Becoming an Unstoppable Force for Good
Fleet is a meditation teacher, social entrepreneur, executive coach, and global changemaker. He leads transformational courses & programs ~ and a Community of Practice ~ focused on empowering you to create possibility, abundance, and authentic relationships in your life.
Fleet has been practicing mindfulness-awareness for five decades, training in the Tibetan, Zen, and Vipassana Buddhist traditions. He is a fully empowered senior Dharma teacher in both the Zen and Tibetan Buddhist meditation traditions.
While serving 14 years in a federal prison on drug charges, Fleet co-founded the first inside-prison hospice program anywhere in the world. He launched two national movements, the prison hospice through the National Prison Hospice Association and the prison Dharma/Mindfulness movement through the Prison Dharma Network and Prison Mindfulness Institute.
He has trained correctional and law enforcement officers and other public safety professionals, as well as treatment providers, trauma counselors and prison volunteers all around the world.
His mission is to uplift lives and help people transform challenges and suffering into opportunities for positive change.
Create the Life you Love Community: https://www.facebook.com/CreatetheLifeyouLove1/
Reiki Healing: https://moirasutton.com/long-distance-reiki-healing-session/
Moira Sutton 0:03
Welcome to the Heart Soul Wisdom podcast, a journey of self discovery and transformation. Moira Sutton and her amazing guests share real life stories, tools and strategies to inspire and empower you to create and live your best life. Come along on the journey and finally, blast through any fears, obstacles and challenges that have held you back in the past so you can live your life with the joy, passion and happiness that you desire. Now, here's your host Create the Life you Love, Empowerment Life Coach, Moira Sutton
Welcome to season three, Episode 55, Becoming an Unstoppable Force for Good with Founder and CEO of Heart Mind Institute, mindset and mindfulness teacher, Dr. Fleet Maull.
Fleet is a meditation teacher, social entrepreneur, executive coach and global Changemaker. He leads transformational courses and programs and a community of practice focused on empowering you to create possibility, abundance and authentic relationships in your life. Fleet has been practicing mindfulness awareness for five decades, training in the Tibetan, Zen and VIP as Hannah Buddhist traditions. He is a fully empowered senior Dharma teacher in both the Zen and Tibetan Buddhist meditation traditions. While serving 14 years in a federal prison on drug charges, fleet co founded the first inside prison hospice program anywhere in the world. He launched two national movements, the prison hospice through the National Prison hospice Association and the prison Dharma mindfulness movement through the prison Dharma network and prison mindfulness Institute. He has trained correctional and law enforcement officers, and other public safety professionals, as well as treatment providers, trauma counselors, and prison volunteers all around the world. His message is to uplift lives and help people transform challenges and suffering into opportunities for positive change. So without further ado, it is my pleasure to introduce you to Dr. Fleet Maull.
I would love you to start with you sharing your personal journey and how you ended up, standing before a judge, and your conviction for smuggling cocaine from South America to the United States. How did that how did that unfold? How did you get yourself into that position?
Well, that's a pretty long story, but I'll be try to be very succinct about it Moira. So, you know, I'm a baby boomer, I came of age in the 1960s and graduated from high school in 1968. An incredibly tumultuous year in US history with all the assassinations and the Kent State killings, and just so so, so many terrible things going on. And there was just so much political upheaval, and you know, I by that, at that point, I just become so alienated from my own culture. And, you know, I grew up in a good, I grew up in the Midwest and a good Roman Catholic family with good values, but we had alcoholism in the family. And that created some real psychic splitting for me, and I had a wonderful mother who periodically drank and then you know, turned into, you know, a very scary rage alcoholic. And so is that kind of Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde situation, and, and it was never dealt with in a family, you know, it would occur, and then the next morning, there'd be mom making breakfast again, and nobody would ever talk about it. And so, and then, you know, coming up coming of age to the civil rights era, and then through, you know, from 1965 through 1968, there were there were, you know, tremendous racial unrest in, you know, what some people may have called protests or, or uprisings and others would call riots and so forth. But it was happening where I grew up as well as in other cities around the country and I actually happen to be on a family vacation out in California to visit Disneyland and go to the beach and so forth in the middle of the Watts riots and driving back and forth on the highway to Anaheim we drive right over there watch area and seeing it all ablaze below and then, you know, seeing all the craziness on TV at night about it when we're back in a little motel we were in. And to all those influences. I mean, even when John Kennedy was assassinated, I was in high school, maybe seventh grade. And I just remember, I really kind of lost faith and everything right then I just didn't believe what I was being told anymore. And so by the time I graduated from high school, I was a kind of a classic, angry young man, very alienated big hole in my gut, you know, you know, looking to fill that with anything I could and, and I just went headlong into the counterculture of that era. Back already in 1966, I'd already been experimenting with LSD and other things and, and so I went off to a big state university, but really majored in drugs, sex, and rock and roll, it was really kind of a waste of a tremendous opportunity for education. And things just got really confusing. You know, a lot of like, a lot of people in my generation, we just kind of we so rejected the culture and the worldview of our parents to World War Two Depression era generation, that we just kind of rejected the whole thing and throw out the rulebook. So of course, we were making a big mess out of everything. But I just knew I wasn't going to go back to that mindset and worldview. And so I just kept pushing forward and, you know, made a lot of mistakes along the way. But I've also always been a spiritual seeker. I don't know why, whether that comes from past lives, or what have you, if there are if there is such a thing. But I had always had that kind of bent. And back early on in my life, my, my family thought maybe I was going to end up being a priest or something.
