Message from the Dalai Lama in a Time of Crisis: “We Have to Think of One Humanity”

In a world besieged by the COVID-19 pandemic and rocked by anti-racism protests, more than 1.3 million people tuned-in to a livestream event, simultaneously translated into 14 languages, to hear the Dalai Lama offer insights on the way forward.

Hosted by the Mind & Life Institute, the June 19 “Conversation with the Dalai Lama on Resilience, Compassion, and Healing for Today,” coincided with the Juneteenth holiday celebrating the emancipation of those who had been enslaved in the United States. Over 90 minutes, the global leader spoke to the urgency of managing destructive emotions, the primacy of recognizing our essential oneness, and the role of education in equipping emerging generations to do both.

Pointing to the Institute’s 33-year history of Dialogues with the Dalai Lama, Mind & Life President Susan Bauer-Wu kicked-off the conversation. “You have inspired us to be curious and ask big questions,” she said, reflecting on Mind & Life’s mission to bridge science and contemplative wisdom to bring “good into the world.” Joining her was Mind & Life Board Chair Thupten Jinpa, President of the Compassion Institute and the Dalai Lama’s long-time translator.

Moderator Carolyn Jacobs, Dean Emerita of the Smith College School of Social Work, anchored the conversation by first asking the global leader for advice on how to cope with the fear and uncertainty brought about by recent unprecedented events.

Seated before two large screens displaying the faces of Conversation participants and special guests, the Dalai Lama began by offering his appreciation to the healthcare workers who have faced “risk and danger in their own life” in caring for people during the pandemic. He then cautioned against the overwhelming pull of fear and anxiety at a time of profound loss and uncertainty.

“Fear makes us more vulnerable,” said the Dalai Lama, who has long spoken to the impact of negative emotions like fear and anger, which can distort our ability to think clearly. The topic was the focus of a 2000 Mind & Life Dialogue as chronicled in Daniel Goleman’s book, Destructive Emotions.

The Dalai Lama also reinforced the connection between mental attitudes and racial injustice. “Thinking ‘my group,’ ‘their group’ on the basis of religion, on the basis of color, on the basis of social status—all this is old thinking,” he said. “We have to think [in terms] of one humanity… That’s my number one commitment: to promote a sense of oneness of seven billion human beings.”

“That’s my number one commitment: to promote
a sense of oneness of seven billion human beings.”
– The Dalai Lama

Discussant Richie Davidson, Founder and Director of the Center for Healthy Minds, elaborated on the impact of fear and uncertainty on both mental and physical health. “One of the problems people face is uncertainty, uncertainty about how this will end, uncertainty about whether they’re infected,” he said. Living amid pervasive fear and anxiety also has biological effects, he added, citing that among those ages 35 to 45 in the United States, black people are ten times more likely to die from the coronavirus than white people—a legacy of systemic racism. 

“How can we control our minds and not be so influenced by messages of fear?” he posed. 

Our mental states can be affected by meditation and exercises to control our breathing, responded the Dalai Lama. “Through training, through reason, we can develop positive emotions,” he said.  

Davidson then acknowledged the Dalai Lama’s role in catalyzing the scientific study of meditation and compassion training through early Mind & Life Dialogues and subsequent research now constituting the field of contemplative science. He went on to cite one finding “that relatively short amounts of compassion practice can reduce implicit bias, [a form of] prejudice that is subtle, non-conscious, and present in our demeanor and behavior to members, for example, of racial outgroups.” Davidson then asked how such knowledge and practices, especially the cultivation of compassion, can be disseminated more broadly to achieve greater impact in today’s world.

 In response, the Dalai Lama returned to a familiar refrain: education. “Education about our inner world is very much lacking,” he said, speaking to the importance of teaching students about their minds and emotions. What the Dalai Lama has long referred to as educating the heart, includes equipping students to manage difficult emotions, build positive relationships, and understand their role in an interconnected world.

 “Through education we can change,” he emphasized, and evolve into a more compassionate society. “Ultimately, this is the source of individual happiness, the happiness of the community, and the happiness of [the world’s] seven billion human beings.

To view the full Conversation, watch the video.

Mind & Life Speaks Out Against Racism

We sit with heavy hearts in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. This senseless loss has deepened wounds in the United States at a time when ongoing health and economic crises continue to disproportionately harm Black people. We are profoundly aware of the horrors of racism, reverberating with societal disconnection and continued fear and grief across our communities. 

We have also witnessed the resilience, courage, and hope of the human spirit in the face of such pain. In this country and around the world many are working hard to alleviate suffering, to dismantle systems of oppression, and to better support, protect, and uplift the voices of Black, Brown, and Indigenous people.

At the Mind & Life Institute, we solemnly acknowledge the generations of injustice and trauma experienced by people of color—whose each and every life matters. As an organization, we are committed to showing up fully to support the healing, humility, and open-heartedness required for antiracist work. Mind & Life does this work as a staff and as an expanding community, in recognition that we must take ownership and address our own biases. We know the ripple effect of our actions day-to-day contributes to greater collective flourishing. 

We believe our work at the intersection of contemplative wisdom, science, and changemaking is a powerful place from which to inspire action toward a future that embraces our shared humanity and interconnection. In the words of Ruth King, we “must teach [our] children about racism, not from a distance, but from [our] own wise heart.” 

Mind & Life is committed to a bold vision for shifting human consciousness and embracing compassion as a guiding principle in creating a safer, kinder, and a more equitable world.

“It’s Helped Me Manage My Life Better:” How University Students Benefit from Mindfulness During the Pandemic

In mid-March, Cindy Ripoll-Martinez, a second-year student at the University of Miami, was alerted that campus would be closing for the remainder of the semester in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Hastily, she moved 20 minutes away to her brother’s apartment, where she now lives by herself and attends classes virtually.

