Network News: Summer 2014

Paivi Ahonen is continuing her research related to Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness initiative and finalizing an article on the topic entitled, "Bhutanese Teachers’ Perceptions about Gross National Happiness in Education for Sustainable Development."

Nava Levit Binnun reports that, for the fifth time, a daylong symposium inspired by Mind and Life took place in Israel on the question of interfacing meditation and neuroscience for the study of consciousness. The main panel included senior faculty of various disciplines—philosophy of science, neuroscience, and meditation—giving talks on different aspects of the question. The symposium was convened by the Muda Center for Mind, Science and Society at the Sagol Institute for Applied Neuroscience School and featured speakers from Hebrew University, the Weizmann Institute of Science, Psycho-Dharma Institute, and Tel-Aviv University, among others. Nava Levit Binnun, who chairs the Muda Center, as well as participants Aviva Berkovitch-Ohana and Asaf Federman have all attended Mind and Life’s Summer Research Institute in previous years.

In February, Michel Bitbol published La conscience a-t-elle une origine? with Flammarion. The book renews the classical debate about the possibility of reducing consciousness to a neuronal process. It gives the reader the role of a final judge in this contest, not only as a rational spectator, but also as an actor able to realize his/her own state of consciousness at certain turning points of the argumentation. "The key to the riddle might well lie in the obvious fact that any question about the origin of consciousness itself originates in consciousness," says Bitbol. The inquiry uses various approaches, such as phenomenology, metaphysics, contemplative disciplines, neuroscience, and evolution theory. Each position about consciousness is then evaluated according to the following criterion: Which existential stance should one adopt in order to make full sense of such theses?

Karen Bluth reports that her collection for her Varela study was completed in December. At this point in time, she is in the process of analyzing the data, including physiological markers of stress (cortisol, heart-rate variability, blood pressure) that had been collected before and after adolescents participated in a six-week mindfulness class. These data were collected at baseline, while the teens were exposed to the Trier Social Stress test, and during a recovery period. Some of the data from this study will be presented at two separate national conferences this spring. She is also working on several new projects, including a multisite project that involves developing and piloting a self-compassion program
for teens.

Judson Brewer‘s lab produced eight papers in 2013, most related to neuroimaging of meditative states. Several of these have been using real-time neurofeedback to more closely correlate subjective experience with brain activity. The lab’s most recent paper is the first to characterize the neural activity of loving-kindness meditation. Also of note, the lab’s clinical studies of mindfulness training for smoking cessation were highlighted in the "100 best new health discoveries" of 2013 in TIME.

Amanda Brown is a graduate student in clinical psychology interested in the role of contemplative practices in promoting well-being and alleviating psychological distress. She is particularly interested in studying the mechanisms through which mindfulness- and compassion-based interventions affect change. She is currently working on a project related to the treatment of body image disturbance, a problem that is prevalent in both clinical and non-clinical samples, with a focus on self-compassion training as a potential new direction for addressing the current gap in theory and treatment. She is involved with the Cognitive-Based Compassion Training (CBCT) Program at Emory. This spring, she is teaching a 10-week CBCT course to a group of Emory undergraduate students. In the past she has co-taught CBCT for female prisoners and adolescents in the Atlanta foster care system.

Varela awardee Ryan T. Canolty will join the University of Houston in the fall of 2014 as an assistant professor of cognitive neuroengineering in the department of electrical and computer engineering. In collaboration with surgeons and patients at the University of Texas Health Science Center, he plans to focus on investigating the functional role of neuronal oscillations, the dynamic coordination of distributed brain networks, and the potential of electrical stimulation for influencing cognitive faculties such as access consciousness, attention, and memory. 

Two publications emerging from randomized controlled trials of Mindfulness-Based Cancer Recovery (MBCR) from Linda Carlson‘s group were recently published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. The MINDSET study, the largest of its kind, was a multisite, randomized controlled trial that assigned 271 distressed breast cancer survivors to MBCR, supportive expressive group therapy (SET), or a one-day stress management control condition, and then measured psychological and biological outcomes. Psychological outcomes favored MBCR, with greater improvements over time on stress symptoms compared with both other groups; on quality of life compared with the control group; and in social support compared with the SET group. This study is the first to demonstrate superiority of MBCR over other active interventions in this population. The second trial used a noninferiority design to compare MBCR to the gold standard treatment of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for insomnia in 111 cancer survivors with clinical insomnia. Effects of MBCR were not as good as CBT for improving insomnia severity immediately after program completion, but noninferior three months later. Time to fall asleep, awakenings after sleep onset, and total sleep time as well as stress and mood disturbance improved in both groups. This is the first study to directly compare a mindfulness-based intervention to CBT.

