Altered traits
Heartfulness eMagazine|August 2021
DR. RICHARD DAVIDSON is a prolific and well-known neuroscientist, speaker, meditator and author. In March 2021, Richie was interviewed by THANGAM VENKATESAN, professor of medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin and ANAGHA MATAPURKAR, Ph.D. MBA, about his life’s journey and latest initiatives to bring well-being to humanity.
By Thangam Venkatesan

AM: Hi Richie, it’s wonderful to meet you. I have been very inspired and fascinated by your journey as a meditator and author, and the astounding body of work that you have as a researcher.

Thank you.

TV: I completely echo Anagha’ssentiments, and your book altered Traits is the first book I have read twice! It is really amazing. So, Richie, can you share some key aspects of your journey? Something that I find particularly interesting is your interaction with the Dalai Lama. How did you first meet him? Can you describe that inflection point for you as a person, a meditator and a researcher?

Thank you for asking. I first met His Holiness in 1992 in India and he learned about my interest in meditation, and also that I was a neuroscientist. He was really interested in encouraging serious neuroscientific research on meditation, which at that time really didn’t exist. I met him at his residence in Dharamsala, and it was a pivotal meeting. Up until that point in my career, I had been doing a lot of research on the brain and emotions, and I was focusing mostly on the negative side of things. I studied the brain mechanisms underlying vulnerability to depression, anxiety and stress. His Holiness challenged me. He said, “Why can’t you use the same tools of neuroscience to study kindness and compassion?” I did not have a very good answer for him, and it was a turning point.

At that time I had been a meditation practitioner for decades. I went on my first meditation retreat in 1974 with Goenka when I was a graduate student. That was my first visit to India. Most of my professional colleagues at that time did not know of my interest in meditation, as I really kept it under the radar.

So when I met His Holiness in 1992, it was very clear to me that I needed to come out of the closet and be much more public about my own practice. It was a really pivotal time, yes.

TV: In the GastroenterologyDepartment they think I am a little cuckoo, as I am a meditator.They just kind of accept it.

Keep cuckoo, it’s good. It’s very healthy.

TV: Yes. So, talking about positive emotions, I know you are the founder of the Center for Healthy Minds. Can you tell us a little bit about its overall mission? What are the services it offers?

The Center for Healthy Minds was founded and inaugurated by the Dalai Lama in 2010, so we have been in existence for a little more than ten years. The mission of our center is to cultivate wellbeing and relieve suffering through a scientific understanding of the mind. And our vision is a kinder, wiser and more compassionate world. It is primarily an interdisciplinary research center, with faculty from many different departments. Currently, we have around 75 people working in the center in one capacity or another.

About four years ago, I founded an affiliated non-profit company called Healthy Minds Innovations, with a mission to take the insights from the science and turn them into tools that can be used to cultivate and measure well-being. So, the non-profit is much more externally focused, and it is really to get the insights out into the world in one way or another. The non-profit is located in the same university building as the Center for Healthy Minds, Madison, Wisconsin. We have an agreement with the university, and there are about 20 people working for the non-profit.

TV: I did review your website and there are some nice tools that people can use.

Yes, and we have an App that is freely available throughout the world, and it is based on our framework for cultivating wellbeing.

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