Our European team and number of clients have spent the last days at the Mind & Life Conference in Brussels. It has been an enlightening and inspiring connection with a joyous community. We would like to share the highlights and strongly recommend Mind and Life Institute as a noble cause.
Mind and Life started in 1987 as a meeting between His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, and a group of Buddhist monks with pathfinding scientists and philosophers such as Francisco Varela, Ritchie Davidson, Paul Ekman, Daniel Goleman and many others. This event was the 31st meeting of science, philosophy and spiritual leadership and was the first held by Mind & Life Europe under the name Power & Care.
As many of you know the Dalai Lama has always been a curious advocate for science and truth – a rarity in spiritual leadership. We have also seen a global shift toward contemplative traditions along with yoga, meditation and enlightenment. Over the past 20 years medicine, psychology and the brain sciences have engaged and furiously set about testing the measurable impact of these practices. It is an extraordinarily fertile endeavour.
In short, it is a marriage of first (I sense, feel and think…) and third (the evidence shows.. ) person perspectives. Mind & Life meetings now occur globally and attract a diverse community with extensive biological research, spiritual advocacy and political influence.
The Place: Brussels
Stunning late summer blue skies welcome us to Brussels. The picturesque hub of sclerotic Europe is wounded by recent violence. Young people tell me how it is changing – more violent, drunk and tense. Power & Care is held in the Bozar Fine Arts centre amongst the rich architecture of a stately Europe. Intense security is everywhere. We are welcomed by automatic weapons at the airport, army trucks patrolling the city, and intimate scanning each time we enter the venue. Yet, once inside we immersed in the buzz of goodwill, friendship, hope and curiosity.
The People: monks, scientists and activists
We take our seats surrounded by monks, politicians, business leaders, and Mind & Life community. Ritchie Davidson is chatting to Richard Gere next to me. Tania Singer and Matthieu Ricard converse in front of me. Our European team, Alexia, Laurent, Ann, Benoit and Katrien have invited 20 clients and colleagues to share in the experience. His Holiness bows, greats and laughs heartily as he reconnects with spiritual leaders, scientists and activists.
The Content: ecology, brains, religion, economics and personal responsibility
Session one demonstrates the foundations of power and care in our primate cousins, anthropology shows how we are wired for connection and The Stockholm Resilience centre defines the planetary boundaries we are crossing. In this anthropocene era, humans are taking our planet to a place where all life is at risk. His holiness is wiping his brow and fans frantically cool a sweaty audience. Psychology embarrasses by defaulting to a simplistic “power is evil” “care is good” position.
Session two explores the role of oxytocin as a marker of empathy showing why women have more empathy than men. When a female partner present with a man under testing circumstances has reduced distress compared to being alone. However when a male partner is present for a woman under testing circumstance, her levels of distress are massively increased as compared to when she is alone.
Tania Singer shows how we can train both emotional and cognitive empathy separately in the brain. When we truly feel someone’s emotions we train quite different circuits to when we cognitively seek to understand their perspectives. She demonstrates that starting with calm presence and progressing through emotional connection, through to perspective taking has real benefit to self and others. Some of us really struggle to make the emotional connection but with effort about a third break through to compassion. His Holiness reminds us that it is not so simple. Indeed.
The day concludes with workshops and we join one on non-violent communication. It is a wonderful articulation of how to construct better relationship with others and ourselves by using a variation of our performance supply chain.
Jet lag takes me down.
Day two and session three kick off with a meeting between leaders of Buddhism, Judaism, Islam and Christianity debating perspectives on power and care with His Holiness. One feels a deep resonance of love, friendship and tantalising optimism that, just perhaps, we may be learning to respect and love each other. Star shines in 26 year old Islam leader and Libyan women’s representative Alaa Murabit.
Session four throws the dismal science, economics, into the mix and it disappoints. But there is a clear signal that economics is looking for a case for altruism and a bunch of activists show that investing in women outperforms investing in men by 11 times.
The day finishes with Matthieu Ricard leading meditations to some lovely Bach music working from attention, to presence, to altruism, to compassion and finally rejoicing.
Conclusion: we can only care if we have well-developed power and power takes disciplined self-care. Good to see our work and the investment our clients are making in their communities being well supported. This is fertile territory for all of us and I am 100% with the Dalai Lama who advocates teaching this to children at school. (For our own view on Empathy and Power.)
Thanks Anne, Laurent, Alexia, Katrien and Benoit for making this possible.
The full session details and content can be downloaded at Power & Care.