Mind & Life Think Tanks are intimate, two- to three-day, self-organized gatherings designed to advance a particular project or problem within the contemplative sciences. Grants support the travel, accommodations and general organization of Think Tanks to convene small groups of collaborators including scientists, scholars, humanitarian leaders and changemakers, contemplative practitioners, educators and applied professionals to workshop a coherent topic with well-defined deliverables/outcomes and potentially high impact.


Congratulations to our 2020 recipients!

Silent Illumination: Compassionate End of Life Care for Transgender Old Adults

Organizers: Cathy Campbell (grantee), Dallas Ducar, Kimberly Acquaviva, Amy-Sarah Marshall, Lisa Campbell

Invited Participants: Doris Gelbman, Ishan Williams, Don Lansky, Patricia Gulino Lanksy, Lauren Catlett, Cameron Muir, Jonathan Bartels, Gracie Barker

The World Health Organization estimates that 20 million adults across the globe need palliative care, including a growing cohort of transgender-identified older adults. While best practices for palliative care exist, information to guide community-based care at the end of life for this cohort is not consistently available. Guided by the wisdom from contemplative practice, art, narrative, science and key stakeholders we will engage in a 2-phase inquiry into compassionate end of life care for transgender-identified older adults. We will evoke the wisdom within our communities through facilitated panel discussions and small group engagement. At the conclusion the Think Tank will produce a white paper and multimedia presentation with recommendations for compassionate end of life care for trans-identified older adults.

Youth4Peace Mindfulness

Organizers: Mridul Upadhyay (grantee), Romeral Ortiz Quintilla, Saumya Aggarwal, Bhargavi Raman, Paula Ramírez

Invited Participants: Heela Yoon, Ali Fayez, Ajmal Ramyar, Farida Amiri, Suchith Abeyewickreme, Darshatha Gamage, Priyatharshiny Vijayaratnam, Jananie Karunaweera, Ali Johar, Ayesha Mohanty, Simran Luthra, Simran Kour, Elias Hawee, Mithela Haque, Md Sala Uddin, Md Tamzid Hayder Tawrat Sikder

A trauma & context-sensitive mindfulness program for peacebuilding and reconciliation (of Trauma Sensitive-MBSR category) will gather 16 young peacebuilders, from India, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh, working with communities affected by diverse forms of violence such as victims of war or armed conflict, refugees, Internally Displaced Persons, or migrants; with the aim to discuss, reflect, share, practice and systematize mindfulness sensitive to trauma and reconciliation for youth. This program will enhance their philosophical understanding and support them with the evidence-based application. The program will review aspects related to personal development practice, self-awareness, mental health, and human connection for peace and reconciliation led by youth. One of the key deliverables will be the development of a practical handbook for mindfulness practice sensitive to trauma and reconciliation interventions led by youth aiming at multiplying, incorporating, and replicating the practice within the participant’s current peacebuilding work. The insights will be further disseminated through an awareness campaign.

Establishing an International Society for Contemplative Research

Organizers: Amishi Jha, Zindel Segal, Linda Carlson, David Vago, Harold Roth, Fadel Zeidan, Erin McCarthy

The past two decades have witnessed a sharp increase in contemplative research, involving scientific experimentation and contemplative studies in the humanities. This activity has been undertaken by two largely distinct groups – researchers (e.g., clinical/cognitive neuroscientists) and humanities scholars, each committed to the basic insight that the mind is best understood through multiple levels of analysis, supporting a more holistic view of how contemplative practices promote human flourishing. Each group, however, is stymied by a separation of paradigms and methods that thwart truly meaningful advances, and by even fewer professional structures to support dialogue and collaboration. We see the formation of an International Society for Contemplative Research (ISCR) as providing an academic home where these scholarship communities can engage in the types of dialogue and collaboration capable of integrating and advancing the field. Accordingly, we propose a Think Tank to support of the creation of ISCR.

