Welcome ESRI 2021 participants!

Dear Friends,

We are delighted to welcome all our participants and guests to the seventh Mind & Life Europe Summer Research Institute, and our second online Summer Research Institute.

Since 2004, the Mind & Life Institute has been hosting a highly regarded yearly Summer Research Institute in Garrison, New York. In 2014, Mind & Life Europe launched the European edition of this program and the response has been vigorous and gratifying. Each year we convene a distinguished international faculty of scientists, artists, scholars, professionals from the social domain, contemplatives and participants from all over the world. The five-day framework permits not only a learning experience but a rare and precious time of elaboration and exchange. 

The theme for ESRI 2021 is: Care for life: Enacting knowledge in an interdependent and uncertain world.

The narrative arc of our week together begins with the question “What is Life?”, which will be explored from the biochemical angle as well as from the perspectives of ecology, Western phenomenology and Buddhist philosophy from the Madhyamaka school. Reviewing theories from autopoiesis to interdependence, we will discover how these scientific and philosophical traditions resonate together to deepen our understanding – and our appreciation – of the phenomena of life.

The story unfolds with the question “What Fuels Life?”. Here, the social psychologists on our faculty will present their research on what makes for sustainable and respectful relationships to self and to the environment. Why do we resist change and remain locked-in to behaviors that are unhealthy, unsafe or unsustainable? Does mindfulness practice promote more balanced relationships to self and the environment? And from the Buddhist perspective, what mental states and habit formations can we cultivate to favor transformation that takes into account the complexity of our human experience and the fundamental driving forces that govern it?

After our Contemplative Day, we will move to the question at the core of our program: “How to Enact our Knowledge?”. We have a growing understanding of the current and impending crises that we must face, individually and collectively. Why is it so difficult for this understanding to be transformed into collective, co-ordinated action? We’ll explore this question starting “close to home”, with a collective reflection involving dialogue and movement on how to bring principles from the contemplative outlook to bear on the way we conduct our academic and scientific work. How can we work with our emotions and motivations to cultivate collegiality over competitiveness? This and related questions will be investigated by a trio of scientist-artist-practitioners on our faculty who will engage participants in their process.

The case-study of scientific and academic relations and knowledge-sharing will be scaled up on the final day, when we will look at the question of “How to Act in an Uncertain World?”. How can we conceive and nurture the kind of cultural evolution that will be necessary in order to transform past and current views of political and economic development in the direction of ecological respect and sustainability? How can individual experiences such as burnout act as triggers for positive “mental climate change”, that may reverberate out into collective heightened awareness and sense of responsibility for the welfare and sustainability of the planet? What can models of nomadic societies such as the Dropka teach us about “eco-awareness”, and how might we bring this knowledge into dialogue with contemporary science and our own lives?

Our faculty is composed of accomplished scholars, scientists and artists in the field of contemplative studies. As is the tradition at the ESRI, it is an interdisciplinary group composed of representatives from the fields of philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, the cognitive and social sciences, the arts and Buddhist scholarship and practice.

We would like to thank the Mind & Life ESRI Planning Committee members for preparing our time together. We heartily thank our faculty for dedicating time from their summer schedules to share their work and to engage with us. Our gratitude is all the greater given the challenges posed by transporting online what we have all come to know and love as an intimate and personal event taking place in a natural setting. May overcoming these challenges be transformative for all of us! We would also like to thank the Hershey Family Foundation for its support, which has allowed us to bring this project to fruition.

Traditionally, ESRI is meant as an opportunity to leave the all too hectic flow of daily life and concerns, and to live and think together – doing a slower kind of science. We hope that our online ESRI program will also be an experience that sparks new intuitions and activates the possibilities that each of us harbors. The framework of the program is designed to realize this for you, and we hope that the experiences of our time together will bring you not only increased knowledge but also the heart warmth of being together in spite of physical distance, a warmth and connection that we can carry into our collective future.

With warm regards,



Amy Cohen-Varela                                                      Gabor Karsai
Chairperson                                                                 Managing Director