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In 2024, MLE will turn our attention to another two of our values: “Open space” and “Seek clarity” by taking up “Opening the Space Between Us” as the banner theme. With this banner theme, we wish to invoke a more expansive, interconnected, and panoramic epistemology for engaging with the world, one which allows for a natural form of clarity (“Seek Clarity”) to emerge. When we “open space” and “seek clarity,” what new horizons appear before us which might not otherwise have been possible?
Some questions that might guide us in our exploration:
What is implied by open space? Does it imply the absence of boundaries and edges, or is it in fact inclusive of such boundaries and edges? How might it decenter the subject and disrupt our habitual understanding of the subject-object relationship? How might open space help us to interrogate and reimagine our tired narratives based on “either/or” thinking?
How does open space relate to the notion of groundlessness, which figures prominently in many of the world’s great contemplative traditions? What does groundlessness have to teach us about the condition of life on this planet, as well as about how we live and think and work together? What does groundlessness look like when brought to bear in the field of relationality? Can we use this template to ask, as Jarrett Zigon does in his recent work, “How is it between us?,” in order to establish a more robust and versatile relational ethics?
As humans, is it possible to rest in open space without shutting down? How does open space affect us on a cellular level, a cognitive (sense-making) level, and a symbolic level? Is it possible to achieve clarity in our thinking and our actions without solidifying a particular position? How can we grow our tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity, and find within those qualities a source of epistemic robustness? How can we attend to the “unfinished business of knowing,” as Hanne De Jaegher puts it, without falling into an overdetermining attitude or a form of passive disengagement? What might we learn from summoning a “listening epistemology,” as described by contemporary enactive thinker Ezequiel Di Paolo? Can open space in fact be generative of a certain form of clarity, one which is perhaps closer to wisdom than to knowledge?
If we truly take up open space as an attitude or a way of being in the world, what sort of epistemological outlook is required of us? What sort of ethical-social understanding thereby becomes possible? Might this change the ways that we do science and philosophy, and collaborate in academia more generally? What does it mean to put an attitude of receptivity, openness, and permeability at the center of our relations in our lives and work? Could doing so transform us into more powerful practitioners of care?
Finally, beyond its epistemic value, does open space lend itself to a particular form of aesthetic expression (whether that be had in art, architecture, religion, philosophy, or otherwise)?
The panelist in MLE’s 2024 Inaugural Panel will be invited to reflect on these questions from their particular horizon of inquiry and life experience, seeing where they might lead the discussion — not simply as theoretical questions but as lodestars for orienting to a more awakened, equanimous, and compassionate life. Let’s reflect together on what “opening the space between us” might mean for the future of our work together and for the future of life on this planet.
Jay L. Garfield directs the Buddhist Studies Program and Tibetan Studies in India program at Smith College. He is also visiting professor of Buddhist philosophy at Harvard Divinity School, Professor of Philosophy at Melbourne University and Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies. Academicinfluence.com has identified him as one of the 50 most influential philosophers in the world over the past decade.
Garfield’s research addresses topics in the foundations of cognitive science and the philosophy of mind; metaphysics; the history of modern Indian philosophy; topics in ethics, epistemology and the philosophy of logic; methodology in cross-cultural interpretation; and topics in Buddhist philosophy, particularly Indo-Tibetan Madhyamaka and Yogācāra. He is the author or editor of over 30 books and over 200 articles, chapters, and reviews.
Garfield’s most recent books are Getting Over Ourselves: How to be a Person Without a Self (2022), Knowing Illusion: Bringing a Tibetan Debate into Contemporary Discourse (with the Yakherds 2021, Buddhist Ethics: A Philosophical Exploration (2021), ̛What Can’t Be Said: Paradox and Contradiction in East Asian Thought (with Yasuo Deguchi, Graham Priest, and Robert Sharf 2021), and The Concealed Influence of Custom: Hume’s Treatise From the Inside Out (2019).
Dr. Laura Candiotto is Associate Professor in Philosophy at the Centre for Ethics of the University of Pardubice, Czech Republic. Originally from Italy, she moved to Scotland, France, and Germany in the last seven years for carrying out different research projects on the philosophy of emotions. Her research focuses on the epistemic role of emotions as embedded in dialogical interactions and communities of inquiry. She has extensively worked on love, wonder, compassion, and shame bridging her expertise in the Socratic method of inquiry and the enactive approach to participatory sense-making. She also published on the ethics of knowing with a virtue theoretical approach to epistemic responsibility. She is now exploring the enactive and pragmatist approaches to human sensibility and shared sentience. She is also contributing to the development of an enactive ethics of sense-making grounded on affects as what disclose existential concerns and values, especially regarding environmental issues. As a Tibetan Buddhism practitioner, she has a long-standing interest in the transformation of negative emotions, the intertwining of compassion and wisdom, and the role of desire, aspiration, devotion, and embodiment in contemplative practices. Websites: www.emotionsfirst.org; https://upce.academia.edu/LauraCandiotto
Perla Kaliman holds a PhD in Biochemistry. She is a honorary fellow at the Center for Healthy Minds (University of Wisconsin Madison), exploring the gene expression and epigenetic impact of meditation practice. She is an associate professor in Nutrition and Public Health at Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, where she teaches nutrigenomics. She collaborates with the NGO “Innocence in Danger Colombia” (IIDC), exploring the psychological and epigenetic benefits of a program to heal trauma in adolescents with a history of multiple adverse childhood experiences. She has published numerous scientific articles, and she co-edited the book Epigenetics of Lifestyle (Bentham eBooks). She is the author of a neuroscience-cooking book on food for brain health with the chef Miguel Aguilar (Cocina para tu Mente, 2014, Ed. Blume, Barcelona) and “La ciencia de la meditación: de la mente a los genes” (2017, ed. Kairos, Barcelona). She founded the non-profit organization Generation Alpha Minds (www.generationalphaminds.org) dedicated to developing and scientifically validating programs to promote children’s resilience and mental health in vulnerable communities.
