[Paleopsych] CHE: Meditate on It
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Mon Oct 24 22:29:08 UTC 2005
Meditate on It
The Chronicle of Higher Education, 5.10.21
[Colloquy with Zajonc appended. I got in a question, on whether meditation is a
progressive discipline (think Lakatos here). I went to a talk on acupuncture. I
had to leave early but did ask if such and such was a new treatment. The
promoter said it was not.
[He also said chiropracty is a part of acupuncture. Chiropracty is a much more
recent form of supposed therapy, but there may be something in acupuncture that
looks enough like chiropracty for the claim to make some sort of sense. I
confess to general ignorance on these matters, trusting neither the
establishment nor the quacks and realizing that any evaluation I made would
just be one more book to add to the heap.
[The Enlightenment optimism that our brains are big enough and our
personalities disinterested enough to solve all problems died in six seconds in
Can adding contemplation to the classroom lead students to more eureka
By JOHN GRAVOIS
Arthur Zajonc is sitting on the edge of a chair with his back
straight, his eyes closed, and his brow lightly furrowed in
concentration. He is meditating, but he does not look especially
beatific. He looks like someone dreaming of algebra.
He sits in a circle of about 40 other people, some perched on chairs,
others sitting cross-legged on plump, round floor cushions called
zafus, many of their faces likewise knit with mild concern.
After a time, Mr. Zajonc lifts his hands from his thighs and retrieves
a bell from a table behind him. He strikes it, the air seems to wobble
a little, and the meditators blink open their eyes. When the room has
come back into focus -- dark wood paneling, clothbound books, old
portraits on the walls -- Mr. Zajonc begins to speak, and the gears of
a group discussion slowly start to turn.
He is speaking to professors who have traveled from all over the
country to Smith College for a weeklong seminar. Here in a region
dubbed the "the Buddha Belt" for its preponderance of meditation
centers, they are talking about adding meditation and other
contemplative practices to the college curriculum. Mr. Zajonc
(pronounced like "science," but with a "z") is a physics professor at
Amherst College and the director of the academic program at the Center
for Contemplative Mind in Society, a Northampton nonprofit group that
seeks to promote better living and a better society through meditation
This seminar is only the latest flowering of the center's efforts in
higher education. Over the past seven years, it has paired up with the
American Council of Learned Societies to give out a handful of
fellowships annually to professors who want to build contemplative
components into their curricula -- in subjects as varied as physics,
business, and art history. The idea is that meditation doesn't just
help stressed-out students find their happy place; rather, it actually
deepens their engagement with subject matter -- and may even prompt
moments of insight.
The Northampton center's efforts are already bearing fruit. At the
University of Michigan School of Music, students can receive
bachelor's degrees in a program called jazz and contemplative studies.
An economist at Emory University has drawn up a syllabus that requires
his students to meditate on pictures of poor people. And at Brown, a
religious-studies professor includes meditation "labs" among his
When the center advertised this curriculum-development seminar for
paying customers, it received twice as many applications as it could
"We're not alone anymore," Mr. Zajonc tells the group of session
attendees. "Science is being done, conferences are happening,
communities are getting together locally, regionally, nationally.
"It's a wave," he says. "It's a movement."
Buoyed by Research
There's no place for this in the academy. This is spirituality in the
classroom. This is Buddhism Lite. Meditative silence is a home for the
demonic. How can you grade inner experience? This is pseudoscience.
You can do the same thing with Prozac. How do you justify having
students pay all those tuition dollars to do ... nothing?
Professors who want to introduce contemplation into the classroom take
heat from all sides. But now isn't a bad time for them to make their
Over the past decade, and particularly in the past year,
neuroscientific research on the effects of meditation has flourished.
In a much publicized study last November, Richard J. Davidson, a
neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, showed that
Buddhist monks who have logged more than 10,000 hours in contemplation
are able -- far better than novice meditators -- to activate "positive
emotion" centers in their brains when concentrating on compassion.
In fact, Mr. Davidson found that some of the most experienced monks
registered higher brain activity in those regions than had ever been
recorded in a healthy person.
