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Table of Contents

More Praise for Contemplative Practices in Higher Education

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The Jossey-Bass Higher and Adult Education Series



Contemplative Practice and the Academy

One Academic's Path to Contemplative Pedagogy

How to Use This Book


The Authors

PART ONE: Theoretical and Practical Background

chapter ONE: Transformation and Renewal in Higher Education

Contemplation, Introspection, and Reflection

Responding to the Call

Introspective and Contemplative Practices

Structure and Objectives

Cautionary Tales


chapter TWO: Current Research on Contemplative Practice




chapter THREE: Contemplative Pedagogy in Practice: Two Experiences

chapter FOUR: Teacher Preparation and Classroom Challenges

A Practice of One's Own

Establishing Context

Respect for Traditions

Intentions and Outcomes

Inclusion and Variation

Teacher Intention and Student Motivation


Hiding Religion in the Trojan Horse and Guruism

The Role of Language



PART TWO: A Guide to Contemplative Practices

Introduction to the Practices

Introducing Practice in the Classroom

Personal Practice

chapter FIVE: Mindfulness

Classroom Applications

First-Person Study in the Lab

Seeing from Multiple Perspectives: Mindfulness in Law Schools

A Sense of Perspective: Mindfulness and Disabilities


chapter SIX: Contemplative Approaches to Reading and Writing

Contemplative Reading

Contemplative Reading in the Classroom

Contemplative Writing

Journal Writing

Writing about Reading

Mindful Writing




chapter SEVEN: Contemplative Senses: Deep Listening and Beholding

Deep Listening

Mindfulness of Sound

Listening Practices in the Classroom

Listening to Music

Listening to Each Other

Listening in Psychotherapy, Philosophy, and Religion Classes



chapter EIGHT: Contemplative Movement

Walking Meditation

Tai Chi


Labyrinth Walking


chapter NINE: Compassion and Loving Kindness

Inner Change and Outer Change


Compassion from Many Traditions

Compassion and Distance Learning

Engaged Democracy

Compassion, Violence, and Stress

Compassion in the Sciences

Compassion and Connection


chapter TEN: Guest Speakers, Field Trips, and Retreats


chapter ELEVEN: Conclusion

Simple Yet Radical Change






More Praise for Contemplative Practices in Higher Education

“This book is a hugely inspiring and practical resource for educators, giving them a whole other dimension of experience from which to bring to life the beauty of their subject and engage their students in discovering that beauty for themselves. Contemplative practices, integrated into the curriculum of higher education in the ways the authors describe and advocate so skillfully and compellingly, have the capacity to transform our relationship to learning itself, in all its mystery, intimacy, difficulty, and wonder.”—Jon Kabat Zinn, author, Full Catastrophe Living and Mindfulness for Beginners

Contemplative Practices in Higher Education is truly a breakthrough book, showing how profound attentiveness, intellectual rigor, and self-knowledge can be seamlessly woven together. It offers us a transformed view of a student, a teacher, the academy, and the world.”—Sharon Salzberg, author, Lovingkindness and Real Happiness

“Visionary, yet immensely practical and thorough! Can enhance the skill, understanding, and well-being of students and provide the missing half of education.”—Jack Kornfield, author, A Path with Heart

“At long last we have a comprehensive overview of the burgeoning field of Contemplative Pedagogy written by two of its leaders and pioneers. This is a must-read for anyone interested in the theory and practice of Contemplative Education.”—Harold D. Roth, professor of religious studies and founder and director, Brown University Contemplative Studies Initiative

“Barbezat and Bush set forth a blueprint for a quiet revolution in education—placing student experience at the center of our learning objectives, supporting students in reconnecting with themselves while enabling them to feel their connections with an ever more diverse world. As our problems grow in complexity, the urgent need for such a revolution becomes clear. These pages hold the most practical approach yet for a way forward: transforming what happens in our classrooms, and actually changing the world—one student at a time.”—Rhonda Magee, professor of law and codirector, Center for Teaching Excellence, University of San Francisco

“This book tells the wonderful and creative way of expanding and increasing the possibilities of higher education through contemplative practices. The authors clearly reveal and express the important and meaningful ties between teaching and learning and the power of contemplative practices, better connecting education to life. The best educators often seek ways to expand and broaden their reach and knowledge—this book will help them achieve that goal.”—Bradford C. Grant, director, School of Architecture and Design, and associate dean, College of Engineering, Architecture, and Computer Sciences, Howard University

“A great guide to developing contemplative courses. ‘Poetry and Meditation,’ the experimental course I taught in Spring 2000 at West Point as a Contemplative Practices Fellow, changed much of what I thought I knew about teaching and learning, and by doing that, changed my life.”—Marilyn Nelson, chancellor, Academy of American Poets

“The work represented in this book has been influential and inspirational in opening the doors to a new dimension of learning. The Institute for Jewish Spirituality has brought these contemplative practices—text study, reflection and yoga—into courses in a leading rabbinical school in New York, and thus magnified the impact of its program of spiritual formation of future rabbis and cantors enormously, as well as bringing faculty members together in generative cross-departmental study.”—Rabbi Rachel Cowan, Institute for Jewish Spirituality

Title page

The Jossey-Bass Higher and Adult Education Series


Parker J. Palmer

When I think about the reforms needed if higher education is to serve our students and our world faithfully and well, I think there should be a litmus test for every project that claims to strengthen the mission of our colleges and universities. Does this proposal deepen our capacity to educate students in a way that supports the inseparable causes of truth, love, and justice? If the answer is no, we should take a pass and redouble our efforts to find a proposal that does.

