Contemplative learning and practice integrate introspection and direct experience, cultivating wisdom through the development of:
- awareness and understanding (including of self) that can hold complexity and contradiction
- attention and focus
- purpose and meaning
- deep listening and speaking across difference
- creativity in problem solving
- stress reduction and self-regulation
- empathy and compassion
- consideration of the impacts of our actions on the world
There are many kinds of contemplative practices, of which meditation is only one. At the Midwest Alliance for Mindfulness, we see mindfulness as an essential component underlying all of these skills. We take a very broad approach, teaching stillness, movement, relational, creative, generative, activist, and ritual/cyclical practices, all arising from a foundation of mindful awareness and community connection. We also take an integrative approach, seeing compassion and ethics as components of mindfulness, rather than something separate or “extra”. According to Buddhist psychology, ethical instincts, balance/equanimity, self-respect, confidence, lovingkindndess, compassion, sympathetic joy, and regard for consequences arise when mindfulness does. We believe this is also true for secular mindfulness. As Jon Kabat-Zinn said, “In Asian languages, the word for mind and the word for heart are same. So if you’re not hearing mindfulness in some deep way as heartfulness, you’re not really understanding it.”
…intuitive controls… come into play when there is mindfulness. They watch over our own mental states and how we interact with others: they prevent us from doing or saying something that could cause harm to ourselves or others. They are rather like inbuilt ethical instincts that come into action when mindfulness is present. – Sarah Shaw
In fact, we see the teaching of mindfulness as an education in the fundamental skills supporting individual and collective wellbeing. Former Naropa University president Judy Lief said, “A balanced education cultivates abilities beyond the verbal and conceptual to include matters of heart, character, creativity, self-knowledge, concentration, openness and mental flexibility.” In the book Excellence Without a Soul: How a Great University Forgot Education, Author Harry L. Lewis discusses what has been lost in our traditional educational system. He argued that his ivy league university, “by focusing on competition for professors and financial support and a consumer model of education, has failed to live up to its primary mission of educating students to become responsible members of society.” This could also be said of our mainstream culture as a whole. The primacy of earning and winning for our very survival can blind us to the bigger picture. I recently learned the term “percepticide“, the mind-numbing sibling of heart-numbing compassion fatigue. Percepticide happens when, under stress, we lose our ability to think critically, adopting instead a view that supports our understandable desire for self-preservation. Essentially, we shift our focus from the wholeness of what is right in front of us to what we think will better support our wellbeing. Contemplative learning and practices can help inoculate us against this phenomenon.
Recently, the Mindfulness Initiative published a document entitled “Mindfulness: Developing Agency in Urgent Times” outlining how “cultivating the innate capacity of mindfulness and its essential qualities such as attention regulation, receptivity, meta-cognition, cognitive flexibility, embodiment, emotion regulation and kindness could be foundational in responding to the complex challenges of the 21st Century.” They talk about how mindfulness can help us reclaim our attention from the myriad distractions of the modern age and consumer and political interests competing for our time: “Multiple interconnected crises call for skillful response at a global scale – but our capacity for intentional action in our collective best interest is underdeveloped and increasingly undermined.” They also speak of how the practice helps us interrupt reactivity, giving us space to choose our responses wisely. Mindfulness helps us broaden our perspective and connect to what’s most important. It can help us open to and thus better understand the world’s increasing complexity.
The aim of education should be to train happy individuals who will make up a peaceful society. It requires warm-heartedness and taking a broad-minded, holistic and far-sighted approach that enables people to cope, whatever happens. This entails focussing not only on self-satisfaction, but on the good of the community. Wise self-interest takes the needs of others into account. – 14th Dalai Lama
Contemplative learning and practices, including mindfulness, can re-humanize us, reminding us of our place within the great, interconnected web of being. They can help us become more engaged in our lives and with the world. Perhaps most of all, they can remind us to connect, again and again, with our deepest values. All of these factors incline us toward our best selves so that we might leave a legacy of beneficence, reaching far beyond our brief existence.
Relation between contemplative exercises and an enriched psychology students’ experience in a neuroscience course https://www.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01296
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