Another recent study, by Paul Ekman at the University of California at
San Francisco, indicates that the monks' compassion is more than a
mere head trip. When experienced monks were shown a rapid succession
of video images of minutely different facial expressions, they were
better at distinguishing among the emotional states registered than
were all 5,000 of Mr. Ekman's other test subjects.
Next month, in what is perhaps the most vivid sign of neuroscience's
contemporary romance with Buddhism, the Dalai Lama is scheduled to
deliver the inaugural lecture at the annual meeting of the Society for
Neuroscience, fresh on the heels of the publication of his new book,
The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and
In it, he writes: "My confidence in venturing into science lies in my
basic belief that as in science so in Buddhism, understanding the
nature of reality is pursued by means of critical investigation: If
scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in
Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and
abandon those claims."
It is as though Buddhism were saying to science: Let's play ball.
Mr. Zajonc, who has coordinated some of the Dalai Lama's meetings with
scientists, has much the same attitude about contemplation in higher
"I think it's totally fair to be held to high standards in the
academy," he says. "We just have to develop the responses."
In the classroom, Mr. Zajonc believes that contemplative practice
should function on multiple levels. The most basic is what he calls
"mental hygiene" -- the therapeutic, relaxing, focusing effect that
most people think of when they imagine someone tuned out in a
But beyond that, he says, there are more-specific exercises -- like
free writing, for instance, in which a practitioner writes for a set
interval of time without ever lifting her pen -- that can help
students observe their emotional, intuitive, or physical responses to
At the highest level, Mr. Zajonc says, meditation can shade into
something he calls "contemplative inquiry," where students try to
create the mental circumstances for moments of insight -- minor
versions of the "eureka moments" in the history of science.
That's not to say that adducing evidence and crunching equations
should ever go out the window. But truly original discoveries don't
usually spring straight from logical proofs, he says: "The conditions
required for intuitive insight are quite different from the subsequent
dispassionate, logical testing of it."
In his mind, the mental state behind such epiphanies is more akin to
seeing than to deductive reasoning. Meditation, which builds skills of
self-observation and trains the mind to mull contradictions without
jumping to resolve them, he says, may be the best way to cultivate
that special kind of vision.
In 2000, three years after getting a contemplative-practice fellowship
from the American Council of Learned Societies, Ed Sarath submitted a
proposal for an entire degree program in jazz and contemplative
studies to the curriculum committee at the University of Michigan
School of Music. In addition to typical courses in music theory,
performance, and improvisation, the major would require four semesters
of a "contemplative-practice seminar" and a course called "Creativity
and Consciousness," plus work in meditation-related fields like
psychology and religion.
To his surprise, the idea sailed through the committee with a
unanimous vote. Then it went before the entire faculty of the school
for consideration. Ten days went by before anyone weighed in.
Then the exchange of a few e-mail messages started what is still known
at the school as "the great debate."
"Things got testy," says Mr. Sarath, a jazz professor. "I was getting
tendonitis every night responding to challenges to it."
Logan Skelton, an associate professor of piano at the school, was one
of the curriculum's most vocal opponents -- though he took pains not
to attack contemplative practice in its own right.
"Not everything that's worth doing belongs in a classroom," he says,
still maintaining the position he held five years ago. "How do you
grade contemplative achievement? How do you assess anything to do with
it? It seems to me that it is in a domain that is deeply personal."
Mr. Skelton also took issue with the amount of class time the
curriculum required students to spend in meditation.
"If you were to add it up," he says, "you'd probably have something
like an entire semester's class where they do nothing but sit in
silence. That seems out of balance to me."
What seems to divide Mr. Sarath and Mr. Skelton most is a disagreement
over whether something akin to inquiry -- something substantive -- is
happening when students meditate.
"It's not just that the students are sitting in silence, it's that
they're reflecting on related models, theoretical models of
consciousness," says Mr. Sarath. Moreover, he says, "the quality of
interaction that happens after that silent time can be very powerful."
