A visit to Eichstätt

I hope this finds you all well. I thought I would just share some thoughts on a recent conference in Germany.

It was my great pleasure to be invited by Prof. Karla Jensen to speak at the Mindfulness in Education conference at University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt last week. The event was organised by Prof. Heiner Boettger and his friendly and efficient team. When Karla got in touch, she asked me if during my talk I would put mindfulness in context by introducing contemplative pedagogy, discussing its relation to mindfulness as well as talking about what I have been experimenting with in my own teaching.  Below is a video of my powerpoint presentation which has the presentation audio too (For some mysterious reason the title slide displayed is not the presentation that follows so just press play – it becomes clear!)  I have also included a PDF file of my slides in case you cannot access the video.

Contemplative Pedagogy Intro, University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt, C Barratt (PDF)

I was very impressed by the commitment and enthusiasm of those who attended, many of whom were training to be teachers. There was a lot of interesting debate and discussion throughout the day. Karlheinz Valtl from the University of Vienna gave an excellent presentation which looked at different models of mindfulness and highlighted some very important resources for those interested in bringing mindfulness into the classroom – the most relevant of which I will add to the resource page of this blog. There was one book that particularly stood out:

I have not yet got my copy, but a significant proportion of the book is dedicated to describing mindfulness exercises for use in education, including HE so I am looking forward to getting it. If you already have this text have you found it useful?

Karlheinz’s presentation and the others will be included in a conference proceedings document which will be made available in due course – I will provide a link on this blog once that happens.

It was great to share ideas with new people and to hear about the challenges at all levels of education, not just HE. One learning point that stands out for me was during a group discussion we were talking about what happens if students in a class don’t want to participate, if they resist what we are trying to do. I explained that I always remind students that participation is optional and I have certainly seen students choose to ‘sit out’ during class mindfulness exercises. Then another group member remarked ‘if you are not making them do anything, there is nothing for them to resist!’ I loved this way of putting it!!

Warm wishes Caroline


Reflections on Contemplative Pedagogy and Open Space Technology at Queen Margaret University

Sorry for the delay in getting to this blog it has been rather hectic since returning from a  ‘Growing Contemplative Practices in HE?’ at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh on 22nd April but I did want to share some thoughts on it.

Iddo Oberski let me know a few months before the event that he had chosen to use Open Space Technology to frame the day. No formal presentations, no pre-planned events, no specific topics to cover – everything would manifest on the day depending on who was there and what they wanted to get from the day. I admit to initally being nervous about this – would people attend an event without an explicit objective asked my inner strategic learner? Would the day be productive for me?

I needn’t have worried. I enjoyed making deicions about what I wanted to do and what I wanted to learn, not having to sit politely through presentations that weren’t relevant, able to take time out as I wished to walk around the lake without considering myself to be ‘lazy’.

What stood out from the day for me was everyone’s wholehearted commitment. I had many very valuable conversations that have deepened my appreciation of the applicability and potential of contemplative pedagogy in higher education as well as the challenges that we face and the questions that accompany this pedagogic approach. I was particuarly excited by the number of people with an interest in health professional education.

Having thought about my own experience and reflected on some of the notes from the day that Iddo has shared, these are the key points and questions I am taking away with me:

  • The importance of not isolating contemplative pedagogy from other ways of teaching but seeing it as an important addition and counterbalance. Ensuring that the decision to use contemplative practice in teaching has a sound pedagogical underpinning – why is this way of teaching this the most appropriate?
  • What is the relevance of contemplative pedagogy for higher education staff? This was discussed in relation to wellbeing as well as its possible impact on creativity in teaching and curriculum development, by creating the space to think and explore often lacking in modern HE. I also think that it may help facilitate relationships and dialogue between colleagues by allowing for meaningful connection. Furthermore, it was mentioned in several different discussion groups that if we are going to start asking students to engage in contemplative practice we need to be willing to do so ourselves.
  • How can contempative pedagogy create space for the heart in the HE classroom? This aspect if very important to me because through focusing on the development of the intellect and critical thinking  the emotional reality of people’s lives are left outside of the classroom despite how important our emotions are for guiding our decision making and for how we experience our lives. I had a bit of a revelation during this discussion about how far I have to go in this regard, how often I resort to certain ways of being in my work environment and in the classroom that don’t reflect the values I would like to see emerge in HE! But I guess we have to start where we are, and I increasingly realise that if I can be more accepting of myself and the system I work within, I will see both more clearly and then stand a better chance of creating positive change.
  • How is contemplative pedagogy relevant to health professional education? This is something I am keen to explore as I think it could help us address some pertinent issues. For example – how do we improve the resilience of future health professionals? How can we teach compassion?

