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Natural Awakenings Tucson

Skillful Karma Awareness

Mar 31, 2015 10:33PM ● By Dale Bruder

Dr. Mark Pirtle

According to Dr. Mark Pirtle, developer of the Skillfully Aware program for stress relief, “Karma is every action that makes us who we are. All the actions flowing through the world, body and mind create experiences that we judge to be pleasant and unpleasant. In this way, our Karma doesn’t happen to us, it comes from us; it’s our perspective on what’s happening.” He continues, “Life seems to be made up of an entangled mix of circumstances and reactions to those circumstances.”

His statement takes a seismic shift in perspective to understand. Habits, tendencies and even destiny are constantly being remembered or created; responding to the survival and continuation of being alive. Pirtle relates, “I came to this perspective after studying what is called Living Systems Theory—a theory that states that life makes itself, meaning that life processes flow by itself. For example, right now, your fingernails are growing, but you are not growing them. You are not beating your heart or having an argument in your head about something or controlling any of the quintillion cellular actions taking place in your body at this moment. All these actions and musings are flowing by themselves. That’s what I call self-making.”

This self-making controls our bodies and minds and affects our spirits, reflected in 70% of doctor’s visits being stress related. Resistance is futile, causing a cornucopia of stress related conditions. The traditional medicine response is to medicate the symptom. A psychologist may respond to reinforce a patient’s story, even as the condition continues to cause erosion. 

Pirtle, a stress illness specialist, saw this connection and its effects, saying “I’ve equated the definition of cognition with the ancient concept of karma that is defined as action.” Pirtle describes the two as one and the same, both perpetuated by self-generation. He continues, “That’s why it’s hard to change your karma. Once the organism knows how to act to survive, cognition creates the thoughts, sensations and triggers to assure continuation. This is why stress related conditions like addiction, depression and anxiety are so hard to get rid of. Everything is flowing as a result of the story that you are playing out with every breath. All action is a knowing the system has taken on.”

Years of clinical experience and professional development studying science, exploring spirituality and traveling his personal razor’s edge, led Pirtle to develop the self-care program that addresses the self-making. Refined in clinical environments, the stress specialist created the personal practice Skillfully Aware. 

The Skillfully Aware program is a mindfulness and meditation practice to understand personal karma through conscious cognitive attention. The program supports learning the art and science of self-change and healing in a step-by-step procedure towards achieving stress-releasing benefits. 

All mindfulness meditation is an adaptation of Buddhist vipassana meditation where practitioners learn to be mindful of intentional, accepting and non-judgmental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment. With regular practice, mindfulness meditation can become a mental position allowing separation of a given experience from an associated emotion, and it can facilitate a skillful or mindful response to a given situation.

In a 2014, in a meta-analysis of scientific studies on mindfulness meditation, the US Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality concluded that meditation programs, in particular mindfulness programs, reduce multiple dimensions of psychological stress. 

“Skillfully Aware’s mindfulness method develops an eye for the internal self-making. The practice shines a light on cognitive behaviors happening all by themselves. Practitioners quickly realize they are witnesses to a very impersonal process that can relieve shame, blame and guilt. The experience can be liberating.”

Pirtle uses the process in his work at Sierra Tucson, Miraval Resort and the Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona. He offers a six-week training that introduces the concepts and techniques to professionals, artists and others on personal development paths. His academic accomplishments include a doctorate in physical therapy, certifications as a strength and conditioning specialist and as an Orthopedic Manual Therapist. He put himself at the feet of mind study teachers Geshe Tashi Tsering, Shinzen Young and Upasaka Culadasa and body practitioners Dr. James Cyriax MD, Dos Winkel, PT, Omar Mathijs PT and David Butler PT. Collectively, his experiential scholarly journey inspired Pirtle in designing the transformational program and increased his ability as a doctor to address pain. 

Skillfully Aware’s method modifies the age-old discipline of being at rest and in action; being in a still attention as one moves through and interacts with the matrix in full awareness. The mindful practice includes letting people be where they are, calming the mind through waking meditation and developing peaceful personal ethics with family, community, and life interactions. 

The six week program Pirtle offers supports and guides you through developing a meditative mindset where experience becomes an unfolding of applying cognitive techniques—directing thoughts, sensations and triggers leading to a kinder emotional learning that plays out a light, flowing karma.

Dr. Mark Pirtle’s classes are held at various locations in Tucson. For more information, on his classes and products, visit See ad page 13.