Gloria Kamler, MA, is a holistic educator and stress relief expert, who has taught mindfulness meditation for the past 20 years. She facilitates all levels of the Mindful Awareness Practices or MAP classes at UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC). In addition to teaching at UCLA, Gloria leads mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) classes and retreats in Los Angeles as well as other U.S. cities and internationally. Throughout her career, Gloria has trained with mindfulness leaders such as Jon Kabat-Zinn Ph.D., founder of the Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction program (MBSR), teachers at Spirit Rock Meditation Center as well as Shinzen Young, Ph.D., founder of Vipassana Support International. Gloria earned her B.S. in education from the University of Michigan and an M.A. in guidance and counseling from Eastern Michigan University. She has maintained a personal meditation practice for more than three decades, and her dedication to living mindfully is an integral part of her life.
A ruff transcript of our conversation:
Well, hello, I’m here with Gloria Kamler meditation teacher and again in all disclosure. I met Gloria as one of my teachers over at UCLA. So we’re just going to jump in and how are you today before we get started?
I’m happy to be here good curious as to what this is gonna be and it’s very excited about what you’re doing great. I appreciate that.
So the first question is why meditate?
That’s a really good question. One of my teachers who has been shins and young. That’s one of the things he has asked when you first sit down every time you can ask that question and quite often. I do ask that question and I encourage others to ask themselves the same question as to why we do this practice. So I asked myself the question and I get different answers at different times. Definitely when I got interested in meditation. Thirty-some years ago. My reasons for meditating, I don’t know that I had a well-formed reason I just heard it was kind of an interesting thing to do and it was 1969 and I wanted to find some way to bring in some peace. And so I heard meditation maybe could be helpful in that regard. And so that’s what first got me into interested. You know, it’s the time of the Vietnam War and there was a lot of conflict and recognizing that maybe there’s more. Maybe there’s just more about life that I couldn’t see, you know, I sure so that with that’s what got me interested then and then I suspect over time. I got interested more specifically in mindfulness of that approach to meditation. Just recognizing that. I had a very serious meditation practice that was two and a half hours a day. Wow, and I did that for 10 years and that was a very long time to do practice Yeah, and. Over that time I always felt that something was missing for me in terms of the kind of meditation. It was it was it was a mantra focused practice, but for some reason it didn’t seem to be impacting my life in terms of me noticing. How important it was in my life. So I was looking after 10 years I was looking for. Wanting to meditate because I knew it was a good way to help me focus and to calm down a bit, but I wanted something more relevant for how I lived my life. Maybe the ethical way of living my life, right? Not sure what it was, but I knew I needed. Something different plus two and a half hours a day of meditation practice was unsustainable for me. I wasn’t the best meditator. So two and a half hour two hours of day. That’s that’s quite a bit two and a half hours is one-tenth of your day. Yeah, I’ll people tithe a tenth of their. This is a tenth of your time. Wow, and and I did it for a long time. But I never felt like I was very good at it. So I was looking around the last couple of years of in that ten year time of was there something else I could do? And I came across Buddhist practice mindfulness practice and I started to learn how to do it and I could see how it was relevant to my life. Right and then I got involved with Jon Kabat-Zinn and mindfulness-based stress reduction his whole program and that really made it very clear to me how this practice could overlay and actually inform my life and inform I was a therapist I work with people in chronic pain and. For years for 40 over 40 years and so for me it was a great tool to for myself, but also to teach other people besides working with them to help them with their health. This could help them more with in addition to their physical health their emotional health as well, which I thought would be even more beneficial. So I got interested through that and that pulled me in to get more interested as why I meditate and then. I found that once I got into mindfulness meditation, even though my mind is you know, like a wild horse. It thinks a lot and constantly is going other places. I found that it felt relevant to me to see things more clearly to and over time. I started to see that I felt more kind to myself and to others in a way. I mean, I’ve always been nice to people and I’ve always been in the helping profession. So that’s more of my nature, but I found a deepening of kindness for myself and my own fragile. Nastas and. And I wasn’t expecting that but that’s one of the benefits. I’ve seen come out of the practice. So I think my work kept me going with this practice of meditation, but I think as I’ve experienced it on a more personal level. It’s that’s been the infusing to keep me going and more and more interested. Right?
Well, that’s that’s great. And that also kind of leads into the next question. The next question is what is your definition of mindfulness? And what does it look like to live a mindful life?
