2011 SRI

at the Garrison Institute, Garrison, New York, June 12-18, 2011

New Frontiers in Contemplative Science


Francisco J. Varela

Francisco J. Varela

The 2011 MLSRI will be devoted to the theme of ”New Frontiers in the Contemplative Sciences.” Drawing on research in neuroscience, basic psychological science, clinical psychology, and philosophy and contemplative studies, this year’s SRI will focus on outstanding challenges for the development of contemplative neuroscience, contemplative clinical science, and contemplative studies in light of the progress made in these fields since the MLSRI’s inception. 2011 also marks the tenth anniversary of the death of Francisco Varela, the Mind and Life Institute’s founding scientist. We therefore will also give special attention to considerations about the future of contemplative science in light of his vision for collaboration between contemplative traditions and mind-brain science.

The purpose of the MLSRI is to advance collaborative research among scientists, contemplative scholars, other humanities scholars, and contemplative practitioners, based on a process of inquiry and dialogue. With this unique program, we are not only nurturing a new generation of scientists interested in exploring the influence of contemplative practice and meditation on mind, behavior, brain function and health, but are also fostering the development of new fields of research collectively referred to as the “contemplative sciences” (including contemplative neuroscience, contemplative clinical science, contemplative education, and contemplative scholarship). The aims of the contemplative sciences are to advance our understanding of the human mind and how training the mind through the use of particular contemplative practices can lead to a reduction in suffering, enhanced health and cognitive/emotional functioning, greater happiness, and increased social harmony. Work within the contemplative sciences, deriving from intellectual dialogues with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, other distinguished contemplative teachers and practitioners, 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 the contemplative sciences 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 research related to neuroplasticity, which holds that the brain flexibly changes in response to experience and training of various kinds, including contemplative methods that have developed over many centuries. Such practices can be 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. This field of research has been enormously productive throughout the last decade.

Contemplative clinical science is a field concerned with systematically and rigorously evaluating the physical and mental health effects of clinical interventions derived from contemplative traditions. The rate of publication of randomized, controlled clinical trials of contemplative based interventions has particularly accelerated in the past decade, with this research focusing on a wide range of physical and mental health conditions.

Contemplative scholarship, although long-established within humanities disciplines such as history, philosophy, and religious studies, has only more recently begun to interact collaboratively with contemplative scientists and practitioners. The early results of these collaborations indicate great promise for our understanding of the importance of culture, historical context, and conceptual frameworks in the relationships between contemplative practice, experience, biology, and behavior.

The specific goals of the Summer Institute are:

  1. To cultivate strategic dialogue between neuroscientists, clinical scientists, other scientists of mind and behavior, humanities scholars, and contemplative scholars/practitioners to discuss and develop new research collaborations and protocols to explore the mind from an integrative perspective, including both first- and third-person approaches, and the effect of contemplative practices on mind, behavior, brain, and health.
  2. To create a container for this dialogue that embodies a contemplative orientation, via meditation and yoga instruction, daily contemplative practice periods, a full day of silent contemplative retreat, and a closing contemplative musical performance.
  3. 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 into contemplative practices.
  4. To catalyze the field of contemplative sciences, focusing on the study of how contemplative practices engender effects on brain, mind and behavior, and how these effects are conditioned by culture, history, and other contextual variables.
  5. To examine the emerging best practices, future opportunities, and challenges within the contemplative sciences.

Some of the questions that will be addressed include:

  • How has the founding vision of Francisco Varela influenced the contemplative sciences, the evaluation of approaches to mental training within diverse contemplative traditions, and our understanding of the nature of consciousness over the past decade?
  • What progress has been made in the development of what Varela termed neurophenomenology, truly integrating first- and third-person research perspectives?
  • How do cultural and historical perspectives inform our understanding of current contemplative practices?
  • What are the opportunities and challenges in expanding contemplative scientific studies to include contemplative practices in addition to those derived from Buddhist traditions?
  • What are the relationships between contemplative practices, embodied experience, and ethics, and in what ways can the sciences, humanities, and contemplative practitioners most effectively collaborate in the study of these relationships?
  • What progress has basic and clinical research made in understanding the nature, consequences, and development of mindfulness?
  • What consensus is emerging in regard to best practices within the contemplative sciences, and how can these best practices be brought to bear on future research opportunities and challenges?

