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The purpose of this site is to provide an international hub for scholars, researchers, teachers and students who are working in the rapidly growing field of contemplative education. Its purpose is to facilitate contact, information sharing, collaboration on projects, mentoring students and a range of other activities. The site is designed so that you can register and post your information as well as search the site for colleagues and material that interests you. In addition, it provides a source of information and contacts for those interested in exploring the possibilities of this area of pedagogy and research but who are not yet registered. Both registration and searching are free and so we urge you to register and become a part of the growing and exciting contemplative education community. Fill out the registration form to set up your page. You can post your photo, c.v or brief biography, descriptions of your research projects or teaching praxis, and contact information. Once your page is open, you can update it as new work or information comes available. [ read more ]

 

May 2019 Newsletter

 


Mindfulness and Contemplative Education Questionnaire
Fill out the Online Questionnaire | Download the Questionnaire (DOCX)

Consent Form
Informed Consent Form (PDF) | Informed Consent Form (DOCX)

Submissions
Please return forms to mindful@yorku.ca


Greetings Mindfulness and Contemplative Educators and Students:

It’s been a while since you’ve had a Newsletter from the Mindfulness and Contemplative Education team. It’s not that we haven’t been thinking of you but, as the poet once wrote, “the best laid plans of mice and men. . .” That goes for women, too! So, a lot has now sorted itself out and we are anxious to get the Mindfulness and Contemplative Education Website back in action. I want to begin our renewal and this Newsletter by raising an issue which not only I but many teachers in Ontario are facing and which is, I believe, part of potentially disastrous international trends. I also believe, as I will argue below, that while the current world-wide situation calls for many types of action, Mindfulness and other forms of Contemplative education have a strong role to play in addressing the many pressing issues that confront us. I invite all of you who have ideas, and perhaps relevant current projects underway, about how Contemplative education can contribute to addressing the issues we face to share these widely with your colleagues, students and fellow students by posting on the M&CE website. These are dire times and we need all of the good ideas and actions we can get! Since Mindfulness is my approach, I take that perspective in the discussion below.

Meeting the Future Mindfully

In Ontario we have our Premier, Doug Ford, to deal with. For those of you who don’t know about him, he’s sort of a mini-Trump. He seems to delight in doing things that hurt the most vulnerable; now he’s decided to go after senior faculty in Ontario colleges and universities. He says that those of us who draw our pension, which we must do at age 71, are “double dipping”. I don’t think he knows what a pension is; our pensions are, of course, our own money. Or maybe that’s just political spin. At any rate, first he wanted to take our pensions, then he decided we could keep them, but their monthly payout would be deducted from salary. The current iteration, if we understand it correctly, is that people receiving a pension can work but without a salary. Wow! We are, of course, fighting this. This is just one of his actions which include firing K-12 teachers, and now working to put all control in the government’s hands, increasing already too large class sizes; causing the loss of 313 high school course and more than 700 courses affected through teacher firings; hindering access to child-care, especially by causing costs to rise; withdrawing assistance to children with autism and moving them into regular classrooms; withdrawing or limiting various forms of health care as well as most of the people manning a phone hotline for folks who need to access health care; firing the Environmental Commissioner and all members of the office dealing with climate change; withdrawing funding from Indigenous people; and much more. We should take seriously a recent study of first year students in 4 major Ontario universities that revealed that more than ½ of them found they were unprepared for university work. Cutting back teachers in K-12 won’t help this and neither will cutting back faculty at colleges and university who can help them develop skills. And he hasn’t even been in office a full year. I won’t dwell on this any further, but you can see the Trump connection. And there are broader connections which I want to address.

There are two of a number of reasons that this is important to those who see value in Contemplative education that I will raise here. The first is that as people mature, especially those who engage in such practices, they do become wiser and more understanding. The important distinction here is between knowledge and understanding. Knowledge is sought by the sciences and currently identified largely with the STEM disciplines. It is objective, impersonal and replicable. Anyone can access it. Understanding on the other hand comes through lived experience and must be achieved by each individual on their own although teachers can encourage and point the way. No one can give it to another, and they can’t find it in a book: it comes from the deepest levels of our individual being and is unique to each of us. Attaining wisdom, or at least some degree of it, takes practice, and study, over time. So, I would propose that teachers who personally practice and who teach this to their students have more to offer as they mature than they did in their earlier days. They have more understanding and so necessarily more wisdom. They also will have developed a stronger intellectual background in Mindfulness.