Wise Climate Actions & Sacred Activism

Organizers: Vivian Valentin (grantee), Radhule Weininger, Michael Kearney, John Foran, Kevin M Gallagher

Invited Participants: Leila Cavallho, Monique Myers, Stacy Pulice, Shawn VanValkenburgh, Kristen Goodrich, Joanna Macy, Catherine Gautier, Jose Caballero, Linda Buzzell-Saltzman, Martin Wagner, Yemaya Renuka Duby, Jessica Alvarez Parfrey, Ken Hiltner, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, Summer M. Gray, Sarah Ray, Maithilee Kanthi, Bill McKibben, Emiliano Campobello, David Pellow

Proposed Meeting Date: August 2020

Location: Santa Barbara, CA

How do we motivate people, especially young adults, to deal with climate-change issues when they are remote from its effects, leaving them unmoved, or conversely, when they are on the receiving end of a catastrophe, leaving them overwhelmed? The standard motivator for climate activism has been fear, but it cannot sustain our actions in the long-term. Furthermore, the scale and immediacy of the problem is so great that the fear generated can paralyze or isolate us. We see the need to ground climate adaptation, activism and education in contemplative practice. Mindfulness, compassion and nature-connection practices can awaken a sense of interconnectedness and belonging with nature. This in turn fosters creativity and sustainable motivation to act from love for the welfare of all beings. We will develop ways to support our youth and climate-change professionals, create community structures that integrate contemplative practices into climate action, and nurture Sacred Activism.

Decolonizing Mindfulness Meditation and Yoga Spaces

Organizers: Priya Iyer (grantee), Irene Barraza, Antoinette Gonzalez, Sonia Montoya, Meha Davé

Invited Participants: Rolf Gates, Spring Washam, Susanna Barkataki, Angela Black, Robin Hall, Larry Yang, Bonnie Duran, Mushim Ikeda, Maya Breuer, Rina Deshpande, Satya de la Paz, Wendy Weber, adrienne maree brown, Leslie Booker, Jonathan Relucio, Jessamyn Stanley, Rod Owens, Julio Rivera, Ravi Mishra, Angel Kyodo Williams

Proposed Meeting Date: September 2020

Location: Oakland, CA

The aim of this project is to compile and distill learnings from expert practitioners, academics, and policy makers who have spent years decolonizing the practice of mindfulness meditation and yoga to ensure the ancient roots of the practice are honored, and to ensure the practice is accessible to all communities of color including queer and trans people of color across the U.S. We will take the distilled indigenous knowledge, define what it means to decolonize these practices, create a set of guiding principles, design implementation techniques, and develop an online resource hub for yoga/meditation studio owners and teachers across the U.S.

Critical Neuroscience and the Politics of Mindfulness Interventions for Youth: A Proposal for an Interdisciplinary Working Group

Organizers: Suparna Choudhury (grantee), William Wannynn, Elena Hailwood, Steven Stanley, Jennifer Thompson

Invited Participants: Rhonda Magee, Elizabeth Gagen, David Forbes, Kristina Eichel, Ana Gomez-Carillo, Joshua Moses, Rachel Lilley, Funie Hsu, Paul Howard Jones, Barbara Ibinarriago Soltero, Anne Harrington, Willoughby Britton, Jamie Kucinskas

Proposed Meeting Dates: May 2020

Location: Garrison, NY

Adolescents bear the burden of complex global challenges head, yet as recent events have shown, they are also drivers of change. Youth mindfulness programmes (YMPs), now increasingly prevalent in educational and juvenile justice settings, are thought to promote resilience and emotional skills, drawing on neuroscience to inform interventions. Moreover, neurobiological ideas are frequently incorporated into curriculums and subsequently inform students’ developing concepts of selfhood. Despite the cultural implications, the research landscape is currently dominated by neurological and psychological approaches. However, neuroscience is an interpretive discipline embedded with cultural values, that warrants reflection. Drawing on critical neuroscience, we will bring together scholars from social science, education and neuroscience to examine how neuroscientific ideas are conveyed within YMPs and analyse their social implications. We will contribute: 1) preliminary qualitative analysis of program materials; 2) a socially and ethically oriented guidance briefing for interventions; 3) supplementary educational materials, and directives for future research.

