2010 SRI

at the Garrison Institute, Garrison, New York, June 14-20, 2010

Education, Developmental Neuroscience and Contemplative Practices: Questions, Challenges, and Opportunities

Conference Brochure

Click to view the brochure from the 2010 SRI in PDF format.


The purpose of the 2010 Mind & Life Summer Research Institute is to advance collaborative research among developmental scientists, neuroscientists, and educational researchers and practitioners based on a process of inquiry, dialogue, and in some cases, collaboration, with Buddhist contemplative practitioners and scholars and those in other contemplative traditions. The long-term objective of MLSRI 2010 is to advance the training of a new generation of developmental scientists, cognitive/affective neuroscientists, applied/clinical researchers, and contemplative scholar/practitioners interested in exploring the potential influences of contemplative practices in educational contexts on mind, behavior, brain function, learning and health of children and youth and those who care for them.

During the past two decades, a trans-disciplinary field of inquiry called contemplative science has gradually emerged. The aims of contemplative science are to advance our understanding of the human mind and how training the mind through the use of particular contemplative practices can lead to improved health, better cognitive and emotional skill development, greater happiness, and increased social harmony. This work, deriving from intellectual dialogues with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, scientists, philosophers, and contemplative scholars, has integrated the rigorous methodologies of modern science with the rigorous philosophical and experiential insights into mind and mental training offered by the world’s ancient contemplative traditions.

Within the umbrella of contemplative science is contemplative neuroscience, a subfield of inquiry concerned in particular with understanding changes in brain function and structure that come about as a function of contemplative practice. Contemplative neuroscience is grounded scientifically on the body of literature related to neuroplasticity, which holds that the brain is designed to change in response to experience and training of various kinds, including contemplative methods that have developed over many centuries. Such practices are conceptualized as forms of physical and mental training that lead to the development of specific kinds of complex self-regulatory skills and dispositions including, but not limited to, the skills of mindfulness, compassion and happiness itself. The field of research has been enormously productive during the last decade.

The 2010 Mind & Life Summer Research Institute will focus on linking the work in contemplative science and practice with the work in the developmental sciences, including developmental neuroscience, to provide a scientific foundation from which we can investigate the feasibility, effectiveness and potential challenges of attempting to introduce secularized versions of contemplative practices into public educational settings. Drawing upon research in neuroscience, cognitive science, developmental psychology and education, as well as scholarship from contemplative traditions concerning the cultivation of positive development, the 2010 MLSRI hopes to highlight mental skills and socio-emotional dispositions that we believe are central to the aims of education in the 21st century. These include self-regulatory skills associated with emotion and attention, self-representations, and prosocial dispositions such as empathy and compassion. These positive qualities and dispositions can be strengthened through systematic contemplative practice. Such practice induces plastic changes in brain function and structure, supporting prosocial behavior and academic success in young people. These beneficial consequences call for focused programmatic research to better characterize which forms and frequencies of practice are most efficacious for which types of children, adolescents, and adults. Results from such research may help refine training programs to maximize their effectiveness at different ages and to document the changes in neural function and structure that might be induced.

Recently, interest has been growing rapidly with regard to the translation of secularized contemplative practices into educational settings for use with both students and educators. The use of contemplative practices in educational settings is hypothesized to promote resilience, decrease at-risk behavior, and cultivate positive qualities. However, these are just hypotheses at this point and the popularity of this topic and the advance of new programs without adequate research has made more salient the urgent need for developmental perspectives to inform this work and ground it in a body of research.

These issues were the central subject of an agenda setting meeting in Washington, DC that brought together world renowned developmentalists, educators, neuroscientists, and contemplatives including HH Dalai Lama (see www.educatingworldcitizens.org/). In sum, contemplative science is building a body of evidence on the positive effects of contemplative practices on the minds, brains and bodies of adults. MLSRI 2010 seeks to expand this work into the developmental domain to address fundamental research questions.

The specific goals of the Summer Institute are:

  1. To cultivate strategic dialogue between developmental scientists, neuroscientists, applied researchers, and contemplative scholars/practitioners to develop new research protocols to explore the development of mind and the effect of contemplative practices on mind, behavior, brain, learning and health of young people and those who care for and educate them.
  2. To foster a new generation of nascent scientists (graduate students and post-docs) and contemplative scholars and practitioners interested in innovation and collaboration in research in contemplative practices and developmental processes.
  3. To catalyze the field of contemplative developmental science that is focused on the study of how to contemplative practices engender effects on brain, mind and behavior among individuals at different stages of development.