After weeks of debate, Mr. Sarath's curriculum passed by roughly a
According to Stephen Shipps, an associate dean of the music school who
supported the program from the beginning, it has thrived. "It's
probably one of the three or four most difficult curricula in the
school academically," he says. "And it has attracted some of the most
intelligent and interesting students we have."
'Out of the Closet'
Frank L. Maddox, an associate professor of economics at Oxford College
of Emory University, is a big guy with a Southern drawl and a short
goatee. An avid country two-stepper, he might not seem out of place at
a monster-truck rally -- except that he is wearing a sea-green T-shirt
emblazoned with a big Sanskrit "Om."
Mr. Maddox is sitting with a handful of other professors in a bright
and airy classroom at Smith. They've just come in from a "walking
meditation," where they clocked a tortoiselike average of 20 steps per
minute around the campus quad. Now they are sharing their plans to
incorporate contemplation into their students' college experience.
"I might have them look at an image of something to do with poverty or
globalization," Mr. Maddox says, "then free write, then meditate, then
look at the image again, then free write." He pauses. "And then watch
all hell break loose with my course evaluations."
(In fact, most professors at the seminar who have tried out
contemplative exercises in the classroom report overwhelmingly
positive reviews from students.)
Like many of the professors attending the seminar here, Mr. Maddox has
incorporated vaguely contemplative elements into his classes for
years, without flagging them as such -- and he certainly didn't
trumpet his meditative intentions when he was still an assistant
professor. "I did not come out of the closet that much until I was
tenured," he says, "and it was a good call."
At times, the trepidation that the professors here feel about bringing
contemplative practice into their classrooms shades all the way into
skepticism and self-doubt. A constant anxiety in group discussions is
"the flake factor," as in "we must minimize the flake factor."
Aron Shlonsky, an associate professor of social work who recently left
Columbia University to teach at the University of Toronto and is a
dedicated meditator, makes repeated calls for measurable results. "If
we're going to be doing this in the academy," he asks the group, "does
this result in better knowing? Does this result in a student doing
better on a physics test?"
"Remember," he says, "people used to think phrenology was a real
On the last day of the session, the group of 40 professors gathers in
a circle one last time to discuss the future. One of the attendees,
David Kahane, an associate professor of philosophy at the University
of Alberta, in Canada, who only found his way to the session because
he spent years doing Google searches for "Zen" and "pedagogy,"
volunteers to start a Web log so the group can keep trading ideas
Another attendee proposes a "road show" that would take the session
leaders to various campuses across the country. Others hatch plans for
meetings on the West Coast. Still others make ardent last-minute
suggestions for rhetorical strategies to convince administrators of
the worth of contemplation in the classroom.
(And sure enough, in the weeks after the August session, the blog will
take off, new gatherings will land on the Center for Contemplative
Mind in Society's calendar, attendees will set up their own workshops
on contemplative pedagogy at their home universities, and one
professor -- Fred Curtis, an economist at Drew University -- will
deliver his institution's convocation address with a surprise emphasis
If nothing else, the session confirms that contemplative practice in
higher education is an idea on the march -- or at least an idea on a
very slow walk.
After about an hour of increasingly breathless brainstorming, Mr.
Zajonc brings the discussion to a close, ushering everyone back into a
final period of silence with the sound of a bell. The air wobbles. The
Putting the 'Om' in Higher Education
The Chronicle of Higher Education: Colloquy Transcript
Wednesday, October 19, at 12 p.m., U.S. Eastern time
With fellowships from the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society and
the American Council of Learned Societies, professors in a wide range
of disciplines are building meditation into their curricula. Students
might participate in "meditation labs," spend time contemplating
photographs related to the subject matter, or engage in
stream-of-consciousness writing exercises to observe their emotional,
intuitive, or physical responses to course material.
Proponents say contemplative practice can deepen students' engagement
with the subject matter. Recent neuroscientific research suggests that
meditation promotes brain activity, leading to greater insights. But
critics of the contemplative-practice movement say classroom
meditation is watered-down Buddhism, pseudoscience, or simply not
worth students' tuition dollars.
