Contemplative Course Design Beyond Technique

While many practitioners and advocates of contemplative pedagogy focus on implementing Mindfulness, Yoga, or Buddhist-inspired techniques aimed at relieving suffering in their classrooms, I, professionally, have some apprehension around that narrow focus in public educational spaces.

My personal life may feature such practices but in terms of public educational spaces I am more interested in how contemplative inquiry and pedagogy can enrich our critical and creative capacities and develop more caring communities.  

For me, a contemplative approach to course design would include two steps: 1) Faculty’s contemplative inquiry into the practices, habits, and values their courses cultivate 2) Development of context-appropriate practices (assignments, activities) for students that are values-aligned.

In my world, “traditional” education features indoctrination into particular kinds of values (i.e. consumerist) and requires students to engage in certain embodied and cognitive practices (i.e. sit still, be quiet, work alone) to shape dispositions (comply, compete).  

Contemplative approach to teaching and learning “Beowulf”! (2018)

I first work with faculty to explore those hidden values so that we may be intentional about what we are cultivating—what our classroom practices and habits (which include assignments and activities) are developing in students. The contemplative precedes the critical. We look at what is happening in our classes in a non-reactive way so we can be honest about what, why, and how we are teaching and how we may wish to change it.

Next, I work with faculty to develop context-appropriate assignments and activities that offer students tools, vocabulary, and space for practicing

  1. RECEPTIVITY AND GENEROSITY towards other people, ideas, and situations to precede critique and critical analysis
  2. FOCUSED ATTENTION and OPEN AWARENESS, to facilitate problem solving and creativity; to explore the ethics of attentional practices
  3. REFLECTION, to turn experience into wisdom; to interrogate values-alignment and practice meaning-making
  4. CARING for self, other, planet; exploring ways to express care cross-culturally

This is not an exhaustive list—just some of my current favorites.

The specific tools, vocabulary, and space will look different from instructor to instructor, discipline to discipline, course to course. (I am working on gathering and circulating these kinds of materials from instructors so that we can learn from one another what contemplative pedagogy can be beyond teaching meditative “techniques.”)

Contemplative pedagogues don’t need merely to import practices from American Yoga or Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction into their public-school classrooms, nor should we limit ourselves by looking merely to neuroscience for “approval” of contemplative approaches to living and learning.

May we continue to study contemplative, creative, and critical processes from a variety of historical, cultural, and disciplinary contexts to encourage flourishing in our lives, classrooms, and communities.

What is “contemplative reading”?

Recently a friend asked me:

What is “contemplative reading”? Is it just “thinking about” what you have read?

My shorthand answer was this:

We read for lots of different reasons: to be entertained, to acquire information, to analyze, to build arguments, to escape, etc.  But when we read contemplatively, we read to reflect upon our own lives. We engage the big questions– the un-Googleable questions: How may I live with more peace and joy? How may I deal with despair?

But there’s more!

I suggest that contemplative reading-– whatever it looks like–

  1. Requires a faith in text’s capacity to have meaning
  2. Features first-person critical practices
  3. Aims at transforming habitual ways of being, thinking, doing

This weekend I’ll be convening a one-hour workshop on contemplative reading at the 10th Annual Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education conference. There I’ll propose these broad contours and facilitate a conversation to help synthesize and shape this aspect of the emerging field of Contemplative Studies.

What are your thoughts? Let’s collaborate!

Contemplative Approaches: Shared Purpose, Meaning, Goals

Over the past two weeks I’ve had several opportunities to give descriptions of Contemplative Pedagogy and Contemplative Approaches in, say, two minutes or fewer.

I’m enjoying distinguishing “Contemplative Inquiry” from “mindfulness” and bringing the conversation beyond meditation and stress-reduction to the confluence of the critical, creative, and contemplative approaches to problem-solving.

While I can talk broadly about contemplative practices, when it comes to ontology, goals, and outcomes, I find myself wondering how broadly—if at all—my positions are shared by contemplative educators.

Please allow me to brainstorm-blog on my way to articulating something substantial. Please also share with me your comments and feedback!

With colleagues I’m currently drafting a series of General Education courses entitled “Contemplative Approaches to…” and developing shared pedagogical aims of “Contemplative Approaches to Scientific Inquiry,” “Contemplative Approaches to the Past and Present,” “to the Self and Society,” and “to Creative Thought.”

Here are some of my initial musings that I’m carrying with me into a round of collaboration, research and note-taking:

  • Contemplative inquiry complements (it does not replace) critical and creative capacities and approaches.
  • Contemplative inquiry arises from dispositions of humility and curiosity.
  • Contemplative approaches consider interconnectedness in epistemology as well as in approaches to problem-solving and decision-making.
  • Contemplative approaches share a service-driven purpose.
  • Contemplative inquiry illuminates habit and prevents mission-drift by re-evaluating and articulating the purpose or the meaning of the endeavor, which may change as problems and issues arise and are addressed.

This brainstorming grows out of some beliefs that inform my pedagogy, beliefs I need to re-examine and re-assess.

Ontology, Goals, and Outcomes:

I believe in simultaneous interconnectedness and emptiness.  This “belief” is (of course) subject to scrutiny, reflection, and revision by myself and others, but it’s certainly impacting my pedagogy.

Right now I’d say a major goal of my pedagogy is to develop capacities for living with intention and agency.

A core outcome would be a more ethical, just, and (dare I say) happy life.

The next step for the coming weeks is for me to probe how other contemplative educators and researchers articulate ontological beliefs and positions. (Nudge nudge! Be a guest blogger!) I’m also gathering data on the stated goals and outcomes of my fellow contemplative educators and researchers.

Lastly, for now, I’m wondering: How might the ontological positions, goals, and outcomes of contemplative pedagogy constellate with those of the Mind and Life Institute? With Contemplative Studies? Contemplative Inquiry? With good old fashioned Philosophy?

Share your perspectives!