Actually, years later, I ended up being ordained as a Zen priest. So I guess they were right. But, you know, so, at one point, I just, I was done with being in the US, when Richard Nixon was reelected, I just kind of had to leave. And I was also just looking for something real, you know, I remember my early childhood feeling very plugged in to reality, things were vivid, real magical. And then sometime around the time I started school, which could have had to do with starting school could have had to do with my mother's alcoholism, but, but everything just went from vivid and real and magical to gray tones, you know, completely lost that sense of connection. And I never made peace with that I wanted it back. And of course, you know, by myself chasing it through all kinds of experiences, you know, drugs and sex and alcohol and all the rest of it. And of course, those things did kind of plug into something but a kind of a mirage, like follow your ego, this sense, there was something genuine there, there was still a lot of baggage, especially if you had a big hole in your gut and you know, kind of an addictive propensity. So at any rate there and that whole world of the drug scene, counterculture drug scene went from the heyday of the, you know, love and light, psychedelic era and getting pretty dark really, and I ended up doing hard drugs IV became an IV drug user. And so I just wanted to escape all that. And so I took off with a friend to start traveling as a backpacker, in Latin America, and all kinds of amazing experiences and really got away from the drugs for the most part for a while. And, you know, lived on a sailboat for almost a year in the Western Caribbean, off the coast of Belize and, and then sold that and, you know, a little native fishing soup that we kind of bought and rebuilt and and so after, after we finished our journey and continued down to Central American on the way to South America and, and always just, you know, looking to plug into something real and fascinated with the indigenous cultures and the archeology of all the ruins sites that we would always visit everywhere we could, and finally ended up in Peru and I had already had this I always had this idea of getting to prove that I find something real and magical there. And actually did there was this kind of environmental magic there that, you know, you'd wake up every morning completely sober, almost feeling like you're, you know, consumed some kind of plant medicine or a psychedelic substance or something, because it was just so powerful and real and magical. And, and, but unfortunately, the first time I left I ran out of money, I went back to the States to work and earn some money. I when I got back, I realized I had not brought that with me. So it was environmental. Right and, and, but, you know, eventually I fell in the small time drug smuggling just to continue to live outside the system. And and I justified that with all this us versus them thinking I was caught up and you know, seeing the world is completely hypocritical and, and, you know, I felt like myself and others like me were actually more honest and the larger world and and even if there is some truth to that my response certainly wasn't a creative one at all that too much more creative ways I could have responded to the hypocrisy, ease and injustices of the times. But at any rate, I justified all that and, and kind of lived that lifestyle but, you know, continued, you know, seeking a spiritual path. And kind of, I'd recognized really way back in high school that I was a Buddhist the first time I read some Buddhist writings in a comparative religion class and Jesuit high school I went to that first thing that ever really deeply resonated with me and I continue to read different things and I grew up in in the Midwest, there wasn't a lot going on. But, you know, I pursued my reading and, and then in South America, I started meeting trap l travelers who are more interested in such things. And I kind of zeroed in on the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, only poor by books that have been translated. I mean, there's probably there's hundreds, if not 1000s now.
And so I was kind of doing that on my own living way up in the mountains of Peru and working a little farm and trying to learn to meditate on my own. And eventually, I heard about the founding of Europa University, then the Eropian Institute by the Tibetan Buddhist Meditation Master Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and there was an article some travelers showed up in my place way up in the mountains with a copy of Rolling Stone magazine from the fall of 1974. With a big feature story about that inaugural summer session they did two summer sessions. There then Europa Institute in Boulder, Colorado, and expected a couple 100 people for each section. They got like 1500 people each session it was a renowned spiritual happening. It was kind of the Woodstock of spirituality. All kinds of legendary figures Ram Das was there teaching along with Buckminster Fuller, William Burroughs, Allan Waldon. All these avant garde poets and dancers and philosophers, it was quite a happening. But anyway, what attracted me was not so much all that it was Chogyam Trungpa. I just saw him saw his name I just zeroed in, I knew I had to go there. So I found a way to get up to the next year and check out this school and, and looked at their programs inside I wanted to do what was called a master's degree in Buddhist and Western psychology. Not that I so much wanted to become a psychologist, but it had the most emphasis on meditation practice. And that's what I was looking for. So it took me another year or two, I married a Peruvian woman and we came up to the states and my son was born in Colorado, but he had a heart condition initially, which thankfully, he was resolved, but you know, so it took me a while and I finally enrolled in at that school, and in that master's program, and a profound three year clinical training program, really training I was to work with people experiencing severe mental disorders, schizophrenia, and all I kind of was, it was deeply grounded in both Western psychology and Buddhist psychology today, the program is still exist in and it's called now a master's in contemplative psychotherapy, at any rate, so you know, I put myself to school with with my ill gotten gains from from smuggling, and I would disappear once or twice a year and do that, I continue to get more deeply involved in the Buddhist path, my teacher, and I really, you know, spent 10 years training deeply in that in that path, but living this split life where I would spend about half the year either disappearing to do a once or twice a year smuggling run, and then kind of being this crazy lifestyle, while the drugs were around that I was, you know, getting rid of it.
