Author Archives: Joe Loizzo

The Case for Contemplative Psychotherapy

by Joe Loizzo

Joe Loizzo MD, PhD, is the founder and Academic Director of the Nalanda Institute for Contemplative Science. The following essay has been adapted from the forthcoming 2nd edition of Advances in Contemplative Psychotherapy to be published by Routledge in January 2023. To learn more about the Contemplative Psychotherapy Program visit our information page


Contemplative psychotherapy is a hybrid therapeutic approach that blends the meditative insights, ethics and practices of Buddhism with the theory and application of Western neuropsychology, social psychology and psychotherapy. This amalgam may invoke cognitive dissonance for some. “Contemplation” and “contemplative” — terms derived from the Latin contemplatio — have historically been used to describe a discipline of individual and group reflection considered central to introspective learning, especially the meditative and ethical learning practiced by lay and professional people in traditional Western religious communities. Psychotherapy, on the other hand, has evolved as a healing discipline of introspective learning based mainly on a dyadic method of reflection, informed by scientific views of human nature, and practiced in confidential relationships by mental health professionals and their clients in modern clinical settings.

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Summer is for Slowing Down

by Joe Loizzo

summer reading list

As our lives return to a new and somewhat tentative post-pandemic normal, once again we find our days filled with doing. It’s vital therefore, that we greet the summer months as a precious opportunity for just being. Whether you need to recharge and refresh, or just stop and reflect, let’s make the most of this natural pause to realign our nervous systems with the energy and chemistry of thriving and well-being.

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Embodied Contemplative Psychotherapy: Transforming Trauma into Freedom and Well-Being

by Joe Loizzo, MD, PhD

embodied psychotherapy

Today’s confluence of breakthrough neuropsychological research and diverse methods of mind/body health and well-being has coalesced in a new multi-disciplinary consensus and a historic confluence of distinct therapeutic approaches. Centered around a positive new science of human nature and a radically optimistic framework of plasticity, learning and change, this watershed has prompted a dialogue about mental health and well-being that not only crosses the lines between distinct schools of psychotherapy, but also the lines between Eastern and Western, ancient and modern, scientific and spiritual approaches to mind/body healing. Nowhere is the promise of this watershed more apparent than in the surprising convergence of the latest neuropsychology and embodied approaches to trauma with the timeless embodied contemplative psychology and transformational arts of the Tibetan Buddhist Tantras.

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The Inside Job: Leading Our Lives in a Changing Work World

by Joe Loizzo, MD, PhD

It’s no secret that our work lives are becoming ever-more complex, fast-paced and stressful in our global, digital age. We need only look at how the COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the workplace to see how rapidly and radically the conditions of living and working in today’s fluid environment can change. At the same time, the pandemic has also laid bare pressing social and environmental needs—for true racial, gender and financial equity, and for a more sustainable economy—that demand fundamental changes in the way we think, live and lead.

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Let’s Celebrate This Summer

by Joe Loizzo

With summer here, we invite you to make more space and time to practice unwinding, whether in your favorite natural refuge—seaside or mountainside, lake or forest—on the cushion in your meditation space or in your choice reading chair or coffee nook in whatever spare minutes or hours you can clear in your day. Turn off your devices, wishing all life well, and reconnect with your own body and mind.

As you reconnect with yourself, tuning in to the natural rhythms of your body and mind, feel how precious such reflective moments are in your life. Especially invite and savor any memories that evoke a felt sense of being fully whole and alive—in harmony with yourself, nature, and the extended family of all life.

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Don’t Just Sit There, Take a Stand: Spiritual Accountability in the Wake of George Floyd’s Murder

by Joe Loizzo

Usually, as summer nears, I would be sitting down to write something to celebrate our recent graduates in our Contemplative Psychotherapy and other programs. But it feels impossible to celebrate anything after watching the gut-wrenching murder of George Floyd on videotape.

As the coronavirus ravages the U.S., disproportionally impacting our black, brown and indigenous communities and revealing the unconscionable health disparities and financial inequities that expose our nation’s structural racism, we see the culture of white supremacy doubling down in the murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, George Floyd and in the incendiary tweets of our president.

But as our black, brown, and indigenous leaders have taught us, this crushing onslaught is anything but new. Watching George Floyd’s life be coldly snuffed out by a seemingly average white policeman is witnessing the reenactment of centuries of cold-blooded oppression against the black and indigenous people of this land, the repetition of a collective trauma as sadistic and psychopathic as any genocide in human history.

