Dear Friends,

Change isn’t easy. We’re living through one of the most transformative moments in history. Yet in the midst of today’s challenges, all around us we’re seeing new growth emerging from worn-out ways of being, and examples of humanity at its very best.

While the last year has brought about staggering levels of stress, loneliness, and anxiety, again and again we’ve witnessed a hunger for inner healing and ways to contribute to positive change.

Throughout, Mind & Life has taken steps to meet this need through bringing together three essential perspectives—science, contemplative wisdom, and social action. Earlier this month, more than one million viewers around the globe tuned in to our live conversation with the Dalai Lama, climate activist Greta Thunberg, and leading scientists on the crisis of climate feedback loops and what can be done to address this urgent threat.

The enthusiastic response to this intergenerational dialogue—and call to action that resulted—speak to the power and potential of this moment to spark meaningful, lasting change.

Meeting the Moment

For over thirty years, Mind & Life has been exploring how humans can live together with greater compassion, peace, and equanimity in the face of life’s many challenges and uncertainties. Our work to elevate leading-edge insights at the intersection of science and contemplative wisdom is more important now than ever.

To meet this moment, we’ve prioritized three focus areas that inform the people we bring together, the grants we award, the questions we ask, and the stories we tell. These include:

  • Personal Well-being—We support dialogue and research that examine how to nurture positive emotions, including love, compassion, gratitude, and forgiveness, and the impact of negative emotions such as fear, anger, and anxiety in our lives.
  • Compassionate Communities—We’re examining how the inner workings of the mind influence the formation of the views, behaviors, and social systems that separate us, and the role of contemplative practice in creating more compassionate communities.
  • Human-Earth Connection—We investigate how the union of contemplative wisdom and science can lead to greater awareness of the interconnectedness of all life—and action—to support and sustain both individuals and the earth’s living systems.

We’ve also launched several new initiatives with the goal of sharing insights to inspire action in creating a more peaceful, just, compassionate world. Among these are:

  • Our new Inspiring Minds series of live conversations offering wisdom for our time brings together prominent thought leaders and contemplatives to explore critical issues of our day. From yoga therapist Dr. Gail Parker, we learned how embodied practices can be a tool for racial healing. And from Dr. Peter Wayne, we learned that Tai chi and related practices are ‘ecological’ interventions, and that “health emerges out of enhancing the interconnections between interdependent systems.”
  •  Launched in April 2020, the Mind & Life Podcast ranked in the top 10 percent of all podcast downloads at the close of its first season. We are pleased to have highlighted a multi-disciplinary array of leading experts who spoke to the role of contemplative practice in becoming aware of systems of oppression, the value of mental training in the time of COVID, and how to change implicit bias, among other critical themes.

The Year Ahead

We look forward to continuing these digital offerings in 2021 with a slate of outstanding thinkers and doers. I’d also like to bring your attention to three upcoming Mind & Life programs with deep relevance for our times:

  • In May, we’ll host an online summit in honor of the 20th anniversary of a seminal Mind & Life Dialogue with the Dalai Lama, Destructive Emotions, from which evolved a best-selling book. The four-day event will explore the nature of emotion, the regulation of negative emotions, how to cultivate wellbeing, and the role of emotion in efforts to address urgent issues from racial injustice to climate change.
  • On June 6-11, our 2021 Summer Research Institute (SRI), hosted online, will focus on “The Mind, the Human-Earth Connection, and the Climate Crisis.” Grounded in contemplative and indigenous wisdom, SRI 2021 will look at the changes needed to nurture devotion to earth-care practices that minimize human impact and how to nourish the human capacity for cooperative kindness, humility, and positive change. Among our featured speakers will be Christiana Figueres, former Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change; Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard; and activist Vandana Shiva. This year we’re also pleased to offer opportunities for the general public to attend portions of the event.
  • Also this year, with the support of a generous seed funder, we’ll launch a new mentoring initiative to support and grow the pool of underrepresented investigators in contemplative research who seek funding from the Mind & Life Institute. Our efforts will begin with gaining input from the Mind & Life community—especially BIPOC junior investigators—to identify key needs, before piloting the program later this year.

This is far from an easy time, but it’s a hopeful time and an opportunity to be present and engaged. As Greta Thunberg reminds us: “We need to make sure that right now, we don’t relax and fall back asleep.” As we greet a new year, we welcome your active participation in pursuit of our vision of a world that truly embraces our shared humanity.  

Heartfelt gratitude,

Susan Bauer-Wu
Mind & Life Institute