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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Interconnection, Inclusivity and Transdisciplinary Collaboration in Contemplative Research

Each year, the Mind & Life Institute hosts the Summer Research Institute to bring together scholars, researchers, professionals and practitioners from a variety of fields who share an interest in contemplative research. The purpose of this program is to bring students, recent graduates, junior faculty and postdocs into conversation with established investigators in order to create a context for a robust, interdisciplinary dialogue that is intellectually rigorous and open to new voices that will challenge, advance and transform research as we know it. Read More

Utilizing Mindfulness Practice to Facilitate the Transition to College

Part 6 in a weeklong series of blog posts written by undergraduate students from the 2017 spring-semester class, “Mindfulness & Compassion: Living Fully Personally and Professionally” at the University of Virginia.

Freshman year is a unique experience because everything about college and your life as a student is so new: new friends who may be very unlike your friends back home; 500-person classes, so much bigger than anything that you probably experienced in high school; and a new dorm room you are suddenly supposed to call home. At your old school, you likely had a sense that you knew what to expect from life, day to day. In fact, you had achieved a certain level of control and comfort within those surroundings. But now you have entered an entirely new world. When issues arise, they can feel like evidence that you are not coping well with the changes, or that you are not going to be able to hack it in this new place.

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Right Here, Write Now

Part 5 in a weeklong series of blog posts written by undergraduate students from the 2017 spring-semester class, “Mindfulness & Compassion: Living Fully Personally and Professionally” at the University of Virginia.

Because writing is listening, I am a listener first.

And long a lover of words — the way they dance off the tongue and across the page — I am a writer. Yet this birthing process of rich and honest communication can be dry, draining, a bit too cerebral sometimes. Trying to write authentically, full-heartedly, is, whether scribbling loosely in a leather-bound journal or perched behind a blue-white screen, challenging.  And more times than not, our everyday lives aren’t conducive to creativity; they aren’t particularly inviting to imaginative streams of consciousness. No, we who love words run rampantly fragmented, frazzled, unfocused, and then force ourselves to sit suddenly alone with our words, these swirling, swirling storms of thought that exhaust and overwhelm us in moments of respite. And I wonder: how might I make peace with the pre-creative process — that procedure which is the pulse of communication but at the same time turbulent, messy, and just plain loud? Indeed, the best writing comes from honest, quiet listening: that listening comes generally from the listening to the soul — and also, of course, to the body in which the soul makes its home. Might mindfulness, then, the very act of paying attention to bodily sensations over time, improve focus and fuel creativity when I sit down to write? Read More

Nature & Well-Being: Gratitude

Part 4 in a weeklong series of blog posts written by undergraduate students from the 2017 spring-semester class, “Mindfulness & Compassion: Living Fully Personally and Professionally” at the University of Virginia.


Sitting on the beach, hearing the waves lap gently against the sand as the stars make their appearance into the sky, it is so easy to wonder how small I must be in the vast expanse of the galaxy. The trying times I have faced, inevitable stresses of day-to-day life and my own shortcomings dissolve into the waves as they recede back into the expanse of the ocean. I find that I have time to simply marvel at the world and be grateful for this moment. Yet, I find myself thinking that such an experience with nature will not be a frequent occurrence. The pace of every-day life has been accelerated with the technology that we rely on and it almost seems impossible to disconnect myself from the “world”. With technology at my disposal, it often seems as though the world is at my fingertips, yet when I am in nature, I realize that I do not truly know what the world is. Read More

Mindfulness as a Treatment for Depression and Anxiety

Part 3 in a weeklong series of blog posts written by undergraduate students from the 2017 spring-semester class, “Mindfulness & Compassion: Living Fully Personally and Professionally” at the University of Virginia.

Depression and anxiety are two of the most prevalent mental disorders in the United States (Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 2016). Depression is one of the world’s most urgent health problems, affecting an estimated 350 million people (World Health Organization; WHO). Moreover, depression is the leading cause of disability, and by the year 2030, depression is projected to be the number one cause of global disease burden (WHO). Read More