Integrating mindfulness and self-compassion

Integrated Mindfulness is an interesting project from Tim Duerden and Annette Dunn which brings together insights from Mindfulness Based Stress Education and Mindful Self-Compassion Training into an integrated approach which they call Mindful Resilience Enhancement.

MRE frames the cultivation of mindful awareness as a value. We have many opportunities in our daily experience of life when we can choose to move towards being more mindfully aware and the motivation to do so can, in time, become important to us in its own right. In this way being mindfully aware becomes more about how we are (a core value) than about something that we do for a particular end (a goal)…..

MRE seeks to explicitly teach ways of enhancing self-compassion just as it seeks to explicitly teach ways to enhance mindful awareness. The centrality of the cultivation of self-compassion to MRE is supported by research that indicates that when self-compassion is explicitly cultivated alongside mindfulness, the enhancement to well-being and the development of mindful awareness are greater and longer-lasting.

Their curriculum overlays this approach onto a traditional 8 week MBSR/CT type program in a very interesting way that gradually scaffolds the introduction to mindfulness practices:

The first phase is learning to mindfully be more at ease alongside difficulty with kindness and is the focus of the Level 1 teacher-training. Mindfulness in daily life is emphasised as the core practice in the MRE Level 1 curriculum, with short mindfulness practices that incrementally build to longer practice periods being progressively woven into daily routines supported by self-compassion practices. It is important to note that the Level 1 Competency Certificate only applies to teaching brief mindfulness and soothing practices that support being at ease alongside difficulty.

The second phase is to approach and explore difficulty with kindness and curiosity and is the focus of the Level 2 teacher-training. Building on the Level 1 curriculum, the Level 2 MRE teacher-training curriculum has a greater emphasis on cultivating self-compassion and on more sustained periods of mindfulness practice. These support the approaches that encourage turning towards difficulty.

This approach could be very useful with students in addressing a range of both personal transition issues and transition to study issues and the emphasis on kindness and self-compassion is a great balance to the competitive pass/fail orientation of higher education.





Contemplative pedagogy & transformational learning

The Journal of Transformative Education has just published a wonderful collection of articles that they have published over the last 12 years.

This issue contains 9 papers published in the Journal for Transformative Education during the past 11 years. These years have seen significant growth and expansion in the field, particularly in the area of mindfulness. I read recently that mindfulness has become the ‘‘buzzword’’ of the decade. In 2012, there were 550,000 Google searches a month on the key word ‘‘mindfulness’’ (Wilson, 2014, p. 3). Wilson (2014) writes, ‘‘We now have advocates for and practitioners of mindful eating, mindful sex, mindful parenting, mindfulness at work, mindful sports, mindful divorce lawyers, mindfulness-based stress reduction, mindfulness-based addiction recovery, and on and on’’ (p. 3). Although two papers in this collection focus on mindfulness, as a whole, these papers deal with a diverse set of issues related to contemplative education.

Opening the Contemplative Mind in the Classroom

Tobin Hart, 2004

Meditation: Its Role in Transformative Learning and in the Fostering of an Integrative Vision for Higher Education

Phyllis Robinson, 2004

Interiority and Education: Exploring the Neurophenomenology of Contemplation and Its Potential Role in Learning

Tobin Hart, 2008

Authentic Ways of Knowing, Authentic Ways of Being: Nurturing a Professional Community of Learning and Praxis

Hilary Dencev and Rupert Collister, 2010

Advancing a Second-Person Contemplative Approach for Collective Wisdom and Leadership Development

Olen Gunnlaugson, 2011

A Portrait of Contemplative Teaching: Embracing Wholeness

Kathryn Byrnes, 2012

Following Contemplative Education Students’ Transformation Through Their “Ground-of-Being” Experiences

Patricia Fay Morgan, 2012

Inner Alchemy: Transforming Dilemmas in Education Through Mindfulness

Leigh Burrows, 2015

A Brief History of the Current Reemergence of Contemplative Education

Patricia Fay Morgan, 2014

Mindfulness as a digital literacy

I am excited to be presenting some ideas on mindfulness as a digital literacy at the STARS conference on student retention and success next week in Perth. It is a paper that I have co-authored with my colleague Warren Summers. It outlines an approach to mindful attention in online interactions that we first began thinking about when developing an online community with our Zen group. This paper applies it to developing digital literacies with students.

