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Mind and Life’s Summer Research Institute 2012: A brief review

Imagine munching on oatmeal and scones, sitting on pillows, walking barefoot down quiet stony halls, and doing sun salutations with Buddhist monks, scientists, and other academics, all working towards integrating eastern and western philosophy in a way that may better our relationship with ourselves and with the world. More than a usual conference, more than any old mindfulness retreat, the Mind and Life’s Summer Research Institute melds the two, becoming an incubator for future investigations in contemplative science. Share your research questions, and anyone around you is excited to engage you in a critical discussion that may inspire new paradigms. The MLSRI is truly a beautiful, dynamic force for working towards an end to human suffering.

This year’s MLSRI, themed “The Situated and Embodied Mind”, was an enmeshing of scientific and spiritual inquiry aimed at uprooting the western dualist mind-body split and bringing the body back into the inner experience of the self. Major focus was placed on the body’s role in contemplative practices and scientific investigations of these practices.

The week’s lecturers included Evan Thomson, Ph.D., Sarah McClintock, Ph.D., Diego Hangartner, Pharm.D., Bhikkhu Analayo, Ph.D., George Chrousos, M.D., Lawrence Barsalou, Ph.D., Susan Bauer-Wu, Ph.D., FAAN, Linda Craighead. Ph.D., Anne Klein, Ph.D., Rebecca Todd, Ph.D., Richard Davidson, Ph.D., Andrew Dreitcer, Ph.D., Michael Spezio, Ph.D., Sona Dimidjian, Ph.D., and Roshi Joan Halifax, Ph.D.

Throughout the week, retreaters were exposed to various body-based contemplative practices, including morning yoga led by Mary Taylor and Richard Freeman, and Tai Chi led by Peter Wayne, Ph.D.

Tuesday was a silent retreat day, with periods of alternating sitting and walking meditation. Seated practices were led by Roshi Joan Halifax, Ph.D., Al Kaszniak, Ph.D., and Sharon Salzberg.

Celebrating Arthur Zajonc’s first year as MLI president, the 2012 retreat promised a bright future for the institute.

More information about the 2012 MLSRI is available here: http://www.mindandlife.org/research-initiatives/sri/sri12/

Photos (courtesy of Dave): https://plus.google.com/photos/117698297325020650188/albums/5755351551842073889?banner=pwa


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Presenting to His Holiness The Dalai Lama – Probably the highlight of my life (after meeting my wife and the birth of my baby girl)

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

Upaya – Zen Brain retreat provides great research on Mindfulness and Contemplative Practice

The Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, NM led by Roshi Joan Halifax continually provides access to top scientists discussing the latest research on mindfulness and contemplative practice. These series of lectures/dialogue provide insight into the effects of mindfulness practice on well-being and flourishing, emotion regulation and transformation.

the podcasts see:
http://www.upaya.org/dharma/

I particularly liked Jim Austin and Shauna Shapiro’s talks (part 2 and 4 of 19)

Another good lecture by Shauna is below:

Enjoy!

Mind and Life XVIII: ATTENTION, MEMORY AND THE MIND: A SYNERGY OF PSYCHOLOGICAL, NEUROSCIENTIFIC, AND CONTEMPLATIVE PERSPECTIVES: with His Holiness The Dalai Lama Dharamsala, India • April 6–10, 2009

Dear Friends,

I have the unique opportunity to attend the private conference Mind and Life XVIII: ATTENTION, MEMORY AND THE MIND: A SYNERGY OF PSYCHOLOGICAL, NEUROSCIENTIFIC, AND CONTEMPLATIVE PERSPECTIVES: with His Holiness in Dharamsala, India – April 6-10, 2009.

http://mindandlife.org/conf09.dharamsala.html

I will be blogging my experiences from my perspective daily and hope to hear your comments, questions, and/or feedback during this time (or after).

To begin, I can say that my own perspective is one from mutiple levels. One certainly is a personal one. The auspicious nature of the opportunity and timing is one that I smile about every time I think about it. It happens to be my 34th birthday April 6th, the first day of the meeting. At this personal level, it appears that all roads have led (and would have led) to this one that takes me to Dharamsala to participate in a discussion about memory and attention. From another level, this journey is going to happen because of simple choices that have been made throughout my life, each choice being one that can be retrospectively observed and associated with one or another aspect of the context of my life at which time and in which place I made those decisions/choices. At this same level, I think we can collectively investigate the interdependency of all relations with whom we interact and with whose paths we cross. From a third level, I am a research fellow at Harvard University Medical School in the department of Psychiatry. Here I investigate resilience and vulnerability to psychopathology. If I need to be considered part of a socialized academic category, I typically identify myself as a cognitive neuroscientist with a background in the basic neuroscience of learning and memory. My final perspective is from my position as Senior Research Coordinator of the Mind & Life Institute. As the research coordinator of Mind & Life, I work very diligently and passionately to maintain the rigorous standards of the scientific method in all aspects of research supported by Mind and Life and in our program and event planning.