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Atisha and Chekawa’s Healing Tree of Compassion: The Supreme Medicine of the Nalanda Tradition

by Joe Loizzo

Over the years since I first encountered Seven Steps for Transforming the Mind, the crown jewel of Tibet’s unique and timeless tradition of compassion training (lo-jong), it has been an unfailing source of guidance and inspiration on my own personal path, a real companion through good times and bad. Given the challenging times in which we live, I’m happy to be able to share some of its vital precepts, formulated by the Nalanda abbot Atisha Dimpamkara Shrijnana (982–1054) and recorded by Geshe Chekawa Yeshe Dorje (1101–1175), along with my own personal reflections. It’s my hope that the pointers I’ve selected from this text will help you go deeper in your practice of radical openness and life-transforming kindness, whether for yourself or others, close, neutral and far.

Precepts in italics, my comments in regular text.

“(This compassion practice) resembles the sun, a diamond, and a medicinal tree—
(It shines on all, cuts the hardest suffering, and is useful in every part).”

Within the Nalanda tradition, compassion is prized and practiced as the ground on which all human progress towards personal freedom and communal happiness stands. Compassion practice is not just for the high minded or troubled. Like the sun it brings vital warmth and light to everyone. Since it is the safest, most powerful tool for facing life’s inevitable hardship and negativity, it is like a diamond blade that cuts through the hardest blocks. And since it is entirely wholesome and endlessly beneficial, any part of this all-inclusive practice, even one precept, can be of life-giving value and life-saving help. So as far as the Tibetan masters like His Holiness the Dalai Lama are concerned, it’s not an exaggeration to say that this simple practice holds the key to all good things for all beings.

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Is There a Cure for What Ails America?
A Buddhist Take on Ideological Violence

By Joe Loizzo, MD, PhD

I write this sickened by what has come to feel like a new normal: each week another outbreak of the epidemic of gut-wrenching violence that has been eating away at our body politic, increasingly in recent years. The latest blow: thirty one innocent people killed in El Paso and Dayton—including the people of color, women and Mexican nationals targeted—by two young white men infected with the violent ideologies of white nationalism and toxic masculinity. How can such tragedies happen here and now? How can families back-to-school shopping and couples on date nights be unsafe in twenty-first century America? While the voices of white blindness point the finger at mental illness or video games, mental health professionals, women, gender non-conforming individuals and people of color—for very different reasons—know better. This kind of violence is directed every minute every day at people with black or brown skin, couples of mixed race, all women, the LGBTQA+ community, refugees, immigrants and at those who practice non-Christian faiths such as Judaism, Islam and Hinduism.

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Faces, Voices and the Brain-Heart Brake: The Divine Science of Tibet

By Joe Loizzo, MD, PhD

Helen of Troy

Editor’s note: Joe will be teaching a new course this fall in the Sustainable Happiness program. Learn the potent art of role-modeling imagery in the Nalanda tradition to enable deep transformation. More here.


How can a face launch a thousand ships? Why do lullabies quiet an infant’s cries? Must we be mystics to “still our beating hearts”? Over millions of lifetimes, we mammals evolved a range of special neural structures that have equipped us for an increasingly social life. Three of these help resolve a puzzle that has long stumped modern science: Why do archetypal images, prayers and gestures exert a stubborn hold even on scientifically schooled minds? Breakthroughs in the neuroscience of empathy, emotions and our conscious control of the breath have radically changed our view of our nature, helping explain the stubborn power of spiritual imagery, prayers and ritual.

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A Conversation Between Joe Loizzo and Emma Seppälä

Emma Seppala and Joe Loizzo

Editor’s Note: Nalanda Institute’s Director, Dr. Joe Loizzo recently sat down with Dr. Emma Seppälä for a conversation about compassion science and their hopes for the future. Dr. Seppälä is the Science Director at The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research at Stanford University. We present a small portion of their conversation here.

Dr. Seppälä is also our Guest of Honor at our 10th Annual Benefit on June 12th. Her talk entitled “Compassion Science: Healing Our Interconnected World”  further explores the topics presented here. Find out more about our forthcoming benefit.


Joe Loizzo: Welcome, Emma, and thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me about your work in the science of compassion. First of all, maybe you could fill us in about how you found your way to your unusual career.

Emma Seppälä: While I was doing my master’s degree at Columbia in East Asian languages in the late 90’s, I took a class with Bob Thurman, and decided to focus on Buddhist Studies. That lead me to the seminar you gave on Science, Spirituality and Healing in the Tibetan tradition, where I remember you urged me to go to a talk at Union Seminary by Richie Davidson and Dan Goleman on meditation research, remember?

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