When I founded Inside Passages twenty-two years ago, in 1994, I wondered if anyone would respond to my crazy idea of doing meditation-based kayaking trips in Southeast Alaska. Would anyone accept this unorthodox invitation? Sixty trips, and 600 clients later, I am still leading these trips, and still loving it. I am getting excited about my season this summer in the heart of the Tongass National Forest. The allure of Alaska's awesome solitude, combined with the art of deep listening, mindfulness practice, and wilderness exploration, only gets stronger and more precious with time.
Over the years, my work as a mindfulness teacher and guide has grown and deepened in a variety of contexts. I've been teaching Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) in Seattle's VA Hospital, and other venues around Puget Sound, for ten years, and have led contemplative retreats around the Puget Sound area for nearly twenty years. All this has been loosely under the auspices of Inside Passages.
This winter, with colleagues Janice Sack-Ory and Jonas Batt, I've formed a new mindfulness company called Cascadia Mindfulness Institute to serve as a home for this growing work. This brings me into community with other teachers here in the "winter grounds" of Puget Sound, while allowing Inside Passages to return to its roots in Southeast Alaska. I think of the two initiatives as housing my work in different seasons at opposite ends of the Northwest Coast passage from Puget Sound to Alaska.
This article in Northwest Dharma News will give you a flavor for our emerging work with CMI. We are privileged to have landed a contract to teach 18 classes a year to veterans through the Puget Sound VA Health Care System. This is the fruit of ten years of MBSR teaching and research headed by Dr. David Kearney at Seattle's VA Hosptial. CMI also teaches regular MBSR classes to the community through the Samaritan Center of Puget Sound.
The basement of Seattle's VA Hospital is a long ways from the Alaskan wilderness. Yet I am always struck by the parallels between the two where mindfulness is concerned. I think of mindfulness meditation as the art of "inner habitat restoration" - learning to navigate that vast domain of the human heart and mind that can feel like wilderness travel much of the time. The courage it takes a veteran to stay in the storm of his PTSD without either running from it or being swept under by it, in a spirit of mindful awareness and acceptance, may be as brave an act as entering even the most daunting outer wilderness.
Cascadia Mindfulness Institute is the latest way that I get to do this wonderful work in the heart of the city.