And then the other half of the year traveling with my teacher, being in retreats, and really intensely and sincerely exploring this deep Buddhist practice path and, and, you know, of course, I was experiencing a lot of cognitive dissonance on these things, I knew that I had to get out of the crazy part of my life. But, you know, I self medicated around that cognitive dissonance. And, you know, before I managed to extricate myself from it, it caught up with me, I eventually quit, but others continued and, and they got caught up with the law and decided to invite me to the party, so to speak. So I was indicted and, you know, I actually asked my teacher, what should I do? You know, shall I? Is this something, you know, this was the Reagan era, you know, drug laws, the Nixon and Reagan drug laws and a whole war on drugs? And is this something I should just escape from? Or is this my own situation I need to deal with? Or should I stay or should I go? And, you know, he said, that I needed to stay, and I needed to face it. And, and if I was on the run, I couldn't really continue my path and as a student, but even if I went to prison, they were threatening to send me to prison for 30 years is that even if you're in prison for 30 years, you can continue your path. And that's the first time I took anybody's advice, and I never have regretted it. So I turned myself in. I was terrified of going to prison, but I turned myself in and I was supposed to get out and bail, but they never gave me bail. So then I was just in and I was in for a long time. And I went to trial and sentencing. Seven months and hellhole of a county jail going through trial and sentencing. And the night before my sentencing I was facing, I've been convicted of the so called kingpin statute, which is the only reason I went to trial was because I didn't feel I was guilty of that. I would have pled guilty to smuggling and the other attendant charges, but at any rate, you know, a lot of people, you know, they draw a circle and whoever doesn't testify, you become the Kingpin and everybody else testifies. And that's kind of the way it works. So, and I didn't I was never going to cooperate or testify against anyone not because that I was kind of some stand up guy. But just because my Buddhist values I mean, somebody else is going to do my time somebody else's family is going to suffer so I can be didn't sit with me. So I was just never going to go there. So at any rate, I was facing potential sentence of life in prison, and I was sentenced to 30 years with no parole that next day and I the paper, that's the paper that next day said, I'd be 60. But I was 35 then said I'd be 65 before I have any chance to release. And and that's what I thought the deal was. And in fact, I, it wasn't till I got to Federal Prison was there for several months before I figured out how the good time worked and everything, I realized that fortunately, I was sentenced prior to 1987, that there was a lot of good time. And if I stayed out of trouble with that long of a sentence, I would serve about 18 1/2 years on 30. If I stayed out of trouble, if you get in trouble, they start taking it away in chunks. And you can do all your time.
Eventually, my appeal went to the courts took about three years, and they knocked off one count of this aggregate sentence of five counts. And my sentence got reduced from 30 to 25. And then I know I knew I'd serve 14 and a half years, which still felt like forever. But anyway, that's kind of how I ended up there. And you know, the journey I went through in prison is kind of a whole other story. But that's where my radical responsibility model really evolved was the way I dealt with being in prison.
Moira Sutton 16:27
Quite the story. You made this decision right around that time when with your sentencing, you know that you were deep in your heart, no matter what your sentence was this sentence of 30 years you would never give up in your life or your son or yourself. How did you come to that? That big? Aha, you know, decision?
Yeah, it was a powerful moment. And I'm so grateful for that moment. Obviously, it was that that night when I was awaiting sentencing, they had me in a different county jail. And, you know, I was tried in a federal court and a major Midwestern city and most of the time, they have in a county jail about 60 miles south, which kept my lawyer from ever coming down there. And, but this time, I was in a county jail closer to the courts, and they had been an isolation cell under, I guess they may be like under suicide, watch this, I wasn't suicidal at all. I was highly anxious, but I wasn't suicidal at all. But anyway, I always liked I couldn't sleep, I don't think I could have slept anyway. And so shortly before dawn, I just felt so claustrophobic in that cell knows one small window up high. And so I just stood up on the I got up top, the kind of built in stainless steel toilet sink, I climbed up there, I could just barely appear out that window. And I could see the night sky sky with the stars. And I'm looking out at the night sky and the stars and something just came over this wave of something kind of came over me. And I got down, I sat on the side of my bunk. And I just felt this tremendous certainty that I would not give up, as you said, I would not give up on on myself on my son on my life at all. And, and I felt that with absolute clarity. And at the same time, I was still, you know, incredibly anxious about what I was going to face later that day at sentencing. But that is when that happened.
Moira Sutton 18:28
So that was a very spiritual moment that you had, would you say? It was I'd say it was actually a very spiritual moment. Yes. And they rose up from the depths of my being that that gave me that kind of certainty and confidence in the study that you have, like the Tibetan Buddhists, and you know, your masters at the university, it's just all that behind you that that develops a big part of who you are, is it's almost like, you know, over here is Fleet and there's this other Fleet, like you said, there's this, you know, breaking of the whole, but, and now you've had this opportunity to come back to a whole. But that being said, you you literally developed unshakable confidence when you were in jail. And how did you develop that? How did you know and since your release, you have this unshakable confidence in yourself, in your life. Because there's a lot of people that aren't confident in themselves or, you know, we're gonna get into that where they they're fearful or they blame themselves or they have no negativity or justification, all those things, but you develop this unshakable confidence. How did you develop that again? Is this because of your faith?
Well, I think there's, there's two parts to it. The the most important part, you could say has to do with faith, or kind of an experiential faith, but the meditation practices of the Buddhist tradition and particularly of the tradition I was practicing in, allow one to over time to practice drop beneath of of the noise into the very depth of one's being. And where one is even no longer really witnessing that as if you could observe yourself. But one is just in that being one is just being in that very depth of being. And when you have these experiences, it becomes undeniable that that you experience yourself as not broken, that you don't need fixing, you're not missing anything you experience, the clear truth of your own innate goodness, and a wholeness and so forth. And that's a profound experience and, and the more you have access to that increases unconditional competence from which you can live your life, because it's not based on anything. Right? Now, the other types of competence that we develop in life, which are also very important, the kind of relative competence and generally the sort of the competence and the things we can do the things we're good at, right. And, you know, as we grow up as a child and go to school, you know, some of