MLSRI 2015: Week in Review

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Since 2004, one of the cornerstones of Mind and Life’s programming has been the Mind and Life Summer Research Institute (MLSRI), which was designed to support the growing field of contemplative studies. This unique event is a week-long conference that incorporates academic presentations, informal breakout groups, poster sessions, and periods of meditation, yoga, and tai chi each day, as well as a one-day silent retreat. The hybrid academic/retreat format offers opportunities for deep dialogue across disciplines, as well as inquiry through meditative practices, underscoring the challenges of honoring and learning from first-person experience. One of the broad goals of contemplative studies is to create an integrated way of knowing by combining standard third-person methodologies from the sciences and humanities with first-person modes of introspection that have been developed by diverse contemplative and philosophical traditions. The MLSRI has been instrumental in supporting this community through shared knowledge, fostering relationships among participants, and also through our Varela Awards program, which funds contemplative research projects that often emerge from collaborations formed at the event.

G0018710The 12th annual MLSRI once again took place at the beautiful Garrison Institute in upstate New York, perched on the banks of the Hudson River, which year in and year out has provided a nurturing and generative container for attendees. Themed on Fear and Trust in Self and Society, presentations and discussions drew on research in both the sciences and the humanities, including neuroscience, psychology, philosophy, religion, and contemplative studies. Plenary lectures ranged from an overview of attachment theory and its connection to Buddhist conceptions of “selflessness,” to an exploration of the role that social relationships play in neurophysiological threat processing, to examinations of fear and trust from Buddhist and contemplative Christian perspectives. In addition to these kinds of stimulating presentations, as well as the generative faculty-led breakout sessions that followed, we explored the challenges and rewards of interdisciplinary dialogue through a panel discussion and small group work. Small groups also provided an opportunity to further cultivate the sense of community that naturally forms over the week.

This year, the MLSRI was infused wit_MG_4147_resizedh a new freshness, as the majority of attendees were joining us for the first time. We are heartened to see that word of this interdisciplinary approach is spreading, as students from both established and emerging labs, universities, and research centers across the world brought enthusiasm, new ideas, and an overall eagerness to be part of this work. Additionally, the presentations and dynamic conversations that ensued seemed to herald a maturation of the discourse at large, as the overarching issue of “context” became an important thread interweaving many of the discussions. Historically, the brain—and by extension, the mind—has been treated as an isolated object of study explored only through third-person scientific and academic means (such as through neuroimaging research, or scholarly textual analysis). Stemming from the vision of Francisco Varela, one of Mind and Life’s founders, it has been a goal of this field to expand the investigation of the mind beyond the brain and into the body and environment by integrating diverse first, second, and third person perspectives. This movement has gained momentum thanks to the ongoing diligent work of our numerous individual and organizational partners, both near and far.

It is an honor to be able to support the field of contemplative studies through this program. We look forward to continuing the conversation at next year’s MLSRI, which will once again take place at the Garrison Institute (June 11-17, 2016). To hear about additional details as they emerge, make sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter, as well as visit our website to sign up for our newsletter.

MLI Community Collaborates on New Interoception Paper

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Pages from Pages from Farb_Frontiers_Interoception_2015 (2)Two years ago, a group of interdisciplinary scholars gathered from around the world at the Mind & Life Institute for a self-organized, MLI-funded research workshop. They spent several days deeply exploring the topic of interoception—the sense of signals originating within the body. The topic of interoception is becoming increasingly important in cognitive science, as it becomes ever clearer that the mind and body are inseparable systems. At the end of the meeting, the group (including MLI Fellows Cathy KerrNorm Farb, and Anne Klein, as well as Varela Awardees Jennifer Daubenmier and Tim Gard) agreed to write a white paper placing interoception in the context of contemplative practice. This comprehensive paper has just been published in Frontiers in Psychology and promises to be highly influential as contemplative studies progresses. We are thrilled to have been able to support this effort!

Announcing the 2015 Mind and Life Fellows

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Mind_and_Life_FellowsThe Mind and Life Fellows are a group of distinguished scientists, scholars, artists, and contemplative practitioners who have contributed significantly to our mission. The Fellows form an important community to whom we turn for advice, service, and recommendations about crucial aspects of MLI’s work and programs.