There are many points to pick up on – I would love it if people would comment below or even write a short blog that I can post.

Lastly, I had several discussions about organising some kind of longer event, maybe over a few days next year that would include more open space time as well as workshops and presentations on contemplative pedagogy. Do let me know if this would be of interest.

If you have any particular resources that were mentioned on the day that you would like me to add to the resource page I’d also like to hear from you.

Warm wishes Caroline






Exploring Labyrinths

I’d like to thank Jan Sellers for taking the time to contribute this blog about Labyrinths. I hope you will all find it thought provoking. Do get in touch with Jan if you’d like more details (her website details are below). Warm wishes, Caroline.


I spent last Friday evening crawling around on a church roof in the rain, lending a hand with the installation of a labyrinth of light: a light projection onto the ground, an open space immediately in front of St. Giles Cripplegate Church at the heart of the Barbican, London. A faulty projector or bulb has now delayed this project, but if you are in the vicinity between dusk and 10pm before 23 March, it is well worth a look to see if Jim Buchanan’s beautiful installation is up and running.

This is just one of the intriguing places I’ve found myself in recent years, exploring labyrinths (see the World Wide Labyrinth Locator for labyrinths in your neighbourhood). Unlike a maze, a labyrinth has just one path to the centre, with the same path to return by. The labyrinth path offers a peaceful, meditative experience. Some colleagues will remember labyrinth walks at the University of Westminster, the University of Kent and other academic settings in recent years. Often regarded as a path for spiritual development, the labyrinth can also be used to deepen reflection and support the creative process. It can offer a place of quietness and tranquility, an apparently simple yet powerful contrast to the haste and noise of everyday life.

I first encountered the labyrinth in 2007, when I read that the Chaplain at the University of Edinburgh had introduced labyrinth walking as a contemplative space for students and staff of all faiths and none. Building on this example, with funding through my National Teaching Fellowship, a labyrinth project came into being at Kent. Just as in Edinburgh, interest grew to the extent that a permanent labyrinth was built. I love this link between the two universities and two very different, peaceful spaces: the Edinburgh Labyrinth and the Canterbury Labyrinth.

In 2010, we hosted a labyrinth facilitator training event at Kent with an American organisation, Veriditas, and I have since trained with them to advanced level. I have recently been accepted to lead their one-day “pre-qualifying” workshops, completion of which enables participants to apply for their facilitator training weekends (currently the best short course training available in this field). I am offering my first such workshop in Birmingham on 30 March at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre (which has residential facilities), immediately followed by a highly informal ‘Labyrinth Study Day’ on 31 March, when I’m bringing along my growing collection of labyrinth books and articles for people to browse, on themes including health, education, wellbeing and spiritual development. I’ll be there as a friendly guide!

Over the last ten years I’ve found many examples of innovative practice. This has inspired a new book, coming out April-May: Learning with the Labyrinth: Creating Reflective Space in Higher Education (Jan Sellers and Bernard Moss, eds; Palgrave Macmillan, Spring 2016). We are delighted that this book is part of Palgrave’s Teaching and Learning Series. Around 30 contributors have shared their experiences of introducing labyrinths in university settings in seven different countries, in disciplines ranging from Midwifery to Media Studies.

There will be an opportunity to find out more at the Contemplative Pedagogy event at Queen Margaret University this April. Or you could explore my website, jansellers.com where you can find my contact details.

Telling students to be compassionate isn’t enough…

I hope that this finds you all well. I wanted to share some thoughts on my visit to Warwick Medical School a few weeks ago. I was invited to go and speak at Warwick Medical School’s Mindfulness Society by Dr Majid Kahn (who was kind enough to write a blog about teaching mindfulness on here a few months ago). In particular Majid had asked me to talk about compassion, its relation to mindfulness and its importance in studying and health care practice.

I started by talking about what I consider to the be the ‘compassion imperative’ in  higher education more broadly and then in health professional education specifically. If, in education, the mind is being taught to the exclusion of the heart, and I know I am not alone in thinking that it is, this is not only a problem for those who choose to study to become a health or social care professional. I therefore wanted to establish the breadth of the issue from the outset.

I then talked about what contemplative pedagogy is. The issue of how we teach health care professionals to become compassionate care givers is an area where I strongly believe (and hope over time to evidence) that contemplative pedagogy can make a very valuable contribution to students learning. I therefore used several contemplative exercises during the evening to provide a glimpse of an alternative way of understanding and getting in touch with compassion that goes beyond conceptual understanding which in isolation risks reducing  compassion to another key performance indicator (these exercises are detailed in the slides below). I also gave a brief  description of the course I have developed here at Essex called ‘Developing as a Compassionate Pracitioner’ to provide a practical example of how contemplative pedgaogy can be applied.

