The greatest social challenges of our time - healing traumas, redressing existential environmental threats, building a future for our children - are also our greatest spiritual challenges. Meeting them requires reexamining our behavior, values and worldviews, and tapping inner sources of compassion, motivation, innovation, insight and vision.
These are all skills that can be cultivated in contemplative practice. They are also mission-critical for professional caregivers, human service providers, educators, environmental advocates, and others whose work involves building a healthier, smarter, more resilient future.
Recent research in cognitive neuroscience and other scientific fields indicates contemplation, broadly defined to include a diverse range practices involving deep reflection, impacts the way we view and engage the world. It can help alleviate trauma and stress, and modulate fear. It can assist the cultivation of flexibility, empathy, awareness, intuition and morality. These can lead to positive changes in our state of mind, which in turn can positively affect our behavior, helping us make better decisions, and take more effective actions.
These abilities are key to successful learning and successful leadership. They help ground individual thought and action, and help bring groups to deeper states of collective thinking from which fresh solutions can arise.
Deep change is never easy, but changing and opening the mind through contemplation greatly facilitates it. Diverse contemplative wisdom traditions and contemporary science alike teach us this. They attest to the power of contemplative practices to change destructive behavior and patterns of thought, unleash creative energy and transform the people who practice them.
History attests to the power of such people to change the world. Gandhi, Martin Luther King and others didn’t change their societies by applying state power, they did by applying contemplative wisdom and shifting states of mind.
We research and develop contemplative-based tools and approaches to help teachers, caregivers and environmentalists sustain and deepen their challenging work. We also use contemplative-based tools and methods to help shift workplace cultures, nurture new professional fields, activate leadership and learning networks, and work for change at the systems level. We call our approach “transformational", meaning that it has the potential to fundamentally change these fields by changing the states of mind within them, and the behaviors arising from them, on a large scale.
Einstein famously said we cannot solve problems with the state of mind that created them. The Garrison Institute also holds the converse to be true: Not only can we solve intractable problems, we can transform them, by tapping the power of contemplation to shift individual and collective states of mind.