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The Mind and Life Education Research Group met regularly for 4 years (2007-2011) to create a research agenda for contemplative education. A scholarly white paper manifested as a result drawing on research in neuroscience, cognitive science, developmental psychology, and education, as well as scholarship from contemplative traditions concerning the cultivation of positive development, to highlight a set of mental skills and socioemotional dispositions that are central to the aims of education in the 21st century. These include self-regulatory skills associated with emotion and attention, self-representations, and prosocial dispositions such as empathy and compassion. It should be possible to strengthen these positive qualities and dispositions through systematic contemplative practices, which induce plastic changes in brain function and structure, supporting prosocial behavior and academic success in young people. These putative beneficial consequences call for focused programmatic research to better characterize which forms and frequencies of practice are most effective for which types of children and adolescents. Results from such research may help refine training programs to maximize their effectiveness at different ages and to document the changes in neural function and structure that might be induced.

The paper can be found Here [Link]

my personal copy [MLERN_2012]

Tenzin Gyatso, the fourteenth and current Dala...

Tenzin Gyatso, the fourteenth and current Dalai Lama, is the leader of the exiled Tibetan government in India. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. Photographed during his visit in Cologno Monzese MI, Italy, on december 8th, 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mind and Life XXIV: Latest Findings in Contemplative Science

The Brochure [ML24_Brochure]

Why is this meeting interesting?

B/C we represent how the younger generation of scientists arewilling to examine some of the more difficult and even taboo aspects of deep contemplative transformation – topics the first generation of more cautious researchers were never explicit about. Friend and journalist, Jeff Warren refers to us as “The Pragmatic Dharma wing of neuroscience”. He further explains, “They are actively researching, among other things, the neural correlates of noself / Enlightenment, the Progress of Insight, the often very difficult Dark Night dissolution process some meditators go through, and much more besides. They have ambition and they plan to ask the Dalai Lama tough questions.”

Jeff comments further: “This is not another meditation and the brain story – it’s about the new age of contemplative transparency that may finally be upon us, and the radical prospect of science taking enlightenment – that multifaceted jewel – seriously. Orthodox psychology could be forced to get a whole lot deeper. What’s fascinating as well is these folks are all products of the Dalai Lama’s long-term scheme to fill all institutions of higher learning with neuroscientists who are also practitioners. Hundreds and hundreds of Phds at the Mind and Life Summer Institute every summer – a cross-diciplinary incubator. [LINK] And now they are all getting jobs at top-flight Ivy league school and determining the research agenda. They’re not looking at how meditation alleviates stress – they’re looking at how it disables the sense of a separate self. This has never before been on neuroscience’s radar and will shock the system when people realize what they are up to.”

We are:

David Vago, Ph.D., Harvard Medical SchoolBrigham & Women’s Hospital: dvago@partners.org [link]

Willoughby Britton, Ph.D., Brown University: willoughby_britton@brown.edu [Link]

Baljinder Sahdra, Ph.D., University of Waterloo: b.sahdra@uws.edu.au [Link]

Thorsten Barnhofer, Ph.D., Oxford: thorsten.barnhofer@psych.ox.ac.uk [Link]

Helen Weng, University of Wisconsin: hweng@wisc.edu [Link]

Norman Farb, Ph.D., University of Toronto: norman@aclab.ca [Link]

How did you get into this field of inquiry?

