(author: Hridaya) Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education Conference

(Karolyn is posting this entry on behalf of the author Hridaya, keeponbreathing)

I arrived in Amherst, MA late this afternoon to take part in the ACMHE Conference entitled “Contemplative Approaches in the Diverse Academic Community: Inquiry, Connection, Creativity, and Insight”. As I sat down on the steps outside Converse Hall the first person I introduced myself to, and to whom I mentioned I was from Plymouth State asked “Do you know Karolyn?” :). Small contemplative world. I’ve been having a virtual conversation with all of you in my head as the energy and wonderings of the evening unfolded so I wanted to take a few moments to share my thoughts with you.
Our opening speaker was Rhonda Magee, a Professor of Law from the University of San Francisco speaking on the topic of Contemplating Race, Law and Justice. I checked out at the beginning and noticed I felt judgmental wondering how a conference on this topic could start with her behind the podium focusing on deliverables. Then I noticed something that I read as nervousness in the shuffle of her feet and in her facial expression as she took in colleagues that sat completely above and surrounding her in this little amphitheater. I imagined myself there, wanting my colleagues to respect me and clutching my notes and to know I had something of value to share. And then it all became alive as she talked about her students, her class and her pride and how creating a contemplative space supported them in going to powerful and intimate and sometimes tearful places in their discussions about race and injustice and the law. It became spontaneous and alive and more full of “I don’t knows”. I felt connected to her and her words and noticed my mind swirling to my students, and my stories and to ideas about the type of classroom I’d like to continue to explore.
In no particular order here are some little snippets of things that struck me tonight. I welcome your reactions, reflections…
Instead of opening a class with “introduce your neighbor”, opening with “What brings you to this place?”
The idea of “relational resilience” as a term for being able to be present and stay with another in spite of discomfort, or of being able to hold compassion for them and invite more closeness and understanding rather than fleeing from conflict. And the concept of becoming a safe space for each other’s imperfectness. Is this what worked about my Summer Skills course?
Rhonda used the word “re-perceiving” to remark on the transformational quality she saw when genuine relationships and personal narratives shifted the way they viewed race and justice. Can contemplative approaches support people in shaking up what they knew to be true and re-perceiving things?
Reflecting on how my profession values the therapeutic distance and wondering if it is overvalued. Awareness that the deeper my personal practice becomes the more this concept of therapeutic neutrality as the goal is confusing to me and the more often I find myself touched or in tears listening to stories and grateful I’m trusted with them.
A question from the audience “How does the classroom environment privilege the quick thinker?”
And finally, I thought about teaching multicultural counseling this week in my class and the ineffectiveness of my insisting and urging my predominately white middle class students to let go of dismissing the need for cultural awareness with assertions that “people are people.” I insisted they recognize privilege where it exists and bias where it exists and look at their own assumptions and biases and  received feedback that my insistence made some uncomfortable. I am glad for the discomfort but also question the effectiveness of my insistence as a teaching strategy. I wonder if this was my version of clutching my notes too much or asking them to trust me without giving them a reason… trust that I know this about the world rather than explore what they’ve learned about the world and be willing to trust that what they’d share would enliven the dialogue even if it started with “people are people”.   And tonight I contemplate my insistence and where it comes from and wonder why I haven’t shared with them a single story about a client I worked with who died because they couldn’t access simple health care.

So, all of these thoughts just from the keynote. I’m excited for the weekend ahead and look forward to hearing your thoughts.


2 comments on “(author: Hridaya) Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education Conference

  1. karolyn says:

    Ah! I wish we could’ve been in contact via this blog while you were there.
    Your experience of watching Rhonda and watching your own brain-chatter really resonated with me. 🙂 One of the most rewarding things about my experience at the ACMHE summer institute was the opportunity to watch my judging mind– to see my expectations arise, to hear my mind comparing expectations to “reality,” to feeling myself judging good and bad ways to present the information and craft the experience– in contexts that were at once academic and contemplative. I am so glad I’m not alone in this!

    “Insistence,” …. hmmmm. Nice! One of the themes we explore in my “Arthurian Legends” class is the degree to which people can learn something by being told about it vs. experiencing it. Which ties in with Bennett’s ideas that we need not only a moral code (information, a list of things to do, course “content,”) but also the emotional stirring to act on that code, to use that information actively in the world.

    This seems to be a topic applicable to any classroom– how to create more experiences with course “content”– and might be a nice focus for our retreat, a workshop, or a reflective practice. I’m reminded of Chris Chabot’s comparison between how we teach baseball and how we teach science….

    Thank you!

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