African Contemplative Practices for Healing the Past, for Transforming the Present and for Future Flourishing

Organizer: Lucy Draper-Clarke

Invited Participants: Lucy Draper-Clarke, Warren Nebe, Nonkululeko Faith Busika, Sinethemba Makanaya, Bandile Seleme, Prince Theogene Niwenshuti, Gregory Maqoma, Vincent Mantsoe, Karen Fitzgerald, Dr. Melike Fourie, Caryn Green, Hamish Mabala Neill

Proposed Meeting Date: November 2018

Location: North West Province, South Africa

There is an urgent need for a rigorous empirical qualitative description of African contemplative practices in terms of the current science and Buddhist frameworks, in order to bring the African academic community into the global research efforts to alleviate suffering and enhance human flourishing. The discussion over the 3-day retreat will center on defining contemplative practices in the African context. This Think Tank seeks to bring together scholars and contemplative practitioners from different African traditions to: 1) categorize African embodied (predominantly movement-based) contemplative practices; 2) develop a scheme of classification of their perceived state and trait benefits; 3) design a collaborative, interdisciplinary research agenda; and 4) form a professional learning circle of colleagues committed to community building, knowledge- and resource-sharing, and social transformation through contemplative practice in order to heal the past, transform the present, and allow for future flourishing.

Mindfulness Practices as Anti-Oppression Pedagogy: Strategies for Preparation, Implementation, and Assessment

Organizer: Greta Gaard

Invited Participants: Greta Gaard, Zenzele Isoke, Beth Berila, Alex Haley, Doug Kennedy, Louise Delagran, Erik Storlie, Shannon Gibney, David Voelker, Alison Staudinger, Franklin Chen, Sawa Senzaki, Samuel Cocks, Ann Lawton, Kaylee Spencer, Courtney Wells, Mary Wright, Ann Brand, Michelle Hamilton, Terri Karis, Brian McAlister

Proposed Meeting Dates: November 2018; November 2020

Location: Wisconsin, United States

This Think Tank will convene a team of teaching and mindfulness experts to explore the science, the benefits, and potential risks of using mindfulness as an anti-oppressive pedagogy—an approach that helps students recognize the ways that most people are variously privileged and oppressed, understanding how both relations perpetuate suffering for others and for oneself.  The team will include 21 faculty from 18 disciplines and 6 institutions. Outcomes will include a coherent set of learning objectives, practices, and assessments for using mindfulness pedagogies in higher education—not only for stress reduction and self-compassion, but also for unlearning oppression and addressing trauma on intrapersonal, interpersonal, social and cultural levels. Within nine months after the Think Tank meeting, participants will contribute or coauthor essays culminating in a book of discipline-specific mindfulness practices for unlearning oppression and addressing trauma in higher education.

Mechanisms of Meditation and Consequences for Clinical Practice

Organizer: Marieke van Vugt

Invited Participants: David Vago, Antonino Raffone, Elena Antonova, Jos Brosschot, Anne Speckens, Heleen Slagter, Philipp Kanske, Judson Brewer, Susan Bogels, Henk Barendregt, Zoltan Dienes, Amber Carpenter, Shaun Gallagher, Thorsten Barnhofer, Brian Ostafin

Proposed Meeting Date: December 2019

Location: Leiden, Netherlands

Mindfulness and meditation are increasingly used in clinical practice to treat conditions such as depression, anxiety and addiction. However, the fundamental mechanisms underlying these practices are not yet well-known and theoretical frameworks are sparse. Two important explanatory mechanisms that will be considered in this workshop are sticky thinking (cognitive fusion) and the sense of self. Experts on these topics from a wide range of disciplines including neuroscience, psychology, cognitive science, mathematics and philosophy will collaborate to develop more integrated theories of how those topics are involved in meditation practice. In this workshop, we hope to synthesize their ideas towards common theoretical frameworks, and to define a robust research agenda for future research in this field. Anticipated outcomes include a position paper and a plan for a multi-lab grant proposal to advance work in these areas.