Hmm – that’s a great question. I have all these definitions memorized and yeah, that’s right due to the classes that I teach. Yeah, so you might hear one that you’ve heard from others, but basically to me mindfulness is being present with whatever our experiences right now. So to really be there without resisting. The experience of now in other words if there’s any fighting going on it’s putting down the fight experiencing something more fully. With interest curiosity and kind of a don’t know mind and you know the definition that we give at UCLA, which you have probably had recorded on here few times of you know, basically this open curiosity this interest and openness to the moment and a willingness to be with things as they are and what I mean by that is. Kind of letting go of the fight with whatever’s coming up and and just getting interested so it can be a learning experience of how to proceed. So maybe not so much going around life that really slowly and doing everything very deliberately. I mean that is yeah. I know I don’t mean that no, I mean being able to kind of flow at the flux and flow of life without fighting about everything without having to control everything. So just kind of going with the flow going more with the flow of life and being aware and awake to it. So in other words when life is difficult because if I’m aware of that it’s difficult, then I can work with it in a more constructive way rather than when life gets difficult and I’m on automatic pilot usually. Do things that aren’t so skillful and that are hurtful to me or to somebody else. So it’s just kind of lighting up the moment as much as we’re able we go unconscious a lot all of us. I do, you know in our daily life. Yeah. And so what I used to see as a flaw that I couldn’t focus or concentrate, I just see it as oh, this is what it is to be human. And so it’s. For me, it’s been a much more. It’s created a much bigger field of acceptance of my own experience and also a lot more possibility with how can I deal with life when it is hard because I know that when I go unconscious I just stuff that I can see how I contribute to some of the suffering that I might have or someone else might have and when I’m more awake, yeah sometimes life is is hard. You know, this week’s been a great example of hard. You know things we can’t control but what’s the most skillful way to navigate and it’s hard. So that’s to me mindfulness can really comes in handy then to recognize for me that there’s a choice. Right because I didn’t used to look at life. That way life was just like dodging cars or something. You know, I’m just I don’t know I think examples I used to use their to that’s good work hard too. Little life is days, but just like it sometimes life feels like traffic is just coming at you and it’s like how do we navigate in a way, you know to just make it as. As as best as it can be for whatever the circumstances are and also benefit and which really surprised me is that I get to see some of the goodness in my life that I might have just missed because of just worrying about all this other stuff. Sometimes it’s hard to just go cash at the sky is blue today and it’s just beautiful and then my whole system comes down. So it’s helpful to also recognize the goodies that are also going on where the Habit is to just to go around worrying or that could be my habit. Yeah. I don’t know if it’s everybody’s happy. There’s a good bet that there’s a lot of people there. Yeah the same way, so I don’t know if I got to your question. Did I get your question you want to frame living the life living a mindful life is is being able to go with the flow. Yeah, so to move with it a skillfully as possible and hopefully with some Joy, right, you know rather than just looking you’re not just looking like an investigator what’s wrong with strong because that’s normally how we’re walking around. Right. There’s a lot of that right, you know, once the next you going to drop that I never used to really think that consciously but I really ask people that question that what makes it so you didn’t notice how good you felt in that moment and people quite often would share their afraid to really enjoy themselves because they’re just waiting for what’s going to happen next. And so so I feel like this is helped me really. This practice of mindfulness has helped enjoy when life is good to notice it and to enjoy it more. That’s great. That’s great. Hopefully to go more skillfully when it’s hard now and we all have that Journey. Yeah.
The next question is what is the difference between meditation contemplation and prayer?
