Symposium programme taking shape

Hello everyone

There are only 24 hours left to book for the Contemplative Pedagogy Symposium (bookings close at 5 pm on Friday 16th August). There are a couple of places left if you are interested. Please book and pay here.

The last few hours have been very exciting as have confirmed part of the programme. I have included some details below to give you an idea of what we are going to getting up to!

Thanks to Andrew Morgans, Siobhan Lynch and Iddo Oberski for helping to get us to this point – especially Andrew who has been busy collating abstracts and liaising with workshop facilitators.

Monday evening group contemplative practice

Contemplative with open eyes: a contemplative visual perception and writing exercise

Stefanie Pohle, University of Bonn

Being in the here and now, developing a mindful presence, having direct experiences – this is at the heart of all contemplative practices. With the visual perception exercise, we practice this through our sense of sight, and the writing helps us to dig deeper into our personal connections with what we see.

The idea is to perceive the world around us as it is, and to leave our pre-conceived ideas, memories, evaluations and judgements aside for a moment. We try to resist the temptation to immediately label and categorise what we see, or to let our mind wander off: “Ah, this is a car. Looks like mine, but it has a different colour… People shouldn’t be using cars these days…the climate crisis…”. Instead, in this exercise, we turn our attention to colours, patterns and shapes, textures, light and shadow, no matter what we look at, be it a car, a twig, a wall or the gravel on the ground.

In the ensuing writing, we first try to find words for what we have seen. We may then write about how we experienced this fresh way of seeing. Questions to explore, are, for instance: Could I stay with one perception for a longer time? What did I feel – calmness, joy, impatience, boredom? Where in my body did these feelings arise? Did my mind wander off? Which thoughts came up?

The practice is rooted in contemplative writing and in contemplative photography in the tradition of Miksang. ‘Miksang’ is a Tibetan word which translates as ‘good eye’ or ‘purified eye’ (for more detailed explanations see here and here). Miksang photography has been strongly influenced by Buddhist teachings, most notably by the Dharma Art teachings of Chögyam Trungpa (Shambala).

You can find a selection of Stefanie’s photos on flickr and instagram.

Tuesday workshops

Walking towards a more embodied pedagogy

Rosie Holmes, University of Winchester

With rapidly growing numbers of HE students declaring poor mental health, the responsibility of HEIs to provide more pastoral care is evident; in many cases, resources are severely limited, and there is a clear need for creative responses to this increasingly common barrier to learning. Almost all learning environments in HE are sedentary (lectures, seminars, workshops, studios etc), and modern screen-based learning further increases this tendency. Walking has historically offered space for movement of the mind and body, deeper reflection and rumination; and numerous philosophers, writers, and artists are known to have used walking as an essential aid to their creative process. In addition, walking, movement and time in green spaces are increasingly recognised by health professionals as antidotes to mental health issues such as stress, anxiety and depression.

This pilot study investigates the potential benefits of walking for a more embodied pedagogy: for learning, creative thinking and increased wellbeing, in this case for the mentoring relationship. Research was based on a ‘non probability’ sample of two students. After all or part of three of their mentoring sessions walking outdoors, they participated in a semi-structured interview about their experience. Qualitative research, action research and case studies were used. Feedback from the participating students was very positive: observations and interviews found that walking whilst mentoring supported a more focused (and yet spacious) attention, the generation of creative ideas, reduced anxiety and, most notably, freer dialogue and discussion, which is essential for productive mentoring. 

Further details on the pilot study can be found here.

Combining poetry and mindfulness: creating new learning spaces in higher education

Terry Barrett, University College Dublin

This workshop explores three different ways of combining poetry and mindfulness namely 1) using mindful reading to teach any poetry to students and to create egalitarian spaces for poetry exploration, 2) creating mindful spaces for reflection, personal transformation and thanks through reading and writing poetry, and 3) listening to poetry to resonate with the nature of mindfulness and connecting with inner spaciousness, compassionate values and creativity.

The workshop will begin by the facilitating the mindful reading of a poem together. Participants can adapt this mindful reading approach to reading poems, abstracts and other short texts with students in different disciplinary contexts. This approach develops confidence in interacting with a text.  The second poem that will be explored is the video of a group of first years performing a communal poem about their experiences of being new higher education students. The creation of this poem provided a sense of community, first year students in the same boat together.  A third poem will be read as a trigger for noticing and thanking all those who help us in higher education. This will be followed by a gratitude writing exercise. The fourth poem will be at the end of a guided practice and will resonate with the nature of mindfulness and creativity. The final poem is an inspirational one about writing.

