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.

Our work to foster meaningful connections is stronger than ever. With the goal of integrating multiple perspectives and voices, Mind & Life serves as the central catalyst, convener, and community builder in advancing the contemplative sciences and fostering evidence-based applications of mindfulness in real-world contexts—from classrooms, to the healthcare system, to the workplace.

Below are highlights of Mind & Life’s transformative work in 2017 and a glimpse into the year ahead:

  • Focused efforts are underway to increase diversity and inclusion within the Mind & Life community and address topics that strengthen understanding and collaboration and minimize divisiveness. Senior manager Eboni Bugg, is leading these efforts along with a team of skilled and insightful advisors on the new Council on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.
  • In August, Mind & Life hosted a historic Dialogue in Gaborone, Botswana. The event brought together leading African scholars, humanitarian and spiritual leaders, and artists with international scientists for a Mind & Life Dialogue of firsts: our first Dialogue in Africa, first Dialogue without His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and the first to deeply engage a non-Buddhist philosophical tradition (Botho/Ubuntu) and its potential to drive healing, sociopolitical transformation and ethics for our world. While His Holiness was not able to attend, he strongly encouraged us to go forward without him. The gathering exceeded our expectations. In the words of one participant, the event “provided hope for humanity that… we can work together and make the world a better place, we can understand each other in spite of all our differences…”
    • Stay tuned for the release of a rich multi-media Digital Dialogue this year, which beautifully captures the discussions and experience of our special event in Botswana.
  • We are pleased to be joining His Holiness the Dalai Lama at his residence in Dharamsala, India in March for a private Mind & Life Dialogue. Bringing together renowned scientists, scholars, and education leaders, the conversation will delve into social-emotional learning and how compassion, ethics, and attention training can be more fully integrated into existing educational frameworks. We welcome anyone from around the globe to join us via free livestream. This special gathering will be also captured as a multimedia Digital Dialogue to be released in the future.
  • Mind & Life Summer Research Institute (SRI), our signature weeklong immersive program, attracted a record number of applications in 2017. Over 150 participants and faculty from 23 countries and 6 continents explored the theme of “intersubjectivity and interconnectivity” through presentations, discussions, and daily experiential contemplative practices. For the first time, Mind & Life devoted a presentation to exploring exclusion and white privilege in the contemplative research community. Elissa Epel, Rhonda Magee and Tania Singer invited participants to form pairs to be present with each other and listen, a practice that can foster connection and help to examine our own biases. For me what was most heartening was the full engagement of participants and presenters, their willingness to approach this work with beginner’s mind, and the perspectives brought by those from outside the U.S., who reinforced that this issue takes different forms, with different challenges in every locale. The 2018 SRI builds on this theme and will focus on cultural difference and human diversity, and will explore contemplative traditions as a resource for compassion and redressing injustice.
  • To further seed our work globally, and building on the success of the SRIs in U.S. and Europe, we will host International Research Institutes. Building on established relationships with colleagues from a previous Mind & Life Dialogue, the first will take place at the Myoshin-ji Temple in Kyoto, Japan on September 1-5, 2018. This bilingual five-day residential immersion will explore the theme, “Contemplative Practices in Context: Culture, History, and Science,” integrating the arts and philosophy of Japan.
  • The Mind & Life grants program remains robust, providing critical support to contemplative scientists and scholars across disciplines. To date, the Mind & Life Institute has funded 220 peer-reviewed research grants. In 2017, 23 research grants totaling $645,000 were awarded.
  • Our new PEACE grants support research of novel approaches for investigating and nurturing wholesome qualities related to Prosociality, Empathy, Altruism, Compassion, and Ethics (PEACE). Of the outstanding pool of applications for the first funding cycle, four grants were awarded in 2017; each will study different contemplative approaches and include relevant real-world outcomes, such as promoting empathic concern, reducing bias, preventing burnout, and fostering inclusive learning environments.
  • Our signature Varela grants annually support contemplative research by new investigators (across the sciences and humanities) who have attended a Mind & Life Summer Research Institute. The topics and disciplines of the latest Varela grants were the most diverse compared to the previous 13 years, ranging from  ethnographic study in Bhutan, mental imagery through prayer, contemplative arts, social justice engagement, and brain studies to understand craving and the benefits of deep slow breathing.
  • Eight of our funded studies in 2017 focused on education, pre-K through higher education, including five grants in partnership with the 1440 Foundation. These studies cover a variety of topics and settings, such as teacher training in self-compassion, mindfulness training and executive function in preschoolers, and longitudinal real-world socioemotional benefits of mindfulness meditation training in youth.
  • This is the second year of the Mind & Life Think Tanks program, which supports self-organized workshops to incubate or advance a particular project area or problem related to contemplative sciences. Two Think Tanks were funded in 2017, “Core Measures for Mindfulness Studies” and “Contemplative Practice-Based Program for Ex-Combatants in Colombia’s Peacebuilding Process.”
  • Last summer, Mind & Life officially launched MindRxiv, an open archive for research on mind and contemplative practices. Hosted by the Center for Open Science and managed by the Mind & Life Institute, the effort is aligned with the trend in scientific publishing to foster open access, minimize publication bias, and shorten time to dissemination. In the first four months since its launch, 60 papers are now online with more than 3,500 downloads.
  • The Mind & Life Fellows are a global network of distinguished individuals—scientists, scholars, change-makers and contemplative practitioners from across disciplines, sectors, and traditions—who are aligned with Mind & Life’s mission, vision, and values. To synergize the wisdom, heart, and intellect of these remarkable individuals and more fully engage them in Mind & Life programs and mentoring the next generation, our Fellows program was revised. It now includes a formal nomination process that will induct new Fellows on an annual basis into three categories of Mind & Life Fellows (Research, Leadership, and Contemplative).
  • Plans are well underway for the 2018 International Symposium for Contemplative Research (ISCR) to be held November 8-11 at a beautiful setting near Phoenix, Arizona. The ISCR is the flagship biennial academic conference on the study of mindfulness, meditation, and other contemplative practices.  We welcome all engaged in contemplative research or those who seek to understand how this research can be applied to their work and communities. Keynote and master lectures by incredible thought leaders and researchers are complemented by experiential contemplative practices, contemplative arts, and paper and poster presentations of the latest research in the field. It will be a wonderful opportunity to learn, share, connect, and be inspired.
  • We continue to grow and refine our scholarships, offering more travel and registration support for the Summer Research Institute and International Symposium in order to engage scholars and professionals who would not be able to participate otherwise.

