The founder of Hakomi "body-centered psychotherapy" has decided to make his home in Ashland and open a training center after suffering a heart attack earlier this year. Having shaped Hakomi into a simple and accessible form over the past four decades, Ron Kurtz, 76, says he wants to "slow down," organize the library of his lectures and workshops and offer trainings for trainers.

The founder of Hakomi "body-centered psychotherapy" has decided to make his home in Ashland and open a training center after suffering a heart attack earlier this year. Having shaped Hakomi into a simple and accessible form over the past four decades, Ron Kurtz, 76, says he wants to "slow down," organize the library of his lectures and workshops and offer trainings for trainers.

Trainings will be available for the public and professionals on Hakomi, which he calls "applied Buddhism" because of its emphasis on gentle mindfulness, nonviolence, honesty and the oneness of mind and body.

Kurtz will announce his plans during a benefit for the Ron Kurtz Center Legacy Project at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 2, at the Havurah Shir Hadash, 185 N. Mountain Ave., Ashland. Suggested donation is $10-$20.

The Kurtz Center will open Dec. 10 with an array of Hakomi classes, listed at http://ronkurtzcenter.com.

Hakomi, a Hopi word for "who are you?" de-emphasizes the verbal techniques of traditional psychology, Kurtz says, instead "using mindfulness, with little experiments to evoke memories, so that old painful memories arise to heal and modify in healthy ways. "You watch your experiences go by and I'll say something to evoke memories, which get re-consolidated and remembered differently, with a new belief system and set on the path to healing," Kurtz says.

His talk at Havurah, he notes, is intended "to inspire people to see what's possible and that it doesn't have to take 10 years and a lot of conversation, if you have the courage to do it."

Kurtz says Hakomi therapists always act with "loving presence." While Hakomi seeks to heal the individual, Kurtz says all such healing and consciousness-raising must aim at a bigger target. "We're at the end of the road where greed has led us and, as the Buddhist mantra says, all is impermanent and without a separate self," he says.

Western society suffers from development of a separate self that competes with others and minimizes caring. The result is a need to "wake up, change our evil ways ... and reduce the enormous suffering that's going on in the world unnecessarily," he says.

Using Marina McDonald, executive director of his center, as a subject, Kurtz demonstrates how her simple habit of twirling a strand of hair has emotional content from childhood, when she started doing it "to feel like I'm here" — a counter to being left alone a lot.

Fellow trainees supply positive, new sentences, such as "we're here with you," resulting in moving and healing changes and understandings.

McDonald, who gave up a career as a high-end furniture designer to live in Ashland and train as a Hakomi therapist, says Kurtz has taught trainers to be in "a state of loving presence, so critical in these challenging times, when we really need to become human beings ... and I've never seen anything as powerful. ... It's absolutely magical."

Kurtz explains that he teaches trainers the Buddhist tenets of compassion — being "radically present," finding something to love in clients and being aware that all aspects of what's happening in front of you are behaviors with roots in the original pain and wounding.

"Neurological research shows the brain (of the therapist) can be turned to verbal or to much wider things," he says. "Insights happen when you stop thinking. Radical presence happens when you stop being overly focused on the problem and its history. The behavior is the result of the problem and it's right in front of you."

Although many Westerners seek inner peace from Buddhism, Kurtz notes it's difficult for them unless they resolve long-standing emotional problems — and that Hakomi helps with that shift.

Kurtz, a native of Brooklyn educated at University of Indiana, has taught at Esalen at Big Sur, Calif., and learned from many psychology pioneers there in early days.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.