A truly unusual, extraordinary conference experience

I had the great honor of presenting at this year’s Ahimsa Conference at CalPoly Pomona. Presenters from a wide range of disciplines—design, ecology studies, social reform, philosophy, integrative clinical applications and early education—shared insights and expertise. While it is true that the title was Compassion, Caring and Mindfulness every presentation was replete with a depth of expertise and creativity I rarely witness at such gatherings. It was as if everyone decided to be radically honest and push the edge. For that, we all had the founder of the Ahimsa Center, Professor Tara Sethia to thank. Her courage and vision I believe inspired each of the presenters to be radical.

Here are some samplings from my experiences:
Alan B. Wallace started the conference with a brilliant presentation on conative intelligence and its capacity to discern between hedonistic and eudemonic happiness as a catalyst for achieving greater freedom of will to bring about individuals and societies with greater capacity for caring compassion and mindfulness.

Two of America’s greatest industrial designers, Jeff Smith and Gianfranco Zaccai, presented on sustainable, caring projects and design initiatives that focus on human centered design.

Mark Malisa, offered a moving presentation on ubuntu, a way of living rooted in an African worldview that teaches the value of caring for human beings as it is applied in the caring for orphans in South Africa.

Shamini Jain, PhD offered current, well-designed research studies on several Biofield therapies for lessening symptoms for war veterans and cancer patients. What a joy it was to hear a bold, intelligent advocate for expanding Western clinical research definitions of “empirical evidence” and the development of additional first-person effect measures.

I presented on harnessing the innate wisdom and compassion of awareness to catalyze deep inquiry into the nature of human suffering in veterans struggling to heal the wounds of moral injury. The difficulty of this topic led to some very beautiful, challenging questions. Afterwards many participants expressed their gratitude for my willingness to embody awakened presence and open their minds to the suffering of those who willingly or unwillingly cause harm.

Jenny Phillips, the Director of “The Dhamma Brothers” gave an inspiring talk about the prisoners featured in this deeply moving film about bringing a 10-day Goenka vipassanā meditation course into a prison in Alabama. If you haven’t seen it yet do it!

Day Two started with a moving talk by James Doty, neurosurgeon and Director of CCARE at Stanford University. While he of course talked about the great work being done a CCARE, he then shared some of his challenging personal history in an effort to show that humans have extraordinary experiences, which science cannot yet explain, but which happen nonetheless. It was brave.

This was followed by a fantastic panel of a new generation of mindfulness/compassion innovators. The presentations focused on delivering these skills in early and teen educational settings, on men compassionately parenting their sons, and on delivering mindfulness and compassion skills among populations struggling with the effects of war.

Then LMU professor Christopher Key Chapple gave a beautiful talk on the Brahmavihāras followed by an inspiring presentation by the eminent UC Berkeley scholar Padmanabh S. Jaini on Aharya Tulsi’s shifting of Jainist monastic principles. It was amazing to hear a scholar insist over and over again that suffering has been with humans since the beginningless beginning, but that its ending is possible because such suffering is not endless.

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