“Engineering Enlightenment & Applied Contemplative Science”: This was the title of one of my favorite talks at the Buddhist Geeks conference that I attended in Boulder, CO this past October. The talk discussed various gadgets that support meditative practice (from brain-waves monitors to virtual realities; from psychedelics to breathe-rate monitors) and the effect that such technologies might have on contemplative communities and the world.
And this is why I love the Buddhist Geeks conference. Its not simply a gathering of meditators who are also interested in technology, but a gathering of meditators who are willing to think openly and progressively about any idea.
One morning at the conference, while ordering my morning coffee, I ran into Ann Gleig. Ann is a Religious Studies scholar who is writing a book about how the Buddhist Geeks conference is postmodern in its willingness to embrace such a variety of ideas and practices. As I had met Ann at last year’s conference and had been inspired by her work, I was excited to connect with her once again.
With steaming coffees and Boulder-esque gluten-free baked goods in hand, Ann and I sat down to catch up. We talked about a number of things, including my Geography senior thesis project in which I looked at how the Brooklyn Zen Center both reproduced and challenged the class tension that often accompanies gentrification.
To my delight, Ann complemented the balance of my analysis. She explained that many scholars focus solely on how modern contemplative organizations reproduce class tension and that this is one-sided. Such organizations also often have a positive effect on class tensions (e.g. mindfulness can lead to increased emotional intelligence, which allows practitioners to empathize with people of different socio-economic classes).Such an intersection of contemplation and social issues was a major topic at the Mind & Life International Symposium for Contemplative Studies in Boston, MA, which I attended one week later. The Mind & Life conference focused on what the Contemplative Education and the Transformative Education movements can learn from each other.
While many people reading this blog may be familiar with Contemplative Education (doing mindfulness exercises in the classroom), fewer may be familiar with Transformative Education. Transformative Education focuses on equity and social justice; it gives students the practical tools to go out and actually transform society for the better.
A take away from the discussions at the Mind & Life conference was that the Contemplative and Transformative education movements are inextricably intertwined and need each other. We can’t expect our students to go out and transform society for the better without giving them the necessary emotional skills and we can’t expect our students to be emotionally at peace without encouraging them to transform an unjust society.
For an organization that has historically focused on contemplative neuroscience, the discussion of social issues at the Mind & Life conference was a first and did not come without resistance. Many attendees expressed hesitancy to expand the scope of the conference from the ‘hard sciences’ to issues of education, leadership, and social justice. Their reasoning is that, as a field, contemplative neuroscience is just now beginning to garner attention, so it is a risky time for Mind & Life (the defining contemplative neuroscience conference) to diffuse resources toward other fields.
While I see this reasoning, I simply can’t ignore the centrality of social issues in the contemplative movement (or any movement, for that matter). Regardless of history and intention, Mind & Life now holds international attention. To not utilize such attention to help the global contemplative movement expand its understanding of suffering from the personal to the social would be unskillful.Serious stuff aside, one of my favorite experiences from the Mind & Life conference was going out to lunch with a group of ten or so new faces (a commonality at such events) on the last afternoon. People hailed from all over the world and were PhDs and artists, meditators and educators. I ended up spending the rest of the day with two of them. We wandered from coffee shops to museums, from kirtan chanting to watching a movie at the Cambridge Zen Center about the Mamos (an inspiring native people from Colombia).
At the end of this fun day, I made a connection with a fellow who may facilitate me leading a retreat for the Gross National Happiness Youth Group in Bhutan in 2015. This was the icing on the cake and the perfect way to end my conference hopping extravaganza. This opportunity was grounded in social justice and contemplation and built from real people making real connections with the intention of going forward, helping humanity to solve its problems.
Latest posts by Toby Sola (see all)
- Do Contemplative Communities have Room for Social Issues?: Toby’s Conference Hopping Extravaganza - February 5, 2015
- Remember Breath - November 11, 2014