Free Will is a Skill – John’s TEDx Talk

On April 9, 2017, our co-founder, John Bruna, had the honor of presenting at the TEDx event hosted by California State University, Long Beach.  You can view the video of his moving and insightful talk below. 

Aspen Public Radio, April 14, 2016

Carbondale couple aims to make mindfulness more accessible


Learning how to meditate can be difficult, and developing something called mindfulness can be just as tricky. Now a Carbondale couple aim to make those activities a little easier to achieve.

Carbondale resident John Bruna has seen and experienced a lot. He’s been homeless, worked as a corporate manager, trained to be a buddhist monk, all among many other things. Now Bruna and his wife, Laura Bartels, are creating an online community for people interested in mindfulness.

“There’s no agreed-upon definition of mindfulness that’s universal,” says Bruna. “But one version of it is the ability to bear in mind who you are and what your values are.”

Bruna and Bartels are based at their Way of Compassion Dharma Center in Carbondale. This newer project is called the Mindful Life Program, with daily teachings and other resources posted online for subscribers.

“The basic research right now says that on average, mostly in the U.S., our mind is wandering about half the time that we’re awake,” says Bruna.

He and Bartels have taught mindfulness courses for a while, usually traveling outside the Roaring Fork Valley, to help participants make better choices, avoid bad habits and generally stick to what students find important in life.

Bartels, who has made a name for herself as a straw bale construction expert, says she and Bruna noticed their courses didn’t seem to be enough. “We also wanted to be able to support people on a daily basis,” she explains, “because when you have daily support, and you feel connected to a community of support, that’s where you can really change habits.”

That can be especially true for folks in addiction recovery. A woman we’ll call Aaron is a member of the Mindful Life Program and says it’s been helping her in the early stages of putting her life back together. She heard about the project–and daily emails– from Bruna.

“I use [the project] all the time,” she said by phone last week. “I watched all the videos that [John Bruna] and Laura [Bartels] did. And when I wake up, that’s the first thing I read in the morning, is the email. So yeah, I use it a lot.”

“Part of the vision is to always make this accessible to people,” says Bruna. He points out that the people who usually have time for mindfulness courses have a fair amount of disposable income, too. “We really wanted to take it out of the domain of the wealthy, educated, upper middle class community.”

Bruna and Bartels are up against a plethora of meditation and mindfulness phone apps. So far they have more than two hundred paying subscribers, and hope to sign up tens of thousands in the coming years.

Bruna, Bartels launch Mindful Life Program

THE SOPRIS SUN,Carbondale’s community supported newspaper • May 22,2014 • 13

Sopris Sun Staff Report –  Former Buddhist monk/counselor/teacher John Chophel Bruna has partnered with long-time local Laura Bartels to create the Mindful Life Program, offering practical and transformative courses, retreats and re- sources in mindfulness. Based in Carbondale at the Third Street Center, they offer pro- grams locally and throughout the U.S., Canada and Australia to help participants live a meaningful life according to their own values, and learn to respond skillfully to life’s events, said a press release.

Bruna is the director of the Way of Compassion Foundation and co-founder of the Mindful Life Program. Not unfamiliar to the Roaring Fork Valley, Bruna, who was a Tibetan Buddhist monk for more than six years, used to tour with his fellow monks from Gaden Shartse Monastery through Aspen and Glenwood Springs. Having moved to Carbondale last summer, he now has a steadily growing number of people from the area studying with him and attending weekly groups, retreats and trainings.

Bruna’s journey to Carbondale is un likely. When he was growing up amid poverty, drugs and violence in Los Angeles, one of nine children of a widowed mother, he had one goal: to not go to prison like family members and friends.

Despite stealing alcohol from liquor stores at age 10, becoming an alcoholic, a drug addict, homeless and a father at 20, Bruna managed to achieve that goal, according to a press release. But at 22, as his life spiraled out of control, he decided to get clean and sober and set a new goal: God’s will be done, not mine.

“My will always got me in trouble,” he said. “For me, it translates into: How can I be of benefit?” Fifteen years into recovery, another pivotal event came when he started to meditate and follow the Buddhist teachings of the Dalai Lama.

John Bruna

John Bruna

“I realized that much of the suffering in the world is unnecessary,” said Bruna, who in 2005 became an ordained Buddhist monk in the Tibetan tradition. “To have real peace in life, you have to have peace with yourself. Meditation allowed me to quit reacting to the world and to be able to respond skillfully with intention. I was able to go inside and look at the patterns in my life that led to unhappiness and ask myself: What will help me lead the life I want, a beneficial life?”

Today, Bruna travels the United States and Canada giving workshops and leading retreats designed to help others lead happier lives. He is currently teaching a four- week mindfulness course in Carbondale. He also leads a weekly Mindfulness Group, and a weekly meditation and dharma talk. “The quicker we identify our emotions, the more skillfully we can respond to them instead of simply reacting to them,”

Bruna said. Bruna said he believes that one of the best ways to become aware of one’s emotions and respond appropriately is through cultivating mindfulness throughout one’s daily life, which is an integral part of his teachings. Mindfulness, even practiced for a few weeks, can transform lives, according to Bruna. The key to mindfulness is training the mind, which is done through meditation. “Meditation settles the mind, bringing it back to its natural state,” he said.

At the end of 2011, Bruna said he transitioned from the life as a Tibetan Buddhist monk to a layperson because he felt he could be more effective, reaching more people as a layperson than as a monk. In 2012, he founded the non-profit Way of Compassion Foundation, with the mission of helping people live meaningful lives according to their own values and spiritual beliefs. The foundation operates on donations he receives from his workshops and public talks and from sponsors. Desiring to offer mindfulness training that was practical, accessible and universal, Bruna, along with Australian colleague Mark Molony, created a curriculum for a comprehensive mindfulness course that is adaptable to all types of specific audiences from the general public, to educators, therapists and recovery programs among others. The goal is to help participants live a meaningful life according to their own values, while cultivating emotional and “attentional” balance.

For more information about the weekly groups of both organizations see and, or call 970-633-0163.