Mind & Life co-founders Francisco J. Varela and the Dalai Lama.

‘Pioneering.’ ‘A catalyst.’ ‘An incredible launch pad for impactful research.’ ‘A platform to better understand consciousness and our shared humanity.’ These are just some of the words people have used to describe Mind & Life’s Francisco J. Varela Research Grants. The program is named after our co-founder, neuroscientist and philosopher Francisco J. Varela, who believed that contemplative practices offer modern science novel, valuable methods for investigating human experience. 

For two decades, the Varela Grants have supported the rigorous examination of contemplative practices and how these can be applied to reduce suffering and promote flourishing. Cumulatively, 217 Varela Grants totalling $3.3 million have been awarded to researchers in 14 countries. Grantees helped lay the foundations for the field of contemplative science, leading to groundbreaking applications in education, mental health, and other critical areas. Collectively, they have raised hundreds of millions of dollars in follow-on funding to continue their research.

As we celebrate the 20th anniversary of this path-breaking program, we pay special tribute to all the Varela grantees whose work has shaped the field of contemplative science and to our visionary founding donor, Barry Hershey, whose inspiration and support have made this program possible.

“The Varela Awards demonstrate the possibilities that arise from seeding a field—the results of investing in the young scholars who are doing the deep investigations between science and contemplative practices have been profound. We have never supported any endeavor that has had more of an impact per dollar.”
Barry Hershey, Hershey Family Foundation

We invite you to learn more about the impact of the Varela Grants through the voices and stories below.

“The Varela program provides the opportunity to nurture seeds of big ideas in ways that are eminently leverageable. In this instance, we were able to turn a $20K project into a $400K project by adapting and expanding upon the Varela vision.”

— Quinn Conklin, 2018 Varela grantee

“The Varela Grants are an incredible launch pad for impactful research and the testing of new ideas in the field. The grant and this study have set me up for success in my career and have launched my research trajectory.”

— Lindsay Romano, 2021 Varela grantee

“Mind & Life’s initial $15,000 investment to launch the MORE research program has had a tremendous ripple effect. Since receiving the Varela Grant, the program has received $75 million in grants to conduct clinical trials and studies.”

— Eric Garland, 2008 Varela grantee

“Findings from research funded by the Varela Grant program have been advancing our understanding of how contemplative practices can help promote human flourishing. Another important contribution of the program is supporting and growing a pool of new contemplative scholars, and expanding the community of contemplative science.”

— Sinhae Cho, 2017 Varela grantee

“The Varela award opened the door to funding opportunities and the fast track to becoming an independent researcher. Mind & Life has been essential in catalyzing many long-lasting relationships and creating an environment to support collaboration.”

— Zev Schuman-Olivier, 2019 Varela grantee
Eric Garland — Working with Addiction & Pain

On the Mind & Life podcast, Varela grantee Eric Garland discusses using mindfulness and other contemplative approaches for problems like addiction and chronic pain.

Karen Bluth — Self Compassion & Teen Mental Health

On the Mind & Life blog, Varela grantee and Communications Awardee Karen Bluth shares her work supporting the mental health of youth through self-compassion.

Jyoti Mishra — Mindfulness and the Climate Crisis

On the Mind & Life blog, Varela grantee Jyoti Mishra shares her research into the role of mindfulness in building climate resilience among students.

Fadel Zeidan — Disentangling Self from Pain

In his essay for Insights, Varela grantee Fadel Zeidan writes about transforming our relationship to pain through mindfulness.

Juan Santoyo — Practice and Peace

On the Mind & Life podcast, Varela grantee Juan Santoyo dives into the intersection of basic neuroscience and community-based programs.

Tish Jennings — From Teacher Burnout to Teacher-led Reform

On the blog, Varela grantee and Catherine Kerr Award Winner Tish Jennings shares her work researching how mindfulness practices could alleviate teacher stress and improve classrooms.