Stuart Eisendrath is the principal investigator of a randomized controlled trial investigating mindfulness-based cognitive therapy as an augmentation to medications for treatment-resistant depression. The study is exploring both depression and functional outcomes as well as fMRI changes associated with the intervention; it should be completed by the end of 2014.

Theodore Fallon has just published a book entitled Thought Disorder and Development: Chaos to Organization in the Moment that investigates the moment during which the mind hovers on the edge of chaos before it completes the work that will take it to the next level of organization and maturation. This occurs during normal development, and goes awry during episodes of trauma and psychosis. What is necessary for the process to resolve is cultivated in the moment in meditation; some refer to this as mindfulness. The Summer Research Institute 2013 was instrumental in helping Fallon to complete this book.

Nathan Fisher will continue to manage the Varieties of Contemplative Experience project at Brown University, and is looking forward to interviews with Zen Buddhist, Tibetan Buddhist, and Christian contemplative practitioners and teachers. He will also be continuing his work at the Mind and Life Visiting Scholars House on two papers that he hopes to submit for publication later this year. The first is a sociocultural study exploring the diffusion of meditative practices in the workplace and corporate cultures, and the reaction to this development by various contemplative communities. The second paper is investigating nonlinear contemplative trajectories found in contemporary Theravadan Buddhist and Jewish mystical traditions.

Lone Fjorback has initiated an MBSR teacher training education at the Aarhaus University hospital in Denmark in collaboration with the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts. The training includes Danish veterans in an MBSR trial where subjects will undergo MEG scanning and heart-rate variability measures.

Laura Gambrel completed her dissertation research entitled "The Mindful Transition to Parenthood Program: Developing and Evaluating a Psychoeducational-Experiential Intervention for Couples Expecting Their First Child." For this research on a relational mindfulness intervention Gambrel developed, she received the 2011 Family Process Institute Dissertation Grant and two awards: the 2013 Dissertation Award from the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, and the Virginia Tech 2012 Outstanding Dissertation Award in social sciences, business, education, and humanities. She has had two articles based on this research recently accepted in the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy. She is currently an assistant professor in the counseling and family therapy master’s programs at La Salle University in Philadelphia. She is continuing her research and facilitating groups for couples and parents-to-be on the topics of relational mindfulness and mindful parenting.

Eric Garland has recently produced some significant findings from a NIH-funded study of a Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery Enhancement intervention for chronic pain and opioid misuse published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. He first developed this treatment with a Varela award. You can learn more about Garland and his work on his website:

At Stanford University, Philippe Raymond Goldin is currently conducting two NIH-funded randomized clinical trials investigating the differential impact of cognitive-behavioral therapy versus mindfulness-based stress reduction versus waitlist control on the neural bases of emotional reactivity, attention regulation, and cognitive reappraisal in patients with, respectively, social anxiety disorder and chronic back pain. He is also beginning as an associate professor at University of California–Davis School of Nursing Science & Healthcare Leadership, where he intends to expand the scope and impact of his clinical research.

Madhav Goyle recently finished a systematic review and meta-analysis of meditation programs, which was published in Science Daily.

In November of 2013, Linda Heuman published an interview with Buddhist scholar David McMahan in Tricycle magazine. She focused this interview on a question at the forefront of both the scientific study of the mind and the transmission of Buddhism to the West: Is truth ahistorical and transcultural or does context matter? Tricycle magazine chose this article—"Context Matters"—as one of its top 13 features of 2013. It will be reprinted in German later this year in the German Buddhist magazine Buddhismus acktuell

Michael Hove is a research fellow at Mass General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. His research focuses on rhythm, timing, and the perception-action interface. Recent and ongoing projects include using auditory rhythms in Parkinson’s gait rehabilitation, assessing timing and attention problems in ADHD, examining how "groove" music induces movement, synchronizing with others to promote social cohesion, and examining the brain networks of shamans during trance. His research uses multiple methods including response timing, motion capture, TMS, EEG, and fMRI.  

Tonya L. Jacobs recently published a paper on her study concerning the stress hormone cortisol and how mindful focus may help lower it.

Zoran Josipovic is currently researching the neural correlates of nondual awareness with minimized phenomenal content. Other collaborative projects explore the effects of compassion meditation in clinical populations, and the effects of prayer on addiction. Josipovic is the founding director of Nonduality Institute, a nonprofit organization for research and practice of nonduality. Together with Jolie Gorchov (a 2012 MLSRI Fellow) and David Bosch, he organizes Margam (metro-area research group on awareness and meditation), a series of talks at NYU, as a forum for presenting research on contemplative practice and consciousness. Now in its fifth year, the presenters have included, among others, Cliff Saron, Ned Block, Bernard Baars, Dave Vago, Catherine MacLean, Fadel Zeidan, Paul Condon, and Steve Fleming. 