It’s an interesting question. Because I do find sometimes that in some of those classes people were using meditation and contemplation almost synonymously and I see them as different things and they were kind of using that you know, one time in the other at the other time. So at that’s where the question came from and then I through prayer in because that’s another type of meditation in a lot of ways totally throws the leaves. Yeah. It’s what your definition of contemplation I’m just curious. What is mine. Yeah contemplating a thing. I mean thinking about some thinking about something. Yeah, that’s okay. So my mind and your mind are in the same place as we’re asking this question, so I think about meditation like mindfulness training trim mindfulness we talk about is the training of the brain right so we can train our attention to be present. Then we can also train ourselves to be more open and you know to be present with what’s happening. So contemplation to me is more just like what you were just sharing when I think about contemplation. I’m thinking about a word that I sometimes use is thinking tation and sometimes it’s sometimes I meditating and then I get into. Thinking something through so someone might call that contemplation. I don’t know that I would call that meditation because I don’t think it’s really helping my training of of being in the moment. I think I go off on a train of thought in the contemplation, but there is value to contemplation as well. So it might be I’m thinking of. I’m going blank right now. I’m thinking about. The diamond heart training to about that and they do different reflections of sorts. They have a name for it. But I know that’s where I’m going blank at the moment. But anyway, these are they do contemplations of a topic, right, you know, and then you think about it. So to me meditation at least mindfulness meditation. There’s a couple ways one can do it. You know, there’s there’s schemata and there’s be Pasadena right in the kind of meditation that mindfulness is engine, you know, and this is in the theravada tradition of Buddhism, but. Where if you just if we’re going to call it secular mindfulness, right? Okay, give it that umbrella. I would say it’s still a training of attention back to what I was saying in the meditation is where we train the attention but as I just mentioned these two words Summit on be pasta. Neshama te is that focused attention. On so maybe we’re focusing on the breath and and we can have a really Blissful state that comes out of it. But then you also have a pasta now which can be when the mind is really focused. Then you can do some insight observation and gaining more insights into our habitual nature as human beings. And so how I see that is that. Some people might call that contemplation when you go into the pasta. I don’t see it that way myself. I see contemplation is more thinking something through and it’s single subject and focused on that. Yeah or whatever you’re contemplating, right, you know, if it’s a single subject or whatever the topic is and I wouldn’t compare that to the pasta to the Insight part of this practice that we’re talking about. I see it is slightly different. Although you might gain some of the same insight. That you might in your meditation, but meditation to me isn’t sitting and thinking about something but you could choose to have a session where you get very focused and you’re meditating and then you could choose to work something out. Just as I might choose to go on a mindful walk and I’m not necessarily going to be with walking. I might choose to be very focused on something as I’m walking. Let’s say my steps or feeling the air or feeling my arms move, but then at some point I might decide that I’m going to contemplate something. I’m going to think about something while I and and I consciously choose to do that. Prayer yeah is I’m not the best person to talk to about prayer because I don’t think I have it together right sure a clergyperson might be better or someone who prays more often. But to me prayer, you know as a young child, I grew up Jewish. I went to Temple. I loved Services. I loved praying at Temple. I loved coming home and singing the songs and I also before I went to bed. I love saying prayers to God and the whole thing. I don’t do that now and in truth, I haven’t totally worked that out in my mind as to how prayer fits and right. I’m not anti it.
I just I’m in a very curious place around it sure well, and that’s what was the reason for the question because it is also in my history when I was growing up. I grew up Southern Baptist. So it was very in the Forefront but it is very different than my meditation practice and it is very different than contemplative practice contemplation practice, you know and I see those as definitely different things. That was why?
I kind. Separated I’m in and I can also see a prayer being kind of a contemplation at times. Yeah, because you’re focused on the thing and you’re praying about that thing and it kind of works through that. So I’m kind of I’m kind of curious to see what kind of reaction I’m going to get from a from a Baptist Minister, you know as somebody who does some type of meditation and in the sea that I mean, it’s just. You know take this to that point. Yeah, you know, it is in my plans here and the obvious here is the idea of God and less to me and you know in Buddhist practice. We don’t really talk so much about God and and in secular mindfulness, we’re definitely not talking about God either right and and so for me because it is a part of what I grew up with and they’re you know, I’m. I guess I would be considered a jubu. I think is the proper title that I might have and it’s still still out for review. I’m curious It’s a place of curiosity to me, but I really cuz sometimes in classes I’ll see people talk about prayer synonymous to meditation and it really isn’t that way for me. I don’t know and I don’t want to you know. Everyone needs to do whatever they need to do what they feel right about particularly around prayer and you know our beliefs and those kind of things but I’m curious to understand it more. So that’s why it’s a place that I feel my eyes are very big right now and open and. Interested as to how this is for people, right? You know, and I think it’s a curious time in history because there is so much division amongst people and ideas about other people strong ideas that we each have about other people and I recognize this is just a place for me that I haven’t explored in my. Later years of life, you know where I am. Now as I was very interested as a young child, but curious again before little different kind of reasoning. Yeah, cool.
The last question is. How do we promote compassion in ourselves and in the world around us? How do we make it part of our life? And what does that look like when we’re doing that?
