Webinar Series: Francisco & Friends

'Francisco & Friends: an Embodiment of Relationship'

Webinar with the Dalai Lama (June 9, 2021)

The first event of the 'Francisco & Friends' series will be a live webinar with the Dalai Lama with the title 'Dialogue for a Better World  Remembering Francisco Varela'

About the webinar series: themes

In the context of this celebratory year, we are focussing on the themes of friendship and relationship linked with Francisco Varela and on the influence of 'The Embodied Mind'.

Dates, speakers and questions

Each event will be dedicated to a particular theme, related to a question. Learn more about the speakers and the questions they address, amongst them Evan Thompson (June 14).

The webinar series: 'Francisco & Friends: an Embodiment of Relationship'

This year Mind & Life Europe will be paying tribute to two anniversaries: the 20th of Francisco’s passing in 2001 and the 30th of the publication of The Embodied Mind. Hence the overall title of our program is 'Embodiment and Enaction – Varela & Friends 20/30'.

It was on May 28th, 2001, when our dear friend, co-founder of Mind & Life, Francisco Varela passed away. In June we are launching a new webinar series within the overall program, spanning throughout the rest of the year, titled Francisco & Friends: an Embodiment of Relationship’. In this series Francisco’s friends, colleagues and dialogue partners will share their personal experiences and insights working with him, and where their special relationship led them in their life and work. We will start this series with two special minds, great friends of Francisco, the Dalai Lama (June 9), and Evan Thompson (June 14).

About the series of webinars: in the context of our celebratory year, we would like to center the contributions to this webinar series on the themes of friendship and relationship linked with Francisco Varela, and on the life and influence of the book he wrote with Evan Thompson and Eleanor Rosch, The Embodied Mind, in which the concept of enaction is introduced.

Themes & Questions

Each webinar of the 'Francisco & Friends' series will be dedicated to a particular theme, related to a question. The themes will cover to the following topics:

  • Relationships to Francisco and his work: We are particularly interested in the ethical dimension, in the transformative aspect of relationship, and in how interaction (what Francisco used to call “rubbing”) may give rise to moments of insight, and to experiences that are so particularly striking that they cause a lasting change in us, deeply shaping ourselves and our paths.

  • Novel research programs set in motion at the founding of Mind & Life

  • Enaction: Enaction is an approach to living and knowing that is based on relationship, and in this sense, we feel it can act as a “teacher” for us at Mind & Life Europe, helping us to align what we do with how we do it. Here the ethical dimension of the bond, the responsibility yoked to all friendship, is fully in play. Enaction is pertinent for our “self-regulation” as an organisation, how we engage with one another and with the world, for how we envision our life as a community, and also for how we envisage our science, discern our “content” and choose the paths that are useful for us to pursue. The Embodied Mind is the groundbreaking book where the enactive approach is introduced and unfolded, and we would like to celebrate its 30th birthday in the “Francisco and Friends” webinar series.

  • Relationship of spirituality and science

Dates & Overview


June 9, 2021

05:30 CEST

Dialogue for a Better World: Remembering Francisco Varela

Click here to watch the recording of the live webinar with the Dalai Lama.

The Dalai Lama

June 14, 2021

18:00 CEST

What is Enaction? – A New Relationship Between Our Mind and the World

Click here to watch the recording of the live webinar with Evan Thompson.

Evan Thompson

September 23, 2021

18:00 CET

Continuous Groundlessness, Continuous Discovery: Meeting Francisco in Practice

The online event will be live-streamed on our MLE YouTube channel.

Roshi Joan Halifax

October 13, 2021

18:00 CET

The Francisco Varela experience: are you experienced?

The online event will be live-streamed on our MLE YouTube channel.

Antoine Lutz and Jean-Philippe Lachaux

December 9, 2021

18:00 CET

Live webinar with Valerie Bonnardel (title tbd)

The online event will be live-streamed on our MLE YouTube channel.

Valerie Bonnardel


Please note: all 'Francisco & Friends' webinars will be live-streamed on our MLE YouTube channel.