While Cindy talks regularly to her family in the Dominican Republic, she admits that being alone in the middle of a pandemic can be stressful. As part of her morning routine, she practices mindful sitting, followed by loving-kindness meditation.

Cindy began pursuing contemplative practice in earnest as part of a class she’s enrolled in, “Mindfulness, Attention, and the Brain,” taught by Amishi Jha, a cognitive neuroscientist and Associate Professor of Psychology at the University. A Mind & Life Institute Fellow, Amishi started teaching the course 15 years ago when little was known about the science of mindfulness.

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Could COVID-19 be the Catalyst Whole Student Education Needs?

No one quite knows where education is headed in the era of COVID-19. Students grapple with when, and if, they’ll return to school this year, while teachers struggle to master online instruction. Parents, too, stress over how to support kitchen table learning, while working from home. 

And it’s not just about when and how schools will start back up. Members of Generation Z, young people between the ages of 11 and 25, and Generation Alpha, those born from 2010 to 2024, will experience a world profoundly transformed—economically and socially—by the virus. 

How will educational systems respond in preparing students to navigate uncertainty, manage challenging emotions, and understand their roles and responsibilities in an interconnected world? What can schools do to help teachers manage stress? A new Mind & Life Institute resource, “Education of the Heart,” offers insights and inspiration from leading scientists, scholars, and educational practitioners on how to meet these and other pressing needs. 

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Cultivating a Compassionate and Connected Remote Work Culture

Amid this COVID-19 pandemic, we all find ourselves forced into physical isolation, necessitating what Time aptly called “the world’s largest work-from-home experiment.”  As individuals and organizations, we are navigating this uncharted terrain without a roadmap, or clarity around how long it will last. 

How do organizations skillfully move forward at this time of not knowing, while effectively carrying out their missions? How do individual team members maintain engagement and productivity while caring for those they live with, especially young children and elderly parents? 

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Mind & Life Impact Story: Bringing Mindfulness to Utah Public Schools

Students practicing a Learning to Breathe exercise.
Students practicing a Learning to Breathe exercise.

While attending Mind & Life’s 33rd Dialogue with the Dalai Lama in 2018, Kirk and Gael Benson were inspired. The Dialogue, now available online as the “Education of the Heart,” explored new frontiers in youth education rooted in science and contemplative wisdom, expanding beyond Social and Emotional Learning (SEL). During the Dialogue, Dr. Kimberly Schonert-Reichl, a renowned expert in SEL at the University of British Columbia, showed a map of the United States indicating that in 2018 only 50% of states were integrating SEL into their education policies.

“We saw how mindfulness was spreading throughout the country, but were struck with how little was being done in Utah, our home state,” Kirk says, “my wife turned to me and said, we can do this at home.”

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“Education of the Heart”: New Mind & Life Digital Dialogue Spotlights Role of Education in Human Flourishing

Today’s children are growing up at a time of unprecedented change and escalating challenges. How can we best equip them with the social-emotional skills and ethical dispositions needed to manage complex emotions, build positive relationships, and assume active roles within their local and global communities?

A new Mind & Life Institute digital dialogue,Education of the Heart,” offers rich insights from leading scientists, scholars, and educational practitioners aimed at education renewal. The multimedia site summarizes presentations and discussion from Mind & Life’s 33rd Dialogue with the Dalai Lama, “Reimagining Human Flourishing,” held in Dharamsala, India in March 2018. Over five days, Dialogue participants explored new frontiers in education rooted in science and contemplative wisdom. 

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New Mind & Life Podcast to Tell Deeper Story of Contemplative Science

In April, the new Mind & Life podcast will make its debut. Neuroscientist, meditator, and Mind & Life Science Director Wendy Hasenkamp will host the show, engaging experts across a range of disciplines in deepening our understanding of the mind and contemplative practice. Guests will share their research and insights, while probing broader issues: What are the most important applications of their work in domains like mental health, education, or social change? What trends are worth watching? What are the questions no one is asking? 

Below, Wendy shares the origins of her interest in bridging science and contemplative wisdom, and gives podcast listeners a glimpse of what they can expect. 

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Where Does Your Mind Wander—And Does It Matter?

If you’ve tried meditation, one of the first mental experiences you probably become aware of is that your mind doesn’t tend to stay in one place. “Mind wandering” is an extremely common occurrence, with studies suggesting it makes up nearly half of our waking lives. When our minds wander, they can go nearly anywhere—from negative thoughts and emotions like worry or rumination, to positive thoughts like creative planning, wishing well for others, or gratitude. Research continues to build about mind wandering during meditation, but little has been explored about the varying effects of the content of mind wandering. Does what you think about during meditation change the possible outcomes?

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Fellow Spotlight: Norm Farb

Norman Farb, University of Toronto Mississauga

In this month’s Fellow Spotlight we are pleased to share the work of Norman Farb, Associate Professor of Psychology and Principal Investigator of the Regulatory and Affective Dynamics Laboratory at the University of Toronto Mississauga. 

Norm studies the social neuroscience of the self and human emotion, with a focus on how biases in self-representation shape emotions to determine well-being. He has led several influential studies on the mechanisms of mindfulness training and depression vulnerability. Norm’s graduate research was galvanized by his experiences at several Mind & Life Summer Research Institutes, which supported several of his initial research projects. Norm is also the recipient of multiple Mind & Life grants including two Mind & Life Varela Grants in 2005 and 2009, and a Mind & Life 1440 Grant in 2016. He continues to be involved in service with the Mind & Life Institute and is excited by the growing number of scientists, clinicians, and practitioners working in the emerging field of contemplative studies.

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