Nine years ago, I did not have Harvard Medical School letterhead, nor did I have a website dedicated to conducting contemplative neuroscience research. Nine years ago, I was a graduate student in cognitive and neural sciences in the department of psychology, University of Utah investigating the neural substrates for learning and memory using behavioral pharmacology and electrophysiology. I had a meditation practice since my first Goenka-Vipassana retreat in 1996, and practiced yoga, and tai chi, but with no expectation that I could ever fuse my interests, my practice, and my science. My graduate advisor had always referred to my interests in Buddhism as “that Zen stuff” and complained that I almost had more Buddhist books on my book shelf than neuroscience books. In 2004, I followed the dialogues with HHDL at MIT with great interest, and in 2005 was elated to realize that rigorous science was being conducted on meditation and other contemplative practice. This was my first experience of the Summer Research Institute (SRI) as a research fellow. What amazed me was that rigorous science was already being conducted on meditation and contemplative practice. Scientists and scholars like Richie Davidson, Jon Kabat-Zinn, David Meyer, Al Kaszniak, Cliff Saron, John Dunne, Alan Wallace, Evan Thompson, Joan Halifax, Sharon Salzberg, Matthieu Ricard, and others became role models, mentors, and teachers…instantly. The group at SRI really felt like a niche i could fit into, a community, a sangha. As I completed my PhD in cognitive and neural sciences, I took the leap and decided to dedicate my research interests towards investigating contemplative practices while expanding my methodological arsenal in functional neuroimaging using high density EEG, MEG, and fMRI. Fortunately, I was able to take on a part-time post-doctoral position with Yoshio Nakamura who had just received a large NIH grant to investigate mind-body interactions. With partial support from Yoshi, I applied for a Varela award to investigate the effects of mindfulness on attention and emotional processing associated with pain and anticipation of pain in fibromyalgia patients. After another 2 years of attending SRI as an awardee presenting my research findings, I was hired as the Senior Research Coordinator for MLI. As the research coordinator between 2007-2010, I provided scientific and organizational support to the Program and Research subcommittee of the MLI Board; the various program planning committees for specific programs and to the MLI staff; with regard to determining research priorities and coordinating and facilitating the various research initiatives conducted by MLI. I was directly involved in creating policy and developing guidelines and procedures for MLSRI and the Francisco J. Varela Research Award program. I spent the majority of my time being a liason for the community providing research support and monitoring the progress of research studies and publications. I supported the preparation of grant applications to Foundations (i.e., John Templeton Foundation) to support MLI research programs and also establishing and maintaining liaison with sponsoring agencies and organizations. I have also played the role of faculty member at the SRI, presenting each year an overview of the functional neuroanatomy implicated in mindfulness and other contemplative practices. Today, my enthusiasm and commitment towards the mission of Mind & Life has not changed. Rather, it has solidified. I just steer the boat with my intention and altruistic motivations, and it continues to move steadily on the path of least resistance – the path of contemplative neuroscience. I now continue to support the MLI as a research fellow (see link [LINK]) as I begin to build my own program of research at Harvard Medical School and Brigham & Women’s Hospital.

The Varela award program initiated by the MLI has been the primary catalyst for seeding the field with young scientists investigating contemplative practice. This meeting with HHDL is intended to showcase 6 young scientists (Varela awardees) that best represent the program to dialogue with the Dalai Lama. The meeting has been named, Mind and Life XIV: Latest Findings in Contemplative Neuroscience. It is significant for the reason that it is the first time that junior level investigators are given the opportunity to present research findings to His Holiness. This is sooooo cool, b/c it is the young investigators that are now immersed in this paradigm shift for science. All aspects of basic and clinical science, and society are being infused with mindfulness. Mindfulness represents more than how it is defined. It represents the paradigm shift towards re-investigating the mind from the 1st person perspective. It is the new introspection. It is the key to the door of consciousness for all scientists to explore and the public to embrace for mental health.

What does it mean to you personally to be invited to meet with the Dalai Lama?

There is such great joy and gratitude that fills my heart when I think about this opportunity. It is the greatest honor and I feel incredibly grateful and humbled everyday that I think about this meeting and my role in it. His Holiness is THE source for this emerging field of contemplative science. It is His Holiness that continues to motivate the field to investigate the mind and benefits of contemplative practice for reducing suffering in the world. His Holiness and MLI are the reason I am on the path that I am on now….investigating the mechanisms of contemplative practice and benefits such practices may have for those suffering with mental illness. It is a privilege to meet the Dalai Lama, but it is an entirely greater honor to be able to present one’s scientific research to him and dialogue about the mind. He often says that he is only a simple monk and yet he represents a 2500 year old epistemology of the mind. Well, I am only a junior level faculty member just starting my career in academia representing a 9 year old emerging science. This meeting deeply affects the direction and impact of my research through the profound nature of such an honor.
What are your hopes for the meeting?
I hope that we are able to have a fruitful dialogue that is free of much scientific ego, and full of enriching insight into the direction of all of our research. This is the first time that young investigators will have a chance to dialogue with His Holiness, a rare gem to get a sense of direction and inspiration for the new generation of researchers poised to carry the field forward with integrity and scientific rigor. I look forward to finding thought-provoking questions from His Holiness and the group.

Does being a meditation practitioner affect your research? If so, how?

