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)