I have recently returned from a workshop in New York which explored the use of contemplative practice in higher education. Specifically how lecturers could use contemplative techniques such as meditation, yoga, lectio divina (a process of reading that incorporates deep reflection and contemplation) and deep listening in teaching. The main reason for incorporating contemplative practice is to bring students into a much deeper relationship with the knowledge that they are acquiring by turning their gaze inward, towards their own experience. Barbezat and Bush state “We want to create the opportunity for our students to engage with material so that they recognise and apply its relevance to their own lives, to feel deeply and experience themselves within their education” (2014 p. 3).
One of the words that came up frequently during the weekend was ‘meaning’ and how contemplative practice can support students in discovering and developing their own sense of meaning through exploration of their experience. A sense of meaning not only with regards to what they are learning, but also with regards to who they are and who they want to be. I was struck by how little attention I have paid to the meaning that students give to their learning and yet it is that, probably quite subconsciously, that is driving their commitment to the courses I teach.
I do not expect lecture theatres to be suddenly transformed into yoga studios or that every lecturer should incorporate meditation in their classes. In fact this could be unsafe if the teacher does not have a history of contemplative practice themselves. However, we can all attend to meaning. We can take more time to find out about what is motivating the students we teach, what values and ambitions drive their commitment to environmental health. Then we need to find ways to teach which pay attention to this meaning, allow it to develop, flourish and find a voice. As environmental health goes through something of an ‘identity crisis’ as a profession, giving students the opportunity to explore who they are and what their learning means to them, we provide the opportunity for the often highly altruistic motivations of students to come to the fore. By making students more conscious of what drives them we help them to live lives which express the values they hold and we prepare them for entry into a challenging profession that engages with some of society’s most pressing problems (see Jill’s blog on inequality below).
Barbezat, D.P. and Bush, M. 2014. Contemplative Practices in Higher Education: Powerful Methods to Transform Teaching and Learning. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons.
For more info
Association for Contemplative Mind in Society: http://www.contemplativemind.org/
Palmer, P.J. and Scribner, M. 2010. The Heart of Higher Education: A Call to Renewal. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Daniel Barbezat and Mirabai Bush on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BAZWLtoi7gw