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

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)