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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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