Is there a place for meditation in the college classroom? If so, what
are the most effective ways to incorporate it into the curriculum? Or
will meditation always be tainted by the "flake factor"?
Arthur Zajonc, a professor of physics at Amherst College, runs the
academic program at the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, a
nonprofit organization based in Northampton, Mass., that aims to
foster better living -- and better society -- through meditation and
yoga. In addition to his work promoting ocontemplative curriculum
developmento in higher education for the center, Mr. Zajonc has
moderated several meetings between scientists and the Dalai Lama. He
has been a visiting professor and researcher at the École Normale
Superieure, in Paris, and at the Max Planck Institute for Quantum
Optics, in Garching, Germany.
A transcript of the chat follows.
John Gravois (Moderator):
Hello, I'm John Gravois, the reporter who wrote this week's piece
on Contemplation in Higher Education, and I'll be moderating today's
chat. Let's go ahead and get started.
Question from Elizabeth K. Best PhD, Shoah Education Project-Web:
All ideas come from or are integrated with other ideas.
"Meditation," while mentioned in most world religions, does not even
remotely mean the same thing in each. Christian meditation focuses on
Christ and the Word of God, Jewish Meditation, on the Torah and other
commands, Buddhism and Hinduism have their own brand and I have spoken
with TM people whose idea of meditation can involved trained
'dissociative' processes, which while they define spiritually, are
found also in premorbid schizophrenia and other psychoses. Do you
really think there is a value-less 'meditation'?
Over years I have found in secular institutions that Eastern Mysticism
and other eastern forms of meditation are almost always the ways the
methods you suggest pattern themselves after, and they almost alway
include a religious point of view and a fundamental dissociative
process. Are physicists, chemists, literature professors, and secular
psychologists really capable of teaching or integrating this and
handling outcomes, both legal and emotional? I think there are also
primary Civil Liberties issues which will disallow most practicing
Christian and Jewish students from accessing this troubling part of a
Most academics who use contemplative practice as part of their
classroom pedagogy teach simple exercises such as stilling the mind,
cultivating attention, practicing open awareness, reading slowly and
reflectively, listening deeply... These are largely secular practices
and have been successful with students at all types of institutions,
large and small, public and private. In recent years increasing effort
is being made to bring such practices into direct relationship with
the course content. For example, when teaching classes on poetry,
painting, medicine, ecology, philosophy, and even economics,
professors are developing contemplative practices that assist students
in establishing deeper and more insightful relationships to the course
material itself. I should also say that in some cases, for example in
religion departments, the content of the course may be the
contemplative dimensions of a religious tradition such as Judaism or
Buddhism. In such cases the contemplative methods taught are drawn
from the particular tradition under study. Harold Roth at Brown
University (Asian Studies and Religion) has taught such a course for
several years, and students participate in "lab" sessions during which
time the practices being studied formally in class are explored
directly and freely. Larry Fine at Mt. Holyoke College is Professor of
Jewish Studies, and he also uses contemplative methods in his course
on Jewish Spirituality.
Question from Doug Hanvey, Indiana University Bloomington:
Are there success stories of instructors who have not only taught
meditation as part of an academic class, but who have taught an entire
class devoted to contemplative practice (i.e., not just thinking about
it or studying it intellectually, but engaging in the practice for its
own sake)? (Excepting, of course, physical education or
medically-related classes that teach meditation for stress reduction,
Yes, many of our 100 ACLS Contemplative Practice Fellows do
include substantial practice with students. Hal Roth of Brown
University offers an entire course with a "lab" component in which
contemplative practices are taught.
Question from Doug Hanvey, Indiana University Bloomington:
What are the main issues with bringing the teaching of
contemplative practices into publicly-funded universities?
Many professors in our network are at state-funded, public
universities or secular private universities. We have had much less
difficulty with church-state issues than expected. Professors are
clear in their course descriptions and syllabus, and always allow
students to opt out if they care too (very few do).