Core Measures for Mindfulness Studies

Organizer: Rick Hecht
Meeting Date: November 2018
Location: Phoenix, Arizona

We aim to develop a set of recommended “core measures” for mindfulness-based intervention research that can strengthen individual studies and facilitate pooled data analyses and meta-analyses. While most studies require study specific outcome measures, there are domains that are appropriate to measure across studies.  These includes self-report measures of important common outcomes (e.g. stress and mood) and functions specifically targeted by mindfulness training (e.g. behavioral, or cognitive responses to standardized tasks or naturalistic daily stimuli).  Domains we anticipate covering include intervention effects on affect dynamics, attentional processes, and pro-social behavior. We will carefully assess the pros and cons of available measures, their appropriateness for mindfulness research, and develop a menu of recommended measures. We will bring together a diverse group of researchers from several disciplines, including mindfulness teachers. To disseminate findings, we aim to publish a joint paper, and the UCSF Osher Center will host a website summarizing recommendations.

Designing and implementing a contemplative practice-based program for ex-combatants in Colombia’s peacebuilding process

Organizer: Juan Santoyo
Participants: Ana Maria Restrepo Saenz, Alejandro Chaoul, Brooke Dodson-Lavelle, Catalina Acosta, Constanza Baquedano, Cristobal Danobeitia, Ismael Palacios-Garcia, Juan Felipe Jaramillo, Juliana M Santoyo, Juan F Santoyo, Luis Alejandro Moya Riveros, Mariana Fajardo Patino, Sebastian Medeiros (missing:Gaelle Desbordes, Jake Davis, and Simon Guendelman)
Meeting Date: March 2018
Location: Medellin, Colombia

This think tank will develop a meditation-based curriculum for peacebuilding along with guidelines for its implementation as a component of Colombia’s ongoing peacebuilding process. We will draw on Mind & Life’s model to bring together scholars, scientists, and contemplatives across institutional and geographical boundaries for this immediate opportunity to promote individual and societal flourishing in an important global context.  Our primary goal is to develop a manual for a program that uses compassion, equanimity, and kindness meditation and didactic exercises for use in peacebuilding contexts. As long-term goals, think tank participants will go on to implement this framework with Colombian ex-combatants. Additionally, scientific research on its effects will be carried out in or to further refine the program and facilitate its adaptation for use with other marginalized populations in the USA and other global contexts.

Conceptualizing Compassion: A Heuristic Model

Organizer: Brooke D. Lavelle
Participants: Brooke D. Lavelle, Paul Condon, Helen Weng, Jenny Mascaro, Wendy Hasenkamp, Gaelle Desbordes, Yoona Kang, Lisa Flook, Paul Gilbert, John Makransky, Wendy Farley, Andy Dreitcer, Eve Ekman (missing: John Dunne, Erin Robbins, and Jim Coan)
Meeting Date: January 2017
Location: Courage of Care, Berkeley, California

The study of compassion is gaining increasing attention. Yet to date, there is little consensus on what compassion is, how it is to be cultivated, or whether compassion is the appropriate term to capture a range of complex motivations, capacities and behaviors deemed critical not only to our survival, but also to our collective evolution or awakening. Various conceptions of compassion are articulated in diverse contemplative traditions and scientific disciplines. Though interest in the study and practice of compassion is increasing, little scholarly attention has been paid to the differences between these conceptualizations or to the implications that such differences might have for training, research and application. This Think Tank convened a working group of leaders in compassion research, scholarship, and practice to develop an account of different models of compassion from which we will design a collaborative, interdisciplinary research agenda for the field.  A long-term goal is to form a professional learning circle of colleagues committed to community building, knowledge- and resource-sharing, and socially-engaged advocacy work.

Establishing Contemplative Studies Programs: Practices, Priorities and Problems

Organizer: Hal Roth
Participants: Mirabai Bush, Carolyn Jacobs, Judith Simmer-Brown, David Germano, Anne Klein, Hal Roth, and John Dunne
Meeting Date: September 2017
Location: Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island

This weekend workshop for contemplative educators explored practical information about how to establish undergraduate programs in Contemplative Studies. Featured topics included definitions of key terms in the field including multi-epistemological models, balancing the humanities and the sciences, including issues of ethics and social justice, how to incorporate contemplative practices into the curriculum, fund-raising, and how to persuade colleagues and administrators.

