“Opening the contemplative mind in schools is not a religious issue but a practical epistemic question… Inviting contemplative study simply includes the natural human capacity for knowing through silence, pondering deeply, beholding, witnessing the contents of consciousness and so forth.”
~ Tobin Hart, Opening the Contemplative Mind in the Classroom, Journal of Transformative Education Vol. 2 No. 1, January 2004
The ancient practice of contemplation is being explored by many institutions of higher education as a new means of enhancing liberal education. Research demonstrates that “contemplative pedagogy”-the integration of meditative practices into higher education-facilitates the achievement of traditional educational goals such as improved cognitive and academic performance. Studies also show that it fosters the development of the whole person, increasing capacities such as creativity, empathy, compassion, interpersonal skills and self-awareness. Thus, contemplative pedagogy increasingly is considered a vital complement to critical reasoning, rebalancing liberal education to include head and heart, mind and body.
Students have experienced it as an aid in focusing attention, improving concentration and accessing self-knowledge. Teachers have found that it fosters their connection to students and rejuvenates their creative engagement with teaching and research. Accordingly, the Center for Teaching is exploring the benefits of contemplative pedagogy, and other holistic means of teaching and learning, in a “Contemplative Pedagogy Working Group” that meets monthly. Organized by Allison Pingree, director, and Kat Baker, assistant director, the group includes faculty and staff from across Vanderbilt University.
This semester the group collaborated on the creation and presentation of a Commons Seminar entitled “Innerspace: Explorations of Meditation Practice for Self and Society.” The course explores the use of meditation for both personal and professional development, and is led by Bruce McCandliss, Patricia and Rodes Hart Professor of Psychology and Human Development at Peabody College; and Linda Manning, Clinical Psychologist, at the Vanderbilt Center for Integrative Health. An intensive kickoff session included presentations on contemplative practice in various professions by faculty from Peabody, Vanderbilt Law School, the Psychological & Counseling Center, the Divinity School and the Center for Teaching.
The students committed to at least five minutes of meditation or contemplation per day, and have been meeting throughout the semester to practice meditation together, share their experiences with individual practice, and discuss their reading in the course text, Meditation as Contemplative Inquiry, by Arthur Zajonc. At the conclusion of the course, students will complete an individual project that reflects the learning they have gained during the semester about meditation’s implications for self and society. They will address questions such as “How has contemplative practice affected you? What difference has it made in the way you engage the world and your own pursuits? What impact might it have on your future goals, personal or professional? How do these observations connect to current publications about contemplative practices in a field of your choice?” Thus far, students evaluate the seminar as a great success.