O’Donnell, M., Summers, W., Fascinating Attention: Digital literacies in the FACE of digital distractions, STARS 2016 Perth, 29 June – 2 July

ABSTRACT: Adjusting to new modes of digital behaviour and a developing digital identity is a critical part of the transition experience in higher education as students move from recreational to professional approaches to digital connection and communication. This paper argues that digital literacies must include socioemotional literacies that enable digital encounters as embodied practices with a full range of cognitive, attentional, affective, and somatic elements. Drawing on the psychology of mindfulness literature we present a model for developing focused attention and embracing the digital as a space of creativity and engagement rather than as a space for passive exploration of information.

We have also set up a website with some resources, which will be developed further over the next twelve months as we begin to work with different groups using the model.

Compassion and Social Justice: building connections

I wrote last year when we launched this blog about expanding the field of contemplative pedagogies by building connections across the curriculum. One such set of connections could be between programs on human rights and social justice and those on compassion.

There have been a number of projects recently that have looked at social justice education. Sydney University’s Human Rights Program has recently released some great resources about using simulations to teach social justice and human rights. In this video introduction Dr Susan Banki outlines the principles underlying her approach. She rightly emphasises the structural nature of human rights violations and outlines an applied approach for students to develop strategic approaches to social justice activism.

This structural approach with practical applied learning activities is a great example of how a curriculum can be developed to provide an integrated educational, professional and personal development experience. However from a contemplative pedagogies perspective additional work on the science and practice of compassion would add a further dimension that could complete this experience. This could be particularly valuable from the point of view of self-care and exploration of the links between compassion, social justice and self-compassion. Kristen Neff one of the leading researchers on self compassion has shown that although there are notable links between compassion for others and self compassion, this is not necessarily the case in young people:

Because young adults in college are still forming their identities and understandings of intimate relationships, they are unlikely to have the same in-depth knowledge of themselves or others that comes with greater age and experience. Young adults also struggle with recognizing the shared aspects of their life experience, often overestimating their distinctiveness from others (Lapsley, FitzGerald, Rice, & Jackson, 1989). Thus, young adults’ schemas for why they are deserving of care and why others are deserving of care may be poorly integrated, so that their treatment of themselves and others is relatively unrelated. As individuals learn more about suffering and the causes of suffering with development, however, they may come to form a more unified understanding of compassion that generalizes to human beings more broadly, the self included. This may help explain why self-compassion was linked to compassion, empathetic concern and altruism for community adults and meditators but not for undergraduates. (Neff & Pommier 2012)

A range of Compassion Cultivation tools have been developed by groups like The  Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) at Stanford University. Roshi Joan Halifax has also developed a detailed enactive model of compassion which has been used extensively in nursing education.


Design thinking, intersubjectivity, meditation and non-judgment

Contemplative pedagogy is not just about “using” meditative techniques in learning activities. It is also about exploring the connection between contemplative orientations and new styles of learning.

In a recent interview interaction designer, Jay Vidyarthi, talked about his use of interactive design thinking processes at the Mindful Society Conference. This involved getting conference participants to iteratively answer questions and then revisit those questions and new evolving questions after the collective answers had been grouped into themes and networks. Vidyarthi noted that doing this process with a group of meditators was significantly easier:

I also think that part of what made it work with such a big group was the fact that the vast majority of attendees were meditators. Meditation and design thinking share a heavy reliance on non-judgment. Neither of them work that well if you’re in a space that’s judgmental. Usually when I conduct these workshops, I need to take a lot of time with people to help get them in the frame of mind to really listen to each other and to be curious instead of judgmental. At the conference, I was pretty surprised by everyone’s willingness to contribute, interact, listen, and explore right off the bat. I think having a group steeped in mindfulness helped a lot.

The ability to attend non-judgmentally to others and to engage with an open curious mind are processes common to contemplative practice and to experiential learning processes.  This is an important point because it allows us to reconceptualise contemplative processes as shared rather than purely individualised experiences.