Question from Clifford Hill, Columbia University:
What does Contemplative Mind in Society see as the most important
next steps in strengthening the presence of contemplative practices in
We see two directions as being especially important for the
development of contemplative practices in higher education. The first
is to broaden the availablity of such courses both by extending our
network of academics and by involving more students in such courses.
Our annual conferences and summer workshops, as well as the ACLS
fellowship, are our means of doing so. Second, we believe it will be
increasingly important to connect the practices with the specific
content of the courses themselves. For example architect professor
Peter Schneider at the University of Colorado asks student to meditate
within different types of architectural spaces and then assigns design
problems that rely, in part, on their contemplative experiences.
Finally we are finding that academics are forming networks of support
at their home institutions or within regions.
Question from Scott Smallwood:
You mentioned that few students opt out of such contemplative
parts of the class when given a chance. What kind of reactions do
students ususally have? Are they supportive? Do professors find that
it changes the way students think about them? Or their relationships
with the students?
Very few students do opt out, and the vast majority are quite
enthusiastic about their experiences. In a survey we made professors
report that these courses are their most successful, and they have to
limit enrollment. See our webiste www.contemplativemind.org and see
The Contemplative Scholar survey of our fellows.
Question from Cynthia Drake, Central Michigan University:
Are there plans to research the impact of meditation on student
We are anxious to encourage much more research on the efficacy and
benefits of meditation in both student life and in classroom
performance. There have been relatively few studies of sufficient
scope and methodological sophistication to make a clear scientific
statement. Many studies of meditation in clinical settings or lab
environments have been done and show quite positive effects. The time
has come to extend these studies to this new area of the classroom.
Question from Jennifer K. Ruark, The Chronicle:
John's article mentioned a few of the contemplative practices --
seated meditation, free writing -- that some professors have
incorporated into the classroom. Could you give some more examples?
What about long-distance running or fly-fishing as contemplative
There are a host of practices that have been used successfully. At
our website www.contemplativemind.org we offer a introduction and
description of many of these at the part of the site labelled "About
Contemplative Practices." Tobin Hart's article in the site's
bibliography is a good general resource as well.
Question from Maya Talisman Frost, mindfulness trainer, Real-World
Why the focus on the university level? We know that there are some
skills--music, foreign languages--that are more easily learned when we
are younger. Why not focus on making mindfulness a part of the
kindergarten curriculum? Notice I did not say meditation--as
mentioned, this word has different meanings depending upon the
individual's interpretation. I wonder why we don't shift toward
"mindfulness"--the practice of nonjudgmental awareness. Seems we'd
avoid several hurdles at once. In working with several hundred
preschoolers (as as the mother of four myself) I know firsthand how
powerful--and fun!--mindfulness exercises can be in the eyes of a
typical five-year-old. Are college freshmen more likely to respond to
teachings about meditation...or less?
We have chosen to focus on higher education, but we are aware of
the great interest in meditation in K-12. Others are working on this
area. The Mindfulness in Education Network is one such group.
Question from Constance Krosney, Vermont College of Union Institute
Would you elaborate on the assertion that contemplative practice
deepens students' engagement with subject matter? Do you have evidence
In my own Amherst College course with art historian Joel Upton, we
work slowly and reflectively with, for example, a single painting for
over an hour. We alternate between lecturing and silent observation
and reflection. Students do, in our experience, gradually come to a
deeper level of engagement through such methods. We have developed a
whole series of exercises and writing assignments that lead them
through to such an engagement.
Question from Doug Hanvey, Indiana University Bloomington:
Arthur, you suggested in a previous answer that there have been
fewer difficulties with church-state issues (i.e., especially in
public universities) than expected. This is good to hear, but I
sometimes feel that contemplative practices may be so watered down and
secularized in order to "sell" them to academia (or medicine, or
psychology, etc.) that they may lose their spiritual roots, which I
feel is what they are really about. Yet if the spiritual aspects are
emphasized, there does seem to be a potential problem with the
church-state issue. Have you or others thought about how to redefine
or reframe contemplative practices in such a way as to keep the
connection with spirituality alive, but to de-emphasize their
religious origins? (I am defining spirituality and religion
differently here, and I realize that some may disagree.) Do you think
this is even possible?