us are good at sports, all of us are good at, you know, language, some of us are very social and good at making friends, some of us may be good at math, or whatever. And, you know, we tend to build our competence on the things we're good at. And as we go further in life, and develop professional skills, and our work and so forth, you know, we build our competence around those things. But all of those things can be undermined by to an accident or an injury or an illness or, you know, the economy, you know, the bottom falling out, or all kinds of things can happen that can undermine a relationship, a job, a career and ability, a skill. And then where are we right? And so nothing wrong with building, those kinds of relative competences are very important. But if underneath that, the whole thing is kind of built on quicksand, because we haven't really dropped into the depth of our being, and resolve that because, you know, basically, our cell structure, we begin building it from, you know, we start separating from the Mother, you know, we're in this kind of unitary state with a Mother surrogate parent early on, and then, you know, around four or five, six months, we're beginning to separate individuate. And we have to develop some kind of psychological self, some self structure with which to navigate the world. And so we start building that out of just whatever's around. And and, you know, if we have a fairly stable loving childhood, we develop a fairly functional, stable sense of self. And if we have a childhood, that's less, so we have a less stable functioning so and but regardless of how stable or high functioning we may be, you know, it's still essentially fear based, because what we're experiencing as an infant is the app's actual groundlessness of life of reality it is, which is completely impermanent and groundless. And so we, we actually developed his cell structure to ward that off, because we're not prepared at that age to experience that kind of groundlessness. And even as an adult, you know, most of the spiritual practice and the inner spiritual practices are about reopening to that groundlessness. But we do it in a very graduated way with a lot of support and practice. But we can't do that when we're when we're infants, obviously, or when we're children. So, so our cell structures no matter how well developed and how high functioning are essentially, essentially fear based. And, and so, you know, we've never really gone down there and dealt with the depth of that being that that underlying beingness. For us, we sense it or intuitively sense that it's just kind of groundlessness emptiness or annihilation, right. And it's terrifying, right? So we don't go there. And at some point, until we do go there, we're really building the castle or the artifice of our life on quicksand, because we've never dealt with that. But when you go down there and make a relationship with the depth of being and you realize that though, it is groundless and fluid and empty of any individual cell structures, it's actually profound and stable and nurturing. And, you know, it's like, you know, one good analogy, I think, is, you know, if we didn't know how to swim, where, let's say, we're at a pool party, and somebody pushes us in the deep end of the pool, we're gonna probably panic and freak out. But if we don't want to swim, well, we might be irritated that somebody pushed us into a pool, but we'll start splashing around probably started laughing sooner or later because we're comfortable in the water. So we can develop that same comfort in the depth of our being through practice. And that's what gives us that ultimately gives us that Unshakable Confidence. Now, the other part of that, for me in prison was, you know, I had kind of, I grew up my family had a family business, and, you know, they had always kind of presented you know, we're different from other people, we're owners, small business owners, you know, and this is the way and you know, that whole big corporate world out there is ruthless and groundless, and you know, and, and, you know, follow this way and you know, I definitely was not going to follow the I had already kind of turned away for so many different reasons, not to my family weren't good people. It just wasn't my life and you And but, but I kind of bought into that idea that the bigger world out there, the corporate world and the professional world was kind of scary and, and so I think I guess I doubted my abilities. And actually, the first thing I realized I was really good at was drug smuggling, I was very good at it. I actually never directly got caught other people, you know, got caught when I quit and decided to invite me along, but I guess that's still getting caught in the long run. But at any rate, I was good at it, you know, and it gave me a certain competence, it was something I was good at. While in prison, you know, I was a school teacher, that was my day job, I found out I was a really good teacher. You know, I was a meditation teacher, I was I was teaching meditation I was very good and proficient at that. This was a maximum security federal prison hospital we started the first, another inmate myself helped start the first hospice program and a prison anywhere in the world and height of the AIDS epidemic. And I we got outside people in to train us and then I guy managed that training program did a lot of the training myself. And, you know, and I'll tell people coming in was Dr. recognized me as appear as, as even I was a prisoner, they recognized that I had the same kind of professional abilities they did. And I was constantly studying, I was working on my doctorate. And, you know, by the time I came out of prison, I, you know, felt like a Realized professional, I had tremendous competence in my professional abilities. And, but it was built now on this, on this deeper foundation of unconditional competence. So that was kind of an ideal situation, which allowed me and I knew I was going to be almost 50 When I got out, I mean, once I figured the whole thing out, and after my appeal, and everything that I would serve 14 and a half years. And, you know, I also there was a big judgment from against me from the IRS at $200,000. So I was going to get out with a with a serious criminal record, and a big debt that at 50 years old, I said, that's not an easy way to start your life. So I knew I had to really work hard to train myself and prepare, fortunately, that that that tax debt was dismissed, because they never followed through on it. And there's laws where, you know, I can't what they call that when, you know, when something after seven years, it kind of goes away or something because they never follow through on it. So that was a blessing when that was a blessing. Yeah, my brother in law, who's a lawyer helped me figure that out, just was getting out. But at any rate, so I was 50 years old and serious criminal record, and, but you know, I've had nothing but opportunity ever since I got out, which is now 23 years ago. And, you know, it's been I've been traveling the world before COVID-19, I was traveling all over the world continually teaching and leading seminars, and, you know, I was able to finish my PhD eventually and publish the book. And you know, I bet just had nothing but opportunity. And but their training round, really, though, I was like, I was in a 14 and a half year, you know, advanced educational situation like my, my doctoral and postdoc kind of training all in one.
Moira Sutton 28:03
Well, you've covered a lot of things I want to dive into, I'm not sure where I want to go with it. Because I still have lots of areas here. Let's let's go to this witnessing versus sensing and observing versus feeling in the mindfulness practice, the exercises that you share in your book. What what's what's the difference with that when we're witnessing something they talk about when we observe something, how things distort, like, they're not exactly what we're seeing?
