‘Integral education is a framework, a methodology, a community, and/or a stage or phase of human development that incorporate a range of educational themes concerning but not limited to principles and practices of “whole person” or “holistic” education.’ ~ Tom Murray
What is Integral Education?
As a philosophy of education, ‘integral education’ is often likened to a large group of educational models that are generally seen as novel, progressive, reformist and alternative. One way to characterise ‘integral education’ is in its openness to include a range of themes concerning education. These themes are underpinned by the philosophy of holism, that the “whole person” is acknowledged and appreciated in education, because all aspects of being are interconnected. There is no separateness. Thus, ‘integral education’ bears great similarity to ‘holistic education’ in terms of its ethos and the educational themes it is concerned with, yet it differs in that ‘integral’ also explicitly concerned with certain other more complex dimensions of being. The term ‘integral’ itself can refer to a multitude of things that are innate to human beings, the nature of consciousness and the world around us. It has origins in Sri Aurobindo and Mirra Alfassa’s yogic teachings from the early 1900s, Satchidananda Saraswati’s yogic teachings from the early 1970s and later in Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory philosophical teachings. Typically, ‘integral education’ applies the latter to educational contexts but is significantly informed by the former and is essentially an all-inclusive and equal approach that sees the interconnection and influences of everything in existence. ‘Integral education’ attempts to find the essence of all educational approaches so as to demonstrate their convergence.
‘Integral education’ endeavours to honour the complexity and multidimensional nature of the human experience. In spite of this interconnectedness of being, each dimension of being manifests in a spectrum of qualities and distinct characteristics. Thus, an integral approach also assumes the multidimensionality of existence. As such, environmental and social justice issues tend to come into the foreground of awareness through ‘integral education’. Furthermore, some have noted that there seems to be an inherent spirituality in these types of “whole person” approaches, due to the type of thinking at the core of a more “holistic” education. An integral approach assumes that the nature of reality is non-dual, multidimensional, holistic, and evolutionary: accepting an evolutionary perspective of life. Some of the educational themes that ‘integral education’ include but are not limited to creativity, adaptivity and individualisation, situated learning, empowerment and liberation, transformative education, service-oriented learning.
One way to operationalise integral in education is through an emphasis on integral development of students. The development of the “whole being” through integral approaches to teaching, learning and knowing that upholds “wholeness”. In the teaching and research at The Art of Integral Being, integral approaches are drawn upon to combine teaching and supporting learning practices that share the common thread of being open, culturally-responsive and judiciously creative in situ. These practices literally include the body itself as the site of direct experiences that students learn and know from within. As such, an integral approach is also body-oriented. Without undermining the role of education to harness the intellectual prowess of students—limiting education learning and knowing to intellectuality is a conservative and perfunctory aim for two main reasons. Taking an integral worldview, the first, education (should) and does in theory provide rich grounds for multifaceted modes of learning and knowing at a pivotal time in the lives of its (mostly) emerging adult students. The second, the lives of its students are not separate or detached from knowing and knowledge from their education. Students bring all of themselves (consciously or unconsciously) to their classrooms and to their academic work, as do teachers. And all of ourselves is continually lived out through all of our being. One can fragment their being or have their being fragmented, but that is to be disintegrated. Disconnected. Unaware. ‘Integral education’ is, in sum, the privileging of the integration of beings.
Integral development is not only the development of the “whole person” in education because students’ daily lives are inextricably linked to their academic lives. Integral development is also a matter of developing students’ capacities for sensing knowledge and then living with this knowledge as truthfully as they can, in affinity with what feels truthful to them.
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‘While we are justifiably proud of our ‘outer’ development in fields such as science, medicine, technology, and commerce, we have increasingly come to neglect our ‘inner’ development—the sphere of values and beliefs, emotional maturity, moral development, spirituality, and self-understanding.’ ~ Alexander W Astin
What is Contemplative Education?
