It’s not every day that you get invited to speak with the Dalai Lama in front of an audience of about 1,000 eager students, scholars, and the public. But for Northeastern Psychology Professor Rebecca Shansky, that day is coming on August 17th.
Hosted by the Mind and Life Institute and held at Botho University in Gaborone, Botswana, A Dialogue with the Dalai Lama brings together a collection of neuroscientists, activists, and scholars to share their unique perspectives on a common goal. The 14th Dalai Lama founded this organization 30 years ago in recognition of the fact that Buddhists and neuroscientists, while leading very different lives, both want to understand the way the mind works in order to relieve human suffering. This year, the theme of the dialogue revolves around an indigenous African philosophy called ‘Ubuntu’, which means “I am because you are.”
“We’re all in this together and you can’t exist without other people. The idea is that if you adhere to this principle, then you should be compassionate and empathic,” Shansky said in regards to this belief. In Africa however, there are issues of oppression, violence, and marginalization that disrupt the idea of Ubuntu. By bringing together the distinct combinations of scholars to speak with the Dalai Lama, the hope is that everyone will be able to use their background to discuss and bring new ideas to these issues.
Shansky’s neuroanatomy and behavior lab studies sex differences between how the brain processes and adapts from stressful events. Many mental illnesses, like depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, are more common in women than men, so Shansky is looking for the neurobiological factors behind that. Using rats as their animal model, her lab observes behavioral and neuroanatomical changes, and the circuits in place recruited to respond to stress. They also look at what makes an animal more resilient or vulnerable to the impact of stressors, tracking the markers of those characteristics.
At the conference, Shansky will be speaking with the Dalai Lama about how biomedical neuroscience can help us understand and address the problems around empathy and communication in African communities. She will share her findings on structural plasticity of the brain in response to stress or trauma, as well as the sex differences amidst this. As one of ten presenters in this three-day event, Shansky will have the opportunity to share her research and connect it to the work of the nine other scholars sharing the stage with her, including women’s and children’s rights activist Graça Machel, and Ponatshego H.K. Kedikilwe, the Vice President of the Republic of Botswana.
“I am so looking forward to meeting the Dalai Lama! He seems very intellectually engaged, and he has a bit of a sense of humor. I just feel so honored and excited to be able to talk with him and share what I do,” Shansky said.
This event will be livestreamed from Botho University on August 17-19. Follow it here.