Ven. Gendun Losang is a Dutch buddhist monk, resident teacher of the Maitreya Institute, Amsterdam and visiting teacher of Jamyang Buddhist Centre Leeds, UK, Garuda, Monaco and One-Dharma, Portugal. Having been ordained in 2006, he studied Buddhist philosophy and psychology at the Nalanda Monastery France, after which he spent over four years in solitary retreat in both Tibetan Gelug and Theravada monasteries in France, Nepal, and Burma.
He is currently developing a platform for the long-term support of Western meditators, The Buddha Project, that combines traditional methods and contemporary theory, in collaboration with Nicolas Pellerin, a researcher from Toulouse University, aiming to investigate perceptional and semiotic evolution in long-term meditators. He is active in interreligious dialogue and practice, working together with Benedictine monastic communities and a Turkish Mevlevi Dargah.
Amy Cohen Varela is Chairperson of the Mind & Life Europe Board and involved with Mind and Life since its inception. She is also a clinical psychologist specialized in psychodynamic therapy and philosophy. Amy studied comparative literature at Brown and Columbia Universities before moving to Paris in the early '80s, where she received her degree in clinical psychology at the University of Paris 7, with a specialty in psychodynamic theory and practice, and in parallel, completed psychoanalytic training.
Dr. Joanna Cook is a Reader in Medical Anthropology and former Head of Medical Anthropology at UCL. Her research in Thailand and the UK focuses on meditation practice and why it matters to people. She is the author of Meditation in Modern Buddhism: Renunciation and change in Thai monastic life (Cambridge University Press, 2010) and Making a Mindful Nation: Mental health, metacognition and governance in the 21st century (Princeton University Press, Forthcoming). She is also the co-editor of Unsettling Anthropologies of Care (Anthropology & Humanism Special Issue, 2020), The State We’re In: Reflecting on democracy’s troubles (Berghan Books, 2016), Detachment: Essays on the limits of relational thinking (Manchester University Press, 2015) and Southeast Asian Perspectives on Power (Routledge, 2012).
Johanna Magin is MLE's Community and Programs Manager. Originally American and based in Paris, Johanna holds a PhD in French literature from Columbia University (New York) and a BA in French from the University of Chicago. Her research has focused on the medico-philosophical practices of several early-modern French authors in an attempt to understand the relationship between mind and body, and more broadly between science and spirituality, in that time period. Always keen to understand mind-body processes from an experiential perspective, she has also practiced Buddhism intensively since 2008 (Zen and Dzogchen), practiced improvisational dance and theatre since 2009, and is currently training to become a Rosen Method bodywork therapist. Before joining MLE, she worked as an academic program manager and adjunct faculty member at Sciences Po in France, where she taught on a wide number of subjects, from philosophy as a way of life to the politics of poetry.
Brother Pháp Linh (Brother Spirit) is a Zen Buddhist monk, musician, and seeker. He began his monastic training with Thích Nhất Hạnh in Plum Village in February 2008 and has since composed many of the community’s most beloved chants. Before ordaining he studied mathematics at Cambridge and worked professionally as a composer. A co-founder of the Wake Up Movement for young people—active in 28 countries with over 2,000 members—today Brother Pháp Linh is actively engaged in teaching applied mindfulness to climate activists, business leaders, artists, and scientists. As a leading voice in the new generation of Buddhist monastics in the West, he is passionate about exploring how meditators and scientists can help each other to go further on the path of understanding and discovery. Brother Pháp Linh's work is animated by the conviction that a modern form of monasticism will play a crucial role in bringing about a more compassionate society and a much-needed collective awakening to our interbeing with all life.
Erick, a Luxembourger, has a 34-year experience in private equity and corporate governance; he is a co-founder and partner of Impact Expansion, a social and environmental fund. Erick's core skills include initiating change at board level, negotiation, advising management teams on value creation and leadership. He sits on the board of private companies and trusts in Luxembourg, London, Paris and Geneva. Erick has had a daily mindfulness practice for 18 years and is regularly in silent retreat. He is an Executive-in-Residence at IMD in Lausanne, teaching mind training to corporate leaders and teaches at the University of Strasbourg In France in the Medicine, Meditation and Neurosciences master degree program. Erick currently gives 100% of his coaching and mind training fees to Karuna-Shechen and Global Nomads for projets in the Himalayas. He received his MBA from Columbia Business School in New York (Award for Excellence) and is an executive coach and a mindfulness teacher (trainer at Bangor University, UK). He has also been studying Buddhist psychology and philosophy for 18 years.