Yeah, well, that's true. Although, you know, observing and being able to witness is a very, very valid part of the practice and path. It's where we begin. To use another analogy, you know, before we develop some kind of self awareness practice, or some kind of mindfulness and awareness practice, it's sort of like we're in this river of sensate experience without a lot of awareness. You know, we all have some or we couldn't function, but we don't have a lot. We're just kind of, in our experience. And sort of like that, that age old question your fish aware of the water because the water is so big, but to center in their life, right? So it's kind of like it's kind of like ourselves, and, and then, you know, when we start to kind of develop some kind of awareness practice, and we step back and can kind of witness our own experience, our own thoughts, emotions, experiences, our sense perceptions, it's kind of like we climb out of the river and sit on the bank of the river. And then we can observe the river and we see all the, you know, the hydrodynamics, and the whirlpools and eddies and currents, maybe debris floating by or maybe even small boats, you know, we're able to sit on the bank of the river and observe it. So that's kind of the beginning stage of mindfulness and awareness practice where we're developing this capacity to observe or the witness or what's sometimes called the watcher, very important development. Because from that witness mind, we can choose how we're going to respond to life. So it's really the beginning of our psychological freedom. So a very important development, but it still has a sense of separation. So is our practice can mature and that's why I teach a very deep really embodied approach to mindfulness awareness meditation that makes all of this much easier. Because by developing a deep physicality, like we're really tuned into, in our mind, body mind synchronized around the deeply felt physical presence of the body. That helps us shift from, you know, neural networks that support a very discursive, distracted mind to neural networks that support attention stabilization, which then gives us access to profound states of awareness. And so we're learning this kind of self regulate ourselves in that way, through posture. And the way we're relating our attention. And you know, just relating with our breath, we're not manipulating the breath in basic meditation, but still, we're, we're kind of being with the breath. And initially, you know, it is having that watcher that witness, but eventually, especially if we have that stable foundation of attention stabilization by synchronizing body mind with deeply embodied approach to meditation, then we're able to relax that witness to relax that observer. Let's take the breath. For example, let's say we're kind of observing the breath flowing in and out, right, we, we can feel the belly rising and falling, may we feel the passage of air to nostrils or potted lips, we feel the chest rising and falling. So we're observing all that and we're I know I'm breathing in, I know I'm breathing out, I can feel it, but I'm also kind of observing it. And there's still a sense of a watcher, a separate some someone who's observing the breath, right. So eventually, I can relax into just feeling the breath directly, without the need for a feeler much less a watcher, right to feel feeling out there, relaxing more into just direct feeling, direct experience. And I can further relax into just being the breath, to being the breath. And just like the breath is breathing itself, and the body is breathing itself. And you're just part of that, and there's really no sense of separation. So that's, that's moving into a more non dual kind of approach to meditation and more, allows us to more easily drop into the depth of our being. So it's kind of a trajectory from where we're initially, you know, using various techniques to direct the practice and some kind of self regulation. So it's a doing, and then over time, less and less, doing less and less, or the self regulation becomes more and more subtle. Until we begin to relax into and tap into this underlying, pre existing beingness. That's always there, this pure presence is pure beingness, which is tangible. And it's always there, we tap into that. And then it's more process of autoregulation, we're not having to direct the body is auto regulating itself, into these profound states of awareness and beingness and pure presence. And so we're going from doing to being right, so and it's by that way, we drop into the depth of our being and can have these experiences from which we begin to develop that unshakable competence in our own innate goodness, what my procedure called Basic Goodness, unconditional, primordial, innate goodness, and wholeness, right. And so you know that that's a very important projectory. And I have a model called neuro somatic mindfulness, where it's a neuroscience informed trauma informed, deeply embodied approach, which is really designed to guide people much more quickly into that, because it all it takes practice, it always takes practice. But many of us I know, early in my meditation path, you know, we're trying to meditate from the shoulders up mostly, you know, we get distracted, we noticed that we bounced back without, you know, we're chasing thoughts coming back chasing thoughts coming back. And, and, you know, we can spend a long time doing that. And maybe eventually, if you sit it up, you said, long cities, you kind of wear out that discursive mind and start to have some meditative experiences. But it's much easier if we actually use the body to anchor us in now in us, right. And then we have some understanding of this kind of subtle journey from from directed self regulation into auto-regulation, into pure being-ness. So that's kind of that journey, and I've been practicing meditation for more than 50 years. And during my time in prison, it was a real laboratory for that, because you know, I was practicing several hours a day for 14 years and even more on weekends sometimes and practicing late at night when it was quiet at night and micelle. And, and, and then, you know, I continued that very intentional practice the rest of my life. And even what right after I got out of prison, I taught at Neropi University in Boulder, Colorado, it is the same university I had graduated from before I went to prison. And there I taught a lot of different kinds of classes. But I also had a kind of drop in meditation class, which was for me kind of like a laboratory. And I was always experimenting with all these models for about 10 years and in that weekly class with the students that came and that's kind of where I evolved this this deeply embodied approach that I now call neuro somatic mindfulness.
Moira Sutton 34:51
Oh, full circle, going back and teaching where you were studying that's that's fantastic. Can you tell us what this bottom up and the top down brain is and how do people become fully engaged and awake through you know, with their conscious their heart mind become conscious in their heart mind connections. What is this bottom up? Top down brain you talked about in your book?