Some of the possible questions that may be addressed include:

  • What are the prospects for designing age- and culturally-appropriate forms of training, informed by the world’s contemplative traditions, to scaffold and support the development of such skills and dispositions at different times in the life-course? What role do developmental abilities in attention, emotion regulation play at each stage in understanding and facilitating these processes?
  • Are positive qualities and dispositions such as compassion and empathy skills that can be taught? What are its varieties and forms?
  • Are there particular “developmental windows of opportunity” in which investments in the introduction of these practices to caregivers, teachers, or young people themselves that would prove most beneficial and cost-effective?
  • How can we build a toolkit of measures, and a taxonomy of contemplative practices that would provide a means of assessing the outcomes of particular practices at particular ages in “educational” settings? What are the challenges inherent in this work?
  • Could the introduction of secularized contemplative practices into developmental contexts afford novel ways of promoting resilience in populations facing many risk factors, and prevent future emotional-behavioral difficulties before they start?
  • How can contemplative training be provided to the adults involved in the lives of children and adolescents – parents, teachers, youth workers and so on – as one key way of “educating” the young in these practices through role modeling.
  • How might teacher training on compassion and mindfulness for teachers influence the quality of their teaching and relationships with students?
  • How can school leaders support the cultivation of positive habits of the mind and heart in the whole school culture? How can educational leaders design and implement “mindful and compassionate communities of learning” for students, teachers, parents and educational leaders alike?

By bringing together the converging disciplines of developmental neuroscience, contemplative traditions, education, and social and emotional learning our goal is to create a synergy to inspire and support rigorous research and action to support the development of the whole person (including both students and educators) within more caring and effective families and school communities. The time is clearly ripe for scientists, educators, and contemplatives to plan collaborative research on how contemplative practices might be adapted for use in the classroom and how to assess their pedagogical value.


The Institute is a quasi-retreat in New York, in which opportunities for deep dialogue across disciplines, as well as inquiry through first-person meditation practice, are optimized. Formal mindfulness/awareness meditation practice, with appropriate instruction, and periods of silence, are an integral part of the program, allowing all concerned to have an extended first-hand experience of what is involved practically speaking in engaging in contemplative practice, and the challenges of honoring and learning from first-person experience. In addition to the daily hour-long meditation sessions that will take place morning and evening, there will also be a silent, day-long “mini-retreat” led by the contemplative faculty to extend and deepen the experience, understanding, and challenges of meditation practice. The natural beauty and cloistered atmosphere of the Garrison Institute, coupled with the informal and collegial nature of the gathering, all contribute to a relaxed but vigorous community of intention and mutual respect. The Faculty will consist of scientists, clinical researchers, Buddhists and other contemplative practitioner/scholars and teachers. The meeting will be restricted to 150 participants, as innovative and interdisciplinary scientific conversations and potential collaborations and new projects are more likely to develop successfully with a limited number of committed participants.


The 2010 Summer Research Institute will be held at the Garrison Institute, a former Capuchin monastery overlooking the Hudson River, 50 miles north of New York City. Please see the Garrison Institute website for more details: www.garrisoninstitute.org.


The Summer Research Institute will begin mid-afternoon on Monday, June 14, and continue for 6 days, ending on the morning of Sunday, June 20, 2010.

Preliminary Schedule of Topics
Monday June 14, 2010 Opening Session
Tuesday June 15, 2010 Eastern & Western Perspectives on Contemplative Practices in Educational Context
Wednesday June 16, 2010 Contemplative Practices and Education: Foundation in Developmental Neuroscience and Neuroplasticity
Thursday June 17, 2010 Day of Silence and Meditation
Friday June 18, 2010 Contemplative Practices and Education: Contexts of Teaching and Educational Reform Today
Saturday June 19, 2010 Contemplative Practices and Atypical Development During Childhood, Adolescence and Emerging Adulthood
Sunday June 20, 2010 Ending Session/Departure

Application and Registration Schedule

  • January 15, 2010 – Application opens
  • February 21, 2010 – Application closes and materials due
  • March 31, 2010 – Notification of applicants (via email)
  • April 23, 2010 – Registration and payment opens for accepted applicants
  • May 18, 2010 – Last day for payment of fees

There is an application fee of $45. If you are accepted to attend the 2010 MLSRI, the registration fee for Research Fellows is $350; for Senior Investigators, $675. This fee covers room and board for the program. In addition, each participant will be expected to cover his/her own travel expenses. Registration fee will be paid by accepted applicants at the time of registration.

NOTE: Your application does not ensure acceptance, as participation is limited by facility size, program guidelines, committee review of your application information and your letters of recommendation.


The Application period has closed.  We hope you will apply for the 2011 Summer Research Institute!

Who Should Attend

Scientific Attendees
  • Research Fellows
    Trainees, including undergraduate and graduate students and postdoctoral fellows conducting research in neuroscience, bio and medical science, cognitive, social developmental and/or educational psychology, and clinical science will be considered “Research Fellows”.
  • Senior Investigators
    Established academic researchers in these same areas who hold university or college faculty appointments (full-time, clinical or adjunct) at the level of Assistant Professor or above will be considered “Senior Investigators”. Other professional groups (e.g. educators, clinicians, therapists) who are independent practitioners will also fall into this category.
Contemplative Attendees
  • Research Fellows
    Dharma students or other students at the undergraduate, graduate or postdoctoral level studying contemplative traditions, philosophy, or humanities will be considered “Research Fellows”.
  • Senior Investigators
    Contemplative scholars, teachers or researchers who hold a faculty or comparable position will be considered “Senior Investigators”.

For More Information

If you are not already on the Mind & Life email list, and you would like to receive automatic email notification regarding the application process for the MLSRI, please click here.

Click here for more information about past Summer Research Institutes 2004 – 2009. For specific questions, not answered on these pages, you may contact  sri@mindandlife.org.