Well now, those are my levels of perspective and if you find any one of those perspectives intriguing then I look forward to sharing fruitful discussion with you in the next few weeks and beyond.

I leave you with two quotes:
Mind and ideas are nonexistent entities invented for the sole purpose of providing spurious explanations…Since mental or psychic events are asserted to lack the dimensions of physical science, we have an additional reason for rejecting them”  – B.F. Skinner

Open to me, so that I may open.

Provide me your inspiration

So that I might see mine.”

Rumi[1]


[1] From: Dunn, P. (2000). The Love Poems of Rumi. Kansas City, MO: Andrews McMeel.

hhdl

2009 Mind and Life Summer Research Institute


Applications are now being accepted for the 2009 Mind and Life Summer Research Institute (MLSRI) to be held at the Garrison Institute (www.garrisoninstitute.org) in New York from June 7 (mid-aft. to the morning of June 13, 2009, The application period will close on Sunday, February 8, 2009.

To apply now, please go to: http://www.mindandlife.org/sri09.ml.summer.apply.html. This is an online only application process — no paper applications, either mailed or faxed, will be accepted. For a more detailed overview of the MLSRI, including information explaining applicant category (see “Who Should Attend”) please go to: http://www.mindandlife.org/sri09.ml.summer.institute.html

Please forward this message to anyone you know who might be interested in the MLSRI.

The purpose of the Mind and Life Summer Research Institute is to advance collaborative research among behavioral and clinical scientists, neuroscientists, and biomedical researchers based on a process of inquiry, dialogue and collaboration with Buddhist contemplative practitioners and scholars and those in other contemplative traditions. The long-term objective is to advance the training of a new generation of behavioral scientists, cognitive/affective neuroscientists, clinical researchers, and contemplative scholar/practitioners interested in exploring the potential influences of meditation and other contemplative practices on mind, behavior, brain function, and health. This includes examining the potential role of contemplative methods for characterizing human experience and consciousness from a neuroscience and clinical intervention perspective.

The 2009 Mind and Life Summer Research Institute (MLSRI) will be devoted to the theme of the self, its development in sociocultural and contemplative contexts, and its implications for human flourishing and social transformation. MLSRI 09 will bring together contemplatives and academic scholars from the social, developmental, and clinical sciences, the neurosciences, contemplative studies, and philosophy to dialogue about a variety of topics pertaining to the self. These topics will include conceptualizations of self and identity in various traditions; the development of self in normative and contemplative contexts; the neurobiology of the self; the processes of self-identification and their effects on life outcomes; the phenomenology of identity, ownership; the concept of “self-regulation” and its relation to issues of mental causation, and free-will; the role of self processes in psychological illness; and finally, self versus no-self views on the fundamental nature of the mind and consciousness.

When Worlds Collide: The Study of Religion in an Age of Science Buddhism and Science: Tibetan and Zen Buddhist Perspectives (April 2007)

George Dreyfus, Professor of Religion at Williams College and first westerner to be given the title of geshe, and Eshin Nishimura, former president of Hanazono University, Kyoto, Japan, each spoke, with a Q&A moderated by Donald K. Swearer following the two talks. This event was sponsored by Harvard Divinity School (with a special grant from Richard Watson); the Center for the Study of World Religions, Harvard Divinity School; and the Boston Theological Institute. This was the third event in the “When Worlds Collide: The Study of Religion in an Age of Science” lecture series; for more information, visit the series webpage.

Check out the Video of the talks HERE.

Neuroplasticity and Meditation: Can the brain really change in response to meditation?

Dan Rather reports on the study of Meditation by Neuroscientists and the support of His Holiness, The Dalai Lama. One can also see the full report at the HDnet Mindscience program at the following link, HERE.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Neuroplasticity: Dan Rather’s ‘Mind S…“, posted with vodpod

Sara Lazar does a talk on Neuroplasticity and the effects of Meditation on the brain: