Longer Biography

Engineers are known for being practical, down-to-earth kind of folks. We are interested in how things work and how we can make them work better. A part of me is like that. When I was a kid, I used to take my toys apart to see how they worked. And, I Lou Carcasolewould put them back together. This is important, because I bring this same attitude to the practice of Mindfulness Meditation. I needed to understand what Mindfulness Meditation was really all about – to know the nuts and bolts of it. I needed to demystify what was previously a mystery.

After engineering, I enrolled in a Master of Business program at the University of Toronto. Here I ended up taking courses like Organization Behavior, Small Business Entrepreneurship, and courses that dealt with different ways to manage and lead others. In other words, I started to become more knowledgeable about the people side of organizations. Coupled with my own experience as a business consultant and small business entrepreneur, I came to see the truth of a well known Canadian company’s slogan, which proclaimed, ‘Our Product is Steel, Our Strength is People’. I came to see that it doesn’t so much matter how good the product, production systems, or technology are, so much as, how the people work together. If an organization doesn’t work well at the people level – it doesn’t work well, period. People make all the difference. My interests shifted more and more to understanding and trying to improve how people work.

To deepen my understanding in this regard, I decided to go back to school to work on an Masters degree in education at O.I.S.E. (Ontario Institute for Studies in Education – now connected with the University of Toronto). The program I was in was very focused. It was called the Developing Human Resources (DHR) program. It was great! We learned about things such as personality types, learning styles, small group processes and development, behavioral psychology, and so on.

It was around the same time that I received an invitation to attend a weekend workshop, conducted by a teacher named Shinzen Young, on something called Mindfulness. I hadn’t heard the term Mindfulness before. And, although I thought I knew something about what meditation was, I discovered that I really didn’t know all that much after all. Nor did I have a perceived need to change anything in my life. I went because I was curious. I was fascinated by what I heard and began to experience and, as a result, decided to take up the practice.

So here I was now, working as a change consultant, attempting to help people in the way they functioned, communicated, and interacted using what I had learned in the M. Ed. program. I was also discovering just how difficult it was for people to change or to adapt to change. For example, I spent four years working for an organization where the CEO held strong beliefs that everyone in the company should continually work to improve themselves. We had a very intensive training program going on involving everyone in the organization. All kinds of workshops to help us better understand ourselves and others, better ways to communicate, resolve problems and conflicts, improve time management, planning, and so on, were taking place all the time. All of this seemed to be making a difference. We were definitely interacting with one another in better ways. We began to adopt a new language based on a deeper understanding of ourselves and each other. It felt wonderful. Then the CEO left.

The new CEO didn’t hold the same beliefs about training and development that the previous CEO did. As a result, virtually all training stopped. It wasn’t long before all the changes I had seen over the previous two years as a result of the training, vanish. It seemed that without the support structure of the CEO and ongoing training, we couldn’t maintain the changes. And, it wasn’t just that everything went back to the way it was, things were even worse than when we began, as people were frustrated, disappointed and disillusioned that they couldn’t maintain the gains they thought they had made.

The same thing happened with my own, direct clients. One client was a small software company. I spent about a year working with them. I had been invited by the company president who told me that although the partners had been together for some fifteen years, and knew each other so well that they could accurately predict what each was thinking, they were still quite dysfunctional. They were unable to resolve conflicts in a good way. Communication amongst them was often strained. He felt the way they worked together had to be improved, particularly in the face of an increasingly challenging market environment. I attended their weekly management meetings and intervened, using all the things I had learned at OISE. After a time, things seemed to be going so well that they decided to open up the process to include all of staff. Trust, co-operation, mutual support, productivity, creativity, all grew. Towards the end of my stay, one staffer, who had been with the company since its inception, exclaimed that she had never felt the atmosphere to be as positive as it now was. She expressed just how much she now enjoyed coming to work. I felt my chest swell with pride for a job well done.  About a year later, I invited the president out for lunch as I hadn’t spoken to him in over a year. As we were about to sit down at the restaurant, I asked how things were back at the company.  I almost fell to the floor when he answered with the word ‘awful’. In fact, he said, things are worse now than before we began. I was shocked. Things couldn’t be going better when I had left. I thought I had also armed them with all the tools they would need to deal with future challengess. Not only couldn’t they hold on to the gains we had made together, they forgot everything I had taught them, including the tools.

Was it me? Maybe I wasn’t as good a consultant as I thought. I decided to check with my colleagues what their experiences were. These were people who had been in the same program at OISE with me. They worked as both internal and external DHR consultants. They were managers in Human Resources department, Training and Development Specialists. I asked them to tell me truthfully, whether, after some time had elapsed since the intervention, had anything really changed. The answers were shocking. Their answers ranged from ‘not much’ to ‘nothing at all’.

It appeared that our ability to change or to adapt to change without ongoing support, was low to non-existent. Why? Was the situation hopeless? Could we do anything different? I did find an answer to the problem. The answer, as you could guess, was Mindfulness. You see, during all this time I had been continuing to practice. And, I started to notice positive change in myself. I was better able to handle confrontations and other problems without getting all stressed. I noticed positive change in those who had also taken up the practice of Mindfulness.

In 1996, I began feeling that the best way I could help people was by helping them through Mindfulness Meditation. I asked my teacher Shinzen Young if I was ready to teach and received his blessings. In 1999, I attended a teacher training with Jon Kabat-Zinn, who is well known in the healthcare sector. Jon was the one who had pioneered the 8 week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. Through his books, his teacher training, research studies into Mindfulness, and other initiatives, Jon has probably done more than anyone else to bring Mindfulness to the attention of people here in the west.

Since 1996, I have taught thousands in the Toronto and GTA area about Mindfulness through the 8 week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. At the end of the program, people are asked to fill out questionnaires asking them to evaluate the program with such questions as: whether they felt the program had made a difference in their lives; whether they enjoyed the program; whether I, as a facilitator was well prepared; whether the program met their learning objectives; and so on. Although the evaluations were always extremely positive, I wasn’t satisfied. While I was happy that they thought highly of the program, I needed to know whether we actually made in real difference in their lives. I was looking for more objective proof that Mindfulness was effective. For some time now, I have used a questionnaire that measures the level of stress-related symptoms in a person’s life. The questionnaire is completed both at the beginning of the program and again at the end, allowing us to measure any changes that have occurred. The results are always very impressive and often nothing short of spectacular. I know that through the teaching of MBSR, I am making a significant difference.