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?
By Joe Loizzo
Editor’s Note: In this post Nalanda Institute’s Founder and Director, Dr. Joe Loizzo reviews two books written and edited by Dr. Emma Seppälä, this year’s Guest of Honor at our 10th Annual Benefit (June 12, 2019). As you’ll see, her writing, research, and position as Science Director of the Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism Research aligns perfectly with Nalanda Institute’s mission. Read on to find out more about compassion in action.
Review: The Happiness Track: How to Apply the Science of Happiness to Accelerate Your Success (HarperOne, 2016), by Emma Seppälä, Ph.D.
For most of the modern age, our scientific view of human nature and our understanding of the social emotion of compassion have been drifting further and further apart. This is no accident. It reflects the widening gulf between modern science and religious ethics that has caused such a troubling divide in human culture and consciousness in our age. Specifically it reflects an intentional distortion of Darwin’s view of human “fitness” to mean that the traditional ethical values of love and compassion conflict with our natural strengths, and that such emotions are in fact sentimental weaknesses. Quietly over the last five decades, biology has begun to heal the modern divide and expose this distortion, helping us rediscover the wisdom in Darwin’s observation that “communities with the greatest number of sympathetic members would flourish best.”
View a brief video excerpt about Polyvagal Theory:
by Joe Loizzo
Recently I had the rare opportunity to interview one of the rising stars of the new neuroscience, Dr. Stephen Porges, the lone pioneer of the latest research on the unique role of the autonomic nervous system in human life. Many of you have heard me repeatedly try to convey the revolutionary impact of his work on the main neural governor of our body states, moods, mind states, and responses. So you can imagine how thrilled I was that he agreed to speak at our upcoming Annual Benefit, and to spend an hour of his time with me sharing his journey of discovery and reflecting on his work’s relevance to science, psychotherapy, contemplation, and contemporary life.
What I learned in that interview came as no surprise: Dr. Porges is the real deal, a rigorous researcher whose work is transforming our view of human physiology and health and will impact science for decades if not centuries to come. The surprise was to find that Stephen also happens to be a vital, creative child of the 1960’s—a humanist at heart who followed his passion for music deep into the evolutionary sources and innermost mysteries of human life: the healing, connective power of fearless presence, awe, and love. I’d like to share with you a few excerpts from our interview, and hope that they will whet your appetite to hear more from this inspiring pioneer at our 9th Annual Benefit on June 8th!
by Joe Loizzo
I am delighted to be able to share with you two excerpts from the exciting new book penned by our dear friend Dr. Pilar Jennings. Many of you know Pilar already from her incredibly clear and kind teaching as a core faculty member in our Sustainable Happiness Program and our Contemplative Psychotherapy Program, or from our last Annual Benefit.
In To Heal a Wounded Heart, Pilar has outdone herself, bringing her incomparably wise and nurturing voice ever deeper into the intimate realm where Buddhism and psychotherapy meet to turn trauma into wholeness. We know this taste of Pilar’s heartfelt reflections on her encounters with clients and with her guru will whet your appetite for the whole feast.
To Heal a Wounded Heart: The Transformative Power of Buddhism and Psychotherapy in Action is available on Amazon*.
Two excerpts from the introduction to To Heal a Wounded Heart by Pilar Jennings
Ten years ago I made a decision I could not have anticipated in my years of training to become a psychoanalyst. I brought my Buddhist teacher and best friend into treatment with my first patient. The idea was to offer Martine, a six-year-old girl I quickly fell in love with, a sense that even the worst losses can be survived. Lama Pema knew something about grizzly loss and extreme vulnerability. As a child living in Tibet, on the eve of the Chinese invasion, he lost his country, his parents, and even a sense of self still fragile and easily dismantled. Martine’s losses were more chronic—an addicted mother who flitted in and out of her life, who tantalized her with loving but unreliable attention, and an elderly grandmother who held on tight, determined to keep her from the outside world where danger lurked.
by Joe Loizzo
In recent months and years, the young transplant of Tibetan Buddhism in the West has suffered several shocks that have shaken sapling communities in the U.S., and troubled the larger community of Buddhist orders around the world. Given the public controversy and deeply personal introspection stirred by these shocks, including the recent statement by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, I believe the time is right for us as a community to seriously reflect on what they can teach us about the global future of Tibet’s unique culture and its little understood Vajrayana form of Buddhism, also known as Buddhist Tantra.
[download the full article in PDF format]
by Joe Loizzo
Early this year, the Tibetan community in exile and the international Buddhist community lost one of its leading lights—Kyabje Ngawang Gelek Demo Rimpoche—known to his many students around the world as Gelek Rimpoche, or simply Rimpoche, our precious gem. Besides His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Gelek’s peer, Trungpa Rimpoche, our jewel had few equals in his ability to be a living bridge between the spiritual-intellectual elite of Tibet’s Himalayan ivory towers and the increasingly global technology and pop culture of the modern West. While his preeminence among the vanishing breed of master scholars trained in the mountain kingdom alone would have merited a storied place in history, it was his unexpected role as a leading monk-exile turned lay Buddhist teacher that earned him global renown.