Contemplative Education: A Brief Introduction

‘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

Arthur Zajonc
Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education (ACHME)
Brown University
The Centre for Courage and Renewal
Contemplative Pedagogy Network
Mindful Magazine – Contemplative Education
Mirabai Bush
Naropa University