Live webinar with the Dalai Lama (June 9, 2021)

Theme: 'Dialogue for a Better World – Remembering Francisco Varela'

The Dalai Lama developed and maintained a very special relationship with Francisco, leading to the creation of Mind & Life and its field-defining interdisciplinary work at the intersections of sciences and contemplative practice. Pier Luigi Luisi, Amy Cohen Varela and Elena Antonova will enter into a shared space of remembering Francisco and of dialogue on friendship and its effects on the world with the Dalai Lama.

We are embedded in a habitat of relationships and our singular life and our life’s work are formed and indeed, sometimes transformed by them. Francisco had an extraordinary openness to relationships, their comforts and their risks. He was both single-pointed and gregarious, concentrated and porous. Each stage of his life was marked by significant encounters with others who inspired and shaped his thinking. Mind & Life sprouted from a friendship, a strong connection that flowered into a scientific project.

Of course, both Francisco Varela and the Dalai Lama came to the first meeting (1987) with their motivations: Francisco had a vision of meditators as exemplary experts of mind, his object of study, and the Dalai Lama had a well-known interest for Western science, and this interest might have had a wider aspect of preserving and disseminating the Tibetan Buddhist heritage, and an even wider goal of promoting an ethics of common humanity. Although these ideas have been paramount to developing the research programs of our organisation, what is key to the long lifespan of the organization are the relationships, the friendships that spawned it and gradually spread to connect a large community of scientists and scholars.


Date and time

Wednesday, June 9, 2021 at 05:30am CEST (11:30pm EST).


Public access

The webinar with the Dalai Lama was be live-streamed on the MLE YouTube channel. Click here to watch the recording.

Be part of the story and join the dialogue!

Recording of the live event with the Dalai Lama (June 9)

Recording of the live webinar with the Dalai Lama on June 9, 2021.

Live webinar with Evan Thompson (June 14, 2021)

Recording of the webinar with Evan Thompson

This webinar with Evan Thompson took place on June 14, 2021 and was live-streamed to the public.

Theme: 'What is Enaction? – A New Relationship Between Our Mind and the World'

We would like to dedicate this webinar to a concept forged by Francisco to think about mind, called enaction. As you know, Francisco was a rigorous experimental neuroscientist who did not think that mind could be reduced to brain function. In 'The Embodied Mind' he and Evan Thompson developed the concept of enaction as a way to think about mind and human experience as they are embedded in the body (not just the brain!) and engaged with the world.

Enaction, according to Francisco, is an epistemology of human experience and engagement. This is a way of thinking about human cognition, we feel, that not only takes into account the notion of interdependence but makes human connection the very ground from which we think and act. Thinking about cognition from the enactive perspective has great ethical implications, which is why we would like to discuss this with you.

About Evan Thompson

Evan Thompson is a writer and professor of philosophy at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. He works on the nature of the mind, the self, and human experience. His work combines cognitive science, philosophy of mind, phenomenology, and cross-cultural philosophy, especially Asian philosophical traditions. He is the author of Why I Am Not a Buddhist (Yale University Press, 2020); Waking, Dreaming, Being: Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy (Columbia University Press, 2015); Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Sciences of Mind (Harvard University Press, 2007); and Colour Vision: A Study in Cognitive Science and the Philosophy of Perception (Routledge Press, 1995). He is the co-author, with Francisco J. Varela and Eleanor Rosch, of The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience (MIT Press, 1991, revised edition 2016). Evan is an Elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

Evan received his A.B. from Amherst College in 1983 in Asian Studies and his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Toronto in 1990. He was Professor of Philosophy at the University of Toronto from 2005 to 2013, and held a Canada Research Chair in Cognitive Science and the Embodied Mind at York University from 2002 to 2005. In 2014, he was the Numata Invited Visiting Professor at the Center for Buddhist Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. He has also held invited visiting appointments at the Faculty of Philosophy, Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena, the Ecole Polytechnique (Paris), the Center for Subjectivity Research at the University of Copenhagen, and the Department of Philosophy at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

In 2021, Evan served as the President of the Pacific Division of the American Philosophical Association. He has co-directed, with Christian Coseru and Jay Garfield, two National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institutes: Self-Knowledge in Eastern and Western Philosophies (2018) and Investigating Consciousness: Buddhist and Contemporary Philosophical Perspectives (2012). Evan also served for many years on planning committees of the Mind and Life Institute.