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Mind & Life Institute

My wife and I were for­tu­nate to con­duct recent­ly a mind train­ing exper­i­ment, in the form of a breath­ing & med­i­ta­tion retreat, with some neu­ro­sci­en­tists and Adam Engle, Co-Founder and Chair­man of the Mind & Life Insti­tute (nice name, isn’t it?)

The Mind and Life Dia­logues “start­ed in 1987 as an exper­i­ment to deter­mine whether a sci­en­tif­ic exchange could occur between mod­ern sci­ence and Bud­dhism. MLI has now spon­sored 14 dia­logues (between the Dalai Lama and neu­ro­sci­en­tists) over the last 20 years. In that time MLI has become a rec­og­nized world leader in the emerg­ing sci­en­tif­ic inves­ti­ga­tion of the effects of con­tem­pla­tive prac­tices on the brain, behav­ior, and the trans­la­tion of this data into effec­tive tools to ben­e­fit all peo­ple every­where.”

A few notes from our con­ver­sa­tion with Adam

  • - He helped launch the Mind & Life Insti­tute to build a sci­ence-based field of inter­dis­ci­pli­nary study to inves­ti­gate the appli­ca­tions of the “data­base of prac­tices” that Bud­dhism and some Chris­t­ian tra­di­tions have accu­mu­lat­ed over milen­nia
  • - From ear­ly on it became clear that they need­ed to engage West­ern neu­ro­sci­en­tists in order to be cred­i­ble and become a real East-West bridge with poten­tial to reach main­stream soci­ety. You can see below a par­tial list of par­tic­i­pants in their most recent meet­ing, 2 weeks ago
  • - They are very hap­py that Sharon Begley’s book Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain has become a non-fic­tion Best­seller, since it is based on one of the Mind & Life Dia­logues (more on Books on neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty)
  • - He is glad to see the inroads that Mind­ful­ness-Based Stress Reduc­tion (MBSR) is mak­ing in the med­ical world thanks to sol­id research. He believes the Cor­po­rate Train­ing and Lead­er­ship mar­ket is also going to become very inter­est­ed in this tech­nique for stress man­age­ment. The main bot­tle­neck for growth? the exist­ing num­ber of qual­i­fied instruc­tors does not meet the increas­ing demand.

The Insti­tute spon­sors research in a num­ber of ways, and they just announced that the 3rd annu­al Sci­en­tists Retreat will take place at the Insight Med­i­ta­tion Soci­ety (IMS) in Barre, Mass­a­chu­setts, Jan­u­ary 8–15, 2008.

  • - “This course has been orga­nized by sci­en­tists, for sci­en­tists. Its goals are to help researchers in the mind sci­ences expe­ri­ence in-depth train­ing in med­i­ta­tion and explore ways in which a rig­or­ous and sys­tem­at­ic approach to intro­spec­tion can inform research. We con­sid­er this to be a rare oppor­tu­ni­ty to advance the sci­en­tif­ic study of the human mind. Vipas­sana is an ancient method of intro­spec­tion that read­i­ly con­forms to the spir­it of empir­i­cal sci­ence. It is sim­ply a means of train­ing the mind to be more keen­ly aware of sen­so­ry phe­nom­e­na and the flow of thought.

For con­text, some of the sci­en­tists in their last Dia­logue are:

  • - Richard J. David­son, Ph.D., Vilas Research Pro­fes­sor and William James Pro­fes­sor of Psy­chol­o­gy and Psy­chi­a­try, Uni­ver­si­ty of Wis­con­sin-Madi­son
  • - Paul Ekman, Ph.D., Pro­fes­sor of Psy­chol­o­gy Emer­i­tus in the Depart­ment of Psy­chi­a­try at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia at San Fran­cis­co; Con­sul­tant (see our arti­cle on Improv­ing Your Brain Tools: Read­ing Emo­tion­al Mes­sages in the Face)
  • - Martha Farah, Ph.D., Wal­ter H. Annen­berg Pro­fes­sor in the Nat­ur­al Sci­ences, Direc­tor of the Cen­ter for Cog­ni­tive Neu­ro­science, Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia
  • - Wolf Singer, M.D., Ph.D., Direc­tor at the Max Planck Insti­tute for Brain Research in Frank­furt and Found­ing Direc­tor of the Frank­furt Insti­tute for Advanced Stud­ies (FIAS)
  • - Anton Zeilinger, Ph.D., Pro­fes­sor at the Physics Depart­ment of Vien­na Uni­ver­si­ty and at the Insti­tute of Quan­tum Optics and Quan­tum Infor­ma­tion of the Aus­tri­an Acad­e­my of Sci­ences
  • - Arthur Zajonc, Ph.D., Andrew Mel­lon Pro­fes­sor of Physics and Inter­dis­ci­pli­nary Stud­ies, Amherst Col­lege

You can read more on Mind­ful­ness-Based Stress Reduc­tion (MBSR) and oth­er stress man­age­ment tech­niques, Stress Man­age­ment Work­shop for Inter­na­tion­al Women’s Day and On being pos­i­tive.

(PS: as I was about to pub­lish this post, some­why the com­put­er crashed and I lost the draft. What a great learn­ing opportunity…I promise I had to put all my breath­ing & men­tal train­ing into play to man­age my emo­tions and come to appre­ci­ate the won­der­ful oppor­tu­ni­ties that com­put­ers, even Win­dows-based ones, bring us…)

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