Of course, many college graduates go on to do socially constructive, occasionally noble, and sometimes heroic things with their lives. But when I look at the malfeasance of well-educated leaders in business and finance, in health care and education, in politics and religion, I see too many people whose expert knowledge—and the power that comes with it—has not been joined to a professional ethic, a sense of communal responsibility, or even simple compassion.

The reasons for this are many and complex. But one culprit is easily named: the objectivist model of knowing, teaching, and learning that has dominated, and deformed, higher education. Objectivism begins as an epistemology rooted in a false conception of science that insists on a wall of separation between the knower and the known. This, in turn, leads to a pedagogy that keeps students at arm's length from the subjects they learn about. And that, in turn, creates an ethical gap between the educated person and a world that is inevitably impacted by his or her actions, a failure to embrace the fact that one is a moral actor with communal responsibilities. When this trickle-down effect is at its worst, it contributes to the process by which “scholars, artists, lawyers, theologians and aristocrats” end up not just doing wrong but actively collaborating in evil.

These chilling words from Konnilyn G. Feig (1979) are never far from my mind:

We have identified certain “civilizing” aspects of the modern world—music, art, a sense of family, love, appreciation of beauty, intellect, education … [But] after Auschwitz we must realize that being a killer, a family man, and a lover of Beethoven are not contradictions. The killers did not belong to a gutter society of misfits, nor could they be dismissed as just a collection of rabble. They were scholars, artists, lawyers, theologians and aristocrats. (p. 57)

This book is important because it offers a powerful corrective to the chain of philosophical errors that has loosed too many amoral and even immoral educated people on the world. That corrective involves “contemplative practice,” a phrase some faculty may find odd or even off-putting in the context of academic culture. Contemplation may sound like something that belongs in the mystical world of religion and spirituality, not in the empirical, rational world of the academy.

But as Daniel Barbezat and Mirabai Bush explain with care—and with the credibility that comes from years of scholarly research and classroom application—the contemplative practices described in this book will deepen, not damage, academic culture. The pedagogical elements found here help students focus more intently on subjects ranging from physics to literature, connect as whole persons with what they are learning, and feel more keenly their responsibilities as educated persons in the larger ecology of human and nonhuman life. These are outcomes that all good teachers strive for and that this book can help teachers in every field achieve.

The contemporary movement to bring contemplative practice back to higher education is now some twenty-five years old. I say “bring contemplative practice back” because contemplation is nothing new in the academy. It was once part and parcel of the intellectual life, a legacy of the monastic schools of the early Middle Ages that are among the ancestors of modern higher education.

At the heart of contemplation is the same quality that is at the heart of all great scholarship: profound attentiveness to the phenomena that one is trying to understand. This is the kind of attentiveness practiced, for example, by Nobel Prize–winning geneticist Barbara McClintock. As Sue V. Rosser (1992) has said, McClintock, who studied maize en route to her breakthrough discoveries related to genetic transposition, “gained valuable knowledge by empathizing with her corn plants, submerging herself in their world and dissolving the boundary between object and observer” (p. 46). Rosser might as well have said that McClintock was a contemplative scientist par excellence, which is exactly what she was.

The philosophers of ancient Greece are also among higher education's ancestry, not least Socrates with his famous dictum, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Here, too, is a lost element of higher education's legacy that can be recovered through contemplative practice, and recover it we must: people who choose to live an unexamined life almost inevitably live in ways that do damage to themselves and to others.

In the Socratic formulation, the focus of contemplation is not McClintock's maize or another subject of study. It is the self of the scholar or the student, the inner dynamics of those who teach and learn—and then, for better or worse, deploy their knowledge as power in the world. Students whose minds and hearts have been formed by contemplation of self as well as world are much more likely to become the kinds of ethical actors we need at a time when basic human values—values the academy arose, in part, to protect—are so widely threatened.

If you are a long-time advocate of contemplative practice in higher education, you will soon find that this is a breakthrough book in the field. If you are an academic who wonders if “contemplation” and “higher education” belong in the same sentence, you may find that this is a breakthrough book for you professionally.

Wherever you find yourself along that continuum, please read on. This is a book that can help thoughtful teachers transform their pedagogies and the lives of their students in ways that will contribute to the transformation of the academy and the making of a better world.