Olen Gunnlaugson has written about this as an aspect of contemplative pedagogy and transformative learning. It involves moving from a first person perspective of “presence” to a second person perspective of intersubjective “presencing”:

Attending to the field dynamics of a group conversation helps open up a metaperspective, which can be useful in articulating or sensing the emergence of the ‘‘ours together’’ perspective… When we bring our attention to… an expanded sense of self, this might involve encouraging participants to experiment with shifting their awareness from their individual perspectives to the groups to finally attempting to observe from ‘‘multiple points of view simultaneously from the surrounding field’’ (Scharmer, 2007, p. 169). Finally, by becoming present to what is emerging through us, the group or conversational field itself becomes more of an ‘‘enabling presence’’ (2007, p. 181). This allows everyone to see more of who we are, which helps open the intersubjective space for deeper issues, questions, and realizations to surface. (2011:9)



Research review of meditation in schools

A recent review of the effects of meditation in schools by a University of Melbourne team confirms the strong role of contemplative practices in education. And has implications for those working in higher education.

The team led by Professor Lea Waters reviewed 15 studies which collectively included data from 1800 students across Australia, Canada, India, United Kingdom, United States, and Taiwan. Waters recently wrote that their meta-review concluded:

Meditation is beneficial in the majority of cases and led to higher optimism, positive emotion, self-concept, self-care and self-acceptance as well as reduced anxiety, stress, and depression in students. Meditation was also associated with faster information processing, greater attentional focus, working memory, creativity and cognitive flexibility.

While mediation’s efficacy in these areas is now well supported a second level conclusion of the study points to interesting directions for further research and practice:

The meditation programs that were the most effective were those that encouraged regular practice, those that went for a term or longer and those that were delivered by teachers (as compared to an external meditation instructor).The meta-review found a strong case for infusing meditating into the culture of schools and making it a core part of teacher training.

This points to the importance of developing cohesive programs that introduce students to these practices over the life of a course. It also points to the need for University Teaching and Learning Centres to provide continuing professional development programs in these areas.

Waters and her colleagues also propose a theoretical model of the lines of relationship and effect between meditation and student wellness. They argue that “currently, the literature is fragmented, and no model has been put forward to understand what happens to students “inner worlds” when they meditate…the research has focussed on outcomes rather than causal variables” (121)

‘The School-Based Meditation Model’… Waters et al 2015

Although the pathways in the model are hypothetical it is strongly based on a range research.

The “School-Based Meditation Model”….has been developed using three strands of research: first, research from education showing that cognitive function and emotional regulation are positively associated with well-being, social competence and academic achievement; second, adult neuroscience research showing associations between meditation and areas of the brain that are responsible for cognitive function and emotional regulation; and third, research from contemplative education showing that students who attend school meditation activities have increased cognitive function (e.g. better working memory) and increased emotional regulation (e.g. students and teachers report being better able to manage anger and stress) compared to control groups. (121)

A Brief History of the Current Reemergence of Contemplative Education

Although many people consider contemplative pedagogy to be a new field of research and practice it is in fact a reemergence of ancient contemplative educational practices . In my investigation of the current form of contemplative education I have identified three waves of this remergence starting in the US in 1840.

In my article examining these three stages I concentrate on the third or current reemergence of contemplative education, which arguably started in 1995 with the establishment of the Centre for Contemplative Mind in Society (CCMIS), Massachusetts. This stage was preceded by two others.

The second began with the establishment of three contemplative tertiary institutions, starting in 1968 with the opening of the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) San Francisco, then the Maharishi University of Management (MUM) in 1971, and Naropa University, Colorado in 1974. This second wave is underpinned by the first, in which Buddhism was introduced to the United States by Chinese immigrants to the West Coast starting in 1840.

This contemporary history is framed by ancient history reaching back to Ancient Greece and further to prehistoric ritualised forms of learning that incorporated meditative trance states. These early and more recent histories of contemplative education allow us to see that what arose with the founding of the CCMIS, CIIS, Naropa, and MUM is not an ‘‘emergence’’ but a ‘‘reemergence.’’

