leading that group. But clearly, I was leading the group. It was a beginner's group, and we had new people every week. It was just whoever showed up. I'd go down and set out the cushions for whoever showed up. It was a very transitory place, a federal prison hospital, and the general population came and went. The average sentence was maybe a year. I was there for 14 years. Most people didn't like being there. They wanted to go back to other institutions.  


It was a facility to accommodate inmates for medical and mental health. And they might be there for a couple of months at a time, six months at a time. And so there was a lot of turnover. So now and then, I  had somebody that got involved and stuck with a group and was a mainstay for a year, two, or three years. There were always people, so I was always giving instructions. I gave meditation instruction twice a week to newcomers for 14 years. So I got a lot of experience doing that, which was great training and good experience.  

I also showed a lot of videos because I didn't want to be so much in the role of the teacher, so I set myself up that way. So, I convinced the chapel to be able to order various Dharma videos online. We also had a lot of tapes from retreats that Joseph Goldstein and Jack Kornfield did. We had some Zen  Teachings from John Daido Loori, who was in my Zen lineage. We had a few teachings by  Tibetan teachers. And so we had a few things. So I would tend to introduce practice, give people feedback, show videos, and lead a discussion about what we watched today, it was kind of that approach. I was trying to model and was very serious about my practice at that point. Like I said, I was practicing like my hair was on fire. And so, hopefully, I was modeling something.  


That went along for those 14 years. I met with our lineage holder when I got out, and he asked me to start teaching. And so along the way, I started teaching at different levels and became a senior teacher in that tradition. And I also began studying with Bernie Glassman while I was in prison. He had ordained me as a novice priest, and when I got out, he started inviting me into more teaching. Eventually, I became a Dharma holder, which is kind of like an apprentice teacher role. And then eventually, he made me a Sensei, and then, a few years back, he made me a Roshi about a year before he passed.  


So for the last 20 years, I've been doing a lot of teaching, in the Dharma context. In a more formal sense, and also still working with many students, one-on-one and so forth. And then through our prison work, leading classes in prisons, you know, a lot, all the way up until the pandemic began. And then all that got shut down with the lockdowns. But I'd also started not only teaching classes in prisons, but I was also doing a lot of work with correctional officers, probation, parole,  and other first responders. During the pandemic, we moved all that online. And now it's come back; it's in-person and hybrid. I'm doing that a lot.  

 I haven't had the opportunity to be back in prison so much, teaching classes with prisoners. I hope to do that, and I aspire to do that. But I'm working with correctional officers and probation/parole officers all the time. I was just up in Canada last week, leading programs and often teaching a lot of online programs.  


So, I've been teaching a Buddhist class in prison. I tried to present it in a very open way. I have been out for 24 years now and have been very actively teaching both in a Dharma context and in a secular or mainstream context.  


The other thing is my involvement with the Zen peacemakers. It's always been about integrating Zen with social action work. And so, the bearing witness work has been a big part of my life, leading street retreats and being one of the leaders of various bearing witness retreats, including the annual retreat at Auschwitz Birkenau. So there's that, that's another kind of teacher role. It's all grounded. It is contemplative, the bearing witness retreats are contemplative, and meditation is part of the retreat, not the whole retreat. So, I've been in various leadership roles and facilitated roles. So it's kind of all over the map like that.  


James Frank 50:21  

 I'm compelled to ask you about when you spoke about these qualities of the rigor of what it is to become a teacher and how much training you've had to go through once you've ended up taking that seat as the teacher. Would you be willing to share how when you go into a classroom, either in a Dharma context or secular mindfulness, when you take that seat, what's happening inside of you? I asked that because I think the naming of what's happening internally for you points to how we take the seat and embody what it is to be a teacher, a teacher of integrity, and to be able to serve and guide.  


Fleet Maull 51:11  

My first teacher, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, used the term 'taking your seat'; he used it for practice in general. He talked about this idea of taking your seat and holding your seat, which comes from the dressage tradition. In this equestrian tradition dressage, when you're riding even at full gallop, your butt doesn't come off the saddle; you're just joined with the horse, it's a different way of riding, and you have to learn to be in complete unison with the horse.

