Mind & Life

Posted on March 6, 2014

I want to welcome the great folks from Homeless and Vocational Programs at the Veteran’s Administration to our blog community, and thank them for a wonderful self-care training in Denver this week! 
I recently read Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain, by Sharon Begley. Based on the 2004 Mind & Life Institute talks in Dharamsala, India, Begley presents a great overview of neurobiology and the role of the mind in structuring the brain.  In this post I want to talk about the Mind & Life Institute ( as a model for our larger society.  While the scope of the Institute has grown over the years, it started as dialogues, which continue today, between the Dalai Lama and top scientists from around the world.  These week long dialogues focus on a variety of topics, all exploring the connections between the science of the mind and Buddhism.
The Dalai Lama is both a political and religious figure for his followers and countrymen.  A documentary I recently watched compared him to a combination of Jesus, The Pope, and The President, for Catholic Americans.  Here is a figure with tremendous power and voice, who for a week every year positions himself as a student to some of the greatest thinkers from around the world.
While in America, we disagree about how to teach evolution in schools and have systems that are totally out of sync with neurobiology, the Dalai Lama considers how Quantum Physics and String Theory can evolve the religious and political practices of his people.  It’s not difficult to determine which of these paradigms can move humanity forward, and which will keep us stuck in outdated assumptions and ways of thinking about those in poverty and pain. This is not a judgment of the superiority of any political or religious system, but a demonstration of humility in leadership and its power to transform thinking and society.
As I read Begley’s book, I could not help but wish for a day that our Western political and spiritual leaders would enter an open dialogue with scientists and “helpers” about how to utilize research to transform our thinking and systems, in order to give those in pain a chance for true healing.  Learning opportunities are missed when leaders are so concerned with protecting their positions and beliefs.  It’s unfortunate that some leaders believe that changing one’s mind is seen as a weakness (flip-flopping) and not a sign of growth and openness.  
“If scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims.” – Dalai Lama
This type of adaptive flexibility opens up the opportunity for societies to progress.  If our leaders continue to shut down dialogue by yelling outdated beliefs at each other, the hope and opportunity advancements that science offers will be lost.  I believe that our rapidly evolving knowledge of the mind and brain can create a renaissance, but I’m concerned that our need to be “right” will overpower the opportunity to create a compassionate and healing society. 
As the healers of our modern era, I believe we play a critical role in this evolution of society.  We often serve as advocates and the voice of our clients.  Armed with the knowledge of what they truly need to heal, we have an obligation to bring this message to the rest of the world.  Science provides information, if delivered with the humility and compassion embodied by the Dalai Lama, I believe we can change how the world sees our work, our clients, and a global responsibility for those in pain.

It will not be easy, but nothing this important ever is.

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