Yeah, you know, so many of us have heard of the idea that the human brain Dr. Paul McClean's idea was it's been a little bit, you know, discredited but it still has some valid validity to he thought of it like three separate brains, which are not the brain is one holistic, completely interconnected, interdependent enterprise. But there still are all these functional areas, people have probably heard of the reptilian brain, which is all about survival, there is the midbrain, which is about many things, but it's also where the amygdala are, and where, you know, our fear based responses get triggered. It's also where memory and language processing emotional processing is. And then you have the neocortex, that Neal mammalian brain, which is the you know, the smart part of our brain, the objective part of our brain responsible for all of our higher cognitive abilities. So but some, some neuroscientists sometimes talk about instead of the three part brain, we'll talk about the two part brain. And I'll talk about the top down brain, which is really the part of the brain that manages the rest of the brain and also the part that can be conscious while we're we're actually objectively consciously making decisions, right. And then the bottom up part of the brain with literally the lower parts of the brain is really like a bass supercomputer. And it's highly program, but it gets starts getting programmed from birth forward, it's highly programmed. And, you know, an interesting kind of analogy here or descriptive to understand the relationship between the two, you know, during a the amount of time that it would take the top down brain to like, decide what to have for lunch, right? A few minutes, look at a menu, decide what to have for lunch? How many processes can the bottom up brain do during that same time? Well, you might say, hundreds or 1000s, it's actually billions. It's a supercomputer. It's literally a supercomputer. There's all kinds of wonderful programming in there, what law allows us to walk and talk and function in life and, and but there's some gnarly programming in there that we picked up along the way, as well, or, you know, the stuff that got passed down through our family lineage that our forebears hadn't quite worked out, they hand it on to us and say, good luck, right. So you know, I think that's kind of our destiny in life is to take what we've received, improve on it, and hopefully pass on an improved version to those we influence including our children. So so that's the distinction between the top down brain, the kind of conscious brain and the bottom up brain, but all of that I was still described as the kind of body brain, the body brain, you know, it's kind of very much the encapsulated brain, which is thoroughly connected to the whole nervous system in the body. And there are other neural networks that we know today and the biome in the guts and also in the heart. But it's still kind of the body brain, it's focused on, you know, operating the body on all our sense perceptions, our cognitive abilities, and so forth. But then I would say there's, there's a vaster, you may not want to call it brain, because brain is kind of pointing to physicality. But if you know, and brain and mind are not the same thing, they often get acquainted. And certainly, the brain is a major vehicle for consciousness in the mind, although that would be an East West argument, which, which comes first consciousness or, you know, the physical brain or consciousness, Western science would say, most western science would say that consciousness is simply an epiphenomenon of the brain. And when you die, the lights go out. And that's it. And Eastern sciences would say more, no, there's there is consciousness independent of the human body. And actually, the human body is simply a manifestation of a deeper consciousness. But at any rate, and some Western scientists might try to kind of say it's both and But at any rate, you know, when you think of our sense of self, to begin with, even if we have a, you know, not very egotistical self, we've done a lot of work, and we're not really totally married to our individuality in such way, well, we all still operate with some sense of self, we couldn't function. And that self really resides in a nested set of relationships, is not encapsulated in the body, it resides in a nested set of relationships. And one way in which that becomes really clear is when we have serious losses in our life, and I bet quite a few. And, you know, the process of grieving can be so deep that because really, you know, our who we are, the fabric of our cell structure has been kind of ripped, and torn and, and you know, without this person in my life, who am I and we have to kind of re weave that sense of who we are in our place in a world that takes time. And that's really the process of grieving and integrating a loss. And so, you know, you can also think of that in terms of mind, and with the current emerging field of interpersonal neurobiology led by Dr. Dan Siegel and others, where they're integrating lots of different scientific disciplines including neuroscience, but also things like anthropology and linguistics and lots of different disciplines with In the humanities, and within the hard sciences,
the you know, there's this idea that we really, even on a mind level, we're, we're really an energetic system that's nested within other energetic systems, right? Our mind is an encapsulated, even within the skin of the body, the mind is also in this larger energetic fields. And, you know, and we have a lot of actually hard science, neuroscience to support that these days. And we all know about, you know, basic empathy and intuition and how we can sense things and we can feel others and all these kinds of things. So the mind is unlimited to the to the encapsulated brain in the skull, right? And so, and some of the qualities of this mind, the way we actualize, you know, the more we were always connected to these larger energy systems that were part of these living systems that were part of, we're always connected with a question, how much awareness do we have around that right? How much consciousness and then, you know, are we able to engage in a relational way in a very conscious way and have our own in polyvagal terms, have our own social engagement systems online and operate with others in a way that invites them to have their social engagement systems online, which creates connection and psychological safety and intimacy and relationship and so forth? So you know, that whole world of the interpersonal being-ness, right, what tick the great Zen teacher tick non Han called inter being inter being, that that is this larger mind? What you know, in the Buddhist tradition is sometimes called heart mind. And, or Bodhitchitta. And so that that's what I talked about when I talked about the heart mind and say, it's more interpersonal mind, the mind of interbeing.
Moira Sutton 41:53
In the heart, mind, how do we wake up this awareness and to, you know, become radically responsible for this inner life? And what are some exercises or an exercise that you could share to, you know, enhance our understanding of this way of the being in the world and become more conscious? Is there an exercise that you a short exercise that you could share? Or just, I know, You've shared a lot here, but ...
Yeah, sure, you know. The interesting thing is that anything we can do to become more embodied, more awake, and an awakening to our innate capacity for introspective awareness, I inter-ception is a fancy word, dance for internal perception, we experience the world around us to external assumption includes touch, external touch on the surface of the skin sight, sound, smell, and taste, external perception or extra perception, then we have internal perception, our entire body is a living organism and sensory all the way down to the bones, even the hard white outer layer of the bones, the periosteum, even the marrow of the bones, all containing neuronal cells, all connected to the central nervous system, as well as the musculature you know, the connective tissue, the vital organs, the lymphatic system, the circulatory system, the glands, everything, all sensory. And it's more subtle, because those internal perception travel to the brain to neural networks that are less myelinated, or in some cases, not myelinated which means they don't travel as fast or efficiently. So it's those sensations are more subtle, but we all this is how we experience pain or discomfort. If we're having a headache or having indigestion, you know, that's interception unfortunately, absent discomfort, we usually ignore the internal landscape of the body, right? We focus on extra perception, external touch on the surface and actually goes to a highly myelinated network and goes directly to the brain. So it's, it's they're different neural pathways and how we experienced this. But with practice, we can open to this internal field of sensate experience. interception and really, over time become much more embodied really alive in the body, you know, at home in our own skin, really feeling the body inside and out from head to toe. And it's really grounds us in life, like in the current neuroscience shows that enhanced interoceptive awareness, heals trauma deepens our resilience increases our emotional intelligence and literacy. Our capacity for emotion regulations are the most important things in terms of being able to, you know, navigate life and our relational field successfully. So the interesting thing is that the same neural networks that are involved in enhance interoceptive awareness, embodiment and interoceptive awareness are also neural networks that support connecting with others. So it turns out that the more deeply embodied we are, the more easily we make connections with others and develop in you know, safety and intimacy and connection with others, right. So it's all kind of the same work. Now one exercise that I don't really see Just people do on. I mean, people could do this on their own. But I lead it in workshops a lot. I've done it online quite a bit since the pandemic started. But it's a lot easier to do in person. But I do a lot of in my workshops, I get people in pairs and do a lot of things, try as pairs, small groups, but in pairs, I train them in something I usually call presensing, which is first becoming present to one's own body and mind in his deeply internalized way, both external and internal, you know, developing this deep embodied presence and learning to navigate that and sense that and be curious about that. And then from there, turning to the relational field, using eye gazing with another person sitting right across from another person almost need any, and engaged in his process of eye gazing, with not staring and it's not blaring out but there's this kind of relaxed, open, receptive gaze. And you know, initially there's some discomfort and some self consciousness, but over time, it just deepens and deepens. And but you don't lose track of yourself, you're not merging in a relational field, you're still very much embodied and aware of your own body, heart, mind, and you're intentionally, voluntarily entering into this relational field of exchanging connection with another. And people are amazed that with a perfect stranger as they develop this profound level of intimacy and connectedness in a matter of minutes. So that's kind of an exercise that's usually more guided right, that I do but there are some other x's sizes in the book the rack responsibility book that can help people with that work.