But this reemergence did not occur in isolation. I believe there are five primary influences on the current reemergence of contemporary contemplative education in the West. They are:

  • Buddhist and Hindu philosophy;
  • transpersonal psychology;
  • medicine, psychology, business and sport psychology and meditation research;
  • Yoga in the West; and
  • cognitive and neuroscience and meditation research.

The first has directly affected the founding of educational institutions that incorporate the contemplative practices of their Buddhist and Hindu foundations. The impact of the other four is less explicit and their outcomes not always obvious, which makes it difficult to quantify their influence although I suggest that it is significant. It is important to remember that I present these influences as a means to initiate dialogue not as a conclusive list.

Contemplative education has reemerged, I believe, because of a desire for the holism that was lost through Cartesian efforts to ‘‘cut man off from his deeper embodied perplexities as a whole knower’’ (Holbrook, 1987, p. 46). Although Cartesian reason produced an exponential growth in the natural sciences, it obscured the passage back to a locus of meaning, knowledge, and sense of wholeness, which lies within the individual’s subjective consciousness.

It appears that educational practitioner theorists struggling with their own and their students’ chronic stress, fragmented attention, time poverty, and quest for meaning are now finding that contemplative practices provide a means to navigate both the entry and the exit of a passage back to wholeness that contemplation can provide. The ability of these practices to link the inner and outer worlds, the psyche and soma, frames these practitioner theorists’ restoration of the subjective and somatic in education through their development of contemplative pedagogy. Their theoretical and applied researchis, in essence, a return to an approach that has had a continuing presence in education, so suggesting that it is an essential part of who we are an how we learn. 

This post is adapted by the author from A Brief History of the Current Reemergence of Contemplative Education which was recently published in the Journal of Transformative Education.



Contemplative Pedagogies: Expanding the Field

The Tree illustrates the range of contemplative practices in use in secular organizational and academic settings…Centre for Contemplative Mind

Contemplative Practices can be found in all the world’s diverse wisdom traditions: they are ways of focusing the mind and expanding perception, as such they are intrinsically pedagogical. But until recently they have not been studied as a form of pedagogy that has application across disciplines.

However contemporary research in contemplative pedagogies is now an expanding and robust field. This is in no small part due to the pioneering work of the Association for Contemplative Mind in Society who began a scholarship program for academics in 1996 and went on to form the Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education (ACMHE) ten years later.

ACMHE now holds a series of annual events that gather educators from around the world to discuss the way a variety of contemplative practices can be used across the curriculum. Recently a Contemplative Pedagogy Network was also begun in the UK after a successful conference in 2015.

One of the strengths of the approach adopted by the ACMHE was to focus on a broad suite of practices that go beyond simply introducing mindfulness meditation into the classroom.  They call this approach “The tree of contemplative practices“.

Arthur Zajonc one of the founders of ACMHE has called the gradual development of contemplative education across higher education “a quiet revolution”:

Nearly every area of higher and professional education from poetry to  biology and from medicine to law is now being taught with contemplative  exercises. Appreciation of secular contemplative exercises for stress reduction (Shapiro, Schwartz, and Bonner 1998) is growing fast as is the acknowledgment of their value for general capacity building (such as strengthening attention or cultivating emotional balance), as well as for mastery of course material…..Contemplative pedagogy serves several educational goals. Research shows that contemplative practice, even if performed for short periods,  improves attention (Jha 2007; Tang et al. 2007), cognition (Zeidan 2010),  and cognitive  exibility (Moore 2009). At Stanford University James Doty  (2012) has established the Centre for Compassion and Altruism Research  and Education, whose research shows that compassion can be strengthened.

This rich body of research, with a twenty plus year history, has begun to both gather data on the relative effectiveness of various practices and develop conceptual work which maps the theoretical landscape of the field.

In Australia the field is relatively underdeveloped although there is burgeoning enthusiasm. The OLT Project University Student Success, Resilience and Well Being brought together a group in 2014 to share their experience of contemplative practice and this has led to an ongoing informal network.

The purpose of the Contemplative Pedagogies Network Australia is to develop and expand this network and to support members in developing a range of contemplative and reflective approaches in their courses.