Richie Davidson Will Save the World (with Mindfulness)

Yesterday, I took my Psychology of Mindfulness class - 24 undergraduates, mostly seniors, mostly white, mostly women - to the Center for Healthy Minds.

And then Richie Davidson (renowned neuroscientist, well-being advocate, and super-generous guy) came in and blew everyone's minds and hearts wide open.

But first we all gathered in the lobby and walked back to the meditation room, which is tucked into the quiet northwest corner of the building, away from the bustle of the open office space, the ergonomically appropriate standing desks, the scientists huddled around laptops discussing MRI scans. 

Each of us claimed a burgundy meditation cushion (zafu) and an equally burgundy meditation mat (zabuton). We organized them in a rectangular sort of circle in the room. I began talking a bit about the Center for Healthy Minds - its history, its impact.

Then Richie arrived, right on time, wearing his customary cotton slacks, Oxford shirt, and wool blazer. He sat down. He said a few words about his own journey with meditation, which began in 1972. He talked a bit about meeting His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 1992 and how this refocused his purpose and resolve. He outlined the current vision of CHM, which includes an activist arm that aims to touch lives across the world, bringing meditation to corporations, schools, hospitals - and just about everywhere else.

My students were already at the edge of their cushions. 

This semester we have read half a dozen of Richie's papers. Literally every article we discussed in class cites his work. I had also sent out links to the issue of Time that named Richie one of the top 100 most influential people in the world. 

But it wasn't just that. Richie is a master speaker. He sits with an alert ease, speaks quietly and slowly, and chooses his words. I have heard Richie speak many times, but I still found myself leaning in, listening for what he might say next.

The real magic, though, happened when Richie opened the room to questions. 

One student mentioned the lovingkindness practices we've been doing together. She said, "I just can't figure out why I deserve to be happy."

Richie took that in. "It's a good question," he said. "I have come to believe - both as a scientist and as a meditator - that we, all of us, possess a basic goodness. We come into this world with a preference for cooperation rather than conflict. We come in ready to help. The practices that we're offering, in my view, are just about getting in touch with this basic goodness. So it's not about whether you deserve to be happy, necessarily, it's just about finding that goodness that is yours already and then extending that outward to others."

Richie also talked about beginning every activity with an altruistic intention. He talked about how, when he gets on his bike to exercise, he thinks, "May caring for this body allow me to better benefit others."

He talked about the first time he meditated - on his living room floor, with Jon Kabat-Zinn, in 1972.

He talked about the need to empirically verify what the proper "dosage" of daily meditation might be. Is it really 45 minutes, as MBSR recommends? Or is it five? Or is it somewhere in between?

Each time Richie spoke, I felt the room - I felt myself - grow more inspired, more committed to this vision of using mindfulness and meditation to cultivate our own good hearts, of spreading that goodness ever outward.

Finally, a student asked what Richie's end game is. "How will you know when you've accomplished your goal?" 

Richie paused. "Well," he said, "I don't think we'll accomplish everything in my lifetime.  But," he said with total conviction, "our goal is to change the world."

I watched jaws drop. I watched minds blow. I watched hearts open.

In that moment, at least, it all seemed not only possible. It felt inevitable.

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For more information about Richie's vision, please click here.

For information about upcoming mindfulness workshops with Devon & me, please click here.

Craig Hase