When scientists start talking mindfulness and contemplative practice it’s kind of cool

Today, I will critically analyse a marketing strategy but I will also summon my creativity in a search for the “feeling” in the graphic design images I’m presented. I will attend a yoga class later and feel peaceful and one with myself, right before I frantically search my closet for what to wear to go out with friends, forever conscious of social judgments.

It’s a paradox that so much of what we see and read in the media and in books is polarised, while we live in a complex world of in-betweens. At the very least, the views we are exposed to are generally derived from a single tradition of thought – political, journalistic, humanitarian, scientific, religious – which we expect, while our own minds run free with no boundaries of what is ‘acceptable’ or ‘rational’ thought.

We are not polarised or single-minded as individuals or as a society. However we form theories, make policies and look for higher meaning as if we are. Bridging this chasm between the real and the meta is an organisation called the Mind & Life Institute.

 

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The Mind & Life Institute began as an intellectual experiment between the Dalai Lama, an entrepreneur and a neuroscientist. Sounds like the setup for a joke right? Well actually, over the years it has developed into an interesting and influential centre for scholarship, research and idea sharing that aims to advance our understanding of the human mind and the world around us in order to explore the ways in which individuals can train their minds through sustained mental and physical practice to lead to reduced suffering, enhanced health, better cognitive and emotional functioning, greater happiness, and increased social harmony.

A “pretty lofty mission” agreed my insider source Alan Jurgens. Alan is a Master of Philosophy student at the University of Copenhagen. He recently attended the European Symposium for Contemplative Studies in Berlin in October, organised by the Mind & Life Institute.

“The goal of the symposium was to be a catalyst for new work in understanding the importance of training mental and ethical skills in order to lead to new and innovative work in diverse fields such as education, healthcare, and economics as well as the basic sciences of psychology, philosophy, neuroscience, and the humanities” Alan explains.

“The idea is that establishing this dialogue will in time reduce suffering and support human flourishing.”

The Symposium featured talks and presentations such as:
“Marrying Eastern and Western approaches to mapping the mind”
“Contemplative practice and the scientific investigation of reality”, and
“Assessment of mindfulness training in organisational context”

In addition, each day started off with group yoga and meditation sessions – not your typical academic conference.

I’ve seen by working with laughter guru Thomas Flindt that the simple act of laughing has a direct effect on the energy you bring to your daily challenges and the people around you. It makes sense that these simple practices can bring about wider societal change as well.

Alan commented that the yoga was a great opportunity to share these experiences with the other symposium participants, many of whom were long term practitioners of yoga and meditation.

“It really highlights the importance that the Mind and Life Institute places on embodied practical performance of these contemplative traditions.”

In other words, it’s not all Bikram hot air. The Mind and Life Institute progresses our knowledge of the practical outcomes when we free our thoughts from polarised positions. They believe that through the introduction of contemplative practices into the education and healthcare systems they will be able to enact societal change on a large system, wide scale through directly affecting the lives of the individuals that pass through these systems.

This in turn will hopefully lead to a more aware, open, mindful, and compassionate society, which will begin to move away from the material and personal achievement focused economic system that currently dominates much of the modern world. And closer towards an economic system that is focused not only on improving the material standing of those within it, but also on reducing suffering and promoting happiness.

 

Thanks to Alan Jurgens
Alan Jurgens

 

Ben Posetti
22 Nov 2013

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