Saybrook instructor Dr. Donna Rockwell addresses conference ‘Mindfulness and Compassion: The Art and Science of Contemplative Practice’

Donna Rockwell, Psy.D.

Donna Rockwell, Psy.D.

Mindfulness and Compassion: The Art and Science of Contemplative Practice, a conference held at San Francisco State University from June 3-7, 2015, brought together leading scholars, contemplative teachers, and neuroscientists to discuss the intersection of science and Buddhism, and the role of compassion in wellness.

Donna Rockwell, PsyD, Saybrook adjunct faculty member, and co-teacher (with John A. Patterson, MD) of Mindfulness, Meditation and Health in the School of Mind-Body Medicine, and Mindfulness and Spirituality in Clinical Practice in the School of Clinical Psychology attended the conference, presenting her research findings on the role mindfulness training can play in the education of clinical psychologists. Her presentation: If I Only Had the Nerve: Mindfulness and Courage in Psychotherapy: Implications and Applications, was featured in the session: Engagement with Mindfulness Interventions.

“It was quite extraordinary being among scientists, contemplative thinkers, and healthcare professionals discussing and debating contemporary applications of mindfulness: in our work lives, in our personal lives, in our spiritual lives, and in cultivating innate capacities to enhance one’s own wellbeing,” Dr. Rockwell said, “as well as the critical role compassion plays.”

One point often repeated at the conference,” Dr. Rockwell said, “was that mindfulness, alone, is not enough, that mindfulness had to be a ‘caring mindfulness’.”

Keynote speakers included Matthieu Richard, PhD, longtime Buddhist monk and aptly-named “happiest man alive” based on results of his laboratory-tested meditation practice; Robert Thurman, PhD, professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies at Columbia University and co-founder with His Holiness the Dali Lama, of Tibet House, dedicated to preserving the culture and traditions of Tibet; Clifford Saron, PhD, neuroscientist at University of California, Davis, leading the Shamatha Project, examining the effects of long-term intensive meditation; and David Vargo, of Harvard Medical School, investigating brain networks that support “self-awareness, self-regulation, and self-transcendence.”

Other highlights of the conference included lively panel discussions, with thought leaders in the field. One panel included Eijun Linda Cutts, Abbess at the San Francisco Zen Center who described compassion as “suffering with” and wanting to alleviate that suffering. Yet, “beware of self-clinging,” she warned, making a point to contradict the common notion of compassion as being a passive state. “Compassion is responding to what’s needed whatever that person needs.” Sometimes compassion can be “fierce,” “a great big ‘no’ or ‘stop’, the power to meet what people need.”

Along with Dr. Rockwell, Saybrook was represented by student, Tamami Shirai who presented: A Clinical Study of a Meditation Class in Cardiac Pulmonary Rehabilitation, in the session: Mindfulness Interventions for Treating Physical Conditions.

The organizers hope that facilitating dialogue at this conference between “modern science and ancient meditative traditions” proved mutually beneficial by “exploring how contemplative practice and scientific research can best inform each other for a greater common good.”