When I was planning Ride Of Your Life, a friend told me about the Scientific Explorations conference, taking place around the same time I am in the bay area. The timing and location were ideal: I would be towards the end of my journey, already absorbed with my own insights, attending a meeting of the minds with the Dalai Lama and leading scientists researching inner peace. Arriving to Stanford University yesterday I was full with hopes and expectations to learn something new, and after 45 minutes of circling to find parking and passing through a couple of layers of security I was finally in Memorial Hall, waiting for the conference to start.
The opening panel included Dr. Phil Zimbardo, who I met with a couple of days ago in San Francisco, so I had a general idea of the spirit of the event. However, I was in for a few surprises. First of all, I was astonished by the maturity, depth, and breadth of the research work that is being done in organizations like Stanford’s CCARE. Senior researchers, many of which come from “hardcore” disciplines like neuro-surgery and quantum physics are engaged in empirical, well-controlled studies of compassion, and it benefits. Secondly, the convergence of spiritual disciplines like Buddhism and modern-day science, which I had thought of as an early stage trend, is already mature and advanced in these circles. This is particularly interesting since until recently science has been perceived to be mutually exclusive of religion and spirituality (the John Templeton Foundation is another great supporter of scientific studies of religious values and practices).
What I found to be the most interesting by far, was the values that united all of the participants of this conference. Dr James Doty, the founder and executive of CCARE, stated on several occasions during the day his view that the future survival of the human species will depend on our ability to be compassionate towards our fellow men and women. Even if you find this statement to be somewhat overly dramatic, there’s no doubt that these highly capable folks at Stanford are immersing themselves in this research as a calling rather than a “job”. In a world shaken by the harsh turmoil of terrorism, financial crises, and rising regional conflicts during the past decade, it is admirable to see a scientific community in heart of the Silicon Valley taking a break from business and technology and getting back to the root values and mandate of science: harnessing knowledge to make the world a better place. The focus on compassion, Inner Strength, and ultimately Inner Peace as a goal of research is definitely a worthy one and an interesting one to follow.