Zen Buddhist priest Flint Sparks advocates for mindfulness in counseling

Flint Sparks

Flint Sparks received a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, but his experience counseling the terminally ill inspired him to search for spiritual practices that would support his psychological work. He discovered Zen Buddhism, which, like psychotherapy, aims to relieve human suffering.
Sparks is now an ordained Zen Buddhist priest. Drawing from both his spiritual and therapeutic background, he dedicates himself to helping people “grow up and wake up.”
Sparks’ specialty is mindfulness, the state of living in the moment and remaining open to experience. Mindfulness is associated with Buddhist practice, but it’s also a technique used by psychologists to treat depression, drug addiction, and other mental and physical conditions. Given his background, Sparks is uniquely suited to help social workers, alcohol and drug counselors, clergy members, and marriage and family counselors incorporate mindfulness into their work.
In full-day programs on March 10 and 11, 2015, Sparks will share his perspective on “Using Mindfulness in Your Practice: Wisdom and Compassion in Counseling.” The course, sponsored by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Division of Continuing Studies, will explore applications for mindfulness techniques in counseling and spiritual practice. Participants will learn the foundations of mindfulness in Buddhist teachings, and will see how mindful attention can be used in counseling.
“Using Mindfulness in Your Practice: Wisdom and Compassion in Counseling” takes place at Madison’s UW Pyle Center, 702 Langdon St. Participants can register for both days or for day one only.
“My hope is that participants will leave having a better understanding of how mindfulness practices can be applied to the processes of both self-discovery and self-regulation, two key features of any counseling or coaching endeavor,” Sparks says. “Clinicians, counselors, and coaches are all engaged in assisting their clients in the process of self-discovery in the service of change. Mindfulness is a key tool in linking everyday skills of self-reflection to deeper psycho-spiritual insights and changes. I hope that participants will gain a taste of mindfulness in action through demonstrations and small-group experiences.”

Curiosity and discovery

Sparks is a resident teacher at Appamada, a center for Zen practice in Austin, Texas. For over a decade, he has made annual trips to Madison to teach and lead retreats.
“What I am offering has a firm foundation in both spiritual practice and clinical research,” Sparks says. “My approach is one of curiosity and discovery. I hope to offer a fresh approach to the use of mindfulness in counseling that is energetic and fun. I want participants to leave with a sense of joy and energy, not filled with just data and concepts about this fascinating topic.”
On March 12, Sparks will give a free public lecture at 7 p.m. in the Pyle Center on “Growing Up and Waking Up: Psychological and Spiritual Maturity in Everyday Life.” He will explore the connections between what he calls the two primary streams of human development: the psychological and the spiritual.
To learn more, contact Flint Sparks, 512-633-5560, flint@flintsparks.com; or Barbara Nehls-Lowe, bnehlslowe@dcs.wisc.edu, 608-890-4653.