  

His wife was a dressage master and still is. He had been trained as a rider in Tibet but was trained in this dressage. And so they use that expression of hold your seat, hold your seat, and how you create it. In dressage training, you learn to establish your seat, having a good seat on a horse, and that was the idea to hold your seat.  


And then, in the Dharma context, there are also various traditions; there's the idea of taking your seat, or in the Zen tradition, the Abbot, when they advance, becomes abbot and step up to the high seat. So there is also this idea when you take your seat as a teacher. In the tradition I've been trained in, a supportive role of supporting teachings, we're trying to help provide a seat for the teacher and a suitable context. So they feel they have a seat. It's not like they stumble into some funky room, and you have to pull a chair over here and sit down. No, somebody has created a situation for you that has some dignity.  


Of course, that's not the case in prison programs. In a prison program, you grab a seat, sit down, and just create wherever you can. But we had this idea of how to create a seat and how to take your seat correctly. And the way of taking your seat that I was trained in, whether as a practitioner on your meditation cushion or as a teacher, sitting in whatever teaching situation begins with not knowing, it begins with a non-conceptual mind. It begins with letting go of any ideas you have about the practice, teaching, who you are, and any role, just letting all that go. And dropping into a place of deep humility and not knowing.  


And then from that place, remembering, what is your intentionality? What's your intention? What's your purpose here? So when you're taking a seat for practice, you intend to train yourself, train your mind, and eventually liberate yourself, awakening for the benefit of all beings. So when you take the teaching seat, your intention and purpose are to serve, to be of service, and to support other people in taking their seat in their practice, right? And to support people in their journey. So you want to be of help. And it's all about service. It's not about me being a teacher; it's about letting go of all that and then dropping into a non-knowing and non-conceptual mind, and I don't care what arises.  


What am I doing here? I'm here to serve. I'm here to support people, and I'm here to benefit people who are interested in the practice and want to move forward in their practice. So you must come back to that intention. And then you begin practicing, whether you're sitting on a metal folding chair in a prison class, or you know, you're at some Dharma Center. You're sitting on a unique chair they have for the teacher, or you're just sitting up on a cushion, maybe at the stand with the bell or whatever situation you're in, however plain or more ceremonial. You take your seat, and that way, you drop into a knowing/nonconceptual mind. Do I remember what I am doing here? What's my purpose (which is to serve)?  

And then you begin practicing, you practice mindfulness of the body, mindfulness of breath, you're practicing, you're practicing self-awareness, you drop into practice. From that place, you connect with your audience, whoever is there, and whatever arises.  


You may come in with a talk you're going to give, you may have some notes, it is good to be prepared, it's good to have some note cards, bullet points and what you're going to do. But even before you go to that,  you've already dropped in on not knowing, dropped in on a nonconceptual mind, remembered your purpose, and put that in the forefront of your mind. I'm here to serve. I'm here to be of benefit. Really,  from a place of deep humility, you begin practicing.  


Another thing that can be pretty helpful, and certainly was for me, it was very dominant is to bring to mind your lineage of teachers. Remember all the teachers you benefited from, and have a sense they're right there with you. For me, that was inescapable. It was like Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche was right there. I could feel his hot breath, breathing on my neck right now. I was like, 'Okay, I hope I get this right,' but we can consciously bring to mind all those who practiced before us and all those we've benefited and received this teaching from and just ask them to be present because we need all the support, we want to do a good job.  


And then we're in the practice and connect with the audience. We let what we're doing arise out of that, out of being present and practicing, and that's nonconceptual mind/ humility, and then see what the energy is there. What do people need? Again, we might have some note cards, and we might have a prepared talk. And we may very well give that, or maybe something arises that we see something else is needed, and we do that. But anyway, we're working that way. And then, you know, if we do move into, from giving a short talk of some kind, and then into dialogue, and question and answer to various kinds, then there's another set of skills on how to do that, which is some of the most challenging and our teacher training programs, that's probably the most challenging part of the learning, which you can attest to, I'm sure, is learning how to facilitate various kinds of q&a and dialogue, inquiry,  and things like that.  