I just said that you can’t find it in books but Nagarjuna, the 2nd or 3rd century Buddhist philosopher, in his Mulamadhyamakakarika (Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way, ed. Garfield) clearly believed that developing an intellectual understanding of the philosophy of key terms and positions is important to one’s practice. It gives us a clearer idea of what we are looking for and of the ways that our preconceptions can impede our search. From my experience I agree with him.  Thus, in matters that call for wisdom, for instance moral behavior or creating a social order that is good for all, scientific method by itself is of no use and may be very misleading.

A related point to the above issue is that, despite one current reason being floated for getting rid of senior faculty, people do not necessarily become less creative and productive as they age. From the early Greek philosophers, to spiritual and other teachers, artists, leaders in all areas, scientists, even severely disabled people, Stephen Hawking for instance, continue contributing right up to the point of death. It is losing what one loves and what makes one’s life meaningful, from a beloved partner to work they are committed to, that results in folks losing interest in life, withering and dying.

The second reason is that there seems to be a wide-spread focus on getting rid of the humanities disciplines which is where such teachers typically teach Mindfulness and other Contemplative practices as well as critical skills. Scientific method is useful in many cases, for instance in dealing with climate change or determining how to feed the poor. However, critical thinking and induction grounded in wisdom are essential here as well, for instance to evaluate all the claims we are incessantly exposed to, from marketing claims that buying a certain commodity will make us happier or more desirable, to the culturally grounded position that ever more wealth, power and status are the keys to life satisfaction. It can help us to realize that our over consumption of these are the very things that are, in a multitude of ways, creating the environmental crises and widespread suffering. But it is wisdom, which involves compassion that provides the impetus for the changes which we must bring about in our own lives. As we all know, Buddhist thought holds that we internalize many culturally supported but toxic ideas such as the ones just mentioned. These not only cause suffering in our lives; we inflict that suffering on others, both human and other-than-human, including the earth. Our practice can begin to bring forth our true nature which is deeply empathic. Empathy is the ground of compassion and thus of action to foster positive change. But, of course, critical thinking can also be turned on someone like Ford – or Trump – so we can see one reason why it, and those institutions and disciplines that foster it, are under attack.

I had a powerful experience in 2004 which is as vivid for me today as it was then. I want to share this with you and, while it may appear to be an extreme example, it contains the essential elements of the choices that we are facing globally today and, in fact, is not so extreme if we look at what is happening around the world.

In the spring of 2004, the Dalai Lama visited Toronto to give the Kalachakra initiation. This was an event of, if I recall correctly, 10 days. It was held in a large facility, was open to anyone who wished to come and ran from early morning until late afternoon. Throughout we meditated and heard dharma talks and all while monks were creating a large sand mandala, the Kalachakra or wheel of life, on the stage with the Dalai Lama. The event was ecumenical with representatives from many spiritual traditions including the Abrahamic religions who gave talks and demonstrations and shared their practices. At the end of the initiation the Dalai Lama broke up the sand mandala and it was thrown into the lake. Such is the process of each of us and of everything else. This understanding gives us the possibility of accepting our own life and death while working to create the peace and acceptance of all that this initiation represents.

Late each afternoon I drove the short distance to my house while listening to the evening news. The lead story was of Seymour Hersh breaking the news of the Abu Ghraib tortures. Some of the readers of this Newsletter will be too young to remember this. It took place during the war that the U.S. waged on Iraq. Hersh’s report, which was fully verified including with horrific pictures, was that army and C.I.A. agents had committed the most vile, and too many incomprehensible, acts against imprisoned detainees. These included multiple forms of physical and sexual abuse, torture, rape, sodomy, and murder. One picture, which we still see today, shows a man standing on a small box, his naked body draped with a cloth and a hood over his head, his arms outstretched with electrical wires attached to the fingers of each hand. He was told that if he moved, he would be electrocuted. When I think of this, and of many of the horrific things that are happening in the world today, the only words I have are those of Mr. Kutrz in Heart of Darkness, Colonel Kurtz in “Apocalypse Now”, “The horror, the horror”.

We may feel safe here in Canada, things aren’t too bad here we tell ourselves, but Ford’s actions over less than a year have been a wakeup call to me and to many others. They may seem small, but they are the seeds of much bigger things. These seeds have sprouted in the U.S. and we can see their fruits growing in Trump’s endorsement of white supremacy and neo-Nazis; his ongoing actions against Muslims; detained children sleeping outdoors on the ground at the southern border; his support of murderous dictators globally; dismissal of “shit-hole countries” and failure to adequately fund the recovery of  Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, from the damage done by hurricane Maria almost 2 years ago; the rapid growth of gun violence including shootings in schools and places of worship; threats of international violence and war; and much more.

