Category: The Science & Art of Change

On May 28th and 29th, 2019, faith leaders, scientists and scholars from the humanities gathered at the Loka Symposium. The topic was faith and action for a flourishing planet, and we explored how we might build relationships and make change together.


From left to right: Roshi Joan Halifax, Jan Vertifeuille, Nana Firman, Juanita Cabrera Lopez, Dekila Chungyalpa, Venerable Damcho Diana Finnnegan, Lori DiPrete Brown, Musonda Mumba

I was so grateful for this meeting. There were so many conversations and confluences there for me. It was convened by UW-Madison, where I have been working and teaching for over 15 years. It was held at the Holy Wisdom Monastery where I am an Oblate — one of the places in this world where I feel at home. And it brought together faith, science and the humanities, inviting me to revisit the ideas that led me to pursue joint degrees in public health and theology at Harvard in the late 1980s!

This photo captured a very special moment – women of many traditions gathered after our morning mediation overlooking the prairie. We had prayed together, women and men from different traditions, sharing sacred texts and reading nature herself — the earth, air, water, the trees we have known… Gender justice was not formally on the agenda in this meeting, but it was on our minds. Ae we began to disperse someone said in a hushed tone (not because it was secret, but because we had just come out of shared mediation action) “a picture of the women” and this photo come together. I’d like to think we formed ourselves into some sort of tree for a moment — intertwined limbs from so many places.  Sharing the desire to offer sustenance, shelter, beauty and shade to our world. Remembering the unbelievable depth of roots, how they can hold the soil and the earth itself together. Not a new beginning, we know too much for that …. but perhaps a new season where we build on the wisdoms of the world, and learn to live in harmony with life and the earth herself in new ways.


On Saturday, June 1st, 2019 the City of Madison dedicated that wonderful new work of public art at the intersection of State Street, Library Mall and East Campus Mall. This is a heavily used crossroads, and because of the logistics of installation and signage, many of us have been walking by these new structures during the several weeks between installation and formal dedication, when they were not yet titled.

So we have been looking at the blue granite rock and wondering “What is it? Is it supposed to look like it’s floating?” And the tall lacy steel – “What is it it pointing us toward? Do you think it looks like a waterfall?” And the yellow spot. “Is it an eye? The sun? A mind on fire?” And from those who are less experienced with the abstract, “Um, I’m not sure I get it. What’s it called, anyway?”

It’s called “BOTH/AND- TOLERANCE/INNOVATION,” and at the dedication I had the chance to meet the artists David Dahlquist and Matt Niebuhr. The space is designed to echo the confluences and crossings that have happened in this spot for over a century. People have gone back and forth — to the the library, the State Capitol, adjacent places of worship, the Memorial Union, the University Club, the Historical Society, and more recently, the Chazen Museum. Just imagine what the flow of people would look like from the sky!


To help you to “get it” and find your own meaning in the space, the plaque provides the followings guidance:

“Between knowing and believing, Both/And is an acceptance of seemingly disparate thoughts coming together — it is the presence of action and reaction to ways of understanding.”

One of the artists tells me that the rock and fluid steel beams mimic what happens when a stream is disrupted by stone, there is a bubbling up, and turbulence, but a new balance is restored again downstream. The other explained that the yellow color and lighting is indeed intended to recall the sun to us, with all the other meanings welcome, of course. In fact, the work was sited with the fall (September 23) and spring (March 20) equinoxes in mind — so that the sun can shine through the sculpture and create a special beam of light at those times.

We are encouraged to contemplate the rock, the steel, and perhaps especially the space in between them from all these perspectives. I did this on the morning after the sculpture was installed, classes had ended and it was quiet. Walking from Memorial Union, the steel and rock looked like they had always been there. The steel beams lined up and came alive — they could be UW graduates in caps and gowns, a choir singing outside the church, or a group of concerned members of our community, gathering in formation to march down State Street to the Capitol.


