Elli Weisbaum

Mindfulness for Life

When I decided to pursue a PhD I was told over and over again that it would be overwhelming, isolating and painful. My response? No thanks! First of all, there isn't anything I choose to do in my life that I would describe in those ways. Secondly, the topic of my thesis is mindfulness - so pursuing a PhD on this topic with this framing just didn't make sense to me. But the more I was told this, the more it made me wonder what a mindful PhD might look like. Mindfulness is not only the focus of my research, but an integral part of my life. The practice is woven into the fabric of everything I do. For me, integrating mindfulness into the meta approach of pursuing my PhD seemed not only natural, but also ethical and imperative for my mental health. The aspiration behind this blog is to bring awareness for myself to this journey and to share the experience of attempting to navigate a PhD on mindfulness with mindfulness. This isn't to claim that I will never suffer or experience being overwhelmed, isolated and in pain during this process - but it is to set an intention to meet these feelings with kindness and care and to transform them so that I can also experience joy and happiness as part of this 5 year adventure.

I have arrived, I am Home

Organizing a neuroscience retreat: returning to the source

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Over a year ago I was invited to be part of the organizing team for a neuroscience themed retreat in Upper Hamlet, Plum Village - Thich Nhat Hanh's main practice centre in the South of France. Over the past year, I collaborated with the monastics and lay organizers to curate a retreat focused on building dialogue and communication between the epistemologies of science and Dharma. The retreat took place June 14th-21st with two hundred participants (the majority of which were scientists, researchers or humanitarian workers), followed by a two day forum with twenty invited guests where we continued to deepen our mindfulness practice, offer workshops and have 20 minute TedTalk style presentations on participants’ current work.

It was an opportunity to cultivate and engage in meaningful conversations about mindfulness practice and research from multiple cultural, societal and inter-disciplinary perspectives.

The experience was deeply nourishing for me. It was an opportunity to cultivate and engage in meaningful conversations about mindfulness practice and research from multiple cultural, societal and inter-disciplinary perspectives. It was also a chance to return to my root tradition, reconnecting and recharging my own practice in a space of love, trust and understanding. My time in Plum Village was filled with a mixture of silent practice (walking, eating, sitting), active listening, deep sharing, organizing and playing. The landscape was lush and green. The birds sang in the trees. All of this supported me to slow down after a very busy semester conducting my research study and completing my PhD course work. In this space I came home to myself and returned replenished and ready to continue my dissertation journey.

Below is the statement of intent that the retreat organizing team shared with our invited guests before the forum. I hope you will find it engaging and inspiring…

Why a two day forum? 

We find ourselves at a critical juncture of history – fear, intolerance and trauma, both individual and collective, are directing the current of world events. At the same time, science, Buddhist practice, trauma therapy and new technologies are making inroads into addressing these long running cycles of human suffering. The situation is urgent. The continued existence of our civilization depends on us becoming concerned with each other’s wellbeing, and learning to be more compassionate and tolerant. We urgently need to find ways to release and transform our unresolved trauma and suffering, thus restoring our ability to adapt quickly to our ever-changing planet, cultures, and technologies. 

The continued existence of our civilization depends on us becoming concerned with each other’s wellbeing, and learning to be more compassionate and tolerant.

All of the traditions named above, as they progress, are finding common ground, but there is still a huge amount of work to be done, especially on finding ways to work together. If different traditions of inquiry into human suffering, operating with their own languages, presuppositions, and ideologies could learn what the others know, each would be vastly more effective. 

We are eager to further this dialogue in an environment which has been founded on the principles of openness, non-attachment to views and freedom of thought. The first three Mindfulness Trainings of the Order of Interbeing (see below), are the core of the Plum Village tradition. They are the voice of the Buddha within each of us, they are the Lion’s Roar. We hope you will recognize their spirit from your scientific training. For us, they represent the possibility of establishing common ground, and an exciting starting point for collaboration and shared exploration. 

You are all world leaders in your various fields, and we would like to thank you for helping us to create the conditions for this unique gathering of hearts and minds. We believe that this is what the world dearly needs. 

With our deepest respect, appreciation and gratitude,

Brother Phap Linh, Elli Weisbaum, Dr. Liam Kavanagh 

(for the organizing team of the Plum Village Neuroscience Retreat 2019)

The First Mindfulness Training: Openness

Aware of the suffering created by fanaticism and intolerance, we are determined not to be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones. We are committed to seeing the Buddhist teachings as guiding means that help us develop our understanding and compassion. They are not doctrines to fight, kill, or die for. We understand that fanaticism in its many forms is the result of perceiving things in a dualistic and discriminative manner. We will train ourselves to look at everything with openness and the insight of interbeing in order to transform dogmatism and violence in ourselves and in the world.

The Second Mindfulness Training: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 non-attachment to views and being open to others’ experiences and insights in order to benefit from the collective wisdom. We are aware that the knowledge we presently possess is not changeless, absolute truth. Insight is revealed through the practice of compassionate listening, deep looking, and letting go of notions rather than through the accumulation of intellectual knowledge. Truth is found in life, and we will observe life within and around us in every moment, ready to learn throughout our lives.

The Third Mindfulness Training: Freedom of Thought

Aware of the suffering brought about when we impose our views on others, we are determined not to force others, even our children, by any means whatsoever – such as authority, threat, money, propaganda, or indoctrination – to adopt our views. We are committed to respecting the right of others to be different, to choose what to believe and how to decide. We will, however, learn to help others let go of and transform fanaticism and narrowness through loving speech and compassionate dialogue

Elli Weisbaum