View the website, devoted to mutual support for those who are building contemplative programs in institutions of higher education

Socially-Engaged Mindfulness Interventions (SEMI) and the Promise of Making Refuge

Organizer: Ronald Purser
Participants: David Loy, Edwin Ng, Zack Walsh, Jack Petranker, Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi, Mushim Patricia Ikeda, Katie Loncke, Rhonda Magee, Sharon Suh, Beth Berila, Tom Yarnall, Charles Strain
Meeting Date: July 2017
Location: Mangalam Research Center for Buddhist Languages, Berkeley, California

This Think Tank brings together engaged Buddhist and secular mindfulness practitioners, teachers, scholars, and activists from areas like minority rights and struggles, environmentalism and sustainability, critical pedagogy and liberal arts education. We draw on Buddhist and feminist and posthumanist thinking for inspiration to formulate our working questions: What is refuge? Where or when do we encounter refuge? Who or what creates space for refuge? We experiment with Socially-Engaged Mindfulness Interventions (SEMI) in order to probe the limits of prevailing outlooks. How might we develop more caring ways of relating the human to the nonhuman and vulnerability to resistance in “social”, “ecological”, or other modes of engagement with the world-in- becoming? What are the dangers accompanying the pathologizing and medicalized connotations of “intervention”? What new ways of engaging with mindfulness might be discovered by investigating these questions? What is the role of mindfulness in the investigation of these questions? We perform these inquiries to resituate mindfulness as part of a larger praxis-ideal of making refuge, understood as the collective work of cultivating conditions of trust and safety necessary for living and dying well together as co-inhabitants of a precarious planet.

Educating the Heart: Cultivating Compassionate Global Citizens

Organizer: Caroline Murphy
Participants: Ozawa de-Silva, Thomas Pruzinsky, Scarlett Lewis, Liz Gulliford, Alan McMurray, Anne-Marie Poynor, Jacqueline Irwin, James Nelson, Alan McCully, Dorothy Black, Gerard McCann, Anne Dichelle, Majella O’Shea, Rita Sexton, Aidan Clifford, Frank Geary
Meeting Date: May 2017
Location: Children in Crossfire, Derry, Northern Ireland

This Think Tank explores how Critical Pedagogy and Social and Emotional Learning can be synthesised through an Ethics rooted in Compassion. The intention is to develop innovative pedagogy for a ‘Global Education Curriculum’ for students aged 8-15. Traditionally, Global Education nurtures competencies in line with Paulo Freire’s Critical Pedagogy. It is proposed that the nurturing of emotional and social competencies are also essential components. By rooting all competencies in an Ethics based in Compassion, a ‘holistic’ approach might emerge for preparing young people as Compassionate Global Citizens.

The Think Tank brings together Ireland, USA, and UK scholars, educators, researchers and policy makers to:

  • Strengthen theoretical underpinnings
  • Define core competencies
  • Develop the ‘Teacher Training Course’
  • Explore a ‘Teacher’s Masters Programme’
  • Design research to pilot to 120 Ireland teachers

Ireland and UK participants will meet in person, and e-conference USA colleagues. Participants will collaborate towards developing a Programme for replication across countries.

Embodiment, Contemplative Practice, and Equality: Developing a Programmatic and Research Agenda for Reducing Ingroup Bias through Embodied Inquiry and Contemplative Practice

Organizer: Bo Forbes
Participants: Greg Cajete, James Coan, William Cunningham, John Dunne, Norman Farb, Bo Forbes, Aneeta Rattan, David Vago, Angel Kyodo Williams, Christine Wilson-Mendenhall
Meeting Date: September 2017
Location: Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee

Prejudice and discrimination have destructive consequences in contemporary society. Discrimination based on social categorization (e.g., by gender, age or ethnicity) is thought to stem from implicit and explicit expression of in-group bias, a preference for others who belong to one’s own salient social categories. Existing theories are limited in explaining how to limit the effects of such bias on social behavior, decision making, and well-being. This Mind & Life Think Tank will integrate perspectives from contemplative studies, the humanities, psychology, and neuroscience to better understand how to overcome in-group bias and its expression as prejudice. We will explore the potential for embodied contemplative practices to disrupt automatic categorization of others and promote prosocial behavior. Deliverables include an integrated theoretical model that introduces new practical measures and techniques for reducing bias and prejudice.