At Majid’s request I also spoke about compassion in the context of studying, particularly in competitive environments such as medical school. I was surprised by how easy it was to draw on my own experience in this regard and how my own contemplative practice and the insight this has provided has led to a much greater ability to connect and work with others without feeling either threatened by their apparent greatness, or superior due to my own imagined brilliance! In preparing for the talk I noticed how our judgement of others and ourselves is a huge block to compassion – not just because we might not ‘be nice’ but because allowing compassion to develop threatens the very hierarchy we construct.

The discussion during the evening was very interesting. One question that has stayed with me was about whether we need all health professionals to be compasionate. The example given was that a surgeon’s career is defined largely by his technical skill and not compassion. But even more importantly – would you choose a surgeon that was compassionate but was less technically skilled or the one who has the best outcomes but was not compassionate? Whilst my immediate reaction is surely we can have both, I think it raises a really important point.

Here is a PDF of the presentation slides, I also hope to have an audio recording of the evening to share in due course. Many thanks to Majid for asking me.

Telling students to be compassionate is not enough…

I am now off on holiday for a week and plan to stay away from my computer as much as possible! I will respond to comments and questions when I get back.

Warm wishes Caroline

Mind and morality: insight into the work of Arthur Zajonc

Hi everyone

Happy new year to you all. I hope the festive period offered at least some respite from work and that you found time to do things that brought you joy and peace.

In preparing for a presentation next week I came across a You Tube video of a presentation by Arthur Zajonc entitled ‘Mind and morality: where do they meet?’. I know that many of you will have heard of  him and that one of you if not more have worked with him. His contribution to the Mind and Life Institute and contemplative studies has been significant. I have read several of Zajonc’s books and papers (have a look under the resources tab) and have found them very influential, even captivating but have never found them easy! In particular I have enjoyed the way he speaks about an ‘epistemology of love’ and the need to move towards and enter into relationship with that which we seek to understand rather than standing apart from it, trying to learn about it.

I know, when I read Zajonc’s work, that my understanding is just scratching the surface of what he is actually saying. Whilst this can be frustrating it is also satisfying to have a challenge, to have to sit patiently and open into not knowing. However the presentation that I mention above was very helpful is pointing me towards a better understanding. In particular this presentation points to the danger of when our scientific models of the world dominate our thinking to such an extent that we put aside our actual experience in the world because the scientific model says otherwise. In effect our models and theories can stand between us and the world we are trying to know. As such we bend our view of the world and how we behave in it to fit the model rather than trying to deepen our own experience of what is in front of us.

Reflecting about this in health profession education in particular I saw that if students become too dependent on the models and theories that they are taught these ideas could stand between them and their patients. The doctor or nurse is stopped from seeing the human being in front of them as they are reduced to a collection of symptoms and diagnoses. In this way mind, or too much mind, can stand in the way of morality as we lose sight of humanity behind what we think we know. If on the other hand students are taught to get in touch with their own experience and see the person first, to be present to their experience and then to draw upon their intellectual knowledge and technical skills this could lead to a deepening of connection with those they care for.

Zajonc challenges us to question what is really means to know something and encourages us to explore the relationship we have with the things we claim to know. I would really recommend watching the You Tube video and would love to know what this video or other aspects of his work have provoked for you.

Happy exploring



Allowing students to meet themselves: Mindfulness teacher as matchmaker


I am really excited to post this guest blog. I was put in touch with the author, Majid Khan, by a friend who, having read my previous blogs, thought we would benefit from being in touch. Majid is a GP in Birmingham, a Breathworks teacher and tutor at Warwick Medical School. His blog is about teaching mindfulness but I think it connects deeply with our role as educators no matter what topic we are teaching. Thank you Majid.

Warm wishes Caroline


‘And why, my dear,
Do you call on Hafiz?
For I shall only
Step out
Of you’

Hafiz of Sheraz

There is an old zen parable of a father, who happens also to be an accomplished burglar, wishing to teach his son the trade.

So one night he takes his son out and finds the biggest mansion he can. Stealthily climbing over the fence, successfully negotiating the alarms, and the dogs, he manages to get them both into the upstairs room where lies the chest full of jewellery. The father asks the son to enter the chest, and on doing so promptly seals it, raises the alarm to all the inhabitants, and himself makes a quick getaway. The frightened, confused and no doubt angry, son must find his own way out.