James Frank 57:36  

Is there a story or a moment that comes to mind where you came to a class and maybe had your sense of how things were going and arrived there ready, centered yourself in this way you're describing, and then it just took a different turn? And there you were, having to meet that moment.  Something that highlights what you have been speaking to. You’ve taught in various settings; I've always learned so much from those stories.  


Fleet Maull 58:09  

Wow, there are a lot. Teaching in prisons, you never know what's going to happen. You're in there trying to create a particular environment. And, then suddenly, the loudspeakers are going off. There are constant interruptions, and suddenly, over the loudspeaker, you hear 'Med-line, Med-line,' and two-thirds of your class all get up and walk out, and you are just starting your talk. They all get up and walk out, and they go to Medline. Then, they come back after having taken their psychotropic meds pretty quickly in a different state of mind.  

Once, I was leading a program, and a gentleman in the front row, very shortly into what I was offering, loudly exclaimed ‘You.' And that took me aback a little bit, but then I was like, 'Oh, wow, okay, this is interesting. Okay, let's watch. Let's explore what this is about. And we got into a whole very interesting dialogue. He needed that one-on-one attention right off the bat. He wouldn't wait for me to get through a talk; he needed that there and then, which worked out quite interesting.  


So, you must be nimble and willing to go with the flow. You know, I've had a lot of training in all kinds of facilitation modalities, and even to this day, the training I received at Naropa University back in the late 1970s still serves me very well. It was a deep three-hour clinical training program. We were always in some kind of psychotherapeutic group work the whole time. There was a lot of guessthought work, Tavistock work, and all kinds of things.  

 I've also been involved in council work and a circle process for a long time. I was trained at the Ojai Foundation and with Jack Zimmerman, Virginia Coyle, Gigi Coyle, and others on expression and council work. Council has some basic principles. It's a listening and dialogue process as fundamental principles.  But when something disruptive happens, someone's not going along with the principles, creating some big disruption. We might initially think, well, you're messing with my group here. Instead, there's an expression, 'Go with a slide', which comes from winter driving. When you're driving a car, and it starts to slide, you don't want to jerk it back the other way. You're just going to slide more and spin. You turn into the slide until you get traction, gradually bringing yourself back to where you want to go. 

 

So, 'Turning into the Slide' is an expression. And so we turn in there. And actually, we could appreciate it,  because there's life in the room, that's what's alive. And so, there have been many situations like that,  whether in the general public, I've had it prison. I've gotten up in front of police officers, with a roomful of 80 or 100 police officers who had to be there for their mandatory training. So they're already pissed off and bored and whatever. But one time, about two-thirds of the police officers were in uniform, on duty, and had their guns on them. They were packing, they were armed. I never got in front of a room of armed people to give them a lecture. About one-third were in civilian clothing and weren't armed, but about two-thirds were.  


James Frank 1:02:10  

Not very warm and inviting, and not necessarily ready to hear what you had to say.  


Fleet Maull 1:02:13  

It's not warm and inviting, right? I mean, you go to your nice, average middle-class Dharma Center, and you can pretty much get away. People are going to be nice and courteous, but with groups like that, they're not going to be right off the bat; they'll just interrupt you and so on.  


I've also worked with my colleague, Vita Pires, our executive director at Engaged Mindfulness Institute, and the primary host for this summit. We've done work in halfway houses and post-release facilities. And communities where people are coming out of homelessness and coming out of jail or prison, and or places where they get job training and some housing and off some, some drug and alcohol recovery work. And so we've facilitated many mindfulness classes in those places, and we have had fights break out and all kinds of crazy stuff.  


Anyway, you need to be able to go with the flow. If you're practicing, if you take that seat, and you drop into not knowing, with open-mindedness, curiosity, and humility, then if you're practicing and stuff comes up, there is more spaciousness there. If you're practicing, you work with it. If you come in there and have this agenda, like, ‘I'm the teacher, I'm sitting down, I've got my outline, I'm going to do my class, and those people better like it.’ If you're doing your thing, you have the structure, and you're completely thrown off, something happens, and you need to restructure.  