Lastly there will be a short discussion on ideas for future collaboration for teaching practice and/or research.  

Broadening Perspectives on “Contemplative Practices”: Drawing on Personal, Global, and Indigenous Traditions

Juliet Trail, Contemplative Sciences Center, University of Virginia

The definitions of what might constitute a “contemplative practice” in higher education have begun to be explored, normalized, and tested for efficacy in research. Programs such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, for example, have been inspired by Buddhist practices and teachings, bringing them into a secularized setting that has proven to be impactful and beneficial to participants in a wide array of empirical research studies. However, which voices and cultures are currently represented in common “contemplative practices” in higher education, and which are excluded? How might a wider and more diverse array of contemplative practices enrich these efforts? What would be necessary for the academy to diversify and broaden the notion of contemplative practices? In this session, the presenter will lead practices drawn from Native American and Zulu traditions and guide a thoughtful discussion around the issues of diversification of contemplative practice. Results of prior presentations on this topic in the U.S. and in Africa will be described.

All world cultures have traditions that involve deep contemplation, reflection, and rituals or customs related to looking deeply into the nature of the world and connecting beyond the independent self to a broader interdependence that may include wider human communities/societies, nature and the animate and inanimate denizens of the natural world, and often also to a greater connection beyond this world that might be to a sense of spirit, spirituality, or cosmic consciousness. Each of us, personally, have traditions from our own family, community, and/or ancestors. Further, the students of today and of tomorrow come from a dazzling variety of races, ethnicities, and cultures. All of these individuals will also have traditions which incorporate contemplation, reflection, and practices like prayer, ritual, ceremony, etc. that might also prove fruitful for exploration and incorporation into higher education. Studying the mystical and contemplative traditions across world regions and peoples has the potential to provide our students with a much more diverse, global array of contemplative practices, being more inclusive and potentially more accessible for a wider and more diverse array of students. Just as many calls arise today from students and the public for higher education to diversify the professoriate and curricula across fields, contemplative pedagogy and curricula need to broaden and diversify as well.

Stepping off the treadmill: creating spaces of reflection and care for academics

Chiara Cirillo and Geoff Taggart, University of Reading. 

Finding quiet spaces to cultivate awareness, reflection, connection and care has become increasingly important in contemporary, commodified universities. Discourses of ‘learning gain’,  ‘measurements’ and ‘efficiency’  have been deemed detrimental not only to students’ critical intellectual abilities and wellbeing,  also to the capacity of the University to create new knowledge and play its civic role in society (Brown, 2013; Collini, 2017; Giroux, 2014; McGettigan ,2013). 

Slowing down, pressing the ‘pause button’ and ‘changing lenses’, are also important and particularly urgent for the academics, who are struggling with the pressures of the ‘audit culture’ and are being ‘pushed and pulled in many directions and simultaneously constrained by their institutions’  (Hunt, 2006, in Beer et al.,2015). Reclaiming time and space in the performative university enables academics to recover and regain a sense of perspective, purpose and integrity. In the frantic,  ‘limitless’  university, the personal becomes political and vice versa. Reflection, contemplation and care become acts of collaborative, creative resistance (O’Dwyer, Pinto & Mc Donough, 2018) and the foundation of practices to be role-modelled and applied in classrooms and lecture theatres, developing ‘more holistic learning environments […] vital to teaching and learning in higher education’  (Quinlan, 2016). In this hands-on session, we will share our experience of offering contemplative and reflective spaces to staff at a UK university, exploring ways to step off the treadmill. We’ll provide a brief introduction to the institutional context, describe what we do, how we conduct our workshops and the response we have had from participants. You will be invited to try out some of the activities we offer to our university colleagues and to contribute with your own experience, knowledge and wisdom, building on what we do.

2 thoughts on “Symposium programme taking shape

  1. Great to see that Winchester are putting on an event focusing on Contemplative Pedagogy! And to see Rosie Holmes’ research into walking being introduced to new audiences! Also very interesting to see notions of care and wellbeing being discussed in relation to academic work, long overdue…


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