The models that we have established in modern society are killing us. ~ Deepak Chopra
Over 800 people gathered at UCLA last weekend for the truly amazing and groundbreaking “Mind, Consciousness, and The Cultivation of Wellbeing” conference, which Deepak Chopra summed up by stating “We do not know HOW wisdom-practices (meditation, yoga, mindfulness) affect the body but we know that they do! We need alot more research.” Thanks to Marion Solomon, Bonnie Goldstein and Gary Small, many of the top researchers in the world were able to share the great strides they have made in using Western science to support the emotional and psychological efficacy of Eastern spiritual practices. In particular, Helen Lavretsky, Shari Geller, Judson Brewer, Jack Kornfield, Elissa Epel, Menas Kafatos, Rudolph Tanzi and Deepak Chopra gave stellar presentations attempting to bridge the gaps between ancient practices and our modern world.
The central theme of this conference was to explore consciousness – something that is not easy to define and impossible to locate. Weaving together themes of all three days, Dan Siegel stated that the first day of the conference focused on practices, the second day highlighted the scientific research that supports various spiritual practices, and the third day was devoted to answering the question “How do we bring more well-being into the world?”
Elissa Epel displayed how stress and depression affect our health and what we can do to reduce the risk of disease.
Kristin Neff made an interesting distinction between self-compassion and self-esteem: whereas unhealthy levels of self-esteem can lead to narcissism, a plethora of self-compassion has no deleterious effect.
Shari Geller shared much practical advice for psychotherapists stating that “We need to regulate to relate,” which is tantamount to Schrodinger’s Cat for psychotherapists: we need to have tools to be able to self-regulate in order to relate compassionately and authentically to our patients.
Pat Ogden and Bonnie Goldstein also illuminated the clinical applications of mindfulness by demonstrating opportunities to invite collaboration and present-moment experience into fascinating clinical vignettes with real patients. Dr. Ogden made the brilliant and much-needed distinction between awareness/observing meditations and presence meditations where “one loses separation between the observer and the observed.” This is an extremely precise juxtaposition of the Hindu lineage of meditation and yoga that seeks to transcend consciousness (maya) and collapse the subject/object distinction, with Buddhist mindfulness practices which seek to observe consciousness without judgment. Although the current trend is to secularize meditation, I believe it is extremely beneficial as well as respectful to understand the different lineages.
Judson Brewer distilled the essential tenets of Buddhism to help people respond to cues and triggers by making healthy choices. His “Craving to Quit” app is going to change the way addiction is treated in our society.
And Helen Lavretsky gave a riveting lecture on “Mind-Body Medicine, Consciousness and Health: Wellbeing Restored.” Dr. Lavretsky provided many astonishing correlations between yoga and improved cognitive functions.
Big thanks to to Drs. Marion Solomon, Matthew Solomon, Dan Siegel, Bonnie Goldstein from the Lifespan Learning Institute and director of the Longevity Center Dr. Gary Small for organizing this spectacular conference and convincing so many outstanding researchers, scientists and clinicians to partake in a dialogue that is certain to help all wellness practitioners help our patients.