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.
by Mar Aige
My love story with mindful movement began at 18, when I tried my first yoga class at my college gym. The teacher was a kind old lady who explained that we had to completely let go of everything in her class. Ideally our backs would rest flat on the floor, each muscle gently touching the ground because there would be no stress or holding. She called the pose Shavasana, saying it was the most difficult of all. She then enumerated a long list of obscure-sounding body parts, asking us to relax them in turn. We giggled and tried our best. This was a different type of exercise, and I was very intrigued.
by Nalanda Institute Editors
As this year of the Earth Dog comes to an end and we usher in the new year of the Earth Mother Pig, we are happy to look back at just a few of the amazing accomplishments of our community. 2018 has been a pivotal year in which we’ve evolved our teaching methods, deepened our community, and made our programs more widely available.
Extended captions and an elaboration of some of our programs and events in 2018:
by Mary Reilly Nichols
I was speaking about non-dual awareness with a friend when she rightly pointed out that the phrase ‘non-dual’ itself is dualist. That is why i like the term samadhi to describe the non-dual state. The word samadhi derives from the Indo-European root, sam, which is also the source of the English word ‘same’. It connotes unity, evenness, equality. Samadhi, the perception of oneness, is the true bread of life. The visceral experience of union we get from yoga practices is a delicious recharge of the nervous system.
by Fiona Brandon
During our recent Mindfulness Year fall retreat, Joe Loizzo emphasized to the cohort that the development of the self is “a creative project,” but one that is not always in our favor. “There is a tendency once we make an interpretation [about ourselves or an experience]…to forget it was an interpretation. [We] just stamp it with the seal of reality because for one moment [the interpretation] was serviceable.” It can be shocking to look under the hood of this habitual pattern and see that we create lifelong fundamental beliefs about ourselves, and the world around us, based on interpretations that may have been true in one moment, but are inaccurate for subsequent moments in our lives!
The year begins with an understanding of the webs we weave. Pictured on retreat are San Francisco students with Dr. Joe Loizzo (second in top row) and Fiona Brandon (second in bottom row).
by Fiona Brandon
When Sharon Salzberg lead San Francisco’s 2017 Spring Mindfulness Year retreat, she playfully challenged the notion that Mindfulness, “Seems to imply a complacency: be in the present moment without reacting. Sounds dull!” The students laughed. I appreciated how Sharon addressed the popular misunderstanding that the goal of mindfulness meditation is to have no thoughts and sit in some kind of fixed non-reactive state. When in reality, the four foundations of mindfulness — the main meditation practices taught during the Mindfulness Year of the Contemplative Psychotherapy Program — are anything but static.
Sharon Salzberg with Mindfulness Year faculty Joe Loizzo, Linda Graham and Fiona Brandon.