Mindfulness Meditation

Conversations with Sam

I have known Sam Beard since Labor Day 2016. The previous June, shortly before having my left hip replaced, I went to a meeting he had organized in downtown Wilmington DE. There were about 40 or 50 people in the meeting room, which was in a high-rise corporate office space. All of the people in the room purported to be mindfulness meditation teachers; I only recognized about 10 of them. It was a fascinating hour as Sam told us that he intended to find a way to teach mindfulness to over a billion people around the world. I concluded he was pretty crazy and went home.

A few months later I got an email from Sam’s assistant soliciting donations for the Global Investment Foundation for Tomorrow (GIFT), a 501c3 non-profit corporation Sam had started a few years earlier. Concluding that the meeting was only a way to build a mailing list, I sent a somewhat cynical email back and asked to be taken off the list. To my surprise Sam called me a few days later and asked to meet me. The only day available to both of us was Labor Day, so I trekked into his office on that morning. The next two hours were life changing for me.

I learned that Sam had a long career finding ways to make life better for people. One of his first jobs after graduating from Yale in the early 1960’s was as an aid to Robert F. Kennedy. When Senator Kennedy was assassinated Sam fell into a depression that lasted a few years. He looks back at that period as the most painful in his life. In the early 1970’s Senator Kennedy’s sister-in-law, Jacqueline Kennedy, widow of President Kennedy, suggested to Sam that he should start something that would recognize the good that people do in the world. Out of this conversation came the Jefferson Awards for Public Service, which was co-founded by Sam, Jackie Kennedy, and Senator Robert Taft, Jr. If you’d like to learn more about the Jefferson Awards go to this link; you’ll be amazed at how powerfully this organization has made a change for good in the world:

Sam retired in his mid-70’s from the Jefferson Awards (he still serves on its Board of Governors) but he wasn’t through yet. He started GIFT with the intention to multiply philanthropy throughout the world, but then shifted, shortly before I met him, to his mission to spread mindfulness throughout the world. At that Labor Day meeting I realized that Sam was “the real deal” and signed on, starting on January 1, 2017, as the Delaware Director of Operations, a post I held for 2.5 years. During that time GIFT trained over 1,000 public school teachers in mindfulness, along with hundreds of mental health professionals and all sorts of helping people throughout Delaware. Our intention was to train people who could then share their mindfulness practice with the people they help. It was a resounding success.

I left GIFT in mid-2019 as Sam had decided to shift its emphasis from mindfulness to what he calls “0 to 5,” an outreach to find ways to have a positive impact on early childhood development. As usual, Sam is thinking big! And meeting with many successes. You can read about it at this link: https//

In early 2022 Sam called me and asked me to help him out again. He wanted to interview me for a series of videos to be called “Ask Jim.” I was skeptical of course. But Sam was certain that these videos would have something to say that might be helpful to people. So in March of 2022 Sam and I sat down for four and a half hours to record a wide ranging conversation, that has since been edited into several video vignettes. I am posting the first of those, which concerns “Happiness.” I would be honored if you would watch it, and very happy if you would post in the Comments any Questions, Concerns, Observations, Complaints….anything at all to initiate a conversation about this topic. The video is posted below; I hope you enjoy it and please let me know what you think!

Thanks in advance! And looking forward to hearing your thoughts.



Mindfulness Meditation

Thoreau, June 22, 1851

I was pondering what to write about next for my website when I picked up my copy of I to Myself: An annotated selection from the journal of Henry D. Thoreau, edited by Jeffrey S. Cramer.  I’ve been reading a few weeks of Thoreau’s journal at at time lately.  Today I opened to Thoreau’s entry on June 22, 1851 and found my next publication.  This is word for word from Thoreau’s journal; I hope you find it as enriching as I did.

“We are enabled to criticise others only when we are different from, and in a given particular superior to, them ourselves. By our aloofness from men and their affairs we are enabled to overlook and criticise them. There are but few men who stand on the hills by the roadside. I am sane only when I have risen above my common sense, when I do not take the foolish view of things which is commonly taken, when I do not live for the low ends for which men commonly live. Wisdom is not common. To what purpose have I senses, if I am thus absorbed in affairs? My pulse must beat with Nature. After a hard day’s work without a thought, turning my very brain into a mere tool, only in the quiet of evening do I so far recover my senses as to hear the cricket, which in fact has been chirping all day. In my better hours I am conscious of the influx of a serene and unquestionable wisdom which partly unfits, and if I yielded to it more rememberingly would wholly unfit me, for what is called the active business of life, for that furnishes nothing on which the eye of reason can rest. What is that other kind of life to which I am thus continually allured? which alone I love? Is it a life for this world? Can a man feed and clothe himself gloriously who keeps only the truth steadily before him? who calls in no evil to his aid? Are there duties which necessarily interfere with the serene perception of truth? Are our serene moments mere foretastes of heaven,—joys gratuitously vouchsafed to us as a consolation,—or simply a transient realization of what might be the whole tenor of our lives?

