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.
By Joe Loizzo, MD, PhD
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.
By Helen Park
Students from a previous year present their Capstone Projects during a year-end celebratory dinner.
The 2018–19 Compassion Year was an inspired and challenging year full of transitions and growth for us all at the Contemplative Psychotherapy Program in New York City. Over the course of the year, our dedicated and altruistic cohort of practitioners, therapists, coaches, educators, healthcare professionals, and artists engaged with the Mahayana teachings of lojong (“mind training”), Shantideva’s fourfold teachings on compassion, Vajrayana visualization practices, as well as contemporary neuropsychology and research. One of the primary goals of this program is to support our students in a process of embodied learning so that they may take these teachings and implement them into their lives and work, and one of the pathways toward this goal is the Capstone Project.
By Dr. Joe Loizzo
Editor’s update: Our application period has ended. Fellowship recipient(s) will be announced October 2019. Thank you for your interest in our program
These past ten years developing Nalanda Institute with all of you—students, graduates, colleagues and friends—have been years full of discovery, revelations, opportunities, challenges, and unanticipated rewards. In preparing for our tenth annual benefit on June 12th, I’ve had a rare opportunity to take a long exhale with board members, faculty and graduates to look back over all we’ve accomplished together. In that same breath, hindsight showed with fresh perspective who we’ve become as an Institute and community and where our future must take us.
Every day I’m more in awe of how widely and avidly our popular and professional culture is investing in the healing power of contemplative methods of mindfulness, compassion, and embodiment. This welcome development brings not just the strongest possible validation of our mission, programs and community, but also a timely reminder for us to refine our crucial role in an increasingly broad and complex movement.
By Fiona Brandon
2019–2020 San Francisco faculty include Pilar Jennings, Joe Loizzo, Tara Brach, Robert Thurman, Rev. angel Kyodo williams, Diana Fosha, Lama Rod Owens, and Fiona Brandon.
Contemplative Psychotherapy Program students were challenged by visiting faculty Mariana Caplan to, “Think of a time when you rejected a part of yourself thinking it was keeping you from deeper transformation. And see if you can call that part back. And how could you use it to deepen your practice?” What a dare! And what an inroad to the truth about why many of us stay in a state of suffering. Instead of ostracizing parts of ourselves, what if we use them as a way to create profound psychological and spiritual transformation? Is that possible? Absolutely.
The CPP Compassion Year, beginning September 20th, teaches how to use compassion practices, and the analytic wisdom of emptiness, to relate to the parts of ourselves we have deemed unacceptable and how to ultimately extinguish the cycle of stress and trauma these aspects are born from.
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.”
By Helen Park
On an unseasonably warm November night, current students and alumni of the Contemplative Psychotherapy Program (CPP) in New York City gathered to receive teachings from Lama Rod Owens. Lama Rod is one of the most exciting and inspiring Dharma teachers of our time, having received teaching authorization by the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism after completing a three-year silent retreat, and drawing upon his own very personal life experiences as a Black, queer man raised in the South. He held space with us for close to three hours, inviting us to be in contemplative presence together that was intimate, playful, ‘triggering in a positive way,’ and deeply restorative.
Lama Rod Owens teaching about skillful ways to work with compassion and anger for the Contemplative Psychotherapy Program in New York City.
by Geri Loizzo
One of my favorite stories found in the Jewish tradition was told to me by my dear teacher, Yogini Mary Reilly Nichols. It’s a story of a young man who goes to see a famous rabbi and is asked by a friend, “are you going to hear the rabbi speak?” “No,” replies the young man, “I am going to watch the rabbi tie his shoes.” He did not mean this as a joke, and he understood that the embodied qualities of enlightenment which the rabbi exuded in his very being, could offer powerful inspiration that he could intuit.
By Scott Tusa
The day I became a Buddhist monk was one of the best days of my life. If I had to compare it to something, it’s sort of like a wedding day, but you are marrying yourself! I had been preparing for it for over 7 years, and it felt like the fruition of a lot of hard work and aspirations.
When the day arrived, myself and a group of 150 novices from around the world sat in front of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama to formally take our monastic vows. After a beautiful and moving ceremony I was motioned by an attendant to approach His Holiness.