Moira Sutton 46:27
That's wonderful I did an exercise years ago Fleet where you sit like you said, in front of the other person and you're, you're from your heart and that you're sending through looking through to their eyes, which is you know, the connected to their soul, but you're sending love pure love, and and how people can start crying in that, because they can feel it like the depth of that.
Yeah, absolutely. Sometimes I directed that way by myself, and I just let that arise spontaneously, because if you give it enough time, it will. And then people will realize it is because it's kind of in a connectedness, but either way it can. It can be it can be quite profound, right? And you're sure, you know, we now know a lot more today about how neural networks of the heart are connected to other sense perceptions and division. And, and you know, we're just learning so much more about the inner landscape of the body and mind and how that connects to the external sense fields, and then to our relational fields and our connection even to the natural world.
Moira Sutton 47:28
Let's let's dive into the neurobiology that you talked about as a basis for learning habit formation. The thing about neurons, you know, that fire together, wire together? How can we have it's we have good habits, we have bad habits, we have habits, we want to break? How do we first of all break through those patterns that we don't want to have anymore? We want to be conscious, we don't want to live our life by design, not default, because of these habits. Big question. I kind of that's my little chunker part of me Fleet.
Yeah, well, I think it's gonna be fine. It's all about good habits and bad habits, you know, positive habits, negative habits, but really, more than the point it's there's habits and service and habits that don't vary, right? Yes. Yeah. And, and most of the habits we developed at one time or another, you know, we're in some way in service of something often just to keep us safe, right. But a lot of the habits and program we developed early in childhood, which we still rely on, is not really serving us now. Right. So when we recognize that we have habitual patterns that really aren't working for us, if we understand the science of habit formation, then there's a lot we can do to really change those habits. There's so many wonderful books now out, you know, BJ Fogg book, Tiny Habits, I think, and you know, the books about what's called Habit Stacking. And, and there's, there's a lot of one of SJ Scott's books. And I think as James Clears books (Atomic Habits), and there's a lot of wonderful books around the science of habit formation. And Charles Duhigg, wrote, I think the first book really on the science of habit formation. But the one really simple thing is understand something called the Habit Loop. So almost all habits have something that triggers the habit, the stimulus or the queue, and then there's a behavior, and then there's a reward. Right? And, and so, that gets repeated enough. And it becomes actually ingrained as a neural pathway in the brain. And we tend to just go there all automatically the cue happens, boom, we go into the behavior, we get the reward.
So, the one great strategy for changing a habit that is no longer serving us is there's always going to be that cue whatever it is, if we can replace the behavior that's not leading to a good outcome with a different behavior that will still produce a war, a reward, but a better outcome. It can be very easy then to with practice, just to change that habit to replace it. Now, the old neural networks are never going to go away, which is why you can backslide, but if you're really working, the new ones become robust enough you can dip hand on them. Now I'll give you an example, for example, would probably most of us had that experience when we're trying to work, we're trying to read a book we're focusing when we were doing some work in the office or at a computer or something. And then suddenly, we just kind of hit that wall fatigue or brain fog. So what many of us would do, then we'd reach for a cup of coffee, or we'd reach for, you know, the so called energy snack, which actually may have a lot of sugar in it, and you know, will then get the reward right, or the brain fog will clear, we'll get the clarity we can, we can continue working. But the problem is later, then there's the crash, right, the caffeine crash or the sugar crash, and then we're going to, we're going to be trapped in a cycle and go around and around. And maybe drinking more caffeine is good for us, or maybe eating more snacks that are good for us, leading to weight issues and all the rest of it. So let's say we want to change that. And this is something I've prepared, much personally done. So speaking from experience here, so we experienced that kind of fatigue, brain fog coming on, instead of grabbing the coffee again, there's nothing wrong with having a cup of iced my morning coffee or tea, there's nothing wrong with that. But you know, instead of grabbing for more caffeine, or for some kind of, you know, energy snack. Instead, what I decided to do was stand up, go get a glass, another guy drink a lot of water, but go get another glass of water, drink a full glass of water, do some deep breathing and do some stretching. And then I sit back down, my energy is completely renewed, the brain fog is cleared, I'm able to go back to work, same reward, different behaviors, same reward, same cue, same reward different behavior. And now I don't have the caffeine crash or the sugar crash or you know the weight issues or any of that, right. So that's just a simple example of how we can change a habit by working with that same habit loop of of cue or trigger behavior reward, and simply inserting a new behavior. Now, some other strategies, you know that some of the books I referenced have lots of great things. So the idea of tiny habits and starting off with really little micro habits, right, they're much easier to establish, right? So really break it down into tiny micro habits. And then the phenomena of, you know, even let's say, we want to get in shape, and I'm gonna get to where I can do 50 pushups, right? Well start off one pushup, make a commitment to do one pushup a day, pretty quickly, you won't be able to stop at one pushup, you'll be doing three and then you'll be doing five, right, but you start small. So tiny habits, and then the idea of habit stacking, is, once we have an anchored habit, whether it's a new one we created or one that was pre existing, we can then add habits to that in a chain of habits that becomes a routine. So for example, you know, maybe every morning we get up and brush our teeth what's the next thing we do? You know, maybe there's something new we maybe we maybe we're not much of a foster. So from now on, I'm gonna download a floss right? For you know, something else. Maybe we get home and we usually come in, we hang up the coder hat, we put the keys in a basket by the door. And then what do we do? Well, maybe we're wanting to, you know, get a little more conscious around the quality of our relationships. So we developed a habit, as soon as we put the keys in a basket, instead of going over and picking up the newspaper or plopping on the couch or turning on the TV, we go over and greet our partner or spouse and ask them how their day has been right. So we take a pre existing habit. And add to that another habit. Now I'll give you one more example of how you can build up a whole routine. So I have this whole morning routine I do that I built up over. Well, it's really refined it over a couple of years, but initially built it over several months.
