Contemplative Education

Reflecting on the different aspects of my working life — as an artist, a community artist and community developer and now as an academic — I initially thought there was no common thread. This was until I realized that contemplation was that thread. In my work with video I was examining the effects of trance video, in community arts and development I used contemplative, creative practices and in my academic work I have been examining the contemplative state of consciousness. This interest in the inner landscape led to the interdisciplinary PhD I successfully completed in 2013. This was an interdisciplinary examination of the contemplative state of consciousness in education — in a growing field called contemplative education.

In essence contemplative education involves the integration of contemplative practices such as meditation and yoga in all disciplines and at all levels from kindergartens to Universities. There are three central ways contemplative practice is used: the remedial where for example a breath focusing practice might be used at the beginning of a class to help students relax; the philosophical and religious underpinnings of the practices might be taught alongside the contemplative sciences and applications of these practices such as social justice applications; and whole classroom or institution-wide contemplative orientations might be created. The educational psychologists Robert Roeser and Stephen Peck outline some of these aspects of contemplative education in their suggestion that it is a:

set of pedagogical practices designed to cultivate the potentials of mindful awareness and volition in an ethical-relational context in which the values of personal growth, learning, moral living and caring for others are also nurtured” (Roeser & Peck 2009, p. 127).

​Importantly contemplative pedagogues need to be contemplative practitioners, for to teach it one needs to know it from the inside out. ​​​The contemplative pedagogues and theorists Robert Waxler and Maureen Hall call for teachers to use contemplative practices to connect with their students as:

​…whole persons, reaching their students on an emotional as well as an intellectual level. Such teaching can be pictured as an organic process, which evolves in connection to the immediate and ongoing context. We see such teaching as an embodied process …[providing]…teaching and learning modes, which are capacious enough to hold heart and mind, thoughts and feelings.” (2011, p. 100) ​

The recent re-emergence of this ancient educational orientation, which can be traced back to Pre-historic indigenous rites of passage that used trance, is said to have begun in 1995 with the opening of the Centre for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education (CCMIE), Northampton, Massachusetts (Morgan, 2014) Just 20 years later nearly every disciplinary “area of higher and professional education from Poetry to Biology and from Medicine to Law is being taught with contemplative exercises” (Zajonc, 2013, p. 84). As a philosophical approach and pedagogy it provides a wide range of theoretical and educational methods that increase focus and metacognition (Hart, 2008), improve attention (Jha, 2007), cognition (Zeidan et al., 2010) and cognitive flexibility (Moore, 2009), reduce stress and anxiety (Shapiro et al., 1998, 2011) and support student attention, emotional balance, empathetic connection, compassion, and altruism (Zajonc, 2013).

Contemplative Education is aligned with Somatic, Integral and Transformative Education and has its origins in the Wisdom Traditions and work of educational pioneers such as Rudolf Steiner, John Dewey and Maria Montessori. It is described as holistic and progressive and contrasted with mainstream or conventional forms of education that focus on the acquisition of knowledge, development of cognitive skills and individual achievement. The need for contemplative education is predicated on the failure of educational systems that accentuate a ‘curriculum of content’, over understandings of the whole student and teacher and the process of learning. ​

On the face of it Contemplative Education has grown in response to the increasing pressures that students and teachers are suffering particularly, time poverty, information overload and constant connectivity, which are resulting in chronic stress and anxiety, constant partial attention (CPA) (See: http://lindastone.net/qa/continuous-partial-attention/), fragmented thinking leading to the inability to focus and a lack or sense of meaning. Contemplative practices provide methods to train forms of single tasking or focus that heighten self-awareness and metacognition, lessen stress and anxiety and support the reintegration of fragmented attention.

Underpinning this are issues related to much of our current education system that have arisen out of economic rationalism, driven by the hyper-materialistic culture we live in. These issues have led to the instrumentalism of education with, in many instance, it being almost entirely content driven. The corrective to this is as Arthur Zajonic states, “A more robust and complete ontology, investigated by a broad range of methods, and a more inclusive ethics that gets beyond cost benefit” (2013, p. 93).

If you’d like to know more about Contemplative Education please visit my website: www.thecontemplativeacademy.com or email me on: p.morgan@unsw.edu.au There are some wonderful organisations that support contemplative educators such as:

The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society: http://www.contemplativemind.org/

The Mindfulness in Education Network: http://www.mindfuled.org/

There is also a list of resources under the ‘contacts and links’ page on my website: http://www.thecontemplativeacademy.com/contact--links.html

References:

Hart, T. (2008). Interiority and Education: Exploring the Neurophenomenology of contemplation and its potential role in learning. Journal of Transformative Education, 6(4), 235–250.

Jha, A. (2007). Mindfulness meditation modifies subsystems of attention. Cognitive, Affective & Behavioral Neuroscience, 7(2), 109–119.

Moore, A. (2009). Meditation, mindfulness and cognitive flexibility. Consciousness and Cognition, 18(1), 176–186.

Morgan, P. (2014). A brief history of the current reemergence of contemplative education. Journal of Transformative Education, 13(3), 197–218.

Roeser, R., & Peck, S. (2009). An education in awareness: Self, motivation, and self-regulated learning in contemplative perspective. Educational Psychologist, 44(2), 119–136.

Shapiro, J., Brown, K., & Astin, J. (2011). Toward the integration of meditation into higher education: A review of research evidence. Teachers College Record, 113, 493–528.

Waxler, R., & Hall, M. (Eds.). (2011). Transforming literacy: Changing lives through reading and writing. West Yorkshire, UK: Emerald Group Publishing.

Zajonc, A. (2013). Contemplative pedagogy: A quiet revolution in higher education. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 134, 83–94.

Zeidan, F. (2010). Mindfulness meditation improves cognition: Evidence of brief mental training. Consciousness and Cognition, 19, 597–605.

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