Contemplative Education is a philosophy of higher education that infuses learning with the experience of awareness, insight and compassion for oneself and others through the erudite academic practices of meditation and contemplative disciplines, such as ikebana, t'ai chi ch'uan and Chinese brushstroke.
Contemplative education seeks to integrate the best of Eastern and Western educational traditions, helping students know themselves more deeply and engage constructively with others.
Informed by the many forms of contemplative practice in philosophies and religions the world over, contemplative education experiments with another way of knowing through joining of rigorous liberal arts training and the disciplined training of the heart. Transcending the belief that knowledge arises in the thinking mind only, this educational philosophy invites students to embrace the immediacy of their interior lives as a means for fully integrating what they learn.
Contemplative education is not solely traditional education with a course in meditation thrown in; it is an approach that offers an entirely new way of understanding what it means to be educated in the modern Western liberal arts tradition. Students wholeheartedly engage in mindfulness awareness practices in order to cultivate being present in the moment and to deepen their academic study.
Contemplative education in practice
The depth of insight and concentration reached through students’ disciplined engagement with contemplative practices alters the landscape of learning and teaching at Naropa University (Boulder, Colorado) founded by Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche in 1974.
Through such a focused self-exploration, students and faculty acquire the ability to be present in the classroom and in their lives; to engage in active listening with an open mind; to analyze a subject; and to integrate what has been learned with personal experience. Other resulting qualities include the development of openness, self-awareness and insight; enhanced speaking and listening skills; the sharpening of insight; and an appreciation of the world’s diversity and richness. From this self-understanding comes an ability to appreciate the value of another’s experience.
The goal is not to nurture the solitary contemplative only; it is also to cultivate those at the other end of the spectrum whose interior work acts as preparation for compassionate and transformative work in the world. More specifically, the value of contemplative education is measured in students’ ability to put their wisdom and insight into practice through creative, helpful and effective action.
“The point is not to abandon scholarship but to ground it, to personalize it and to balance it with the fundamentals of mind training, especially the practice of sitting meditation so that inner development and outer knowledge go hand in hand. . . . A balanced education cultivates abilities beyond the verbal and conceptual to include matters of heart, character, creativity, self-knowledge, concentration, openness and mental flexibility.”
—Judy Lief, former Naropa University president
The philosophy of contemplative education has been present in the United States since at least 1974, but has gained popularity particularly recently as the contemplative life (also referred to as mindfulness) has sparked the interest of educators at all levels. It has inspired networks of higher-education professionals for the advancement of contemplative education at Amherst College, Hampshire College, Mount Holyoke, Smith College and University of Massachusetts Amherst and in Colorado, with the Rocky Mountain Contemplative Higher Education Network (RMCHEN), which launched in September 2006 with an event hosted by Naropa University; and with the Contemplative Studies Initiative at Brown University.
Peter Schneider, a renowned architecture professor at the University of Colorado-Boulder and Barbara Dilley, a former president of Naropa and an accomplished dancer, choreographer and educator, spoke at the launch of RMCHEN. Dr Han F. de Wit, the author of "Contemplative psychology", had outlined one of the first systematic works suggesting a framework in which a full-fledged contemplative psychology may be developed.
Contemplative education also fueled the Bachelor of fine Arts in Jazz and Contemplative Studies curriculum at The University of Michigan School of Music, which combined meditation practice and related studies with jazz and overall musical training.
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- "Wisdom @ Work for Educators". The Five Wisdoms Institute.
- Tobin Hart (January 2004). "Opening the Contemplative Mind in the Classroom". Journal of Transformative Education.
- Caroline Hsu (2005). "America's Best Colleges: To learn in the moment". U.S. News & World Report.
- "What are contemplative practices?". The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society. 2001–2006.
- "The Tree of Contemplative Practices". The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society. 2001–2006.
- "History". Naropa University.
- "Contemplative psychology, Han F.de Wit, Duquesne University Press, Pittsburgh,1991". SHAMBHALA, Netherlands.
- Ed Sarath (Summer 2003). "Meditation in Higher Education: The Next Wave?". Innovative Higher Education.