We have focused on two areas of practice. One concerns the basic
practices of attention and clarity of mind. The other practices are
directed more toward the goal of contemplative inquiry and knowing.
These usually raise few church-state issues. We also recognize that
many of these practices have their roots in spiritual traditions, and
we have granted fellowships to a number of professors studying these
traditions, especially in the West where less his known. Of course,
this is a large and important issue which many of us have thought
about since the program's beginning.
Question from Jennifer K. Ruark, The Chronicle of Higher Education:
Meditation -- successfully "quieting" the mind -- takes years of
practice, and I imagine is especially challenging for the current
generation of college students, people not accustomed to spending time
simply sitting in silence. How effective can a single semester's worth
of meditative practice really be?
Of course you are right. But we have found that students are
grateful for being introduced to contemplative practice. We also
support venues other than the classroom for practice, and hope that
students will choose to continue to deepen their practice throughout
their time at the university, and beyond.
Question from Doug Hanvey, Indiana University Bloomington:
Elizabeth Best brings up an interesting point. While I think she
misinterprets contemplative practices as being dissociative (authentic
contemplative practices are quite the opposite in my experience),
certainly emotional challenges can arise when engaging in a
contemplative practice. Do you share her concern that professors who
may not be thoroughly trained or experienced in meditation may not
know how to deal with such challenges in the classroom?
By creating a contemplative space in the classroom, Mary Rose
O'Reilley (St. Thomas) and others have found that they are better able
to hold and respond to student contributions, even those that come
from a deep emotional level. In our experience this has not been a
great problem. Students do often seek out closer relationships with
their professors as a consequence, which means more time commitment
Question from Viviane Ephraimson-Abt,Colorado State University:
Do you have any examples of meditation and contemplation being
incorporated into student life programs beyond health, counseling, or
recreation centers, such as residents halls or student leadership
Yes, we know other practice venues are quite widespread but we
have not tracked them.
Comment from Suzanne Montgomery College:
I think this is a wonderful topic to consider adding to curricula.
Arthur Chickering et al. just published a book on authenticity and
spirituality in higher education. One of the points in the book is
that authenticity cannot happen without real reflection on what we
think, who we are, what our lives mean - the essential questions. I
think that meditative practices can help students to focus on these
issues - to help them develop in all areas of their lives - not just
Question from Frank Forman, U.S. Department of Education:
Is meditation, or any school of practice of meditation, a
progressive discipline? I do not know of any progress in this field,
just techniques that were perfected hundreds, if not thousands, of
years ago. If not, it doesn't mean medidation is useless, but why no
While many of the practices do indeed come from traditions of the
past, many of our fellows are working with their own insight and
initiative to develop or modify practices so they suit modern life and
the academic context.
Question from Constance Krosney, Vermont College of Union Institute
What is your goal for the incorporation of contemplative practice
in higher education? Is there something specific you hope will be
We feel that the academy excels at analytical and critical modes
of thinking and writing. While we all fully recognize the importance
of these modalities, we feel that they should be balanced by a
curriculum that honors and supports a more integrative form of inquiry
and insight. I have written on this in a forthcoming article for the
Teachers College Record. See our website, Academic Program Report,
Love and Knowledge, Recovering the Heart of Learning through
Question from Guy Burneko, The Institute for Contemporary/Ancient
Do we know if the brainwave activity of mature contemplatives and
meditators is regularly associated with a corresponding chemical
It would seem the interdisciplinary intersection of sciences,
(chemistries, biologies, psychologies, anthropologies, etc.) and
humanities (religious studies, literatures, hermeneutics, political
studies, etc.) in the case of researching meditation would allow
opportunity for an entirely new curriculum.