I think a great question. Your questions are really good. Thank you. That’s why I kept it for because I thought it was good. So to me, the biggest surprise about the practice is this. Ability to be more compassionate and kind to me and to others that is definitely if any, you know people go around the classrooms every you know time we meet it in class. The first question is what brought you here and you know, all these similar questions that you might be asking, you know, why are people here? To me when I talk about the benefits, you know, I have a list of benefits of why people might want to do this and but to me, the one benefit that is totally surprising to me is to realize how we really are wired to be kind and compassionate. To ourselves in each other, but we also have a very strong wiring system of reactivity and automatic pilot and where that amygdala is in charge and there’s just a lot of fight or flight about everything and so I was more familiar with that posture in my life and so over the years and for me now, it’s. As I mentioned, I think I started meditating then you know when I was in my early 20s and or late nineteen or whatever. I started a long time ago and over time. I’ve just seen that there’s just a much more compassionate person and I didn’t realize how much Kinder person and it’s not that I don’t still have a broadcast person in my head that is critical and can have you know can. Can get not so kind about myself or somebody else or something else, but I don’t hear it. Now as the commander-in-chief that is running the show as much as a lot of interesting and so and that’s a very different stance than I once. Heard my own mind and watched it dictate what I was to think and do and now I can there’s some space where I can just see it be interested in then make a choice as to how to proceed. So to me, that is the biggest surprise and it’s not a surprise when you read these teachings, but it was a surprise to me because I hadn’t read these teachings. I was just doing these teachings and over time. This is what I saw really changed is that. I really believe that our true nature is to be kind and caring to ourselves and to each other and I think due to a lot of fear and a lot of our own PR in our own heads and what comes out us it makes us question that you know are real goodness and you know just so much habits stuff of fear. And you know, making sure we’re okay and this is okay. But that we lose sight of how we are connected and how are connected to ourselves how were connected to each other how I have a relationship to my neighbor or to somebody in the Amazon or wherever that is. And so to me that’s been the biggest surprise. I don’t think it’s anything that I have consciously done just to become more compassionate. I’ve just witnessed that over the years. Its kind of like the waves of the ocean is pounding at the Rocks they get smooth over time or if it’s the Purl the Purl that you know has the grit the sand in the end and suddenly you have a pearl who would have expected any of that but. Ultimately over time life happens and we start to feel more comfortable kind of navigating in it. And and we don’t take us I’m not taking it quite as personally as where I used to think everything was so personal and wood. And is that starts to change? And we start to witness our own fragility and then see it. I mean right now it’s you know, you can just see how the world there’s so many vulnerable people and that don’t have a voice. So social justice to me is part of what you’re talking about. The compassion that is done to take action in the world, not through hating other people but actually through and having more understanding and also really talking about. Is true and what is important? So I just find it’s a natural movement that has happened more and more and I don’t think it’s because I’m thinking about it. I think it’s it’s every breath that I’m here for, you know everyone is pounding away at that rock. That’s great. That’s a great analogy. So that’s kind of how I see that. And so it helps me feel my own heart more and the hearts of others. And so I think there’s some basic things Christiane F and Chris Germer, you know, they have this self-compassion course and program that I think is very good actually and but one of the things they talk about is to be more mindful. To be more kind and to have a sense of belonging and I think that those three pieces are so important and particularly the last one. The sense of belonging to remember that and those who come to my classes. I’m always talking about feeling your feet on the ground and I’m always talking about feeling that connection in the earth to all beings on the earth and maybe some people don’t even notice how important that is, but to me just coming into the present moment may be feeling your breath, but then really connecting. The sense of belonging how important that is that we too are supported. And we forget that and so I really appreciate with Kristin Neff and and Chris Grammar had talked about with those three components because I think that’s a big part of being able to sustain and even get in touch with our own sense of compassion and caring sure well that kind of goes along with the end of the phones and everything. There’s a lot of technology that separates us. Yeah and that grounding ourselves. I really appreciate that and if there was a time in my life, I thought when I heard people say that it sounded kind of, you know, kind of woke up exactly the word. I was used to the movements. He’s good with his hands right now, but coming to realize coming to realize that that compassion and I felt similar things for my practice and feel that I am more kind Than I Used to Be You know on that kind of thing and can see those are the real benefits that I can see.
I appreciate I appreciate your time. Thank you so very much for doing this.