MLSRI 2010: Day 2

Day 2 started off with 6 a.m. yoga led by Catherine Shaddix, based on Ashtanga yoga, which focuses on breathing, by silent meditation at 7 a.m. The silence from the night before was held through morning breakfast, broken by the morning sessions.

The First Morning Session, Contemplative Practices, Education and Human Development, given by Mark Greenberg, Ph.D. and Richard Davidson, Ph. D considered the hypothesis that the use of contemplative practices in education settings can promote resilience, decrease at-risk behavior and cultivate positive qualities. They suggested that while these practices are gaining in popularity for use in educational settings, more research from a developmental perspective is needed to ground the practices in scientific findings.

Greenberg described how adding contemplative practices to Social and Emotional Learning could add the values of practice and recognizing that we are not our thoughts for children and students, while adding the value of reducing stress for teachers, and that the best way to get these practices into schools and curriculum is to use normative language such as ‘stress-reducing’ and ‘academic performance.’

The Second Morning Session, Professions of Human Improvement, was led by Tsoknyi Rinpoche and Arthur Zajonc, Ph.D., and moderated by Sharon Salzberg. The discussion looked at the unique challenges associated with teaching what it means to be a fully thriving and flourishing human being as well as the differences between teaching contemplative practices in monastic and secular contexts.

“Research that mediation works allows us to step into dialog with administrators to say that the benefits of contemplative practice are legitimate,” Zajonc said. “We use studies by reputable sources to help us craft our practice.”

The First Afternoon Session, Contemplative Mind in Higher Education, presented by Zajonc, gave an overview of the prominent uses of contemplation currently being explored by teachers and students. In discussing contemplative pedagogy, Zajonc said it is important to keep the essence of contemplative practices and traditions as present as the science.

“The Buddha didn’t come to work on the prefrontal cortex,” Zajonc jested. “Sometimes we get distracted by the models and the studies we have, and so coming back to contemplative engagement is important.”

The Second Afternoon Session, Teaching Contemplative Studies: Theory and Practice, was presented by Hal Roth, Ph.D. and Willoughby Britton, Ph.D., and looked at the basic element of teaching a course in this new field of Contemplative Science.

Roth sought to define terms such as ‘contemplative studies’ and contemplation, and asked, “How do we prepare ourselves to become contemplative educators?”

“What is this education all about?” Roth said. “Is it accumulating a lot of facts and going out and getting a job that uses those facts or getting a better understanding of your human being?”

Britton outlined that by integrating 1st and 3rd person studies and research in teaching, academics is now producing practioner-scientist and practioner-scholar hybrids. She also explored the question of whether attentional training other than mediation is more, less, or equally as effective as mediation in terms of attention, empathetic concern for others, and emotional balance.

As customary, the afternoon sessions were followed by break-out groups to further discuss presenters’ findings, and then yoga and dinner in the dining hall.

The Evening Session featured three Francisco J. Varela Awardee presentations. The Mind & Life Francisco J. Varela Awards, named after co-founder Francisco Varela (1947-2001), are small research grants given to investigate hypothesis developed at the Summer Research Institute. The evening presentations were:

Sean Barnes: Identifying the Mechanisms of Action in Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy.

Helen Weng: Can Compassion Be Trained?  Behavioral and Neural Evidence.

Ellen Darling & Nathaniel Lepp (co-PIs): School-Based Mindfulness Training as a Novel Delivery-System

Following a rich day of presentations, the day closed with an evening mediation followed by silence until the morning mediation.