Neuroscientist, philosopher, and Mind and Life co-founder Francisco Varela (1946-2001) believed that contemplative training offers modern science novel methods for investigating the depth of human experience. In his vision, contemplative training such as meditation not only provides a new domain for scientific study, but it also offers resources for advancing scientific models of consciousness, emotion, and cognitive processing.

The Mind and Life Summer Research Institute and accompanying Francisco J. Varela Awards for Contemplative Research are arguably the most influential programs stimulating new research in the field of contemplative science today. The long-term objective of these programs is to advance the training of a new generation of interdisciplinary scholars interested in exploring the influence of contemplative practice on mind, behavior, brain function, and health, including the potential role of contemplative methods in shaping and enriching human experience and consciousness.

The Summer Research Institute is a week-long annual event to foster collaborative research in behavioral science, neuroscience, clinical science, and the humanities based on a process of inquiry, dialogue, and collaboration with contemplative practitioners and scholars. The Varela Awards are grants of up to $15,000 awarded annually to select graduate students and post-doctoral fellows who have attended the Summer Research Institute. These awards fund scientific and scholarly examinations of contemplative techniques, with the ultimate goal that findings will provide greater insight into the mechanisms of contemplative practice and its application for reducing human suffering.

Richard J. Davidson, PhD

William James and Vilas Research Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry and Founder & Director of the Center for Healthy Minds, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Founder and Chief Visionary for Healthy Minds Innovations, Inc.

Wendy Hasenkamp, PhD

Science Director, Mind & Life Institute

Planning Committee Member, Reviewer

Judson Brewer, MD, PhD

Brown University

Rael Baruch Cahn

University of California–San Diego

Barry Hershey


Willoughby Britton, PhD

Brown University

Convening Faculty, Fellow, Grantee, Planning Committee Member

Alfred Kaszniak, PhD

The University of Arizona


Hans Melo

University of Toronto

Helen Weng, PhD

University of California, San Francisco

Convening Faculty, Fellow, Grantee, Reviewer

Jeff Yanli Lin, PhD

Washington University in St. Louis

Grantee, Reviewer

Yoona Kang, PhD

University of Pennsylvania

Convening Faculty, Grantee, Reviewer

Rachel Jacobs, PhD

University of Illinois–Chicago

Mind & Life Connections