Morevoer, doesn't it seem such inquiry would be especially suited to
our present needs if, as Theodore Roszak has argued, the world
population is getting older? What might we learn about the
possibilites of human (self) understanding if education, (as Julian
Huxley proposed, and Thomas Berry in his way) were reconceived as a
significant agent of human evolution? Or do you suppose that is
over-thinking the issue? Thanks
Yes, there is now ample research that demonstrates the chemical
and neural correlates of meditation. The best known research is that
of Richard Davidson of the Keck Lab University of Wisconsin, Madison.
Expert meditators have dramatically different prefrontal activity than
a standard population. See the Mind and Life website for reseach
results and new acitivity in this area.
Comment from Ed Sarath, The University of Michigan:
Comment: Someone mentioned the possibility of diluting
contemplative disciplines in order to make them suitable for academic
contexts. This is a valid concern. Another concern is integrity of
practice. One way some of us are dealing with these issues is having
students learn meditation at local meditation centers in conjunction
with university coursework.
Question from Maya Talisman Frost, Real-World Mindfulness Training:
Do you find that most univerisities are more likely to embrace the
notion of meditation being incorporated in an academic course
(philosophy, religion, art) or are some opting to teach meditation as
an activity credit course only?
Nearly all of the courses we know of are academic in character.
Comment from Elizabeth Kirkley Best PhD:
I am aware deeply the nature of 'contemplative' practices across
religions and those which some deem 'independent'. The truth is
however, that some meditative practices do indeed involve a
dissociative process: e.g in traditional transcendental meditation
there is a process referred to a 'witnessing' [far from the Christian
concept] in which one is trained to see oneself as a part of an
oversoul or oversoul-like entity, and become a part of that viewing
the natural life. Depersonalization phenomena [sometimes called
derealization] is a psychological process entirely similar although
usually involuntary, and can occur in normals, in intense situations,
in drug use and in certain forms of mental illness and is often a
'symptom' of premorbid schizophrenia. It appears to be in the short
run in normals a defensive cognitive-emotional reaction and in the
long run a disintegration of the personality or self: there are
elements of transcendental meditation in which this is literally
trained. In Christian and Jewish meditation, there is form and
substance to the meditation, i.e. the Scriptures, and not just a
divorcing of one part of consciousness or an 'emptying' of self toward
no other cause than what is defined as clear thinking. This is theory
tainted with religion: it should be in the realm of individual choice
outside the classroom in secular universities.
Question from Cori Mar, University of Washington:
Do you think that mindfulness meditation is potentially subversive
with regards to the values of a consumerist society where more and
faster is encouraged?
Ethical issues naturally arise in the context of contemplation.
One example is an economist who uses compassion as an important
contemplative practice as we consider the distribution of wealth.
David Levy (IT, Seattle) is working on contemplation and the speedup
associated with our information society. These are but two examples.
Alan Klima in teaching Anthopology at Bard explores violence and the
media, and uses contemplationto help students deconstruct images of
Question from anonymous Gallaudet U.:
Has anyone tried this with deaf education?
Yes, there is an effort to work with deaf students. We have a
fellow who is working especially with the disabled.
Dan Holland at University of Arkansas is the person working with
Question from Viviane Ephraimson-Abt,Colorado State University:
How important is it that faculty/ staff themselves have a strong
contemplative practice as they are introducing it into their settings
in classes or student life. Academia, with its competing demands, can
make it difficult to build and maintain contemplative practices. In
what ways have you seen faculty and administrators strengthen
themselves in this area?
While many of our fellows have strong practices of their own,
others are inspired by the work to begin or strengthen their practices
through retreats and other means. Some do not rely on their own
expertise, but rather bring in local meditation or movement teachers.
Question from Judith Simmer-Brown, Naropa University:
This is such an important conversation. How do we continue it
We agree that this conversation is important for the future
development of higher education. Please write to us at
info at contemplativemind.org and we will do our best to respond and keep
the dialogue going. Thanks for asking...
John Gravois (Moderator):
Sadly, we've come to the end of our allotted time. Feel free to
take a moment of silence now that the conversation's over, and thanks
for joining us.
More information about the paleopsych