MLSRI 2010: Day 3

Day 3 opened with the customary yoga followed by meditation. Today’s First Moring Session featured the talk, The Development of Consciousness in Childhood by Philip Zelazo, Ph.D. The talk addressed the development of reflective control processes in childhood, how this development is influenced by language and culture, and implications of this research in understanding awareness, mindfulness and affective experience.


Reflective reprocessing can lead to the development of ‘executive function’ in children – how information is used versus ‘intelligence’ which is the possession of knowledge itself, Zelazo explained.


“Executive function in childhood is tied to a wide range of social outcomes, including self-understanding and school readiness,” Zelazo said. “It is an important predictor, even beyond I.Q., of school readiness and mathematical aptitude from preschool through high school.”


The Second Morning Session, Development, Education and Contemplative Practice: Crafting a Research Agenda, by Richard Davidson, Ph.D., provided an overview of the key questions that lie at the intersection of development, education and contemplative practice. Davidson said that while science clearly understands the relationship between early experience and language acquisition, we don’t fully understand that relationship in terms of the development of emotional skills.


“There are certain circuits in the brain that are important for the regulation of emotion and attention that are good targets for contemplative interventions,” Davidson said. “But because many of these circuits develop later in life, we may need to introduce contemplative practices to kids in different ways, offering external cues and prompts to essentially replace the endogenous guidance that is possible with the internal system the only develops in late adolescence.”


The First Afternoon Session, The Origins of Unfolding of Concern for Others: Offerings from Developmental Science, was presented by Carolyn Zahn-Waxler, Ph.D., who said that concern for others is very closely related to compassion and that it is a capacity we have very early in life.


“The origins of compassion are in the early mother-child relationship,” Zahn-Waxler said. “By 23 months, children are typically engaging in prosocial behavior and empathetic concern.” She suggests that plasticity occurs early, and could be an opportune time to augment prosocial potential.


The Second Afternoon Session, Self-Referential Processes and Representations During Adolescence and Emerging Adulthood: Implications for Contemplative Education, by Robert Roeser, Ph. D. and David Vago, Ph.D., focused on the development of modes of self-reference and self-representation during adolescence and emerging adulthood, and how mindfulness practice can prevent mental health and education problems that can occur during this developmental period.


“There is a difference between the perceiving self and the self that perceives, and different situations modulate experiential focus,” Vago said.


“During adolescence, the representational self takes on more coherence and form and increasing levels of consciousness,” said Roeser. “The development that starts around puberty and goes through the 20s is dubbed emerging adulthood, but the development of the self is a lifelong task.”


A special ad hoc Afternoon Session featured Geshe Dorji Damdul, translator for His Holiness the Dalai Lama inside and abroad India and Deputy Director of Tibet House, Cultural Center in New Delhi, India. Geshe Dorji Damdul talked briefly about Buddhism, seeking to answer the question, “What is Buddhism?” for the scientific community.


“2500 years ago Buddha came to solve a problem that existed in everyone,” Geshe Dorji Damdul said. “Ultimately all problems are rooted in misperception of the reality outside of misperception of ourselves. This misperception is like a darkness that can be eliminated through introducing the light – the wisdom – so that misperception is minimized and happiness can be brought forth.”


According to Geshe Dorji Damdul, three levels of knowledge exist in Buddhism:


1. Learning – imitating, hearing, discovering, accepting information without knowing it oneself

2. Reflection – seeing the proof or the source of the knowledge and having one’s own knowing

3. Familiarization or Mediation – having the knowledge become wisdom by becoming so familiar that the effects (actions or responses) from the knowing become spontaneous


He further discussed Buddhist Science, the subtleties of the mind, and the key point of interdependency between all things. “Knowing interdependency with others and being concerned with the outcome of others, that is the key to seeing the truth,” Geshe Dorji Damdul said.


An Evening Session by Tsoknyi Rinpoche, Transformation of Emotion and Self through Contemplative Practice, looked at the role of both Shamatha and Vipassana practice in the transformation of emotion and self at different points in life. Tsoknyi Rinpoche discussed the different types of ego and the different levels of consciousness that one must become aware of and understand in order to have the correct view or perception to effectively meditate.


“In order to achieve the correct meditation practice, you must have the view, and based on that you cultivate clarity through repetition,” Tsoknyi Rinpoche said. “Clarity is not clarity about something, but the background of the awareness of being aware. Rest in that without going into thoughts; rest in the open background not on the immediate feelings or thoughts.”


He closed the session with a short practice, allowing the audience to experience firsthand parts of the processes he outlined.


The last Evening Session featured three Varela Award presentations:


Teresa Hawkes: Differential Effects of Meditation, Tai Chi and Aerobic Walking Training on Attentional Abilities


Tucker Peck: The Effects of Mindfulness Meditation on Sleep Electrophysiology and Duration


Brandon King & Anthony Zanesco (co-PIs): Initial Findings on Training-Related Changes in Cognitive Control in an Intensive Vipassana Retreat


The evening closed, as customary, with a silent mediation as participants prepared for a full day of silence and contemplative practices on Day 4.