Sharon Salzberg: Love is a Verb

Paying attention, asserts famed meditation teacher, best-selling author, and Mind & Life Fellow Sharon Salzberg, isn’t a skill one is simply born with. Like flexibility and physical stamina, it’s developed over time: a muscle to strengthen; a practice to nurture; a series of neural pathways to establish and expand.

But it takes very real work to move away from our very human tendencies to disconnect, assume, and judge. Salzberg shared these and other reflections on presence and connection before a capacity crowd of more than 200 listeners sitting elbow-to-elbow at a Virginia Festival of the Book event. Mind & Life President Susan Bauer-Wu interviewed the visiting author for more than an hour about meditation, love, cultural discord, and the benefits of mindfulness in the context of Salzberg’s latest book, “Real Love: The Art of Mindful ConnectionRead More

To Change the World, Start with How We Educate Children

Since early adolescence, I have carried a deep conviction that we all have the capacity to grow in ways that far exceed our imagination. At 22, when most of my friends had accepted high paying jobs after college, I opted for a backpack and spiritual growth, traveling from my home in Sun Valley, Idaho to Dharamsala, India. The town buzzed with the energy of the Dalai Lama’s teaching on the Bodhisattva Way of Life, a classic Buddhist treatise on realizing perfect awakening for the sake of all beings. I was touched deeply by his kind and benevolent presence. Read More

Preventing Racial Bias in the Classroom: What One Researcher Hopes to Learn

Racial bias exists in many domains of our society, including the classroom where teachers’ hidden biases can lead to diminished expectations for students of color. Doris Chang, Ph.D. is Director of Clinical Training and Assistant Professor of Psychology at the New School for Social Research in New York City. She leads a research team that recently received a Mind & Life PEACE Grant to develop and pilot a Mindfulness-Based Critical Consciousness Training (MBCC-T) for teachers. The ten-week program will combine training in mindfulness and culturally-responsive pedagogy with the ultimate goal of enhancing teachers’ intercultural effectiveness. Below she shares her motivation for the project, and what she hopes to achieve.

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How Do We Know What’s True?

In May 2016 the Wall Street Journal published an interactive online tool called “Blue Feed, Red Feed” that allowed one to see the dueling social media feeds of liberal and conservative users during the run-up to the 2016 presidential election. This side-by-side comparison revealed not just the wildly different ways that two groups can interpret phenomena, but how one group could view its interpretation to be indisputable and feel justified in disparaging another group for its “alternative facts.” The issues at stake here are crucial. Are there ways for us to become more open-minded to others’ positions, to expand our capacity to productively engage with people beyond our in-group? And just how do we determine what is true?

The Western scientific method gives us a systematic way to examine problems and find solutions whose validity can be tested. We can form a hypothesis and develop an experiment to test whether it is correct. We can conduct the experiment, look at what we find, and adjust our hypothesis to accommodate what we’ve learned. Then we can try it again. There are many instruments to help us do this work, like fMRI machines to tell us what’s going on in our brains when we perform certain mental tasks, or DNA tests to determine biological kinship. Read More

A Golden String: Mind & Life 2018

 “I’m imagining a golden string that is connecting
Everything but especially, beings where love has been.
I’ve imagined it again and again so often,
it isn’t even imagining, it is making it happen.”

-Devon Sproule

At the Mind & Life Institute, we greet 2018 ever more committed to our mission and its relevance to healing an increasingly polarized world. In 2017, we advanced several exciting new programs and initiatives against the backdrop of increasing turmoil and intolerance, including the tragedy that befell our home community of Charlottesville, Virginia. Recent events have reinforced our strategic imperative to be more inclusive, to expand our work beyond North America and Europe, and to support more research and conversations related to compassion and ethics. I am continually reminded of the potent power of connection to inspire us as individuals and organizations to be awake and to respond thoughtfully. Read More

A Conversation with Jim Austin and Susan Bauer-Wu

It was accident and curiosity that led Dr. James H. Austin to a moment of awakening one day in 1974, in the form of a red Japanese maple leaf. He was in Japan, meditating in a centuries-old Zen temple, when he entered into a not-quite-sleeping, not-quite-waking state.

Jim was relatively new to meditation, having begun only a few months before quite by accident. A distinguished neuroscientist specializing in pediatrics who held several academic appointments, Jim was in Japan for a sabbatical at the Kyoto University Medical School. On the flight over, he read a book given to him by a friend, “Zen in the Art of Archery”. Curious, he had sought out an English-speaking Zen teacher and began an intellectual inquiry and a personal meditation practice. Read More

Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives at Mind & Life

Historically, the Mind & Life community has been dominated by a select and largely racially and ethnically homogenous group of scientists, scholars, and practitioners from a handful of academic institutions. This homogeneity reinforces societal imbalances and biases, running counter to Mind & Life’s mission to alleviate suffering and to promote human flourishing. Furthermore, it diminishes the field’s capacity to adequately understand the human mind and investigate the mechanisms and impact of contemplative practices. Read More

Ubuntu/Botho Leadership: An Ocean that Rejects No River

The Mind & Life Institute Dialogue in Gaborone, Botswana this August brought together African humanitarian and spiritual leaders, scholars and healers into conversation with international neuroscientists about the African worldview of Ubuntu/Botho. Peter Bonanno, writer and learning designer on topics of spirituality and science, attended the Dialogue and shares his thoughts on the value of this worldview for leaders. Read More

The ever-evolving connection between culture and human biology.

An Interview with Carol Worthman, Ph.D.

Can you please give us a brief description of what you study?

What I study with my lab is the interaction of culture and biology as they shape differential mental and physical health. Currently, we have a few studies around the world examining these interactions. For instance, we have one in Vietnam where we’re looking at the impact of the introduction of television on adolescent sleep patterns and mental health. In another study, we’re examining the prevention of inter-generational transmission of HIV/ AIDS and fetal alcohol syndrome. In Nepal, we have an ongoing study that is following a sample of ex-child soldiers and looking at the long-term effects of involvement and recovery after the war. In a separate sample using a Nepali village population, we’re looking at the effects of caste, stressors and traumas, and what helps or exacerbates risks.

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Promoting Openness and Transparency in the Contemplative Sciences

For the past two decades, a small but growing number of scientists, philosophers, and scholars of religion have been building a unique community at the crossroads of their disciplines — a place where they can push the boundaries of traditional research to shine new light on fundamental questions about the human experience. What is this thing we call “mind”? Is it all about the brain, or does it extend into our bodies and even into the physical and interpersonal environments around us? Can we use contemplative practices like meditation to change our minds to be more aware, more engaged, more compassionate? And what could this mean for our physical health, our social relationships, our world?

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