Barry Boyce is senior editor of the Shambhala Sun, writes the Mindful Society column in the magazine, and is editor of the forthcoming anthology In the Face of Fear: Buddhist Wisdom for Difficult Times, a Shambhala Sun Book from Shambhala Publications. He is also co-author of The Rules of Victory: How to Transform Chaos and Conflict—Strategies from the Art of War.

Barry Boyce’s “The Mindful Society Pages”: Being Together

By Barry Boyce
Senior Editor of the Shambhala Sun

When I visited Berkeley last month, one of the most stimulating conversations I had was with Dacher Keltner, founder and faculty director of The Greater Good, and a protégé of psychologist Paul Ekman. The Greater Good is a science center that clues people into how far evolutionary understanding has come from the simplistic notion of unbridled competition for survival as the summum bonum of human life. We’ve figured it out, and it’s simple: we need to get along to survive.

When I met Keltner, he seemed to have the easy manner and look of a surfer dude. (We didn’t get around to talking about whether he surfs or not, so I can’t confirm whether his sangfroid has anything to do with surfing.) I’ve been reading his new book Born to be Good and have been finding it both an enjoyable and eye-opening read. I’ll be doing a story for the Shambhala Sun later this year on compassion research and education and the book has been providing invaluable background.


Keltner makes it clear — based on scientific research (the currency and religion of modern times) — that we don’t always act in the pure pursuit of self-interest, and we don’t necessarily place material gain as a primary motivator in our lives. Yet, he pointed out to me, nearly all of the economists working in government, business, and academia — and quoted in the media — operate under the assumption that we do. The Greater Good, and the science it promotes, Keltner feels, will one day turn that assumption on its head. It will let people know that evolutionary studies have themselves evolved a great deal beyond the few commonplaces about survival of the fittest that we learned in our intro to bio course. That would be good.

A big focus for the Greater Good is on how to change the environment of our classrooms. (The center’s director, Christine Carter, specializes in education.) It makes me wonder about these spelling bees that are so popular on TV and in the movies these days. We get to watch the drama of children pitted against each other in a struggle to spell “Laodicean.” (You can look it up here). Now, I’m for excellence as much as the next person, but how about something that shows children working together for a common cause. I don’t know about you, but being thrown together and pitted against my classmates for so so many years helped to make school no fun at all.

Do you have any stories, life experiences, or observations about the damning effects of unbridled competition? Or the beneficial effects of cooperation? Or a lovely blending of the two?

Barry Boyce’s Mindful Society Pages — “Improvi-satori”

barryboyceBy Barry Boyce
Senior Editor of the Shambhala Sun

Welcome to The Mindful Society Pages, the online counterpart to my new column in the Shambhhala Sun, “The Mindful Society.” It’s a chance to talk about interesting people who are doing groundbreaking work in bringing mindfulness and other contemplative disciplines into all areas of society.

A prime example of the sort of person I’ll feature in the Pages is Nancy Bardacke, a midwife who developed Mindfulness-Based Birthing and Parenting, which married her experience of being a midwife with the training she later received in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction from Jon Kabat-Zinn and others. We talked together for about an nancy-bhour the other day, and it became clear that Nancy is a lively and lovely talker who would clearly be great to have around if you’re planning to engage in the birth process. (I’ll be featuring her work in The Mindful Society column in the August/September issue of the Shambhala Sun.)

Nancy understands birth, not just physiologically and psychologically, but also from the point of view of what a vital moment it is in the lives of a network of human beings. The parents, the extended family, the community, the child.  The time leading up to the birth, the birth itself, and the aftermath — parenthood! — are life-changing. So often, sadly, the whole process is inordinately painful, and very bad results can ensue.

Parents don’t necessarily allow this primal process to bring their attention to what’s truly important in life. It’s easy to see it as something to get through, and perhaps mindfulness will help you get through it better. But what Nancy and the people she is training to do this kind of work offer, and what parents discover, is an opportunity to be transformed by getting intimately in touch with what’s going on in the bodies and minds of all concerned. It’s a ensemble. Not a solo performance.

That’s what The Mindful Society is about. Continued »