To be calm, to be serene! There is the calmness of the lake when there is not a breath of wind; there is the calmness of a stagnant ditch. So is it with us. Sometimes we are clarified and calmed healthily, as we never were before in our lives, not by an opiate, but by some unconscious obedience to the all-just laws, so that we become like a still lake of purest crystal and without an effort our depths are revealed to ourselves. All the world goes by us and is reflected in our deeps. Such clarity! obtained by such pure means! by simple living, by honesty of purpose. We live and rejoice. I awoke into a music which no one about me heard. Whom shall I thank for it? The luxury of wisdom! the luxury of virtue! Are there any intemperate in these things? I feel my Maker blessing me. To the sane man the world is a musical instrument. The very touch affords an exquisite pleasure.”

This is worth reading and reading again. His mind is sauntering, a way of being in the world that Thoreau particularly valued. He starts by noting that the tendency to “criticise” emerges “by our aloofness from men and their affairs” which culminates in being “enabled to overlook and criticise them,” hardly a generous way of being. He meanders through ideas and observations, and finishes with “I feel my Maker blessing me.”

I have chosen this year to live intentionally in a Thoreauvian way. Once again he teaches us how to live and live well.

PS While traipsing around White Clay Creek State Park today I came upon Snowbells in full glory! Nature.

Mindfulness Meditation

Necessary Loss

Up until January of 1968 the first 13+ years of my life had been uneventful.  Mostly I played baseball, stickball, basketball, and football, while attending elementary school somewhat reluctantly.  Despite my lackadaisical effort at school I was an honor student, but being a baseball all-star meant much more.

On January 19, 1968 while playing basketball at an outdoor court I felt a pop in my lower right abdomen as I went up for a rebound.  I thought nothing of it as I had gone up for the ball with my back to the basket arching in a way that stretched my abdominal area to its limit.  Probably a pulled muscle.

That night I ignored the worsening pain; the only thing to discuss in our house that night was college basketball’s “Game of the Century” (yes, that is what it was being called) to be played the next night in the Houston Astrodome.  Elvin Hayes (the “Big E”) vs. Lew Alcindor (soon to be Kareem Abdul Jabbar); #1 ranked UCLA vs. #2 ranked University of Houston.  The two leaders of these teams would go on to have enormous success in the NBA, with Abdul Jabbar eventually surpassing Wilt Chamberlain’s career scoring record.

But by late in the evening I could not ignore the pain any longer.  Our family doctor made the house call, which was common in those days.  He reassured my mother and father that my diagnosis of a strained muscle was correct.  He’d call in the morning to check in on me.

He did more than call, he stopped by the next day.  Despite my fever he maintained his diagnosis and advised rest, heating pad, and aspirin, which were all applied.  By 4 pm the pain was excruciating; I was curled up in a tight ball on the couch.  My father carried me to the car, told mom to call the doctor and tell him he was on the way to the hospital.  Bloodwork showed my white cell count to be over 20,000; over 11,000 is very high.  Most importantly I “failed” the rebound test: press in firmly on the right side of the abdomen and get no pain, then release suddenly and the pain is horrific.  Correct diagnosis: ruptured appendix.

By the way, that IS what the standard test for appendicitis is called: the “rebound” test.  Considering my experience the day before, pretty ironic.

The emergency appendectomy performed that night went without incident, but the surgeon failed to put a drain in me, normal procedure for a ruptured appendix.  For the next seven days I was dying.  I’m not being dramatic here; I was dying.  On the seventh day a doctor reopened me without anesthesia in my hospital room, expressed a foul smelling slime from my abdominal area and stuffed a drain in me.  By that afternoon my fever was dropping and color returned to my face.  Nine days later I was discharged, “healthy” again.

Except I wasn’t.  I had become what William James nearly 70 years earlier had called a “sick soul.”


I returned to school in mid-February.  My 8th grade teacher, Sister Helen, assured me that I had nothing to worry about concerning making up my school work.  It was the first time I felt any appreciation for my academic skills.  I walked with a limp; I could not stand straight, adopting a sort of Z-shaped posture.  I had lost 20 pounds from a body frame that did not have a spare 20 pounds to lose.  Baseball tryouts were a month later.  I could not run by then.  I could barely throw, and swinging a bat hard was out of the question.  I made a team based on my reputation from my final season of Little League but that next season I mustered only two hits.  I felt lost; I began to wonder “who am I?”  By the summer of 1968 I had no answer to that question.

