We’re hearing more and more about the devastating impacts of the climate crisis. Instead of being something that’s ‘out there,’ it’s here. And while climate change is top of mind among many scientists, policymakers, activists, and concerned citizens, not enough time is spent exploring the role of the human mind in both contributing to the crisis and building resilience—and solutions.
That’s where Mind & Life’s 2021 Summer Research Institute (SRI) and Speaker Series comes in. “The Mind, the Human-Earth Connection, and the Climate Crisis” picks up where many climate conversations leave off.
A multidisciplinary faculty from around the globe will offer presentations on the science of climate change, behavior change, and contemplative practice; how individuals can best cope with the impacts of the climate crisis from the inside-out; and the influence of the mind on climate action, among other topics.
“We’ll be elevating the importance of values, ethics, and altruism as a call to action,” says Dekila Chungyalpa, Director of the Loka Initiative at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a member of the event’s Program Planning Committee. SRI 2021 will explore the historical and psychological roots of the climate crisis, the deeply-embedded values and belief systems that stand in the way of change, and steps toward repairing how humans relate to each other and the planet.
Below Dekila shares five elements that set SRI 2021 apart.
- A multiplicity of perspectives. SRI 2021 features leading-edge speakers representing diverse perspectives on the climate crisis. Participants will hear from climate scientists, scholars, community leaders, contemplative practitioners, youth activists, and others on the roots of the climate crisis, and its impact on marginalized communities. Conference organizers seek to address the under-representation of Black and Indigenous leaders in climate discussions by dedicating two of the six days to presentations and contemplation related to climate justice and anti-racism efforts. “When we don’t have adequate representation in the room, there’s a deficiency of ideas,” says Dekila. “If there’s one lesson we learn from nature, it’s that the more diverse an ecosystem is, the more likely it is to withstand and overcome threats. If we want our societies to be resilient, everyone must be in the room when we think about solutions.”
“If we want our societies to be resilient, everyone must be
in the room when we think about solutions.”
- A focus on building inner resilience. Dekila shares that during the years she spent advancing conservation efforts in the Himalayas, she, like many others engaged in climate action, experienced solastalgia, a form of emotional and existential distress caused by environmental change. “I wasn’t prepared for the depth of sorrow I would experience through bearing witness to environmental losses in the landscapes I grew up in,” she says, citing the destruction of natural habitats and decline of animal species. SRI 2021 will explore the profound grief that stems from the climate crisis—how to express it and how to build the inner resources needed to sustain oneself and be a force for positive change. Participants will have the chance to learn from contemplative teachers and engage in contemplative practices.
- Prioritizing the moral imperative of taking action. Much is known about what needs to happen at the individual and collective level to mitigate climate change. Shift to sustainable energy sources. Enact policies that prioritize climate solutions. Consume less. Eat less meat. What’s missing, according to program planners, is the collective will to embrace much-needed changes. SRI 2021 will examine the moral imperative of taking action. Says Dekila, “We’ll be looking at the role of values, faith, cultural beliefs, and ethics,” in relation to climate justice, reparation, and remediation.
- Intergenerational dialogue. An emerging generation of climate leaders is inheriting an unprecedented environmental crisis and face profound uncertainty. What can they teach and learn from older generations? At SRI 2021, prominent youth climate activists will engage with fellow faculty and participants—of all ages—in a dialogue around the way forward. “Part of the agenda is that information and wisdom flow both ways between generations,” says Dekila, who urges emerging researchers and changemakers to join the conversation.
- Strengthening the human-earth connection. Presentations will span both the science of behavior change and ancient wisdom traditions in looking at ways to strengthen our connection to the earth. Through experiential activities—reflective storytelling, mindfulness meditation, Tai Chi, Qigong, and yoga—participants will explore their relationship with the earth and urgent threats to ecosystems. One desired outcome is a felt experience of connection and compassion. Says Dekila, “We need compassion for ourselves, for those who are most vulnerable, and for all other lifeforms on the planet. At the end of the day, we’re calling for a way of being that’s inherently compassionate.” Ultimately, event organizers seek to contribute to new societal narratives that reflect our fundamental interdependence.
Now in its 18th year, the Summer Research Institute is an application-based program that offers researchers, contemplatives and changemakers a collaborative, interdisciplinary, and immersive opportunity to deepen work and connections around humanity’s response to the climate crisis. In addition to plenaries, panels, and contemplative practice sessions, SRI includes live Q&As, networking activities, and poster sessions. Upon completion of the program, participants may be eligible to apply for a Mind & Life Francisco J. Varela Grant.
The 6-day Speaker Series offers live access to SRI’s plenary talks, panel discussions, and contemplative practice sessions—with recordings available afterwards. The Series is intended for a general audience interested in hearing the latest on the convergence of contemplative wisdom, science, and the climate crisis. No application is needed and there are no participation requirements.
Scholarships are available for both the Summer Research Institute and Speaker Series. Visit the event page on the Mind & Life website to learn more and to decide which attendance option is best for you.