Power and Care Conference: Latest from the Dalai Lama and scientists

Power and Care Conference: Latest from the Dalai Lama and scientists

By Shamash Alidina


I’m currently in Brussels attending a conference called ‘Power and Care’. It’s a conference organised by the Mind and Life Institute, set up about 30 years ago co-founded by the Dalai Lama, Francisco Varela and others.

The Power and Care conference was the idea of Dr. Tanya Singer I believe. She’s observed that there seems to be two opposing forces in society. They reflect two different networks in the brain too, and she and others feel if we can somehow foster more research on how they can work more harmoniously, we can have a more harmonious time here on earth too.

What I discovered

Today (9th Sept 2016), I have enjoyed listening to the panel discussions, and also attended a fascinating workshop too.

Here’s a few things I discovered:

Different types of meditation impact the brain differently

Dr. Tanya Singer is a leading researcher on meditation and the brain. She’s been running a research study for several years called the ReSource Project. She continues to have lots of fascinating findings. The latest points she made were:

  • The brain is reshaped in different ways depending on if your meditation is based on mindfulness, compassion or perspective taking.
  • Mindfulness alone (attention training) doesn’t seem to increase levels of compassion (I’ve been emphasising the importance of kindfulness as some of you know)
  • Perspective taking (training in learning how to see things from other people’s perspective) seems to have a unique, positive impact too, that mindfulness and compassion practises don’t affect.
  • Her initial findings suggest that the best order to do meditation is first the mindful and perspective taking approach, and then the compassion meditations. The Dalai Lama seemed to agree that this is an approach from his contemplative practice.
  • She’s found people who do the loving kindness and compassion meditations become the most altruist. And this is an amazing finding - we can make people go from egoistic to altruistic in a matter of weeks!

Power is not all bad and care isn’t all good

Several of the speakers mentioned that these are not necessarily opposites.

What’s important is to be able to use positions of power to look after others. Perhaps this is where the value of Tanya Singer’s research comes in.

Bringing mindfulness and compassion exercises into the educational system seems key.

It’s not all about chemicals

One of the scientists (Prof. Dr Markus Heinrichs) seemed to be an expert on the hormones in the body and the way they create a sense of care and compassion.

Although he started off by stating that the feeling of care is purely chemicals in the bloodstream, he later stated that just ‘squirting oxytocin into someone’s nose when they’re in the kitchen won’t suddenly make them kind and altruistic. It’ll just give them an itchy nose!’.

He went on to explain how studies on oxytocin using nasal sprays are cleverly designed within social situations.

The planetary weather has been in a ‘golden age’

One of my favourite and most moving talks was by Prof. Johan Rockström.

He gave a very clear explanation of why humanity has thrived so well in the last 10,000 years - it’s because we have been in a golden age, temperature-wise.

This image shows that well.


But then when he showed us the graphs of the statistics about what we’ve done to the planet in the last 100 years or so, it’s so shocking…

Perhaps you get a sense of it here:


He concluded by saying that we need prioritise environmental sustainability before social and economic changes if humanity is to survive.

Alpha males can be the most compassionate

Other scientists (Prof. em. Sarah Blaffer Hrdy and Prof. Frans B. M. de Waal) shared research on primates.

I was pleased to hear that alpha male primates can be kind (they call it consolation in science, when the primate give a hug to another distressed primate).

The most exciting point she made was that some alpha males are kinder than others. The kind ones are constantly breaking up fights with the rest of the group, to ensure there’s a sense of harmony within. And these tend to be the more ‘successful’ alpha males as the group like them for that.

Awareness-based Social Technologies

In the afternoon, I was pleased to attend a workshop by Martin Kalungu-Banda. He’s likely to be speaking at Happier World Conference in November for us too.

He shared with us some ideas from Theory U, and also shared a beautiful story of how he ended up working for the President of Zambia, the country where he’s currently from.

You can see some interesting slides through Presencing Institute here

I'm currently engaged in a free online course with Theory U and thousands of other people. You can join in too - it just started a few days ago and you can catch up!


The panel discussion seemed to think that there needs to be an overarching theme that brings together the ideas of power and care. And perhaps that’s compassion. A compassionate mind makes use of power with care to bring about a better world. It's a matter of us engaging compassionately with others, and having the courage to use our power for a happier world.