As a therapist I’ve been guided in much of my work by William James.  In 1890 he published the first American Psychology textbook, The Principles of Psychology.  It is still a landmark.  In his text James articulated his perspective on what it means to be a “self.”  James espoused that we have a “material self” at a most fundamental level; our bodies and material fortunes.  Surrounding our material self is our “social self,” “the recognition (one) gets from his mates,” which includes our friends, family and others.  And he posited that there is a “spiritual self” that transcends these other selves and is least frequently experienced, yet is most essential to our being.  I have found this conceptualization useful as a therapist, including the inevitable therapy I have had to do with and for myself.

In early 1968 my material self dissolved in a fever of organic dissolution followed by the loss of all certainty and vigor derived from my athleticism, which had been the central organizing principle of my identity in those early years.  My dad played minor league baseball in the Brooklyn Dodgers organization; being a baseball player was one way to connect, and connect deeply, with him.  That part of my “self” was gone.  My friendships, my playmates, all of my associates were known through my sports.  Mostly gone as well.  I entered my teen years, that period of time for identity formation according to Psychosocial Developmental Theory, with nothing to call “my self.”

Or so I thought.  My freshman year in high school at an all-boys Catholic High School was awful.  I sat alone in the cafeteria most lunch periods.  I limped through Phys Ed.  I ruminated; the depression filtered my mind so strongly that I could not even make a nominal effort at schoolwork. I managed to pass my classes, that’s all.

Sophomore year was better, as my material self had healed by then.  My social self began to heal, but I was so, so lonely.  The high school was a 45 minute bus ride from my hometown, and none of my friends attended.  Those first two years lasted a lifetime.

My third year started off the same, but my Junior year Theology course was taught by Brother Peter Russell, who was the first teacher in that school to recognize that something had gone wrong in my life.  He reached out to me.  He forced me to go on a weekend-long retreat that fall with a great bunch of my fellow students, who had been largely unknown to me.  He engaged me, as he engaged us all, in serious conversations about what it means to be Catholic, to be Christian, to be engaged with the needs for social justice in the world.  While my material and social selves were in abeyance, my spiritual self loomed, waiting to be initiated and invigorated.  Brother Peter struck the spark that kindled this awakening.  My spiritual self became my driving force.

My life story since 1970 has had many twists and turns like anyone else’s.  As my sense of a material and social self returned I experienced normal highs and lows.  I made mistakes along the way, but I also made great choices.  My life has been anything but a straight line to where I am now, but there has been one rather constant force: my experience of this spiritual self that William James writes about.

I look back at the disaster of my ruptured appendix realizing that it could have led to tragedy, but through my good fortune to have parents who provided loving care and then a wise Theology teacher, it turned out to be a godsend.  Those two years of feeling lost were a necessary loss.  Without the loss of the material and social selves that I identified most strongly as ME, I’m not certain that I would have stumbled upon my spiritual self.  Maybe I would have, but maybe it would have taken much longer.  I can’t say for sure.

All of these memories have come back to me this week as a result of several stimuli.  First, I’m spending my time this year reading Thoreau, Emerson, and William James.  I guess you could say I’m in a “transcendental state of mind.”  This past week I’ve been through a few days of deep discomfort from Covid (my first bout with it), though I’m substantially recovered now.  Then yesterday while reading I came across this passage in Pico Iyer’s new book The Half Known Life: In Search of Paradise.

“The pursuit of happiness made deepest sense, I came to think, when seen in the framework of the Eastern awareness that suffering is the first truth of existence.  Adam and Eve had to quit Eden if only so they could learn to resist the lure of serpents.  Much as the young prince who became the Buddha had to quit his golden palace in order to confront the facts of sickness and old age and death.  A true paradise has meaning only after one has outgrown all notions of perfection and taken the measure of the fallen world.” (italics added)

“Suffering is the first truth of existence;” I learned that at age 13.  Then I “had to quit (my) golden palace in order to confront the facts of sickness….and death.”  Having taken the measure of my fallen world, I was able to begin to see a true paradise, which turned out to be in service of social justice in this broken world.

It was all a necessary loss.  I look back on this period in my life now and smile about it.  I’m grateful for it.  And I wonder if you, the reader, might be able to look back on a time in your life that was filled with loss as a time that may also have swept away unnecessary layers of self, leaving behind that which was most essential, that which is spiritual and transcends this material world