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Transformative education at Stanford and Harvard

Interesting talk tonight in Tokyo by colleague Mikio Shishido and Mayumi Naruse on courses in mindfulness and positive psychology at Stanford and Harvard that help students transform their lives. In anticipation of the discussion, that includes my work, I am reflecting on my career so that I can better understand how mindfulness and positive psychology can give the world what is needed for people to be well and live with meaning and purpose.

I offer my classes at Stanford, but I learned about mindfulness and positive psychology as a student, researcher, and teacher at Harvard for eight years. My faculty advisor Richard Katz, had been a student of Erik Erikson and Henry Murray, as well as Timothy Leary and Ram Dass. He was a senior student with Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson, two leading figures in today's mindfulness field. Katz also was junior faculty and colleague of Abraham Maslow, who coined the phrase, "positive psychology." At Harvard, I also studied with Carol Dweck who was developing her mindset theory, now a foundation of positive psychology. Kiyo Morimoto, was another clinical advisor who taught positive psychology when it was known as humanistic psychology. Chester Pierce was another mentor who taught mindfulness and emotional intelligence before those terms were popularized.

Looking back, I see that there are many similarities in my courses at Stanford and Harvard courses on positive psychology. We introduce many of the same principles of how to live a good life. There are also major differences. One is focus of courses reflects different backgrounds in fields of psychology. Positive psychology is from cognitive, social, organizational psychology. My background is clinical and cultural psychology where the focus is on individual diversity and also cultural distinctions.

So my Stanford mindfulness courses are intensive seminars limited to 15 students. Positive psychology classes at Harvard are huge lectures for nearly 1,000 students teaching generalized knowledge in a cognitive approach. Mine is experiential and emotional, with a focus on story telling, collective knowing, and appreciative learning -- transformation as education. We engage in creating a healing, heartful community where we regain our humanity.

Another major difference that colors my courses is my background that includes much learning outside the field of academic psychology. I studied Chinese medicine, qigong, and Zen in Japan before going to graduate studies in psychology at Harvard. My understanding of illness and healing and human psychology in general is deeply based in diverse disciplines and my teaching, research, and practice integrate and balance Eastern wisdom and Western psychology.

How this is done is the subject of upcoming blogs.

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