Mind and Life also regularly features the work of Fellows through our Facebook page, Twitter account (#MLIfellows, #MLIfellow), newsletter, and on our website and blog. Stay connected with us to see their great work throughout the year.

We are delighted to welcome 23 new Mind and Life Fellows in 2015. (To see the full list of MLI Fellows, please visit our Fellows Program page.)

2015 Mind and Life Fellows

Daniel Barbezat, PhD
Amherst College

Jim Coan, PhD
University of Virginia

Bill George, MBA
Harvard Business School

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MLSRI 2015: Fear and Trust in Self and Society

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Pages from 2015 SRI Brochure 5.21.15We are in the midst 12th Annual Mind and Life Summer Research Institute (MLSRI), which began on Saturday, June 13. A week-long conference, it incorporates academic presentations, informal breakout groups, poster sessions, and periods of meditation, yoga, and tai chi each day, as well as a one-day silent retreat. This unique format offers opportunities for deep dialogue across disciplines, as well as inquiry through meditative practices, underscoring the challenges of honoring and learning from first-person experience.

MLSRI 2015 will be devoted to the theme of Fear and Trust in Self and Society. Presentations and discussions will draw on research in both the sciences and the humanities, including neuroscience, psychology, philosophy, religion, and contemplative studies. We plan to explore the biological and experiential aspects of fear, its influence on our cognition and emotion, and its expression in both healthy states and clinical disorders. Critically, we’ll also be examining the role of trust and interpersonal connection as a counterpoint to fear, so we’re very interested in conversations about the protective functions of secure attachment and compassion. Finally, we will ask how contemplative practices might be used to help us work with fear and cultivate social bonds.

For those not attending this year, stay tuned to our Facebook and Twitter pages as we cover the event. Interested in applying for next year? The application period will occur in early 2016, and be announced later this year—in the meantime, sign up for our newsletter and stay connected to us through our social media accounts to receive the latest updates.

Mind–Body Interventions Affect Sleep and Oxytocin in Cancer Survivors

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Surviving a cancer diagnosis and the treatment that follows requires overcoming significant emotional and physical hurdles. Even after a patient is cancer-free, he or she often continues to struggle with depression and anxiety from fear of cancer recurrence, and many also suffer from sleep disturbances. These ongoing challenges negatively impact well-being and quality of life, hindering a patient’s ability to fully flourish. Might contemplative practices help cancer survivors deal better with their mental and physical challenges to remain cancer free? In a recent study published in Integrative Cancer Therapies, Varela awardee David Lipschitz, MLI Fellow Yoshio Nakamura and colleagues at the University of Utah investigated the effects of two mind-body interventions on a number of physiological and psychological health outcomes in cancer survivors. This study used a strong experimental design, comparing three similar interventions to which participants were randomly assigned: mind-body bridging, mindfulness meditation, and a sleep education group as an active control. Below, David Lipschitz summarizes his Varela research project and its findings.

— Wendy Hasenkamp, Senior Scientific Officer

 

Mind–Body Interventions Affect Sleep and Oxytocin in Cancer Survivors

by David L. Lipschitz, PhD

OxitocinaCPK3DOxytocin is a hormone produced in an area of the brain known as the hypothalamus, whose release activates a variety of brain regions resulting in many different functions, including birth (labor), breast feeding (lactation), maternal behavior, parental care, social bonding, affiliation (such as couples being together), and well-being. In recent studies in humans, oxytocin has been shown to be associated with increases in prosocial behaviors such as trust, altruism, generosity, cooperation and empathy. These various functions suggest that oxytocin may promote health by reducing stress and increasing calm/relaxed states, resulting in improved quality of life and well-being.

Given oxytocin’s stress-reducing and calming properties, and its capacity to increase well-being, its action may be relevant to those fighting cancer. We conducted a study to look at the effects of two mind-body therapies on changes in salivary oxytocin levels in a cancer survivor population with self-reported sleep disturbance. Investigating oxytocin in cancer survivors could be important, given cancer survivors’ high levels of distress, depression, and anxiety, as well as poor sleep, possibly due to the effects of cancer treatment and worries about cancer recurrence. In our study, we hypothesized that the mind-body therapies would increase oxytocin levels, which would be associated with improvements in sleep, increases in quality of life and well-being, and reduced stress. Read More

A Force for Good: The Dalai Lama’s Vision for Our World

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A Force for GoodDaniel Goleman, a former science journalist for the New York Times, is the author of many books, including the international bestseller Emotional Intelligence. He has known the Dalai Lama for decades, mainly through an on-going service of science meetings organized by the Mind & Life Institute.