Julia Ann Keller has completed two mixed-method research studies on the impact of mindfulness training on cognition in elementary students. She is submitting the quantitative results of these studies to the Association of Psychological Science conference and the New Mexico Health Disparities 2014 conference. She is also preparing the qualitative results of these two studies for publication this spring. Keller is a doctoral candidate at the University of New Mexico currently writing a dissertation proposal to investigate whether mindfulness ameliorates the symptoms of dyslexia in children. Using funds from the Varela grant she received, she plans to collect behavioral and ERP data on this research question this summer.

Sahib Khalsa completed his residency training in psychiatry at UCLA in 2013, serving as the program’s chief resident, as well as the chief resident in the UCLA Anxiety Disorders Clinic. He also joined the department as a faculty member in the division of adult psychiatry at UCLA, where he remains actively involved in research. He recently presented the results of his Varela grant examining interoceptive awareness in meditators during cardio-respiratory deviations in body arousal at the 2013 American College of Neuropsychopharmacology conference.

Joy Laine is currently working on a manuscript that takes a cross-cultural approach and examines key topics from the philosophy of the yoga sutras in the context of contemporary analytical philosophical thought. In it, she will focus on topics related to the philosophy of mind and personal identity.

Emma Lawrence is in her final year of retraining as a clinical psychologist. She is enjoying the opportunity to use mindfulness in her clinical work and meditation research through her doctoral thesis project.

Diana Liverman has continued to work on climate change and its human dimensions. In 2013, the fifth edition of her coauthored book World Regions in Global Context was published by Prentice Hall, and she contributed to a book on climate change in the southwestern United States. She also wrapped up the transition plan for an alliance of international organizations—including UNEP, UNESCO, and the International Council for Science (ICSU)—to create a new interdisciplinary, international initiative called Future Earth, which explores deep changes in human values and behavior as a means to greater sustainability.

Michele Lucantoni is extending his academic interests and applying them to practical projects that could inform and expand his theoretical research. In particular, he is focusing on eco-villages, i.e. places to practice meditation and cultivate earth in spiritual ways (e.g. the Fukuoka way). The core of the project would be to welcome young people and teach them the philosophies of nature and biology, which have been at the heart of his professional and research path.

Dorothy Lucci has been using contemplative practices (mindfulness, yoga, and others) at Aspire, a program at Massachusetts General Hospital serving individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in a variety of settings (therapeutic groups, summer camp) and capacities (i.e. school consultation). In addition, Aspire incorporates positive psychology, cognitive-behavioral techniques (CBT), HeartMath emWave, and technology, among other techniques, to foster personal growth in participants. Those at Aspire recently published a chapter in Technology Tools for Students with Autismin which they documented their approach and the power of these practices. In addition, Lucci and Rachel Robb Avery authored an early childhood curriculum called "Think Smart Feel Good" (TSFG).  It is currently being used within a private preschool serving three- to five-year-old students who have similar diagnoses. TSFG incorporates the same tenets (i.e. mindfulness, CBT) and is showing promising results.

As a Visiting Scholar at Mind and Life during the summer of 2013, Jennifer K. Lynne had the opportunity to work and refine the content for Engaged Identity workshops as a part of her doctoral research. During the fall, she worked with local peace-building initiatives in Benue, Plateau, Kaduna, and Abuja in Nigeria, providing the workshop and collaborative opportunities to look at how contemplative practice, complexity, and identity can assist local peace-building efforts. These workshops and dialogues reached more than 200 local leaders, teachers, clergy, and youth. With a preliminary sampling, she reports a 67 percent inclusion of contemplative practices in local peacemakers’ efforts.

Kristen Jastrowski Mano reported that an article on her randomized, controlled pilot study of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for Pediatric Chronic Pain—supported by a Mind and Life Varela Award—was recently published in Alternative Therapies.

David MacMahan recently won the Bradley R. Dewey Award for excellence in scholarship at Franklin & Marshall College. His recent publications include "The Jade Buddha for Universal Peace" for Yale University’s Initiative for the Study of Material and Visual Cultures of Religion, and "The Enchanted Secular: Buddhism and the Emergence of Transtraditional ‘Spirituality’" in The Eastern Buddhist. He continues to research and write on the globalization, secularization, and scientific study of Buddhist mindfulness and meditation practices.

Chayim Newman is currently working as a psychology resident at London Health Sciences Centre in London, Canada. Clinically, he is focusing on a behavioral medicine population and the integration of mindfulness and acceptance-based treatments in a medical hospital setting. In terms of research, his primary project consists of a study exploring the relationship between trait mindfulness, health behaviors, and health outcomes in the Jewish community.