As I got closer the imagined people fell away and the more natural images came to the fore. The Steel elements seemed like a waterfall now, and the rock seemed to be in a pool of water.

Moving closer, after taking a few pictures, the massive structure becomes human again. I see a hand —  steel fingers and a blue granite opposable thumb reach toward the sky. In prayer? Offering friendship? Ready to make something new and good and true? Over the years I hope it will mean all of these things….

Perhaps, rather than different parts of one hand, the steel and stone can represent two very different people coming together. One is tall shiny and reaching, with flashes of color. The other is grounded and beautifully dark with glowing shades of red and blue. They are huddled toward each other and it seems like they are looking down. Perhaps they are two children on a playground marveling at a frog. It doesn’t have to be complicated…. Or perhaps they are two wise and different people trying together to understand the puzzles of history, to accept the gift of confluences, to create the future.


I hope this reflection helps readers to begin to answer the question “What is it?”

The other question is “What will it become?”

Of course that depends on us — the people of this city, this university and around the world – it depends on how we choose to pass through this space in the decades to come. Based on past crossings and confluences I am guessing that we will meet up at “the Rock” for a thousand different reasons. We will sit on the benches to read or rest. We will discuss the weather, current events, the stories of our lives. We will profess love to each other, and we will watch for beams of light, as has been done in different ways on this Ho Chunk land where Madison sits, for centuries. We’ll take selfies here, and inevitably BOTH/AND will become a site of interest on the college tour. Some new thing that we do not know will happen here. And BOTH/AND will become that new thing too.

What is it? What will it become?

You tell me.

….Or better yet, let’s meet at the Rock and and figure it out together with Both/And -Tolerance and Innovation. We’ll share belief and knowledge, history, and so many crossings. Beauty. Perspective. And we’ll make something new.


Lori DiPrete Brown

June 2, 2019


On  May 14th and 15th  the UW-Madison Global Health Institute and the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds engaged with the Dalai Lama and an interdisciplinary group of global thought leaders to explore the potential contributions of  mindfulness meditation to sustainable global health.

We hosted two incredible panel presentations at Madison’s Overture Center and both sold out –  for those who could not be there or follow the live webcast, you can view recordings and transcripts of both programs at Change your Mind Panels.

All the presentations spoke to me in different ways.  Here are some highlights:

Chade MinTang, Google’s leadership coach and “jolly good fellow,”  told me that devoting 10 seconds every hour to compassionate intentions would change my life. I am definitely going to try this!

Richie Davidson, famed UW researcher, presented his research which convinced me that 30 minutes of daily mindfulness practice could help me to reduce stress, reshape my mind, and make me more compassionate.

Richard Layard, the economist co-author of the  UN Happiness Report, counselled me not to measure my happiness by how much money I make – We need to find a more sensitive instrument than gross domestic product, and he thinks a meaningful happiness index is possible.

Don Berwick, pediatrician and healthcare quality expert, shared some unsettling truths about health care –despite the medical miracles that can cure cancer, the system is not operating efficiently or equitably, and the high costs are keeping us from making other important social investments.

Dan Goleman, author of the best-selling book Emotional Intelligence, focused on, well, focus.  If you are not present to the moment, it will be hard to be compassionate and act on what you believe.

Ilona Kickbush, global health policy expert, shared a holistic view of health and well-being, and urged us to work toward health through all sectors of society.  Her leadership on the panel was wonderful, but she correctly pointed out that one woman’s voice is not enough in discussions like this, and she reminded us that we will all need to have the courage to speak truth to power if compassion is to be the dominant ethos in our world.

Jonathan Patz,  UW climate change expert and Global Health Institute Director, illustrated the importance of holistic approaches to sustainable global health, with an example from Borneo, where a well-intentioned plan to prevent malaria by killing mosquitoes rippled through the chain of life in a village and caused all the roofs to cave in.  It would have been a wonderful fable if it were not a true story!