So it's good training, and good training in that way. It comes back to our core practice. Again, Chogyam  Trungpa Rinpoche used that expression, hold your seat a lot. So that's the essential practice even the minute you put your butt on the cushion, the minute you take your seat on a meditation cushion or chair. I  might have heard Jack Kornfield say, or some dharma teacher say, 'The practice is you plant your butt on the cushion and then take what you get, you take what comes'.  


Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche talked about holding your seat like in dressage; you hold your seat regardless of what arises. If you commit to sitting for a half hour, you're going to sit there, and you're just going to be with whatever is arising, whether it's peace and calm and bliss or chaos and anger and frustration and panic and fear. Whatever, you hang in there, and you sit with it; you just be with it.  


When you do intensive retreat practice, too, a lot of intense stuff can come up. When I  was doing my retreats in prison, I was fortunate to be able to work my way, and it took me a couple of years to get into a single cell, I was able to hang on to it. There weren't very many of them, but I was staying out of trouble. Although, at times, I was on the verge of losing. Not intentionally, but stuff happens. But I had the good fortune of having that. And they gave me a week's vacation a year. So I  could put nine days together and do a nine-day solitary retreat in my cell. I'd only leave to go to the bathroom. And I get some stuff from the commissary, like these ramen noodles. I could go heat up and microwave them. So I left my room as little as possible and was able to practice like that.  


 I had some intense experiences, like a storm of negativity and discursive negativity, feeling under attack by darkness, and so forth. And I would remember, hold your seat, hold your seat, hold your seat,  hold your seat. There was another time when I was doing intensive practices, and it opened up something, and I was just flooded with this dark underworld energy and imagery and stuff. I was flooded with that for about two months while I continued to do my practices; I was doing this particular purification practice. And it was 24/7. I'm out there in the middle of 100 guys, and my mind is flooded visually, technically, with this craziness. And I sit there, like, 'Hold your seat, hold your seat,  hold your seat'. And if I had gone to talk to a psychologist, I would have been in the lockup. So, hold your seat, hold your seat, hold your seat. So training on how to hold your seat is really, as a teacher or a practitioner. It's the same practice. It's the same practice.  


James Frank 1:07:28  

I'm so glad you took us there, as it related to another question I had. It's such an amazing thing to hear those personal stories and just what teachings they are in and of themselves. Looking at the clock, I see we just have a few minutes left. I wish we had many more hours, as there are so many different points.  


When you look at the world we live in today, the multiple crises we're facing, and the role of mindfulness, how would you shape the ideal mindfulness teacher within everything you share to be fit to serve in these times? I imagine many people who are either already mindfulness teachers or are considering becoming one are listening. They may want to know how to establish that profound capacity you're naming has been an integral part of your development. As I've heard you say, 'There's no substitute for hours on the cushion.' As you said, we live in a world of quick fixes. With that in mind, what would be your parting words to that person who wants to become a teacher and serve,  recognizing the tremendous feat it is to serve today?  


Fleet Maull 1:09:12  

This may sound a little heavier and confrontational, but first, I would say to examine our aspiration to teach, like, what's that all about? And maybe even set that aside for a moment and focus more on the aspiration to develop as a practitioner, to practice and awaken, to go deep into my conditioning or confusion, and work on liberating or purifying that. Becoming more focused on healing,  and doing one’s work. And if we do that, life will call us into a service role. It has a way of doing that.  


The traditional Dharma lineage has changed a bit now, but traditionally, you didn't ask to become a teacher. If you did, that was a surefire way never to be invited back. It was the teachers, the current lineage holders that would invite you, they'd recognize something in you. They'd recognize your commitment to practice, and they recognize some capacity and potential to be of service. Then they would invite you to training. And then it was a lengthy apprenticeship without guaranteeing you'd ever be permitted to teach. And if you started, 'Hey, when am I going to be able to teach?', you will get at least another three years of training. That was the traditional way. And, of course, that's so out of step with the way people are today. You want to sign up for a program and be guaranteed in three months that you'll get your certificate and you'll be able to do this and that.  


