As part of my stepping away from the network and allowing it to evolve under new leadership I have been asked to share the story of ‘how it all happened’. I suggested that I write it up in a blog and this was warmly received. I hope it is useful and records with a modicum of accuracy what has manifested since the network’s inception in 2014.
I have spent sometime re-reading messages sent back in 2014, when I first thought about connecting with others to explore contemplative pedagogy. My sent message folder has acted as a repository to our very first communications. It has been delightful, whilst also slightly cringey, to note my enthusiasm, anxiety and fears from that early activity. It seems my recollection of the timeline for the development of network activities was a bit off and that we actually got the ball rolling much more quickly than I had expected.
In August 2014 I attended the Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education (ACMHE) summer workshop at the Omega Institute. It was a ground-breaking few days for me. For the first time I experienced some integration of my personal contemplative practice with my professional life and identity as an educator. It felt like the jigsaw pieces fell into place.
When I got back I knew that I needed to build on what I had experienced. I felt contemplative pedagogy could have meaning for others and that the way forward was through community and collaboration. I asked ACMHE if I could send an email to the UK academics on their membership list which I did at the end of August. Within a couple of hours of sending the email I had already had two people phone me – yes actually pick up the phone! Amazing! Six of us then met in London in early October 2014, Alasdair Honeyman, Jennifer Bright, Robert-Louis Abrahamson, Paul Breslaw and George Perry. After that meeting I wrote:
‘I am filled with beans today. A more positive version of ‘the morning after’!
To come into work and open such a lovely series of positive emails has been a joy and then to realise that the remaining chocolate that Alasdair kindly contributed was still in my handbag – I don’t think it gets better than that.’
After that meeting I set up the JISCMail list and the blog and we started making plans for a one day event at Emerson College in November 2014. Between 2015 and 2017 we organised additional events at Emerson College supported by George Perry as well as at Queen Margaret University led by Iddo Oberski. Over this time the number of visitors to the blog and the members on the mailing list started to grow.
In 2018 we started to run the annual four day symposium. This felt like a leap of faith as it involved some financial risk but I felt strongly that I wanted to arrange something that had the potential to really tap into the depth and richness of contemplative pedagogy. The two events that we ran face to face at Emerson College felt remarkable and the feedback we received suggested that these were truly transformative for many who attended. They certainly were for me. It felt as though those events took me to the edge of my own practice, tapping into a profound sense of my own vulnerability as well as inspiration and hope. Even the symposia that had to move online had some magic to them. I am indebted to all those who worked on the organising team for these symposia – Iddo Oberski, Steven Stanley, Siobhan Lynch, Andrew Morgans, Naomi de la Tour, Lynne Wallace, Leanne McHugh, Lily-Rose Fitzmaurice and Lanaire Aderemi.
In March 2021 we had our first Contemplative Pedagogy Network Workshop arranged by Mike Wride, Anne Vicary, Juliet Trail and Andrew Morgans. Hopefully this will become a regular fixture in the network calendar providing an opportunity for members to explore their work with others and learn together.
Purpose and connection
I don’t think I have ever had a very precise sense of what the network is for but I did know that it was important. Nor have I ever felt qualified to be the person to be driving it forward. Without the patient support of other people and the depth and authenticity of those connections it would never have got off the ground. I have just done what has felt right or necessary and tried to listen to those around me (and not be too controlling!). It felt as though some of my collaborators could sense my insecurities and fears and always met them with such kindness. That care will be my enduring sense of this work.
By the summer of 2021 it had become clear to me that I was not the person to lead the network into the future. I am not entirely clear why but I deeply know this to be the case. Of course, fear has been busy telling me not to let go of something I have worked so hard at and that has been surprisingly successful! But if contemplative pedagogy is to mean anything at all it only does so through committed practice and the application of that learning into our lives. So, I am ignoring the clamouring of the ego and instead choosing the peace of a decision that feels right in my heart.
I am pleased to say that two very kind people, Mike Wride and Juliet Trail, have come forward with a willingness to move things forward and engage with network members to explore the future of the network. I am still incredibly interested in contemplative pedagogy and hope that the time freed up from leading the network can be spent on my own reading, writing and research. I will remain an enthusiastic network member for as long as it is around.
A huge thanks to all those named here and the many more people that have supported me and the network in many ways who I have not named individually.