The simple answer for me is that being a meditation practitioner is rather easy, but being a meditation practitioner and a meditation researcher adds complexity. I would further characterize the dual role as interdependent upon each other and involving a greater range of responsibility towards oneself and society at large. The added complexity is not necessarily complicated, it refers to the ever-expanding set of relationships that a researcher is cultivating between oneself and society. As a practitioner, one spends a lot of time cultivating a relationship with one’s own mind; this relationship has helped me personally by providing insight and motivation into how best to move forward in the newly emerging field of contemplative science and how the contemplative sciences may integrate with the rigors of the scientific method. The benefits on mental health, the body, and the brain may appear clear to most meditation and other contemplative practitioners, but it is my role as a cognitive neuroscientist to demonstrate tractable benefits from an objective, scientific perspective, while continuing to honor the interdependent and secular nature of compassion, joy, and equanimity throughout everyday experience.

Final Reflections

I woke up this morning thinking that there will not be many days like this in my life. I will be giving a talk to His Holiness The Dalai Lama on Tuesday afternoon along with 5 of my contemplative science colleagues and friends. One of the best parts of doing research in this field is that most of my colleagues are truly friends. Most of the researchers have their own contemplative practice which is probably one major reason the field is so successful. We support each other in our accolades and achievements. The competitive nature of science is miniature compared to the amount of joy and compassion that I feel safe to say, the majority of contemplative science researchers embody.

I feel that it is safe to say that the 6 of us represent 100s like ourselves all inspired by The Dalai Lama in our career and personal life….so I really speak at this conference from the heart and the mind on behalf of all young scientists in an emerging field of investigation that is putting the mind back into biomedicine.

Peace,

Dave

So….What was His Holiness’s feedback?

The six of us were meant to best represent the Francisco J. Varela grant award program, the primary catalyst for seeding the field with young scientists investigating contemplative practice. Each of us brought something unique to the table from all across the globe. The room was filled with board members and guests surrounding us like proud parents and transmitting their wisdom. His Holiness was most attentive and present with each one of us as we took turns presenting our most relevant research in the short amount of time we had his attention. Although short-lived, it was a most humbling honor. One by one, we filled our 20 minutes completely, summarizing our findings in only a few slides and such short time. The presentations all went very well and the feedback from His Holiness was invaluable. To each of us, he provided some sense of recognition and appeared to place high importance on the work we all are doing. I kept thinking that if His Holiness thought my models of Mindfulness are “quite good”, I should be able to provide my reviewers with that reference! All kidding aside, he ended our time together with a lasting set of strongly emphasized remarks that none of us will be able to dismiss. With a firm finger he pointed to each one of us and led the charge like a football coach may before the big game. He said that each one of us is responsible for reducing suffering in this world. We must continue doing the rigorous research for the benefit of the world. I guess we know what we’ll be doing for the next 35 years! Truly inspiring.

Brigham & Women’s Hospital reported on this event here. [Link] and here [Link] and through Twitter [Link]

Here is the link to the video for this dialogue: [Link] and Here: [Link]

 

 

 

His Holiness gave an interview with Piers Morgan for CNN a few hrs before our talks

His Holiness the Dalai Lama has been instrumental in forging a close relationship between Buddhist teachers, Rinpoches, monks, and Scientists. Scientists across multiple disciplines have started to take note of the possibilities for investigating positive human qualities and the effects of types of practices that can influence our minds and our physical nature in an adaptive fashion. A new center has opened in Wisconsin called:

Center for Creating Healthy Minds.

It is a center for studying not one way of developing a healthy mind, but the many factors and that can potentially influence the mind towards developing a particularly health-promoting disposition. Richie Davidson and his lab have been pioneers in this emerging field of contemplative neuroscience. There has been an explosion of research since 2004 in this area and the opening of such a lab (and there are now many others as well), is indicative of the times….a revolution of sorts for humanity. It is no longer sufficient to study biopsychosocial models of disease and dysfunction, but to investigate the explicit factors and specific practices that reduce the risks of developing mental disease and related physical ailments. Essentially, how do we weather the storms of life, while also focusing beyond ourselves!

Excessive focus on the self clearly contributes to psychopathology (e.g., see Northoff, 2007). In the laboratory, we are now beginning to see physical benefits of less self-focus, compassion and empathy for others. The Dalai Lama noted in the talk today with Richie Davidson and Dan Goleman that deeply rooted Self-confidence apparently reduces fear, mistrust, and decreases hostile behavior.  On the other hand, primary self-focus alone is likely to produce insecurities that further lead into selfish behavior leading to mistrust, increased fear, and more hostile behavior. Therefore, taking care of others well-being will directly benefit your SELF.

