TMR Interview: Dr. Michael Baime
Dr. Baime has practiced meditation since he was 14 years old, and has taught mindfulness meditation since 1983. His experience as a physician and specialist in internal medicine led him to create the Penn Program for Mindfulness in 1992. He has developed customized mindfulness-based programs for numerous groups, including people living with cancer, healthcare providers, police officers, adults with ADHD, and smokers attempting to quit. His work joins traditional mindfulness meditation techniques with the insights of neuroscience and the methods of modern cognitive behavioral psychology to create powerfully effective vehicles for change and personal growth.
Dr. Baime also participates in research on the cognitive neuroscience of meditation; on the relationship between mindfulness, spirituality, and empathy; and on the behavioral and health benefits of mindfulness training. He is currently based at the Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
We have both the full video interview as well as the transcription of the interview below. Please let us know what you think!
The Mindful Revolution: How have you seen the landscape of public health change over the past 10 years in terms of openness to alternative practices such as mindfulness?
Michael Baime: Oh my goodness, the landscape in medicine has changed completely. So when I started this program, it’s twenty years ago now that I was a complete weirdo, people would roll their eyes at me but I was tolerated I guess, and now it has become completely mainstream. Mindfulness is becoming like yoga in that there are centers popping up in every street corner and most gyms, and in most health centers, so it’s really entered the main stream. the research base is still evolving and the number of studies that look at it is increasing exponentially, but as a way to enhance quality of life and help people to deal with difficulty, I think it has become completely mainstream now.
TMR: What are the main sources of stress that you find in your clients?
MB: The main source of stress is the situation that we have in common that’s called life. And life has always been stressful and it always will be that change happens and it’s just part of being a person that we suffer losses and can’t have everything that we long for, and sometimes, things don’t go that well. So it’s always been that way and will always be that way. Some of the stresses that we face in 2011 are a little different than what we face ten thousand years ago and the pace that we move at, the way that we multitask and the way that we face information from so many different sources is really different.
We’ve created a culture that moves very quickly. We have very little time to stop and to feel ourselves at all.
So that particular stress is new, and because it is so intense in our culture, this explains why mindfulness has become more and more widely spread and sought after.
TMR: If you were to develop a branch of your program that could be adopted by high schools, how would you see it functioning and integrating in a public school environment?
MB: We actually are developing a program to use in high schools. The way that it will happen will be different in that we’re not teaching content, it’s not learning that happens up here, it’s learning that happens in other domains, and so, it doesn’t have its own class, like study hall or gym, rather it’s a process or a context of how learning happens instead of something that is learned. So it’s woven into the fabric of education, not a subject for learning in particular. Schools are unlikely to successfully introduce 8-week mindfulness-based classes, but the goal of those classes has much in common with those of education.
It is hard to get mindfulness programs into schools because it is hard to get anything into schools, because there’s not enough time. So the way that we’ve had the greatest impact so far is not to teach the students but to teach the administrators of school systems, because they’re the source. Because if they begin to understand this, even if they don’t teach it as a subject, but the way that they interact, the way that they pay attention, the way that they teach everything is different, and so it kind of comes into the culture instead of top-down as formal learning. Right now, that’s how mindfulness is getting into the system most easily.
I do think that mindfulness has the potential to completely change the fabric of education, to change the way in which people view learning and understand how learning works.
Mindfulness is really about training attention and that sounds like a clinical word or an abstract word, but attention is really the place where you meet the world, it’s the interface where you contact everything. So if you can strengthen the way that the interface is actually supported, if you can intensify it, learning happens more easily, and that’s why it’s so important. But other things start to happen as well – people feel more, people feel sympathy for themselves and for one another, people don’t dispute any more, people can feel their heart more – so their own inner compass, their sense of what’s right and wrong -their balance becomes strengthened and they have more confidence…so it really can change everything.