April 22, 2022
In this episode, Wendy speaks with contemplative researcher and social activist Juan Santoyo. Juan’s work sits at the intersection of basic neuroscience and community-based programs; his central interest is in understanding the factors that are needed for peace and healing—both in the brain, and in the world. This conversation covers many topics, including:
- his path into contemplative research;
- life in Colombia and reflections on the peace process;
- working with ex-combatants through community engaged research;
- Indigenous practices to connect with land and ancestors;
- working with difficult emotions;
- the lack of land and ancestor practices in the West;
- how oppressive systems impact the sense of self;
- why contemplation matters for justice and equity work;
- integrating basic neuroscience with healing in the world;
- and investigating what is needed for peace.
Juan Santoyo is an early-career researcher from Colombia who works in neuroscience and contemplative research. His training has involved studying the neurophysiological dynamics underlying meditation training and sensory perception in humans, and the structure and dynamics of sensory systems in mice. Juan has worked on the development of strategies for neurophenomenological research as well as genetic techniques for mapping and manipulating neural circuits in mice. As a PhD student in MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Juan is studying how genetics and environmental adversity like stress, violence, and resource inequity combine to impact the brain and contribute to psychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases. Outside of his research, Juan co-founded The Black Lotus Collective, an organization aimed at grounding the work of challenging systems of oppression in contemplative practice, as well as creating contemplative communities where people with marginalized identities feel safe, seen, and celebrated. Bringing these different threads of work together, he has been working in Medellín, Colombia to develop, implement, and test a meditation-based program to help FARC-EP ex-combatants with the psychological experience of reintegration as part of Colombia’s ongoing peace-building process.
- Blog: Seeding Peace in the Heart of Conflict: A Think Tank Project in Colombia
- Paper: Effortless awareness: using real time neurofeedback to investigate correlates of posterior cingulate cortex activity in meditators’ self-report (Frontiers 2013)