Contemplative education cannot solve these problems by itself. What it can do is raise the awareness in practitioners of their fundamental nature which is empathic and compassionate; of what makes their lives truly satisfying which is caring and giving; and of what they want to give which is a healthy, peaceful world. While we may practice these imperfectly, we and the students we teach and the work they will do, will be moving in the right direction by acting against the suffering that is now being caused by much of the world’s leadership. We are called upon to do all we can to support teachers of contemplative practices and their students world-wide. And we can take heart in the growing awareness and activism of young people. From Greta Thunberg’s action on climate change to the Parkland students’ challenge of U.S. gun laws and many others, students are becoming increasingly aware of the issues of the day and developing forms of activism to address them. Our teaching of contemplative education can guide and sustain young people in this.

I’ll end this with the words of a favorite song by a favorite artist, Bruce Springsteen’s “This is Your Sword” from “High Hopes”.

Well this is your sword, this is your shield

This is the power of love revealed

Carry them with you wherever you go

And give all the love that you have in your soul.

SHARING

First, I’d like to thank Dr. Oren Ergas, Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Education, Beit Berl College, Israel for the talk he gave on mindful education at York University on April 8,“Mindfulness in Education: What is it about and what can we expect of it?

This was an enlightening presentation and developed into a good discussion with the folks who attended.

Please come over from Israel again soon, Oren. You bring great enthusiasm and a wealth of information to support the work of contemplative education, educators and students.

You can contact Oren at orenergas1@gmail.com

Oren has recently published 2 highly interesting and useful books:

Reconstructing ‘Education’ through Mindful Attention: Positioning the Mind at the Center of Curriculum and Pedagogy, Ergas, Oren. London, U.K. Palgrave Macmillan, 2017.

Philosophy East/West: Exploring Intersections Between Educational and Contemplative Practices, Ergas, Oren and Sharon Todd (eds.). Chichester, U.K.:Wiley Blackwell, 2016.

Second, I’d like to invite you to share your work, plans and ideas. Many of you have been publishing books and papers which you can announce on the M&CE website. This is a service to your colleague because we are always looking for recent develops in pedagogy and other new and interesting material.

You may also be planning conferences or other events for which you can put up a call for proposals or an announcement. New members and those who wish to become members, both students and teaching colleagues, are welcome to post their material. Please share this newsletter with them. We welcome new members and invite you to register on the site.

We are also thinking about opening up a section on the site where you can post short pieces of all types, for instance opinion pieces along the lines of “Meeting the Future Mindfully” with which I opened this newsletter. Responses to all sorts of developments, publications and the like would also be of interest to members so do submit them. And those of you who express yourself artistically, do you have something you’d like to contribute?

Third, we sent out a call for essays by students on mindfulness or other contemplative practices which they’ve studied. We’ve received quite a few excellent submissions and are now waiting for the final revisions on a few of them. Since we have a bit of time, we are inviting further submissions. This is an excellent time to consider this since it is close to the end of the Winter term and final essays are being written. We have received some excellent essays which are revisions of such papers and there are certainly many more out there. Don’t hesitate to include your artwork as illustration or example if you wish. Be creative!

If your students or students who are members of the website, have something they’d like to submit kindly follow this style: MLA style for in-text citations and Bibliography, Times New Roman, 14, 1 ½ line spacing, 10 – 12 pages. We would like to have your work by the beginning of August. Please contact us at dorr@yorku.ca or msafadieh@hotmail.com

Questionnaire

N.B.: We have attached the Questionnaire and Informed Consent Form for quick reference so that you can fill them out and sent them in.

Finally, I’d like to ask all students to fill in the questionnaire. The Informed Consent Form (PDF) is also attached so please sign and send with your questionnaire.

The questionnaire is designed to collect information from students about their experiences with contemplative practices as they are taught in the classroom. Your input as a student will be invaluable to all those teaching for assessing what works and what doesn’t work from the student’s point of view.

We are asking teachers to share this widely with colleagues who teach these practices and for all of you to encourage your students to fill them in and send them back to us.
Please fill in and send to mindful@yorku.ca

We look forward to hearing from you. Enjoy the summer as it seems finally to have arrived.

With much Metta, Deborah and Mustapha


Mindfulness and Contemplative Education Questionnaire
Fill out the Online Questionnaire | Download the Questionnaire (DOCX)

Consent Form
Informed Consent Form (PDF) | Informed Consent Form (DOCX)

Submissions
Please return forms to mindful@yorku.ca