Are you mindful, or is your mind full? Often mindfulness — a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment — is overlooked as a major component for total wellness. LEO spoke with Kyle Kramer, executive director of The Passionist Earth & Spirit Center, to learn how it continues to support our region in maintaining mindfulness for ourselves, our community and our planet.
LEO: Share with us the history and the goals of the Earth & Spirit Center:
Kyle Kramer: Our 22-acre center is a nonprofit, 5011(c)(3), interfaith spirituality center in The Highlands neighborhood, founded 11 years ago by Father Joe Mitchell, a Catholic priest from the Passionist religious order. Father Joe started the center out of a concern about a threefold sense of alienation in modern life. We’re disconnected from our interior life, or our divine source. We’re disconnected from each other, which creates broken communities, and, finally, we are disconnected from our planet, so we are causing environmental harm. Our mission is to help heal these major disconnects, and so our programs support interior transformation, social compassion for our communities and care for planet Earth. We are not teaching any particular religion or doctrine, but we do explore spiritual practices from various religious traditions that are helpful, regardless of one’s faith commitment. Our staff includes over 150 volunteers with eight paid team members.
What are the benefits of practicing meditation and mindfulness?
There’s a lot of them, and they’re being validated by more and more peer-reviewed scientific research. Top on a long list are greater focus and concentration, more personal resilience, greater emotional intelligence, healthier relationships, improved workplace productivity, and a great sense of personal wellbeing. Who doesn’t need all those? But what’s as important as the personal benefits is that mindful people are also kinder, more compassionate people, who can help build stronger communities and who can take better care of the only Earth we’ve got.
What is the Earth & Spirit Center best known for?
The center offers many programs in all three of our mission areas, but we’re best known for our Mindfulness Meditation programs. We have the largest student base in the Midwest and upper south region for meditation classes, starting in 2005, with about a dozen students and now enrolling around 450 every term. We’ve trained thousands of students in mindfulness meditation and other spiritual practices.
Why the steady growth? What is the draw for participants?
Well, Louisville is a Compassionate City, which has a natural affinity with mindfulness. And mindfulness is now going mainstream, so most of our students come to us to learn tools to meditate. We help them explore their interior life, but we also help them make broader connections to the life and health of their community and our planet.
Tell us about your programs, locations and scheduling?
We offer a number of programs to teach mindfulness meditation, compassion, and what we call Earth literacy. Our most popular are ten-week courses that meet weekly for 90 minutes, but we have several other formats, too: evening or one-day workshops, four- and five-week courses and summer offerings. We also put on Camp Nature Odyssey, a fantastic summer camp for children, where we bring in organic farmers, chefs, artists, musicians and others to help kids have a ball and learn about the natural world. Every year we provide full scholarships for many kids from underserved communities, so everyone has an equal chance to engage with the natural world. In terms of outreach, we work with several social service agencies through our Compassion in Action program, teaching pro-bono mindfulness classes to those who can really benefit from those personal tools, but might not have easy access to instruction.
Also, our programs have grown so much that we now offer sessions at other locations. Our newest location is at the former Carmelite Monastery, located on Newburg Road, next door to our campus. And in order to reach the downtown business community, we offer mindfulness meditation classes hosted by Greater Louisville Inc. in their conference room on Main Street. Our hope is to help the business community model how to lead mindfully and compassionately.
We work with many corporate and community partners, including Brown-Forman, the Owsley Brown II Family Foundation and the Owsley Brown III Philanthropic Foundation, the Center for Interfaith Relations, the Norton Foundation, Norton Healthcare, Family Scholar House, Kentucky Refugee Ministries, Americana Community Center, Kentucky Interfaith Power and Light, CASA, the Center for Non-Profit Excellence, and others. One great example is a partnership with JCPS to help public school teachers and administrators bring mindfulness tools into their schools.
Because we want to be sure that no one is ever turned away for financial reasons, donors and foundations help us offer our programs for modest fees and to offer scholarships for those who need assistance.
We regularly offer free 60-minute workshops that introduce the benefits of mindfulness meditation …
How can the community support you?
Come learn about meditation, and tell your friends! Even though we’re the largest provider of meditation instruction in the region, we’re still a pretty well-kept secret in Louisville, so we’re always asking people to help spread the word about our programming. And we’re always seeking additional community partners, since collaborating with other organizations is the best way to make an impact on individuals, our community and the planet. •
Lisa Flannery is a wellness coach who teaches yoga in Louisville and Southern Indiana. She promotes wellness through her show “The Wellness Hour,” at 11 a.m. Sundays on 100.9 WCHQ.