Richie Davidson Came To Stanford

Dr. Richie Davidson gave the Meng-Wu lecture for The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University last night. I felt really privileged to be able to attend.

Richie Davidson is one of the world’s leading neuroscientists and considered by Time Magazine to be one of the 100 most influential people. He founded the field of study called affective neuroscience.

His laboratory is the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin.


Richie Davidson’s Current Projects

After a review of the history of research on meditation, Dr. Davidson spoke on some of his current projects.

The studies on people who were taught mindfulness practices compared with a control group experienced less pain.

Dr. Davidson was clear to point out that his work relies on radical honesty, not being attached to outcomes and reporting just what he finds without embellishment.

This reminded me of one of the 14 Mindfulness Trainings of the Order of Interbeing of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh  – Non-Attachment to Views:

Aware of the suffering created by attachment to views and wrong perceptions, we are determined to avoid being narrow-minded and bound to present views. We are committed to learning and practicing nonattachment from views and being open to other’s insights and experiences in order to benefit from the collective wisdom. Insight is revealed through the practice of compassionate listening, deep looking, and letting go of notions rather than through the accumulation of intellectual knowledge. We are aware that the knowledge we presently possess is not changeless, absolute truth. Truth is found in life, and we will observe life within and around us in every moment, ready to learn throughout our lives.

It is my opinion that Dr. Davidson’s research abides by this mindfulness training.

Dr. Richie Davidson at CCARE

Dr. Richie Davidson at CCARE | Photo: Jerome Freedman

Richie Davidson’s Work With Children On Kindness

I found the most interesting study that he talked about was a study with preschool children 4-5.

Before the study began, parents and teachers got together to determine which child in the class each student liked the best and which child each student liked the least.

At the beginning of the study, the students were given four envelopes and 10 stickers – the currency of 4-5 year olds!

On envelop 1 was the picture of their favorite student.

On envelop 2 was the picture of their least favorite student.

On envelop 3 was a picture of some strange child.

On envelop 4 was the picture of a sick child.

The children were asked to distribute all the stickers in any way they wanted to.

Over the course of the next eight week, the children were taught a series of “kindness” practices based on Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). The teachers had previously had the usual eight week course supplemented by two additional weeks of training specific to teaching mindfulness to children.

At the end of the “kindness” course, the children were given 10 more stickers and four more envelopes with the same pictures on them.

They were again asked to distribute the stickers anyway they wanted.

The results of this study were astonishing.

Before the “kindness” course, almost all of the stickers were placed in the envelop of their favorite child.

After the course, the children distributed the stickers evenly!

Richie Davidson’s “Mind Jars”

A video was shown which was an excerpt from the movie by Phie Ambo called “Free The Mind.”

The people in the documentary were two of the thousands of America’s war veterans and a 5 year old child.

They want to change their brains only by the power of the mind.

The excerpt we saw focused on Will, a 5 year old child with ADHD and severe anxiety attacks.

Will was given a “mind jar” to help him curb his anxiety.

The “mind jar” is a homemade snow globe filled with water and glitter.

Will shakes the globe when he is anxious and watches the glitter settle down.

This helps him to settle his mind down.

In the excerpt we saw, Will was unable, at first, to go in an elevator, much less ride in it.

After training with the “mind jar” and learning how to settle down, he was able to enter the elevator.

Once in the elevator, he used the “mind jar” to reduce the anxiety he felt.

Finally, he was able to get in and ride the elevator!

The movie trailer below shows how involved Richie Davidson is in this project.


Richie Davidson Answers Questions

During the question and answer period after the talk Dr. James Doty, a Clinical Professor in the Department of Neurosurgery at Stanford University and the founder of Project Compassion, asked some wonderful questions.

Among these, was a question about the long term effects of programs like MBSR on the brain.

His answer was rather poignant. He basically said that mindfulness practices are a lot like exercises for the brain. Once you stop practicing, the good effects diminish over time, just like when you stop a physical exercise program.

Dr. Doty also pointed out that the Dalai Lama has said that if science discovers something that contradicts Buddhist thought, he would adopt the scientific view and drop the Buddhist idea.

My Takeaways

Ever since I started publishing this blog and  Best Meditation Videos, I have been writing primarily about three things: daily meditation practices, mindful consumption and interbeing (interconnectedness or interdependence).

Dr. Davidson’s talk echoed the importance of daily meditation practices and the “kindness” program teaches the young ones something about interdependence.

I am totally in love with what he is doing for the children.

I would love to see your comments, questions and feelings. Won’t you please share?

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