Global Social Witnessing at the Mind and Life Institute Europe

“Kinship, Conflict and Compassion” was the topic of a summer research institute (ESRI) hosted by the Mind and Life Institute Europe on 20 – 26 August 2018 in the beautiful mountain scenery at lake Chiemsee in Bavaria, Southern Germany. Scientists, peace builders, facilitators, and educators engaged in a cross-disciplinary dialogue which focused on the roots of human inter-group conflict, social connectivity and the ways that we can transcend conflict and enhance healthy connections through various approaches, including contemplative training.

The Mind and Life Institute was founded by the Dalai Lama and Chilean biologist Francisco Varela to foster the dialogue between science and contemplative tradition. Thus, Mind and Life has paved an evolutionary pathway on which today the Academy of Inner Science Graduate Program is also contributing to. In that respect, AIS Graduate student Lukas Herrmann presented the concept of Global Social Witnessing through a poster which was received with a lot of interest and appreciation from many sides. In a personal conversation with Lukas, the Dalai Lama’s former consultant on international law in the negotiations with China, highlighted the timely significance of fostering practices of Global Social Witnessing for leaders in our age. After the third day of the conference, which was dedicated to silent meditation practice, day 4 took off with powerful presentations on racism, conflict, and forgiveness.

Panel discussion with Masi Noor, Bryce Huebner, Sabina Clancy-Cehajic on conflict, injustice and forgiveness
Panel discussion with Masi Noor, Bryce Huebner, Sabina Clancy-Cehajic on conflict, injustice and forgiveness

The presentations were followed by a panel discussion between the presenters – Masi Noor, social psychologist at Keele University, UK, who came to Germany as a refugee from Afghanistan and focuses his research on forgiveness, with Sabina Čehajić‐Clancy, who is an Associate Professor and Dean of the Political Science and International Relations Department at the Sarajevo School of Science and Technology, Bosnia and Herzegovina, together with Bryce Huebner, philosopher at Georgetown University who focuses his research on racism. They discussed questions of our current human experience, e.g. how to work with power asymmetries in one’s communities and pointed to the necessity of valuing our collective traumatic affects, feelings of injustice, as potential driving forces for conflict and its transcendence, and of contemplating not only our minds within a spiritual bubble, but also changing the deeper hidden structures that sustain current injustice, racism, and inequality. “I think we are in danger of psychologizing too much and thereby neglecting the material dimension. It’s all good to philosophize, psychologize, theologize …, but if it takes you hours to get your sick child seen, or if you are that statistic that makes you more likely to be shot dead as you go about your business in the US or elsewhere, than you really need to take those material dimensions seriously,” Noor put forward. He explicated his perspective further responding to a question asked by a German in the audience who honestly spoke his mind and expressed tiredness of being held responsible for the Holocaust having contributed nothing to it. Noor’s response embodied a gesture of global social witnessing. It began with his question “What we need to bear in mind: Are we still benefitting from that industry that was built on the Holocaust? Are there other privileges that we have access to as a result of our ancestors colonizing and oppressing other groups?” and was received with applause from the audience.

On the last day Heather Grabbe, who has worked on the Balkans and Turkey as political advisor to a European Commissioner and now is an advocate for democracy, justice, rights and the open society, spoke about current day threats to democracy in Europe, bringing back to our awareness the urgency of responsibly co-creating healthy societies.

This summer research institute proofed how the Pocket Project and it’s work on multiple levels is right at the heart of contributing to the world’s current situation and enable the changes that we wish to see and witness in ourselves, our communities and our cultures.