Managing to do so, successfully evading capture, tired, still angry, he finds his father at home, who at once exclaims:’There! You have learned the art….’

It is a strange irony that the origin of the word ‘educate’ actually means to ‘draw out’, rather than the modern understanding ‘to stuff in’. And nowhere is this more important than in the teaching of matters of the mind and of the heart.

To ‘teach’ a student to be compassionate towards themselves, that it’s ok to feel anxious, to respond to their states of mind rather than to react, is to attempt to open up a space in them whose existence they were not aware of. In this sense, the ‘teaching’ takes on its original meaning.

This type of teaching is sensitive to the fact the answers to the questions that students ask lies nowhere other than in the consciousness that is asking those questions.

It is the teacher’s role here not to necessarily give any new information but to point them to answers from the only direction they (indeed, we) so stubbornly refuse to look.

Quite different, then, from the ‘teaching’ of any other academic discipline, guidance in the way of mindfulness begins with the degree of mindfulness of the teacher. The question becomes not one of ‘how much information do I possess on mindfulness’, but rather one of ‘how aware is the mind that is teaching mindfulness’; a question which, aside from itself becoming a part of the field of awareness, is notoriously difficult to ‘answer’.

Such an awareness has relinquished any trace of desire for this mind to be anything other than what is. In this sense, it doesn’t really want to teach the student anything that they do not already know: that the key to mindfulness lies in noticing what’s happening, for as many moments as it is possible to.

In letting go of a desire for a student’s mind to be anything other than it is, the student’s mind is given an opportunity to recognise itself. The student is given the opportunity to recognise themselves.

Perhaps the father in our zen tale wasn’t so cruel afterall…….

I see, then, my role as a ‘teacher’ of mindfulness to be nothing other than a matchmaker: to introduce a student to themselves. The rest is, of course, something of a blind date.

Dr Majid Khan
GP in Birmingham
Breathworks accredited Mindfulness for Stress teacher
Co-lead ‘Mindful Medical Practice’ at Warwick Medical School

Mindfulness, social change and the ‘neoliberal self’

Hi everyone

One of the criticisms which I increasingly come across with regards to mindfulness is that through helping people to deal with stress by engaging differently with their thoughts, rather than addressing the external cause of the stress, mindfulness further individualises suffering. The blame for suffering is placed on the person – ‘if only you could be more mindful you would not be stressed’. In so doing mindfulness detracts from the economic, social and environmental factors that are contributing to the suffering of many people.

I have felt this tension in my own work when teaching mindfulness and self-compassion to a group of health professionals over the summer. Given the very difficult and stressful circumstances that they are currently working in in the NHS, I did at times experience some internal conflict around asking them to become more mindful and compassionate in the inherently stressful environments where they experience very little compassion and ever greater demands. They were very open to the relevance of what I was teaching which was reassuring but I do remain slightly conflicted.

This article prompted me to write this blog by reminding me of these issues. It is about the potential for mindfulness in schools to turn children into robots – by equipping them with tools that will create ‘compliant students who can manage their own behavior, focus on their assignments, and calm themselves when angry or frustrated with school’ (Forbes 2015). Forbes goes on to describe how mindfulness may reinforce the concept of the ‘neoliberal self’, the idea that we should be able to live completely independently, the danger being that stress might come to be seen as a personal failure, playing down or ignoring the economic, social and institutional factors which may contribute.

Initially I felt that the author (who I knew nothing about at the time) clearly had a very narrow concept of what mindfulness was however the article goes on to develop more nuanced arguments about how mindfulness is taught. He draws attention to the danger of mindfulness being taught in such a way as to emphasise personal and academic ‘success’ at the expense of a creativity, exploration, reflection and personal development. In order to avoid this he goes on to describe how mindfulness education needs to feature as part of a critical pedagogy which raises challenging questions about social inequalities and injustice. Furthermore he emphasises the importance of compassion, reflecting the ethical basis which underpinned mindfulness in its traditional context:

‘For all of us mindfulness should be a fiercely compassionate practice in which we uncover, challenge, and transcend how our thoughts, feelings, and actions are conditioned and colonized by unhealthy cultural practices and social institutions that (re)produce greed, meanness, and delusion.‘ (Forbes 2016)

I highly recommend reading the actual article.

Overall I think he touches on issues which speak directly to the importance of aspects of contemplative pedagogy that cultivate meaningful reflection and the development of community, explore interconnectivity and compassion, and provide a space for the development of our internal lives – through mindfulness and other means.