One example of research in this area is in one study where people were give $50 and asked to spend it on either one self or on other people. They were then asked the subjective level of happiness. Those individuals who were asked to spend it on themselves were found to be less happy than those individuals who spent the money on others.

So…I gather you will go out today and tip your Barista a little more or give that extra dollar to the homeless guy…because truly this selfless action is what will be preventing you from developing a form of depression or psychopathology later.

:)


Spirit Rock is offering a Scientists’ Meditation Retreat in early 2009 from Sunday, January 11 – Sunday, January 18. This retreat is designed to introduce neuroscientists, cognitive scientists, psychologists, mental health practitioners and others who study the mind to ways in which mindfulness practice can inform their research. The faculty includes vipassana teachers Sylvia Boorstein, Wes Nisker, Trudy Goodman and Diana Winston (who is Director of Mindfulness Education at UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center), plus Richard Davidson, PhD, from the Department of Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The goal of this retreat is to introduce mind scientists and researchers to in-depth training in meditation. It is also open to graduate students, post-doctoral trainees and faculty who work in the mind sciences. The retreat will be conducted in most respects like a traditional silent vipassana or Insight meditation retreat, which incorporates an ancient method of introspection often called mindfulness that readily conforms to the spirit of empirical science. While this method comes out of the most ancient school of Buddhism (the Theravada), it is presented as a non-sectarian practice as a means of training the mind to be more keenly aware of sensory phenomena, the flow of thought, the ever-changing display of emotions and moods. The practice need not be adopted in the context of Buddhism as a religion or as a philosophical tradition.

The last two days of this retreat will include a talk by Dr. Davidson and focused discussions among participants on topics relevant to the intersection of the mind, neurosciences and contemplative practice. Apart from instructions, question and answer sessions, and evening didactic presentations, the first five days of the retreat will be conducted in silence. For anyone who has never spent days in silence before, this aspect of the retreat alone is quite likely to be a revolutionary experience.

Prerequisite: Intended for neuroscientists, cognitive scientists, psychologists and other mind scientists, including graduate students, post-doctoral trainees and faculty who work in the mind sciences, as well as all mental health practitioners.

Cost $905 – $555, sliding scale, plus a donation to the teachers and retreat staff. Click here to register:
HYPERLINK “https://dnbweb1.blackbaud.com/OPXREPHIL/Link.asp?link=284990http://spiritrock.org/calendar/display.asp?id=216R09&type=retreats

Sylvia Boorstein has been teaching since 1985 and teaches both vipassana and metta meditation. She is a founding teacher of Spirit Rock Meditation Center and a psychotherapist, wife, mother, and grandmother who is particularly interested in seeing daily life as practice. Her books include It’s Easier Than You Think: The Buddhist Way to Happiness; Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There: A Mindfulness Retreat; That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Buddhist: On Being a Faithful Jew and a Passionate Buddhist; Pay Attention for Goodness’ Sake: The Buddhist Path of Kindness; and Happiness Is an Inside Job.

Richard J. Davidson, PhD is Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he serves as both Director of the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience and Director of the Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior. He received his doctorate from Harvard University in psychology and has been at Wisconsin since 1984. Davidson is internationally renowned for his research on the neural substrates of emotion and emotional disorders. He is the recipient of numerous awards for his research including a National Institute of Mental Health Research Scientist Award. He was the 1997 Distinguished Scientific Lecturer for the American Psychological Association. He served as a Core Member of the MacArthur Foundation Research Network in Mind-Body Interaction, is currently a Core Member of the MacArthur Foundation Mind-Brain-Body and Health Initiative and a member of the Board of Scientific Counselors, NIMH. In 2000, he received the most prestigious award given by the American Psychological Association for lifetime achievement-the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award. He has published more than 150 articles, many chapters and reviews and edited 12 books.

Trudy Goodman has practiced Zen and Vipassana since 1974 and taught retreats and workshops nationwide for many years. She is a founder and guiding teacher of Insight LA, Growing Spirit (a family program) and the Center for Mindfulness and Psychotherapy in Los Angeles, and the first Institute for Meditation and Psychotherapy, in Cambridge MA, where she lived and taught at the Cambridge Buddhist Association from 1991-99.