Mattieu Ricard, a Bhuddist Monk reputed to be “the happiest man in the world,” reminded us that training the mind is truly possible.  Mental discipline can help us to control the impulses, ruminations and cravings that lead to appetites that function like harmful addictions, where we experience wanting without enjoying.

Ariana Huffington pulled the themes together, reminding us that we live in a unique moment, and that these powerful ideas can really make a difference. She also encouraged the audience to explore GPS for the Soul, which allows people to monitor stress and address it with relaxation and mindfulness techniques though a cell phone.  See Ariana’s instructional video here:

But what about the Dalai Lama himself?  What was it like to be part of a conversation with him?  What did he say to me?

CIHM CMCWThe Dalai Lama sat in a high back cushioned chair, wearing a Wisconsin cap, on the Overture Center stage before a crowd of thousands. It was like being in the presence of a wise, honorable grandfather.  He laughed at his own (clever) jokes and recited profoundly simple truths about compassion and peace.  He said we should all get together to save the planet.

The format dictated that the global scholars from  various fields would share their ideas for the Dalai Lama’s response.  He affirmed the wisdom of what they were saying, and encouraged them to go out into the world to tell others. He was expressing complicated ideas in his second language – which led to over-simplification at times.  In preparation for the event I had read speeches and teachings of the Dalai Lama (for a great collection by topic of interest see HHDL Teachings), so for me, his sometimes staccato statements evoked his written works and were meaningful.

By the time I took my seat for the second panel, which was intended to be a similar but not identical presentation for a second audience, things were pretty familiar. The Dalai Llama sat across from me on his chair, the audience was quieter somehow, and I was able to pretend we were in a living room together, engaged in conversation.  As time went on his comments were less like direct responses, and more like reflective holistic comments on how we might advance global health and well-being.  I leaned in, now we were getting somewhere!

He affirmed the role of science in changing the world, and made it clear that he espouses secular morality as the appropriate guide for global change.  Even though he is a religious leader, he relegates religion to the personal realm, and he feels that there is a common core of shared moral values that transcend particular religious or secular traditions. He wanted to be very sure that we understood that he was using secular in a way that was neutral to religion, and not anti-religion, and he also wanted us to know that he was including people who consider themselves atheists as members of this secular moral community.

He reminded us that the brain and mind are not one in the same!  He spoke of eye consciousness, of ear consciousness, of the power of full presence in physical labor  — planting a garden, washing a dish, singing a song  — these can all be sacred contemplative acts.  The mind should not be reduced to brain function. The way I heard it he was suggesting that there is still some mystery to human identity and will….

He insisted that it is very important to include the voice of the poor in the conversation about sustainable global health.  Environmental challenges and suffering due to poverty need to be addressed by all together, as one human community of 7 billion people. The architects of change must include the poor and vulnerable.  That is what he said.

He had mentioned education many times in the morning session, but in the afternoon he got to his point:  He feels strongly that education must go beyond imparting knowledge to cultivating morality.  He said, “the moral voice cannot be silent.”  And mindfulness practice and ethical training have important contributions to make to education.

He also spoke of peace and disarmament and stated that he is truly saddened that people use their talents to kill.  He focused on those who make bombs and guns, but this perspective extends logically to other kinds of products that kill, like cigarettes, and has implications for all endeavors that lead to the destruction and degradation of the environment through contamination, resource depletion, or the extinction of species.  To quote the Dalai Lama verbatim, “We must take more serious care about mother planet.”

Overall the events inspired me to rededicate myself to my contemplative practice as a Benedictine Oblate.  I would like to cultivate a more direct feed between the compassion and loving-kindness that I feel, and my actions. I look forward to continuing the “Change Your Mind” conversation, and I hope to discuss these ideas with more depth and rigor, and to include more voices.  To that end I would love to hear comments from others who were at the event or who have been part of the conversation through the transcripts or videos.