In A Force for Good: The Dalai Lama’s Vision for Our World, Goleman outlines a singular vision for transforming the world in practical and positive ways.

The book will be available June 23rd and can ordered here.

Q: How is A Force for Good: The Dalai Lama’s Vision unique among his many books?

A: The Dalai Lama, as he turns 80, summarizes his message to the world at large. He’s been offering this vision in bits and pieces for years; several hours of interviews let me pull this vision together for the first time. This is not a Buddhist book, but rather based on his decades of dialogues with scientists – most of those organized by the Mind & Life Institute. He draws on those encounters time and again in arguing for this vision of a better world.

 

Q: Dan, you describe this new book as more than simply a manifesto for how to be a force for good. In fact, you call Force for Good the book behind the Movement. What do you mean by that?

A: Force for Good shares the Dalai Lama’s call to action – he urges us each to act now, in whatever ways we can, to move the world in a positive direction. This manifesto, though, goes beyond our individual efforts to envision a collective force for good—a movement—that far outweighs the forces of negativity at play in the world. The Dalai Lama’s theory of change puts less stock in governments and policies than in the united power of the collective, all of us, each contributing in our own way.

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With our Most Sincere Gratitude to Arthur Zajonc, In His Transition from the Mind & Life Presidency

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As of June 1, 2015, Professor Arthur Zajonc will be stepping down from the presidency of the Mind & Life Institute, a transition he has been planning since the fall of 2014. Professor Zajonc is an emeritus professor of physics at Amherst College and the author of numerous books including Catching the Light. He has also been a key figure in contemplative education, serving as the Executive Director of Contemplative Mind in Society as well as authoring Meditation as Contemplative Inquiry: When Knowing Becomes Love and The Heart of Higher Education: A Call to Renewal (with Parker Palmer).

The Mind & Life Institute has been most fortunate to have the visionary leadership of Professor Zajonc at a critical phase of its history. Under Arthur’s presidency, Mind and Life expanded its traditional role as a global convener of contemplative studies and science dialogues. In addition to the on-going dialogues, the Summer Research Institute, and the Varela Awards, the Institute has been able to offer, through the 1440 Grants, pilot research awards specifically to study the effects of contemplative practices in the world. Our International Symposium of Contemplative Studies (ISCS) has reached a new height, the last one attracting more than 1700 participants, representing a wide range of disciplines from neuroscience, philosophy and psychology to education, contemplative scholarship, and diverse therapeutic traditions. One significant area of development has been the area of translational research, involving adaptations and study of contemplative-practice-based interventions in contemporary settings of health, education, and workplace – especially through Call to Care (education initiative) and Academy for Contemplative and Ethical Leadership (ACEL), a summer leadership program.

The Mind and Life board has appointed an able interim Acting President, Professor Carolyn Jacobs, who is a member of the board, an emeritus professor of Social Work and was Dean of the School of Social Work at Smith College for many years. Recently retired, Carolyn has graciously accepted the position as the acting president until such time as our formal search process yields a new president. With Professor Jacobs’ able interim leadership, assisted by an executive committee of the board, all core activities of Mind and Life will proceed as planned.

We, the Mind and Life board and community, are deeply grateful to Arthur for his wise leadership and service to the Mind & Life Institute.

Thupten Jinpa, PhD
Mind & Life Institute, Board Chair

The MLI Community in Conversation with the Karmapa

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Mind and Life Board Members Richard Davidson and Daniel Goleman and Fellow Sona Dimidjian participated in a conversation on well-being with the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa. The Center for Investigating Healthy Minds hosted this event.

 

New Book by Mind & Life Board Chairman, Thupten Jinpa, PhD

Mind and Life Board Chairman Thupten Jinpa recently launched his new book A Fearless Heart: How the Courage to be Compassionate Can Transform Our Lives. In this video from an event at the Tibet House on May 7th, Jinpa shares his thoughts on the importance of compassion in modern times, answers questions from the audience and reads a passage from his book.