Francisco Varela Series 

Francisco VarelaThe Francisco Varela Series celebrates the unique contributions of Dr. Varela, his close association with Naropa’s founder, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and the ongoing impact of his work on current research on consciousness and mind-body awareness practices. These public lectures, dialogues and workshops explore the intersection of scientific research and contemplative practices, with a view towards expanding the beneficial impact that contemplative practices may have on individuals, communities, and society at large.  The Series brings leading researchers and contemplative practitioners to Naropa to share their most current work and research.

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 Lecture Series Events


NOVEMBER 3, 2017

franciscoFriday evening public talk:

The Craving Mind: From smartphones to cigarettes to love – Why we get hooked and how to tap the inherent power of our minds


We are all vulnerable to craving. Whether it’s a compulsion to constantly check social media, binge eat, smoke, excessively drink, or any other behavior, we may find ourselves uncontrollably repeating. Why are bad habits so hard to overcome? Can we learn how our minds work, and even tap into this very process to find a key to conquer the cravings we know are unhealthy for us and open our natural capacities for awareness and kindness?

Judson Brewer, MD, PhD, a psychiatrist and neuroscientist brings together over 20 years of experience of meditation practice and teaching, clinical work and neuroscience research to develop novel treatments for behavior change. His in-person and app-based training are scientifically proven to help break bad habits, and fostering flourishing, including those for emotional and stress eating (Eat Right Nowâ) and smoking cessation (Craving to Quitâ).

In this experiential seminar, Dr. Brewer will describe how we can tap into the actual processes that encourage habitual behaviors in order to step out of them. In very accessible ways, he will describe the mechanisms of habit and addiction formation, and then teach participants ways to help them experience and learn how the practice of mindfulness can interrupt these habits in their own lives. He will also show participants how to build their own capacities of awareness, kindness, and curiosity.

This program may be especially helpful for clinicians and therapists who are looking to deepen their understanding of the behavioral and brain mechanisms underlying addictive behaviors, as well as individuals who might be looking to break habits such as emotional eating, anxiety and others. Weaving together patient stories, his own experience with mindfulness practice, and the latest scientific findings from his own lab and others, this seminar offers a path for moving beyond our cravings, reducing stress and anxiety, increasing self-compassion, and living a fuller life.

Suggested reading: The Craving Mind: From Cigarettes to Smartphones to Love – Why We Get Hooked and How We Can Break Bad Habits, by Judson Brewer (Yale University Press).

$20; Naropa faculty/staff $10; Naropa students $5


Nalanda Events Center, Naropa University, 6287 Arapahoe Avenue

Naropa University welcomes participants with disabilities. Persons with questions about accessibility or who require disability accommodations should contact Charlotte Rotterdam at least 2 weeks prior to the event.

Judson Brewer, MD, PhD, is an internationally known thought leader in the field of habit change and the “science of self-mastery”, having combined over 20 years of experience with mindfulness training with his scientific research therein. He is the Director of Research at the Center for Mindfulness and associate professor in medicine and psychiatry at UMass Medical School. Dr. Brewer has developed novel mindfulness programs for habit change, including smoking, stress eating, and anxiety (e.g., and has studied their underlying brain mechanisms. His work has been featured on 60 minutes, at (top 10 talks of 2016), in Time magazine, Forbes, NPR and the BBC among others. He is the author of The Craving Mind: from cigarettes to smartphones to love, why we get hooked and how we can break bad habits (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017).



Tuesday, December 9, 2015 


Macky Auditorium, 285 University Ave, Boulder, CO 

Scientific ​evidence ​suggests ​that ​we ​can ​change ​our ​brains ​by ​cultivating ​habits ​of ​mind ​that ​will ​improve ​well-being, ​including ​happiness, ​resilience, ​compassion ​and ​emotional ​balance. ​ ​Each ​of ​these ​characteristics ​can ​be ​shaped ​and ​modified ​within ​our ​brain ​by ​experience ​and ​training, ​as ​shown ​by ​the ​ground-breaking ​research ​at ​the ​Center ​for ​Investigating ​Healthy ​Minds ​at ​the ​Waisman ​Center, ​UW-Madison. ​ ​In this talk, ​Dr. ​Richard ​Davidson ​will ​share ​how ​using ​mental ​training ​to ​cultivate ​well-being ​can ​have ​a ​positive ​impact ​on ​happiness, ​creativity ​and ​productivity ​in ​the ​work ​place ​and ​at ​home.