To continue this conversation or learn more about global health please visit my blog, Global Health Reflections at:

Lori DiPrete Brown



Mark your calendars for Wednesday, May 15, 9:30 am (CST) OR 2:00 pm (CST).   That’s the time to be still, take a deep breath…. and join in a conversation about compassion and mindfulness.  We’ll explore how these practices can help us to be more healthy and happy, to be more effective as leaders and public servants, to create healthy communities, and achieve sustainable global health for our earth. We’ll hear from UW-Madison scholars and global thought leaders who are exploring the policies and practices related to global health and happiness.   LIVE BROADCAST at the HF Deluca Forum in the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery (Free of Charge and Open to the Public).   LIVE WEBCAST  via

Don Berwick, health policy and health care quality improvement expert, and Ilona Kickbush, known for her leadership in championing a “Health in all Policies” approach to health, will talk about how we can improve health care and employ broad governmental and whole of society strategies to support true well-being.  Richard Layard, economist and co-editor of the 2013 World Happiness Report, will provide economic perspectives on how happiness and well-being might be measured. The conversation also includes Dan Goleman author of Emotional Intelligence and ECO Literate, and Chade-Meng Tan, google’s official “jolly good fellow” who wrote, Search Inside Yourself .  These experts will talk about how mindfulness can enhance leadership skills and organizational performance. You will also get a chance to hear from Mattieu Ricard, reputed to be the happiest man on earth. Ariana Huffington will moderate the discussion, sharing her own perspectives and insights as well.

Mindfulness? Compassion?  You might be asking yourself if this stuff really works…. UW-Madison’s world renowned neuroscientist Richie Davidson, who directs the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds, says yes, and he will be sharing the latest research on what sciences tells us about the relationship between mindfulness and well-being. Then Jonathan Patz, who leads the UW-Madison Global Health Institute, will make the link to climate change and human health, and discuss how we can take actions that positively impact both.  His Holiness the Dalai Lama will honor us with his presence for the event, and will share his reflections and reactions as the conversation unfolds.

I will be blogging and tweeting (ldipretebrown,  hashtag: #CMCW2013) during events on Monday and Tuesday, and I invite you to follow me and comment below.

Low-Tech Solar “Liter of Light”

…but it almost seemed like it as there was only one panel that lumped all these topics together.

Kristie Ebi provided a whirlwind review of climate change over the past 100,00 years — it was a great example of how to explain clearly really complex modeling processes and to show the conclusive evidence of human impact. The bottom line is that the rate of climate change is speeding up, and some ecosystems, like those at the top of mountain ranges have no where to go. The biggest impacts of climate change will be malnutrition, injury from extreme weather, and increases in diarrheal disease and malaria. Climate change works against all the MDGs and precise events are hard to predict because the impacts are site specific and path dependent…kinda like when you know a tornado is coming but you don’t know where to hide. (Note: hiding under your desk will not protect you from climate change).

Michael Brauer, a Madison native, gave a presentation about megacities and air pollution. He explained that tobacco kills 5 million/year, indoor air pollution kills 2 million, outdoor urban air pollution kills 1 million, and 2/3rdof that mortality is in rapidly urbanizing Asia. There is no correlation between size of city and air pollution, rather the level of development is the best predictor of harm. Examples of good practices were Tokyo, NY and Bangkok, where regulations like roadside inspections, fuel improvements, and other changes have made a difference. Air pollution moves from Asia to California, US to Europe, Europe to Asia. Further, traditional risk factors modern risk factors move and change places, with some environments, like urban slums, bearing a double burden.

Jenna Davis talked about access to water as a success story of the MDG effort. While we are on track with MDG goals, 13% of people do not have access to clean water, defined as 20 liters per person per day, from a source, within 1 kilometer. Further, 40% of the human population does not have access to basic sanitation, that’s 2.7 billion people, with 1 billion practicing open defecation. Davis pointed out that health benefits related to water are linked to household taps–community taps are less effective, because safe water storage and regular use for hand washing are harder to accomplish in that setting. Linking things to climate change, Davis pointed out that increased run off and flooding and open defecation practices are a bad combination. While climate change is one driver, bigger drivers are urbanization, population control, and lifestyle changes.