At our core, the Mind & Life Institute is people. We are a global web of connected, caring individuals who make up the Mind & Life community. Each one is motivated to make a positive difference in the world and appreciates the value of deep inquiry, thoughtful dialogue, innovation, and the integration of science with contemplative wisdom traditions. We are able to do what we do because of so many of you. In addition to our committed and generous donors, dozens of others contribute in service.  In 2017, more than 100 people volunteered to support Mind & Life’s mission, contributing countless hours in work on program planning committees, peer-review grant committees, program faculty, and advisory bodies.

The Mind & Life Institute board revised its governance processes, including the establishment of term limits, resulting in the addition of new board members over the past year (Mark Bertolini, Lisette Cooper, Martin Davidson, Sona Dimidjian, and Jack Kornfield), and the transition of long-time members—Richie Davidson, Dan Goleman, and Roshi Joan Halifax—to be Founding Stewards. We are eternally grateful to Richie, Dan, and Roshi for their profound dedication and contributions to Mind & Life for over three decades.

As I pause now and look forward, I am filled with joyful anticipation of the possibilities for the year ahead.  The sense that we are in this together, all doing our part and living our shared values, inspires me every day.  May we find strength and solace in the “golden string” that unites us all.

–Susan Bauer-Wu, President, Mind & Life Institute

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