“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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PEACE Grant Named in Honor of Samuel B. Hanser

Samuel B. Hanser

Since 2017, the Mind & Life Institute’s PEACE grants program has funded projects to support research on interdisciplinary approaches for investigating wholesome qualities related to Prosociality, Empathy, Altruism, Compassion and Ethics (PEACE). Mind & Life is especially interested in research proposals that relate to interconnection or societal issues of othering and disconnection with implications for mental health and well-being. 

We are honored to announce that beginning this year, one PEACE grant of $25,000 will be awarded annually as the Samuel B. Hanser Visionary Grant. (Selections will be made internally for this special designation; no separate application process is required.) This grant, funded by the Samuel B. Hanser Memorial Trust endowment, continues Sam’s legacy by supporting innovative research on contemplative practices for creating a more peaceful world.

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Helen Weng: Using Science to Spread a Message of Compassion, Equity, and Inclusion

In late 2019, Helen Weng, PhD was honored with the Mind & Life Institute Annual Service Award. The award is given to individuals who are distinguished by the breadth and depth of their involvement with Mind & Life, and who embody its core values of compassion, integrity, curiosity, inclusion, and excellence. Below is a tribute to Dr. Weng, who will be formally acknowledged at Mind & Life’s Contemplative Research Conference in November 2020.

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