by Dan Donohue

birds take flight

Editor’s Note: Dan Donohue is Nalanda Institute’s recently-appointed Executive Director. In this post he shares a bit of his personal journey in the context of the Institute’s renewed mission and vision statements.

I hope these words find you well as we say goodbye to another summer and welcome the fall. I’ve always felt this time of year to be auspicious — given all those years of school starts — so it’s a fitting time to share with you Nalanda Institute’s renewed mission and vision; the fruit of a collective effort by many of our staff, faculty, board and community members. 

Our mission is to support people from all walks of life to cultivate an open mind, warm heart and altruistic way of being by infusing timeless contemplative science and practice into contemporary life. 

Our vision is to be a vital partner in a global movement of personal and collective liberation through transformational programs, exemplary faculty, compassionate community, and a culture of social engagement.

For those of you who have been part of this community for a while we hope this mission feels familiar and true to your experience. We want to continue doing the life-changing work the Institute has been doing all along; we just want to do more of it in order to have a greater impact on more and more lives. Which leads to our vision of contributing to a great movement of personal and collective liberation. This is a mighty statement coming from a humble educational Institute. Are we up to this challenge? Do we have a choice but to take it on?  

As I sit here the water recedes from our latest storm, our western states endure another worst fire season on record, the US pulls out of two decades of misguided war in Afghanistan, we continue to struggle with racial, gender and income inequality and we face a global pandemic. What does personal and collective liberation mean in this moment when so many things seem to be heading in the wrong direction? What happens if we remember to take a mindful pause when feeling overwhelmed by these and other life stressors? The Institute’s teachings, based on current neuroscience and contemplative tradition, show us that a fundamental shift is possible even in these stubborn, difficult moments. We have the capacity to be resilient in the face of even the most overwhelming challenges. What seems intractable may feel that way because of a limiting way of being and self-enclosed point of view.  

But over time, many cumulative mindful pauses started to let the light back in — I began to soften, and a deep sense of our interdependence emerged.

I spent many years working for nonprofits and development organizations on different issues, ranging from education to humanitarian aid. As I moved from one organization to another my disillusionment kept growing. It felt like we were just mopping up at the edges of a large overflowing mess and the debates were always around what type of mop to use instead of how to turn off the mess at the source. So what is the source of the mess we’re in? I believe it’s our systems of power that prioritize the individual or the select few over the collective, based on our instincts of self-protection. This leads to a scarcity mindset that commoditizes everything around us and conditions us to live in a winner-take-all way. Our problems are indeed intractable in this zero-sum equation. 

Before I found a meditation practice in my late 30’s I was burnt out and numb from this way of living. But over time, many cumulative mindful pauses started to let the light back in — I began to soften, and a deep sense of our interdependence emerged. What happens to our systems of power when the true nature of an interdependent world is acknowledged? Will our resources continue to be squandered in the hands of a few? Will we continue to see the world as a scary place filled with “others”? Will we still race to cut down the last tree?  

As we cultivate an open mind, warm heart and altruistic way of being through the Institute’s programs we are welcomed and are welcoming all into this interdependent world. Our vision to be a vital partner in a global movement for personal and collective liberation becomes the necessary work we must do together as a compassionate community for our collective wellbeing; but we must do so within a culture of social engagement. This inner work must acknowledge the suffering caused by these systems of power on marginalized communities and our ecosystem, only in this way can we support each other truly. Our culture of social engagement requires us to also use our voice to engage society in discussions important to liberation and to confront injustice.

Over the coming months you’ll see new programs and offerings from the Institute to both make it easier for beginners to start practice as well as for experienced practitioners to deepen their practice. And we will continue to work hard to make sure our programs meet the needs of people from all walks of life, from the whole rainbow spectrum of racial and gender identities, backgrounds and inclinations.  

I hope you’ll join us.