Dr. Davidson's presentation will be followed by comments from panelists Tor Wager, PhD, Sona Dimidjian, PhD, and Naropa's Peter Grossenbacher, PhD. There will also be an opportunity for questions from the audience.

Richard J. Davidson, PhD, is a renowned neuroscientist and one of the world’s leading experts on the impact of contemplative practices, such as meditation, on the brain. He is the James and Vilas Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry, Director of the Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior, and the Founder of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center, University of Wisconsin - Madison. Author of numerous publications, including The Emotional Life of Your Brain, he is the subject of the documentary Free the Mind. Learn more about Dr. Davidson's work.

This ​event ​is ​FREE; ​however, ​pre-registration ​is ​required:

Co-sponsored by:

  • Department ​of ​Psychology ​and ​Neuroscience, ​University ​of ​Colorado ​Boulder
  • ​College ​of ​Arts ​and ​Sciences, ​University ​of ​Colorado ​Boulder
  • ​Office ​of ​the ​Senior ​Assistant ​Vice ​Chancellor ​for ​Health ​and ​Wellness, University ​of ​Colorado ​Boulder
  • ​CU ​Boulder ​Outreach ​Award ​to ​Dr. ​Sona Dimidjian ​from ​the ​Division ​of ​Outreach ​and ​Engagement, ​University ​of ​Colorado ​Boulder ​


"Mindfulness & Neuroscience: Befriending the Mind" with Amishi Jha, PhD

Friday, February 21, 2014

In this inaugural Francisco Varela Lecture series talk, respected brain researcher Amishi Jha presents findings from cutting-edge neuroscience on the profound and positive effects of mindfulness practices on the brain, psychological health, wellness, and resilience.

Amishi Jha, PhD, associate professor of psychology at the University of Miami, is an award-winning and widely published researcher and director of contemplative neuroscience for the Mindfulness Research and Practice Initiative.



View an excerpt of Amishi Jha's lecture:

View the full lecture:

About the Series


The Varela Lecture Series is named for an early Naropa University faculty member, Chilean philosopher of science Francisco Varela (1946-2001), who spearheaded dialogues between Buddhism and cognitive science in a series of foundational Naropa summer sessions.  Varela was originally a dharma student of Naropa’s Founder, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, who stimulated much of his intellectual creativity. 

Francisco Varela is best known for later scientific dialogues with Buddhism that led to the founding of Mind and Life Institute (MLI).   Through diverse university research projects, Mind and Life seeks to understand the human mind and the benefits of contemplative practices for the purpose of promoting human happiness and relieving suffering.  This lecture series celebrates Naropa University’s role in pioneering these landmark dialogues.

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation funded arguably the first such conversations in a 1979 Naropa summer session conference entitled, “Contrasting Perspectives on Cognition:  Buddhism and the Cognitive Sciences.”  This conference gathered renowned scholars and scientists from various universities with Buddhist teachers and scholars from diverse schools and traditions.  The scientists included Varela, Eleanor Rosch, Jeremy Hayward, Newcomb Greenleaf, Joe Goguen, Charlotte Linde, and Humberto Maturana. Naropa’s Summer Science Programs continued for several more years.  These early Naropa University dialogues tackled the challenges of developing a common language, and laid the foundations for later work.  Many of these scientists inaugurated the landmark dialogues with the Dalai Lama in 1985, resulting in the first MLI book on science and Buddhism entitled Gentle Bridges (Shambhala 2001).

While the dialogues between science and Buddhism have blossomed in entirely new and historically fruitful directions, Naropa University would like to honor its role in the challenging beginnings of this important movement by dedicating a lecture series to Professor Varela and his pioneering colleagues.

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