“As we face continued polarization and tribalism in the world today,
I think no topic could be more important than understanding how othering happens,
and how we can move toward belonging.”
– Wendy Hasenkamp, 2022 SRI Program Planning Committee member
During heightened divisions on a global scale, we simultaneously sense our shared humanity and the deep rifts that separate us. With Mind & Life’s 2022 Summer Research Institute (SRI) less than three months away, Program Planning Committee (PPC) member neuroscientist Wendy Hasenkamp says no topic could be more important right now than “othering and belonging.” These divisions aren’t new—from war, to racial injustice, to climate change—humanity is facing a crisis of disconnection. Yet, it is not a time to despair; it is a time to transform.
Our 2022 SRI on “Othering, Belonging, and Becoming,” taking place online June 6-10, explores the role of the mind in creating these divisions and in the transformation we need for a more connected world. Led by faculty from a multitude of backgrounds, disciplines, and professions, sessions will consider othering and belonging on the individual level of human cognition and perspective-taking; on the societal level of institutional practices and structural inequities; and on the cultural level of how we see ourselves as connected to each other and the earth.
One of the PPC members for the event, law professor emerita Angela Harris, says: “Contemplatives, scientists, philosophers, and advocates all come at the problem of othering and belonging from different directions. Bringing them together in conversation promises excitement and richness.”
The diversity of the program is key to its power. Faculty include researchers and activists, established figures and new voices, artists and teachers. In addition to presentations, the program features daily contemplative practice, two half-day retreats, live Q&A, small group storysharing pods, and a film screening. PPC co-chair research scientist Cliff Saron highlights the importance of including the arts at SRI: “One of the important horizons for Mind & Life is to broaden the conception of creative inquiry into the nature of reality.” A film screening of Stitching the Future with Clues, will invite viewers to see themselves as companion species to all other living creatures, plant and animal. There will also be time for discussion with the film’s creator Allison Leigh Holt.
The community that forms is a launchpad for growth. Last year’s participants share in this video how the connections they formed with each other created valuable support systems. Janna Rosales, one of the few people bringing mindfulness into engineering, says “At SRI I was able to connect with a couple people in that space, and it was so exciting because I didn’t know how to connect with them otherwise.”
SRI attendees span a range of ages, professions, backgrounds, and countries; the participants may learn as much from each other as they do from the faculty. Breakout groups, storysharing pods, discussion forums, and poster sessions offer opportunities to connect on a personal level. And Mind & Life invites participants to come together online throughout the year, beyond SRI, for learning and conversation. We are now in the pilot phase of a leadership and mentoring program that we hope to expand to SRI participants in 2023.
The weeklong experience has lasting impact. While the time together is short, the seeds that are planted continue to grow. Participants exchange ideas, receive feedback, and make connections—and those ideas have measurable effect. The stories of former SRI participants are inspiring, like educator Tish Jennings and addiction psychotherapist Eric Garland, whose early work was supported by our Varela grant funding.
This year Mind & Life is offering a new grant program for SRI participants, in addition to the Varela grants, to support community-based contemplative changemaking projects. Angela Harris, a lawyer herself, reflects on the contribution of changemakers at SRI: “I’m particularly delighted that legal advocates and other changemakers are being invited into this year’s conversation with contemplative practitioners and neuroscientists… I can only imagine how much I and others with my practical training can learn and contribute.”
Through its diversity of faculty and multimodal learning methods, through the supportive and lasting community-building, through the impactful work that grows from the experience, SRI 2022 is a unique opportunity to recharge while also engaging with one the most important topics of our time. Together, we will explore how our minds have created the in-groups and out-groups, and the concepts of self and other, that are the source of so much suffering today.
We will also look to the future and to new possibilities. As PPC member Wendy Hasenkamp says, “While the mind-body-society system created this problem, it is also the key to its solution. What can we become?”
Applications for the 2022 Summer Research Institute are due April 8. Anyone whose work or passion aligns with this year’s theme of “Othering, Belonging, and Becoming” is encouraged to apply. The registration fee is due after acceptance and is paid on a sliding scale; full and partial scholarships are available.
The 2022 SRI Program Planning Committee is Cliff Saron (co-chair), Ed Taylor (co-chair), Angela Harris, and Wendy Hasenkamp.