Contemplative education, which flourished in higher education but is not limited to it, draws upon contemplative practices and pedagogies as a means of nurturing students integrally. Contemplative pedagogies can be included in the list of educational themes of ‘integral education’. ‘Contemplative education’ privileges a subjectivist model of education that incorporates reflective, meditative, introspective and contemplative practices as the experiential modes of learning.
By now contemplative practices have long been accepted as practices beneficial to health and wellbeing. To date there have literally been thousands of research studies conducted that examine the effects of meditation and other contemplative practices on health and wellbeing, with an exponential rise since the earliest research in the 1960s until present day. Progressively, this has given rise to supporting facilities, departments and services within workplace organisations and other institutions worldwide, such as counselling and wellbeing services that offer complementary specialised support to individuals and groups.
Beyond the neurological, physiological and psychological effects that contemplative practices can have on an individual’s mental health and psychological wellbeing, more recently contemplative practices are terms that have entered the academic discourse in the interdisciplinary branch of the social sciences—the field of education. There have been a number of studies on the integration of mindfulness-based meditation training in primary and secondary education and fewer—but on the rise—in higher education. These studies tend to be broader and incorporate a wider range of meditation and other contemplative practices. This interest among pedagogues to integrate meditation and other contemplative practices within the curriculum of a broad range of courses and academic programmes in higher education contexts continues steadily. This is all, of course, for the potential benefits that these practices have on university students. This interest points to the desire to enrich, enhance, transform and/or advance education in its current state and form. Since higher education is an interdisciplinary research ﬁeld, rather than simply a discipline, there is broad scope for researching novel integrative pedagogic approaches that incorporate meditation and other contemplative practices.
Examples of the integration meditation and other contemplative practices into higher education pedagogy and curriculum date back more than thirty years. From this ‘contemplative turn’ and this ‘quiet revolution’ in higher education, or the larger movement of ‘contemplative education’, the committed scholarly Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education (ACMHE) has emerged, as well as the peer-reviewed journals The Arrow (see http://www.arrow-journal.org) and the Journal of Contemplative Inquiry (JOCI, see http://www.contemplativemind.org) and a number of academic books for teachers. There is also a growing body of literature that discusses the integration of a spiritual dimension into higher education pedagogy and curriculum, in which meditation and other contemplative practices tend to feature, as well as growing emphasis on ‘integral education’ in all domains of learning as an approach that is not simply a new set of beliefs about pedagogy. It also indicates new ways of being in the classroom and meaning-making of the educational process. Such works are mostly aimed at supporting critical and contemplative pedagogues in finding their agency within the complex structures of the corporate university to align their pedagogic values with their real-world practice, for change of a personal and social kind. This educational research is arguably shaping the future of higher education, and also arguably, directing it homeward bound to its very grassroots.
In emphasising the potential for meditation and other contemplative practices for further integration into higher education pedagogy and curriculum as part of a foundational education on what it is to teach, learn and know, pedagogues must support students in developing the much-needed capacities to reflect critically and self-reflexively. Subjectivism is easily critiqued in the university for its lack of scientific rigour yet is it false to make claims that objectivism truly exists since we as pedagogues and researchers bring our own vested interests, diverse backgrounds and life experiences, varied knowledge(s) to the universities and classrooms in which we operate. As both pedagogue and trained integral yoga and meditation teacher that straddles these two worlds of integral development, no longer can I discern between meditation and any education. Meditation and other contemplative practices are valuable when carefully integrated into higher education pedagogy and curriculum because they implicitly and explicitly cultivate knowledge by giving great importance to the empty space in between knowing and non-knowing, as well as giving attention to unknowing. Put simply, contemplative pedagogies blur the lines between objective forms (inquiry) of knowledge and subjective forms (self-inquiry) through living practices oriented towards the body.
LEARN MORE ABOUT CONTEMPLATIVE EDUCATION
Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education (ACHME)
The Centre for Courage and Renewal
Contemplative Pedagogy Network
Mindful Magazine – Contemplative Education