In 1992, Center Founder Richard Davidson, one of the world’s leading neuroscientists, met the Dalai Lama who encouraged him to apply the same rigorous methods he used to study depression and anxiety to the study of compassion and kindness.
Davidson, who was named one of Time Magazine’s "100 Most Influential People" in 2006, did just that, and the results of his studies at the Center for Healthy Minds are portrayed in the fascinating new documentary, Free the Mind.
The Madison premiere of coincides with the 2013 edition of “Change Your Mind Change the World,” which will be headlined by a visit by the Dalai Lama (on May 15, 2013) and a series of panel discussions with thought leaders from a variety of fields, including neuroscience, economics and sustainability, moderated by Arianna Huffington and Daniel Goleman. Davidson is also one of the panelists confirmed to attend the event.
The film, which premiered at the prestigious International Documentary Film Festival of Amsterdam, poses two fundamental questions: What really is consciousness and how does it manifest in the brain and body? And is it possible to physically change the brain solely through mental practices?
By studying Buddhist monks and other long-term meditators, Davidson found that it is actually possible to rewire the brain through meditation and other mental skills training techniques, and he has dedicated himself to applying this discovery to improve the lives of people throughout the world.
The facts are stark. More American soldiers have committed suicide after returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan than were killed in the combat itself. A recent report from the Department of Veterans Affairs put this figure at 22 soldiers and veterans committing suicide every day. Many suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Likewise, the number of American children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and treated with pharmaceuticals such as Ritalin has skyrocketed in recent years.
Davidson’s recent work involves young children in school settings and American war veterans as part of a scientific exploration of whether mindfulness-based techniques, such as meditation and yoga, can ease their pain, relax their nervous systems, improve their attention and help them become happier and more peaceful.
In her own very personal quest to understand the inner workings of the mind and brain, Danish film director Phie Ambo spent a year at CHM in Madison, WI with Davidson as he conducted some unusual experiments. The surprising results can be found in Free the Mind.
Phie Ambo is an award-winning director and cinematographer, whose work explores the imaginary, yet immutable boundary between emotion and science. Her first film, Family, a collaboration with Sami Saif, won the prestigious Joris Ivens Award at the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam (IDFA) in 2001. This was followed by Gambler, an intimate profile of fellow Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive). Free the Mind is the second installment in a planned trilogy exploring fundamental human questions. The first was Mechanical Love (2007) in which robots resemble human beings so closely that loving them becomes an inevitable response.
Sigrid Dyekjaer is one of the most accomplished and prolific producers working in Denmark today. With 20 films to her credit since 2002, many of them winning awards in festivals worldwide, Dyekjær is inarguably linked to the rising international profile of Danish films in recent years. Dyekjær is also the co-founder, with four Danish women directors, of the company Danish Documentary, through which she also produces the films of Pernille Rose Grønkjær (The Monastery-2006) and Eva Mulvad (The Good Life-2011).
Led by world-renowned neuroscientist Richard Davidson, the Center for Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison, conducts rigorous scientific research on healthy qualities of mind such as kindness, compassion, forgiveness and mindfulness.
The Center’s interdisciplinary team of scientists is exploring a wide range of ideas from the impact of a Kindness Curriculum in schools to the effectiveness of yoga and breathing exercises in reducing the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in military veterans. Through hard-nosed scientific research, the Center is moving closer to understanding how healthy qualities of mind can be cultivated through mental skills training to improve our daily lives and foster positive change on a global scale.