By bringing together the converging disciplines of neuroscience, clinical science, cognitive science, affective science, the humanities, and contemplative traditions, our goal is to create a synergy to inspire and encourage rigorous research and application that is informed by this research. The progress within the contemplative sciences over the past decade has been extraordinary, both in opening new opportunities for expanding the scope and enhancing the rigor of relevant research, and in clarifying the many future challenges that will be faced by this emerging field of interdisciplinary and integrative study.


The Institute is a quasi-retreat in which opportunities for deep dialogue across disciplines, as well as inquiry through first-person meditation practice, are optimized. Formal mindfulness/awareness meditation and yoga 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 when engaging in contemplative practice. This contemplative practice context also underscores the challenges of honoring and learning from first-person experience.

In addition to daily 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 basic scientists, clinical researchers, and contemplative practitioners, scholars, and teachers. The Summer Research Institute 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 2011 Mind and Life Summer Research Institute will be held at the Garrison Institute in Garrison, NY, 50 miles north of New York City in the Hudson River Valley. Please see the Garrison Institute website for more details.


The Summer Research Institute will begin mid-afternoon on Sunday, June 12, and continue for 6 days, ending on the morning of Saturday, June 18, 2011.

Preliminary Schedule of Topics
Sunday June 12, 2011 Opening Session and Orientation
Monday June 13, 2011 Science, Mind Training, and Consciousness: Francisco Varela (1946-2001)
Data Blitz and Poster Session
Tuesday June 14, 2011 Contemplative Traditions in Dialogue with Science
Contemplative Practice Forum
Varela Grants Program and Varela Award Presentations
Wednesday June 15, 2011 Day of Silence and Meditation
Thursday June 16, 2011 Mindfulness: Basic and Clinical Perspectives
Contemplative Humanities Keynote
Data Blitz and Poster Session
Friday June 17, 2011 Best Practices and Future Challenges
Contemplative Sciences Keynote
Contemplative Musical Performance
Saturday June 18, 2011 Departures

2011 SRI Faculty

  • Willoughby Britton, Ph.D.
  • Kalina Christoff, Ph.D.
  • Geshe Dorji Damdul
  • Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D.
  • Andrew Dreitcer, Ph.D.
  • John Dunne, Ph.D.
  • Richard Freeman
  • Roshi Joan Halifax, Ph.D.
  • Maria Heim, Ph.D.
  • Amishi Jha, Ph.D.
  • Alfred Kaszniak, Ph.D.
  • Barry Kerzin, M.D.
  • Ottmar Liebert
  • Antoine Lutz, Ph.D.
  • David McMahan, Ph.D.
  • Giuseppe Pagnoni, Ph.D.
  • Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad, D.Phil.
  • Matthieu Ricard, Ph.D.
  • Sharon Salzberg
  • Cliff Saron, Ph.D.
  • Geshe Jampal Senge
  • Mary Taylor
  • Evan Thompson, Ph.D.

Application and Registration Schedule

  • January 17 – Application opens
  • February 20 – Application closes and materials due
  • March 25 – Notification of applicants (via email)
  • April 22 – Registration and payment opens for accepted applicants
  • May 6 – Last day for payment of fees
  • June 12 – Opening Session and Orientation

There is a non-refundable application fee of $45. 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 should 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.

    Who Should Attend

    Scientific Attendees
    • Research Fellows
      Trainees, including undergraduate and graduate students and postdoctoral fellows conducting research in neuroscience, biological and medical sciences, cognitive, affective, and other psychological sciences, clinical sciences, and humanities disciplines, 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 or affiliated with non-academic institutions 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 within these same disciplines who hold a faculty or comparable position will be considered “Senior Investigators”.

    For More Information

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    Click here for more information about past Summer Research Institutes 2004 – 2010. For specific questions not answered on these pages, you may contact sri@mindandlife.org .