Keeping that in mind, I would invite people to think about what drives their inspiration to teach.  And it's probably a mixed bag. There's probably some genuine, altruistic intention to serve there. No doubt, I'm sure there is. But there also could be some things that are more about ego needs. And it's okay. We're all human beings. But just recognizing that and my desire to deepen my practice and liberate myself is as deep and robust as this impulse I feel towards being a teacher. And if it's not, I think I would shift my focus until that inspiration to go more profound is the primary driver. And then, the time will come. And it doesn't mean we have to wait for enlightenment to be a teacher or that we have to practice for 20 or 30 years.  


 I also think there's a significant need for people who can share their practice. We don't have to be teachers to share the practice. People can share the practice with family and friends. And if you can do that with humility, say, 'I'm not a teacher, but I read this book, I'm practicing, and it's helping me. We could read this book together and talk. I can give you a little beginning instruction, and you can read out of the book’. Eventually, doing one of these programs would probably be good for you.  


We can help each other out that way; each one teaches another different ideas. But we don't present any notion that we're in any kind of teacher role. And then you can still get involved, you're facilitating, and you're supporting people on their path, right? So always hold this idea of being a teacher very lightly because we do need a lot more people out there who can offer their practice.  


Given what you said about the times we're in, I think the more people with the opportunity to practice, receive good basic instruction, and be supported in their practice, the better. We need a lot of facilitators, teachers, mentors, guides, and support. So I say, approach that with a lot of humility and almost forget about this teacher label until life calls you into that if it does.  


There are teachers who either give you permission to teach or ask you to teach. Or perhaps there is someone who does their own thing, practices a lot, empowers themselves, and goes out, and they may eventually end up being helpful. The simplest thing I could say is that if you aspire to teach, practice a lot.  


James Frank 1:14:24  

Thank you so much, it’s so rich to hear from you. You offer us such an embodied quality. I have  one final wrap-up question,  


Fleet Maull 1:14:49  

I thought that was the last one ;)  


James Frank 1:14:51  

Just one more. Where do you see the evolutionary edge taking us? There are so many evolutions happening in the fields of neuroscience, trauma-informed healing, and mindfulness. It's all accessible now. Where do you view this to be taking us?  


Fleet Maull 1:15:11  

It is amazing what is accessible. I'm kind of an optimist by nature, and although has been tougher the last few years. I'm an optimist by nature, and we have all the classical wisdom available to us from all the world's wisdom traditions and indigenous traditions. We have so much available to us. There is so much you can study. I'm constantly studying all the different meditation traditions, secular, dharma, and faith-based; cross alternative, I'm just continually studying; there's so much available.

  

We then have more information and wisdom about trauma and understanding trauma. Like anything, we can get a bit faddish and go overboard with things sometimes. But still, it’s helpful that we're much more trauma-aware and have a better sense of how to work with diverse groups of people and individuals who have different needs and be able to meet them where they are. 


Neuroscience proved that meditation is good for you. Human beings have known this for several thousand years, but neuroscience is very important. It has informed and improved my practice and teaching because it helps me understand on different levels. Human beings have gotten fully enlightened over the last thousand years without neuroscience, but it's still a huge boon. And I think it's helpful to me in my practice.  


I think that intersection of understanding about our body/mind, from a Western scientific perspective,  from an Eastern, more yogic perspective, the trauma-informed quality, and all of that. Then, just the demand; the world is challenging us to show up, right? We need to show up.  


I think there are a lot of things that could be catalyzing a major evolutionary shift for humankind. I mean,  it needs to happen. I think the stage is set. I love the fact that many young people are being introduced,  even at schools, or kindergarten; first and second graders are being introduced to basic mindfulness,  self-awareness, social-emotional learning, and emotional intelligence skills.  

I think especially the more that's delivered in an embodied, neuro-scientifically informed way, I think  there are going to be human beings, that by the time they reach adulthood are going to have capacities  that we didn't have.  

Then the other thing going on is where you have a lot of kids growing up with their heads on their  phones the whole time. That's the negative side. But I still think we are on the precipice of some real  evolutionary leaps for humanity.  

James Frank 1:18:18  

Dr. Fleet Maull, thank you so much for your time, words, and embodiment.  

Fleet Maull 1:18:27  


Thank you, James. It's been a pleasure.  

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