So I wake up, and you know, just take a moment to kind of lie there and okay, I'm here, I'm alive to new day, feel some gratitude for that. And then I go into some physical exercise right there in bed, I do a whole series of crunches and different kinds of crunches, and I do spinal twists, and then I do some other stretches different back, I just stretches that whole routine probably takes me about, you know, I don't know, 10 or 15 minutes, and then I go into a half bridge pose and I do this rapid breathing that completely wakes up my system, it's also good for the core. Then I swing my sides over the mosquito side of the bed, I sit on the side of the bed and do some more breathing some, some very specific breathwork then I get up. And if I have time, sometimes my time varies, but if I have time, I have another kind of module that I do, which is I go get down on the floor. And I do another series of yoga stretches and I do push ups and so forth. And then I'll get up and then sometimes do some squats and so forth. Then I head into my shower, do the whole bathroom thing. And then I head in and to the meditation room, get some tea, go to the meditation room, meet my wife Sophie in there and generally do an hour to an hour and a half a meditation, then come down, create a really nutritious breakfast, enjoy that with my wife and then it's time to start my day. So I have two hours there of highly scripted that it's really hard for me to do Ancient has such momentum. And I built it up one habit at a time, till it became a routine. Now just to be kind of real and human about this, so my wife and I decided to, to get a puppy. We both have had dogs before I live several dogs, but we haven't have I had my last lab died a couple of years ago, I really, really missed him. So we decided to get a puppy right and, and so we welcome this brand new being into our life back in March, and it completely disrupted everything going on down there sleeping on the kitchen floor, you know, on a blow up bed, you know, keeping the puppy company through the night for the first 10 days and, and my wife took a few nights and, and eventually started sleeping through the night, but then it's early in the morning getting up to take him out to pee and then at breakfast, you know, it's completely disrupted our whole my wife's routine, my routine, just out the window, right? And so but you know, I wasn't gonna, you know, I realized, Okay, we're gonna have to surrender to this for a while. And you know, this is a new delight in our lives. And you know, there were several times for a couple of months, my wife and I looked at each over what were we thinking, right? But but at the same time, mix it with that was all the love and the joy of this new being in our life and a beautiful, just gorgeous, golden doodle that we're completely in love with. And Kiku. So, but you know, I gotta get back on the, on the saddle here. So we just really worked in developing new routines trading off, flipping out, sometimes we go up to the meditation hall in practice, sometimes we, we do it on our own down in the kitchen area. And we don't practice together that much anymore, sometimes on weekends, but, but we've worked out a routine. So both of us can have now gotten back into a rhythm of doing all our health and wellness disciplines and doing our meditation practice, and we've reestablished our routine, it's just taken some work. So you know, life disruptions happen, and you have to you have to reconfigure it, but you build it up one habit at a time, and then you build these routines, they have a lot of momentum, and you can really depend on them. You know, especially I really believe in that morning routine. You know, some people talk about it, I think Tony Robbins calls it the our power. And, you know, Robin Sharma talks about it, he has another term for it. And my my teacher calls it your daily ceremony, you know, and so it's a morning ritual regimen ceremony and is what you do. And to me, it's foundational to the quality of our data quality of our life. So that's the time to do it in the morning. And I really believe in that. And that's the way you build it up is by understanding how habits work. Also, you know, the brain. Now, the important thing to realize, is the brain is always economizing, you know, I mean, it the brain had to like deal with all the inputs that's coming in and make all you know, we smoke was coming out of our ears. So the brain is always looking for shortcuts. It's always looking for shortcuts, it's always looking to economize, it's always looking for the easiest way through. And so we need to remember that. So you know, when we're trying to establish new habits, we need to make it easy, right? We need to make it easy. So, you know, for example, you know, for me, I want to work out, you know, I have all the routines I do in the morning. But I also want to do other kinds of weightlifting exercises, and so forth at least three times a week. Well, if I have to drive and go to a gym, it's just you know, there's gonna be a million times I'll find that won't work or you know, some people that do works, but they have a gym close to home. And maybe it goes out of business. Now it's 20 minutes away, and the routine goes out the window. So I built my own gym at home because you know, then I know I'm going to do it. Or another example is, you know, wanting to not look at your cell phone first thing in the morning. Right, but you use yourself like I do use your cell phone for alarm clock, right? You have it up there in the bedroom, you know, well, it's really tough not to fall into that addictive impulse to go check your email or check social media wherever it is. Well, if you want to make it easy on yourself, leave the phone downstairs. Right? So when we're trying to create new habits, we need to remember the brain is always economizing, and we need to make it as easy as possible to develop that new habit.
Moira Sutton 58:55
Oh, okay, well, thank you so much. There's going to be a gift below from you in the show notes. We will just put this in as a surprise from Fleet. And thank you so much Fleet for sharing from your Heart and Soul your Wisdom on Becoming an Unstoppable Force for Good.
Namaste, thank you very much Moira.
Moira Sutton 59:15
Okay, Bye Bye.
Moira Sutton 59:17
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