Microphenomenology and Contemplative Experience: Exploring the Intra- and Intersubjective Dynamics of Language and Embodied Experience

Organizer: Andreas Roepstorff
Participants: Michel Bitbol, Kiku Day, Anne Klein, Jean-Philippe Lachaux, Antoine Lutz, Soizic Michelot, Claire Petitmengin, Andreas Roepstorff, Donata Schoeller, Michael Sheehy, Martijn van Beek
Meeting Date: January 2017
Location: Paris, France

We will host a two-day meeting of scholars from the humanities and sciences and contemplative practitioners to explore and develop the use of microphenomenology in the study, practice and application of contemplative practice. The meeting will bring together core members of the PhenoPilot project, with a small group of other scholars and practitioners in order to summarize experiences, and develop new research proposals and applications. This Think Tank is intended to help develop a modest, empirically grounded, and explicitly intersubjective phenomenology to aid in the study of processes and states associated with learning and engaging in contemplative practice.

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Concepts and Nonconceptuality in Buddhist Philosophy

Organizer: Evan Thompson
Participants: Evan Thompson, Robert Sharf
Meeting Date: March 2018
Location: Center for Buddhist Studies at the University of California, Berkeley

This workshop focuses on Buddhist philosophical accounts of concepts and nonconceptuality. Understanding these accounts is crucial for the proper investigation of Buddhist contemplative practices. Buddhist practitioners and contemplative scientists often claim that various meditation practices induce nonconceptual modes of experience. But without a precise understanding of concepts, it is impossible to know what it means for an experience to be nonconceptual. Moreover, claims that nonconceptual experiences have psychological benefits run the risk of decontextualizing and thereby distorting these experiences by supposing that they can be characterized outside of the normative and soteriological context of Buddhism as a “path” to “awakening.” It is also important to ask whether any mode of experience that could meet the conditions of being nonconceptual according to a given philosophical or scientific criterion is the kind of experience that would be valued according to a particular Buddhist conception of the path to awakening. Addressing these issues requires that Buddhist philosophy and cognitive science engage each other more extensively than they have to date. A crucial step is to analyze the array of Buddhist philosophical views on conceptuality and nonconceptuality. This step constitutes the motivation and agenda for this workshop. The workshop will be held at the Center for Buddhist Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and the papers will be published together in book form.

Abrahamic Contemplative Traditions

Organizer: Nathan Fisher
Participants: Nathan Fisher, Rabbi Eliezer Shore, Rabbi Doniel Katz, David Cooper, Andrew Dreitcer, Wendy Farley, Natalia Lapteva, Neil-Douglas Klotz, Misbah Noorani, Tasnim Hermila Fernandez, Arthur Zajonc, Chris Kaplan, Jared Lindahl, and Willoughby Britton
Meeting Date: April 2015
Location: Mind & Life Visiting Scholars House, Amherst, Massachusetts

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Varieties of Contemplative Experience

Organizer: Willoughby Britton & Jared Lindahl
Participants: Willoughby Britton, Jared Lindahl, David Cooper, Nathan Fisher, David Loy, Daniel Stuart, William Waldron, John Tresch, Linda Heuman, Eric McCord, Barnes Peterson, Wendy Hasenkamp
Meeting Date: December 2014
Location: Barre Center for Buddhist Studies, Barre, Massachusetts

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Related paper

Mindfulness Media Hype

Organizer: Marieke van Vugt
Participants: Marieke van Vugt, Andrew Olendzki, Kim Nolan, Ted Meissner, David Vago, Willoughby Britton, Julie Brefczynski-Lewis, Brent Field, Sara Lazar, Nicholas Van Dam, Laura Schmalzl, virtual attendance: David Meyer, Cliff Saron, Cathy Kerr
Meeting Date: July 2014
Location: Mind & Life Visiting Scholars House, Amherst, Massachusetts

Read the white paper

Read the Huffington Post article

Interoception and Contemplative Practice

Organizer: Cathy Kerr
Participants: Cathy Kerr, Cynthia Price, Jennifer Daubenmeier, Barnaby Dunn, Norman Farb, Tim Gard, Wendy Hasenkamp, Anne Klein, Wolf Mehling, Martin Paulus
Meeting Date: April 2013
Location: Mind & Life Visiting Scholars House, Amherst, Massachusetts

Read the white paper