During 2013, Gregory Norris was able to bring his concept of measuring handprints—an assessment of the positive impacts we make in the world—to Harvard. He first presented Handprints publicly, in a discussion with the Dalai Lama at a Mind and Life Dialogue. In his role as codirector of the Sustainability and Health Initiative for NetPositive Enterprise (SHINE) at the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard School of Public Health, Norris is helping corporations measure and accelerate the ways in which they help the world become a healthier, more sustainable place. SHINE sets a bold vision for companies to factor their impact on our health and the environment into all business decisions, and to act in ways that will protect, nurture, and heal people and the planet.

Brielle Paolini is a fourth-year MD/PhD student in neuroscience at Wake Forest School of Medicine. Paolini attended the 2010 and the 2013 MLSRIs. She is currently researching how mindfulness techniques can be applied to weight loss and self-regulatory behaviors. She is also cofounder of the Student Wellness Center (SWC) at Wake Forest School of Medicine, which now offers weekly meditations taught by Fadel Zeiden. Through the SWC, Paolini also leads an annual mind, body, spirit elective course for medical students.

Luiz Pessoa recently published The Cognitive-Emotional Brain: From Interactions to Integration with MIT Press. The book addresses the theory that a specific brain circuit constitutes the emotional brain, and that cognition resides elsewhere. This theory has shaped thinking about emotion and the brain for many years. Recent behavioral, neuropsychological, neuroanatomy, and neuroimaging research, however, suggests that emotion interacts with cognition in the brain. Pessoa’s book moves beyond the debate over functional specialization, describing the many ways that emotion and cognition interact and are integrated in the brain.

Karen Johanne Pallesen, in conjunction with Lone Fjorback, started a pilot project in which they are evaluating the effects of MBSR on veterans, using heart-rate variability as an effect measure. The group will also start sampling heart-rate variability in patients with bodily distress syndrome—a research diagnosis that covers fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, somatization syndrome, and more. The premise is that heart-rate variability is related to stress, and that MBSR will lead to a normalization of that variability.

Zachary Schlosser is in the process of cofounding a contemplative summer program for college-age students. The program, Alderlore SOLE, blends multidisciplinary collaborative research on ethics, contemplative philosophy, the built environment, and leadership, with personal mentorship, collective insight practice, and group projects focused on subtle energetics training with horses, ecological engagement, and inspired architecture. The program prepares students to make profound, transformative contributions to multiple academic and applied fields.

Sean Smith is currently through the second year of his PhD in philosophy at the University of Toronto. His work is on the relation between affect and consciousness with an aim to try and think about the emergence of consciousness from an evolutionary point of view. He is also learning Pali so that he can incorporate early Indian Buddhist theories of affect into his work, which also draws upon contemporary philosophy of mind and cognitive science, as well as phenomenology. 

Sharon Tettegah has a book under contract with Elsevier Publications that focuses on emotions and technology; it is entitled Emotions and Technology: Communication of Feelings Through, With, and for Technology. Her current research focuses on empathy, creativity, and innovation. The work on empathy examines the use of empathy/emotions that are mediated through technology. The work on innovation is focused on education to promote innovative thinking.

David Vago has recently published a series of conceptual and theoretical papers on mindfulness and contemplative practices. His article in the New York Academy of Sciences describes potential explicit and implicit mechanisms by which meditative techniques can contribute to transforming maladaptive habits of mind and perceptual and cognitive biases. The second article, written with Jake Davis in Frontiers in Psychology, describes the potential for tracing enlightenment to specific neural correlates, cognition, or behavior. The third article, written with Sara Lazar, Gaelle Desbordes, Liz Hoge, Tim Gard, Britta Holzel, Cathy Kerr, and Andy Olendzki, describes equanimity as a novel outcome measure in meditation research. He will be presenting some of this work at the Kluge Research Symposium at the Center for Mindfulness conference. He has also been recently awarded private funding to continue researching modalities of awareness using fMRI in novice meditators practicing specific forms of noting and labeling.

After almost five years in a PhD program in clinical psychology, Sandra Vitale is happy to be realizing her aspirations of cofacilitating a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) group at the San Francisco VA Medical Center with women veterans. She is also certifying to be an MBSR instructor and hopes to be doing the same for Mindfulness-Based Mind Fitness Training (MMFT), created by Elizabeth Stanley. Amishi Jha and Stanley, along with their colleagues, have found preliminary evidence that MMFT has improved cognitive functioning and emotion regulation among pre-deployment troops, which may decrease the risk of suicide, domestic violence, substance abuse, and psychological injury later on.

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