Wes “Scoop” Nisker is a Buddhist meditation teacher, author, radio commentator and performer. His bestselling books include Essential Crazy Wisdom; The Big Bang, The Buddha, and the Baby Boom; and Buddha’s Nature. His latest book is Crazy Wisdom Saves the World Again! He is also the founder and co-editor of the Buddhist journal “Inquiring Mind.” For the past 15 years, Wes has been leading his own retreats and workshops in Buddhist insight meditation and philosophy at venues internationally.

Diana Winston is the Director of Mindfulness Education at HYPERLINK “https://dnbweb1.blackbaud.com/OPXREPHIL/Link.asp?link=284991“UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research CenterHYPERLINK “http://www.marc.ucla.edu/” \n. She is a member of the Spirit Rock Teachers Council and founder of the Buddhist Alliance for Social Engagement (BASE) Program and the former associate director of Buddhist Peace Fellowship. She has practiced vipassana since 1989, including a year as a Buddhist nun in Burma and is the author of Wide Awake: A Buddhist Guide for Teens. She has been teaching meditation to youth and adults nationally for many years.

The purpose of the meeting was to articulate potential goals and directions for research on the mechanisms and efficacy of meditation practices for a variety of health concerns. Experts from a range of disciplines and with a wide range of involvement in the field of meditation research were asked to critically examine the current state of science on meditation for health, and to identify existing or potential intersections and contributions from their fields to further this area of science. This group developed a set of critical questions and approaches that could better inform future research in this area. This meeting coordinated by NIH NCCAM was essentially a focus group to discuss the next steps of meditation research. In attendance were Richie Davidson, Zindel Segal, John Dunne (actually, I think he didn’t make it), and other active meditation researchers and contemplative scholars.

the link for the description of this workshop: HERE

the points relevant for future studies that emerged from the meeting:

  • Foundational clinical research. Foundational research to provide the basic information on which subsequent investigations of efficacy and effectiveness should be built is essential. Such foundational studies must be designed to forecast clinical relevance.
    • Clarify biological mechanisms and pathways by which meditative strategies may impact on health
    • Identify biological measures of the impact of meditation
    • Develop valid, standardized, unbiased, and objective measures and instruments to describe meditative interventions and assess dose effects
    • Develop precise criteria (processes and practices) of intervention fidelity for specific meditation practices
    • Develop indices of expectancy and adherence specific to investigations of meditation practices
  • Treatment development. Studies to develop meditation-based treatments could allow meditation strategies to be optimized for specific health conditions and populations.
    • Develop standardized treatment protocols for specific mental and physical health disorders to improve reproducibility, quality assurance, and cross-study comparability
    • Identify well-characterized patient populations for inclusion in subsequent efficacy studies
    • Develop strategies for monitoring and identifying potential risks and adverse effects
  • Studies to enhance the evidence base for efficacy. A variety of study types and designs are needed to contribute to the evidence base, ranging from retrospective and prospective observational studies to well-designed clinical efficacy investigations. Such studies must be well-controlled and focused, and will further the evidence base for potential clinical applications.
    • Explore opportunities to add measures and gather important descriptive data including recurrent cross-sectional studies such as large national surveys (NHANES, NHIS) and on-going cohort investigations
    • Ensure that studies are sufficiently powered and that the study designs are appropriate to answer the research questions
    • Incorporate inclusion of specific biological and psychological outcomes, with plausible mechanisms linking the specific meditative practice with relevant outcomes
    • Ensure outcomes are clinically significant, measurable, and linked to health importance, including short-term and long-term measures of symptom management, coping with illness, quality of life, prevention of disease, and biological indices of health and disease from multiple systems
    • Develop and incorporate validated and standardized measures of expectancy, treatment adherence, and treatment fidelity for cross-study comparisons. Such cross-study comparisons would be particularly powerful should there be a well-characterized participant specimen repository available for investigations conducted using standardized measures and protocols.
    • Include appropriate control groups that are carefully developed with a consideration of the specific question(s) to be addressed. Factors to be controlled should be specifically identified (e.g., contextual factors not relevant to the specific study hypotheses such as time, attention, built environment, etc)
    • Integrate masking strategies to reduce sources of bias. As with the control group design, such strategies must be developed in light of specific potential sources of bias.

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