Thomas Hinckley and Joshua Tewksbury talked about feeding 9 billion people in an uncertain world.

They reiterated the expected changes related to climate and pointed out that our food systems are predicated on stable climate. The global food supply depends on 3 species: maize, wheat and rice. The world food system is not working for many people …1/5 of population does not have food security. (Note: that means they are routinely hungry and probably sick and their human potential is seriously compromised). These 1 billion people tend to live in tropical or sub-tropical habitats, that will have larger declines in food production.

While there is progress in each of these areas according to the MDG reports, the facts about hunger and access to water, and the rate of environmental degradation stops you cold. In the presence of these realities I sometimes feel impatient with the academic approaches. I wish the speakers would stop saying food insecurity, burden of disease, and psychoocial distress, and say plainer words like, hunger, pain, suffering. And I am struck by how, in spite of the quality of these presentations, there was no place for the voices of the people who are most affected. While the public health practitioner in me understands the value of research and evidence-based approaches, I feel that leadership, social action and engagement are equally and perhaps more important in addressing these challenges. I know students feel this impulse toward action, and I take heart in the way they communicate, cross disciplines, and try to take on big problems one community at a time. As I left this session I overheard a frustrated conference goer who could not get in complain that students had taken up so many spots that there was not room for the conference participants. I, for one, was glad that the students got the front row.


Harvesting Maize

Dona Margarita, an indigenous woman from La Calera, Ecuador, graciously gave me permission to use this beautiful photo. University of Wisconsin students visit Magdalena’s village each year to learn about indigenous culture and work with the community. I join this field course, led by anthropologist Frank Hutchins, as a public health instructor, exploring determinants of health and well-being alongside the students, and addressing topics that range from access to water, to gardens and family nutrition, to basic first aid, to micro-enterprise for women.

This visit took place around the time of the harvest of quinoa and maiz.  Margarita and her granddaughter are shelling maiz. As she explained the local agricultural cycle to our students, one of them knelt down to help, and before we knew it we were all on our knees, working and listening.  During such moments students learn about health problems that communities face, the resilience of women like Margarita, and the efforts that the community has made to move forward.

One year students helped Margarita plant her potato field. The next year she was behind a closed door in a dark house, grieving. One of her sons, who she had worked so hard to nurture and educate, was killed while working in Quito with at risk youth.  While the details of his violent death were murky, it was clear that, in addition to facing the challenges of rural poverty, Margarita and her family live with a double burden, as they are also touched by problems associated with rapid urbanization a struggling national economy, insecurity and political unrest.

The young man in the photo is Margarita’s other son, Luis, who serves as a guide in our community work, in addition to working the land himself, he is committed to preserving his culture, and earns a living as a guide and leader in the local eco-tourism movement. Luis and his neighbors hope that they can find ways to share their culture, and at the same time create economic alternatives to destructive mining, the rise of the flower export industry, and other practices which may not be sustainable, healthy or equitable, and do not embody indigenous values.

Maragarita’s life is intimately intertwined with the life-cycle of the maize and quinoa that she grows.  Quinoa, a high-protein grain touted as a miracle food, is the staple of the indigenous food tradition in this region of Ecuador. The year this photo was taken, the quinoa crop had failed. The climate is changing, members of the community observed, and they felt sure it had something to do with how we, all of us, are living. There is a growing body of research suggesting that people like Margarita are the first to notice the effects of climate change, and perhaps can help to identify early warning signs. During their time in Ecuador, the students are encouraged to compare their environmental footprint with Margarita and the other residents of La Calera. We all return to Wisconsin with the awareness that, in addition to working side by side with Magdalena’s community to address poverty, we in Wisconsin need to change some things about how we are living.  Together we discover and rediscover the importance of learning from, standing with, and when necessary standing for, people like Margarita.  People who we are privileged to share the world with. People who are a lot like us.

Based on Remarks from UW-Madison Global Health Retreat, May 2010

Photo: Abriana Hau Barca, 2008