Clifford D. Saron, PhD
UC Davis Center for Mind
“Quiescence and Healing: Scientific Studies of Meditation Toward Compassionate Engagement with Suffering”
For many people, the challenges of this past year have laid bare not only the structural inequities of our society, but also the very real limits of our capacity to bear the depths of human suffering. As a medical community of healers, you collectively embody an inspiring commitment to human well-being and flourishing. Training in how to engage with suffering without becoming overwhelmed or insensate that draws upon contemplative traditions may be useful in this context. In this talk, I will highlight the ways in which our research on the effects of intensive meditation in retreat contexts points toward the growth of compassionate responses to suffering. Through the use of a heuristic phenomenological model of mental processes impacted by mindfulness training, I will describe findings in the domains of attentional performance, emotional and physiological responses to suffering, and stress-related biomarkers of cellular aging that suggest the growth of this compassionate capacity in these training contexts. I will also briefly describe two ongoing studies using at-home measures that investigate:
how individuals are using meditation to cope with the stresses of the twin pandemics of Covid-19 and racialized violence in society and how this relates to immune cell telomere attrition across this year
how online training in compassion cultivation vs. mindfulness impact visual attention and physiological responses to suffering
The importance of scientific cultural humility and commitments to diversity and inclusivity in research practice will be emphasized.