Waking the Contemplative Mind on Campus
by David Lee Keiser
What is contemplative practice?
Contemplative practices are activities that can quiet the mind in order to cultivate a personal capacity for deep concentration and insight. While many of us think of silent meditation as the main contemplative practice, other examples include contemplative prayer, mindful walking and other intentional experiences in nature, yoga and other contemporary physical or artistic practices. Secular practices also include those appropriate for classroom use; the Tree of Contemplative Practices, accessible at the Center for Contemplative Mind website, provide many examples.
Contemplative pedagogy, a relatively new academic term, indicates teaching and curriculum steeped in a contemplative perspective. Respecting the sanctity of the separation of church and state, as well as the secular needs of a public university make the transition from practice to pedagogy especially important.
While contemplative practice has the potential to bring different aspects of one’s self into focus, to help develop personal goodness and compassion, and to awaken an awareness of the interconnectedness of all life, within college and university curricula, such potential needs to be steeped in academic courses and programs. And they are. In prestigious universities such as Michigan and Brown, full academic programs (in Music and Contemplative Practices, respectfully) incorporate and cultivate contemplative competencies, and literally hundreds of college and university instructors throughout the U.S. and the World use contemplative pedagogies to teach within their content areas. Examples can be found by visiting www.contemplativemind.org
Throughout history, Contemplative Practices have helped people develop greater empathy and communication skills, improve focus and concentration, reduce stress, and enhance creativity. Most contemplative practitioners feel that over time, these practices can cultivate insight, inspiration, and a loving and compassionate approach to life. In and out of the classroom, they can be practical, radical, and transformative, and help people improve relationships. Practically speaking, such transformation can lead to sharpening focus, concentration, and insight, and improving listening skills.
Throughout the world, there is both quantitative and qualitative research underway regarding the results of contemplative teaching and practice. For example, at Richard Davidson’s Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at UW Madison, they are doing trial studies both in the brain-imaging lab and in local schools. CARE for Teachers (Cultivating Awareness and Resilience in Education), offered by the Garrison Institute continues to receive Federal education grant money to design, implement, and assess a social-emotional learning program designed to help teachers sustain care and compassion in the classroom.
For more information on Contemplative Practice Programs and Resources, please visit: www.montclair.edu/academy/programs/contemplativepedagogy