In my own experience though, I have actually found that mindfulness has been very helpful in giving me the courage and equanimity to work for change and to speak out and take action. I am willing to acknowledge the extent of inequality and injustice more clearly than I have before as well as facing up to my own role in it.  By developing wisdom about my own mental states and insight into my own delusion, I am now willing to be more vulnerable and risk criticism and as such I am much freer to take action than I have been in the past. As I have not been able to run a randomised control trial on different versions of my life I am unable to attribute this only to meditation but I am confident that it has played a large part.  I think mindfulness can help to open the door to more critical engagement with the world – it is not about a numb, compliant acceptance but a deep recognition and openness to how things are. It is from this space that real change can come.

I’d love to know your thoughts on this issue as it is very pertinent to what we are doing. Please comment below.

Warm wishes Caroline

Forbes, D. They want kids to be robots: Meet the new education craze designed to distract you from overtesting [Online] Available at: http://www.salon.com/2015/11/08/they_want_kids_to_be_robots_meet_the_new_education_craze_designed_to_distract_you_from_overtesting/ [Accessed: 26 November 2015].

Save the date, virtual book groups & valuable resources

I hope this finds you well and adapting to the ever new and surprising challenges that our students bring to our doors! I have a few exciting updates and resources that I want to share in this blog.

Firstly, thanks to Iddo Oberski plans are afoot for our next event which will take place at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh on 22nd April 2016. More details will be made available as soon as we have them. In the meantime please save the date.

Secondly, following a very creative and inspiring meeting with Alasdair Honeyman, Jennifer Bright and Amir Freiman in London back in September, we identified that setting up some kind of monthly virtual book group would allow people to connect with others and share and discuss ideas. In particular Amir is keen to establish ways of supporting and encouraging teachers and academics in Israel. Do you think this is a good idea? Would you participate? I am not brilliantly tech savvy if anyone has any ideas about how this could technically be done do let me know. We also need suggestions for what to read so do comment below.

Another little adventure I am embarking on is as an Associate Editor for ‘The Arrow’ which is a journal that ‘explores the relationship between contemplative practice, politics, and activism’. The senior advisor for the journal is Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche the lineage holder of the Shambhala Buddhist tradition. The editors already have links with the Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education and there is a notable synergy between what The Arrow is trying to achieve and much of our work here. Do explore the website, have a read and let me know your thoughts. Also if you feel that you would like to write for the journal do let me know. In the future we may think about developing a contemplative pedagogy special issue so get your thinking caps on.

Lastly I want to make sure that you all know about this book: The Mindful Way To Study. The authors have very generously made it freely available and from my initial glance it appears to be an excellent resource for students of all types. I think it could also be very valuable for anyone wanting to introduce mindfulness to students as it discuss the concepts in very relevant ways. I hope to do a book review once I have had time to read it more thoroughly.

Anyway I had better get back to work. If anyone has any ideas for a blog I’d love to hear from you.

Warm wishes, Caroline

Contemplative Practices for Anti-Oppression Pedagogy – Food for Thought

Through the Association of Contemplative Mind in Higher Education mailing list and discussion with teachers in the US over the last year I have come into contact with dialogue about tackling oppression and promoting social justice through higher and further education. This has made me painfully aware of my own naiveté, particularly about racism and privilege, as well as making me very conscious of how absent oppression and social justice are from HE classrooms in the UK. Whilst they may be studied abstractly by some students in terms of sociological theories I have not come across teaching which encourages students to deeply question their own role as oppressors or oppressed, or engage imaginatively with visions of social justice.

This inspirational  website by Beth Berila, the Director of the Women’s Studies Program and Professor in the Ethnic and Women’s Studies Department at St. Cloud State University Minnesota, is full of useful resources. It has also made me think more deeply about the potential of contemplative practice to generate social change and expose the powerful forces of oppression and privilege that remain unexplored and unquestioned within our current education system – particularly I think in the UK.


I have not yet had chance to explore the website in much detail so if you find any of the resources particuarly interesting or thought provoking do comment below or circulate in the mailing list. If you would like to be added to our mailing list please email me: barrattc[at]essex.ac.uk

Best wishes


We can now include audio files :-)

Having upgraded our website using a slight underspend from the Contemplative Pedagogy Weekend at Emerson College in June we can now insert audio files.

To test this out, I have included the audio of my presentation from that weekend entitled ‘What does contemplative pedagogy mean for us as teachers’. I have written some notes on this which can be found here. The recording includes the reflective exercise which starts at approximately 20:10.

Enjoy! There is some shuffling around as people get settled for the exercise between approximately 18:30 and 20:00 so feel free to skip this.

If you experience any problems with this please let me know by email barrattc[at]essex.ac.uk or on twitter [at]C_Barratt_

Best wishes