Parker J. Palmer, founder and senior partner of the Center for Courage & Renewal, is a well-known writer, speaker, and activist. He has published nine books, including the best-selling Let Your Life Speak, The Courage to Teach, A Hidden Wholeness, and Healing the Heart of Democracy. He holds a PhD in sociology from the University of California at Berkeley, along with ten honorary doctorates, two Distinguished Achievement Awards from the National Educational Press Association, and an Award of Excellence from the Associated Church Press. In 2010, Palmer was given the William Rainey Harper Award, whose previous recipients include Margaret Mead, Elie Wiesel, and Paolo Freire. In 2011, he was named an Utne Reader Visionary, one of “25 people who are changing your world.”


Contemplative practices, a vital part of all major religious and spiritual traditions, have long had a place in intellectual inquiry. The predecessors of our colleges and universities in the West, of course, were established as alternatives to monastic schools, where contemplative practices had been central to learning. But even within these new institutions, committed to the pursuit of rational knowledge and later to the scientific method, educators have long been exploring the use of contemplative practices in learning. As we apply these practices to higher education, clearly we must keep them separate from ideology or creed; the invitation must be to explore students' own beliefs and views so that the first-person, critical inquiry becomes an investigation rather than an imposition of particular views. This book is about contemporary contemplative contributions to modern pedagogy.

Contemplative Practice and the Academy

Our own journey began in 1995 when a group of leaders in philanthropy, education, health care, and psychology came together to discuss how contemplative practices, which were being used successfully in health and healing programs, could have a beneficial impact on higher education. We formed the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society with coauthor Mirabai Bush as director and, following board chair Charlie Halpern's leadership, decided to offer fellowships for contemplative curriculum development. These fellowships would seek to restore and renew the critical contribution that contemplative practices can make to the life of teaching, learning, and scholarship. At the heart of the program was the belief that bringing contemplative practice into the academy would have pedagogical and intellectual benefits and that contemplative awareness can help to create a more just, compassionate, and reflective society.

Contemplative practices were found only on the fringe of the educational world at that time, but a fellowship program was a conventional way to introduce new ideas, and, to our amazement, the American Council of Learned Societies agreed to administer them. The fellows would receive grants, develop courses that integrated contemplative practices into the curriculum, teach the courses, and write reports about their experience. When we thought about who might apply, we realized that none of us knew even one academic who would want to do this, but we put the announcement out into the world through the Chronicle of Higher Education and waited. An astonishing 125 scholars submitted rigorous proposals for innovative courses, from the disciplines of English, philosophy, psychology, architecture, American studies, and law. In 1997, we awarded 16 fellowships. And every year from then until 2009, we received at least 100 applications and awarded at least 10 more fellowships. There are now 152 fellows in more than one hundred colleges and universities.

After a few years, we recognized that we needed a full program, which would include serving those we could not fund through fellowships. Arthur Zajonc, the first academic director, posed this central question: “The university is well-practiced at educating the mind for critical reasoning, critical writing and critical speaking as well as for scientific and quantitative analysis. But is this sufficient? In a world beset with conflicts, internal as well as external, isn't it of equal if not greater importance to balance the sharpening of our intellects with the systematic cultivation of our hearts?”

The program developed this vision for the future:

1. A national community of scholars interested in contemplative practice will exist in diverse fields, linked to and supportive of each other.
2. Contemplative practice will be familiar and acceptable on campuses as a lifestyle and recognized and valued as a way of learning and teaching.
3. A growing body of scholarship will be developed on contemplative practice as a pedagogy and on the history of contemplative practice.
4. A space for silence and contemplative practice will exist on many campuses.

We offered an annual week-long summer session on curriculum development at Smith College and then an annual conference at Amherst College at which professors could present their work to colleagues in this growing field. We formed a membership organization, the Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education.

The question of contemplative epistemology is only beginning to be explored (most significantly by Arthur Zajonc, who has called it the “epistemology of love”), but we do know that the contemplative approach is one of inquiry into the nature of things, a scientific suspension of disbelief (and belief) in an attempt to “know” reality through direct observation by being fully present in the moment. Chogyam Trungpa, founder of the first US contemplative center for higher education, Naropa University, said contemplative wisdom is “immediate and nonconceptual insight which provides the basic inspiration for intellectual study.” Having seen clearly one's own mind, one has a natural desire to see how others experience reality.

This book is the next ripple outward in providing support for the introduction of contemplative practices into teaching, learning, and research. We have written a brief account of the historical, intellectual, and spiritual/religious context of contemplative practice and pedagogy and provided examples not to imitate but to be inspired by. To do this, we have drawn on the experiences of the fellows and many other teachers who have developed contemplative courses.

One Academic's Path to Contemplative Pedagogy

In 2008, coauthor Daniel Barbezat joined the center, first as a contemplative practice fellow and later as executive director. His story of why and how he brought contemplative practice into his teaching illustrates the potential these practices offer for academic renewal.

It is hard to say exactly how it happened, but over the years, I lost my way teaching economics. I knew the material and knew I could do the job of writing down and getting through a syllabus, but I could not say what I was really doing. Was I simply providing signals for the job market? Those students who did well in my class, who could follow instructions and think for themselves—was I training them to be fine hires? Or was I teaching a structured set of information, like those how-to programs available on late-night TV, bundled in a set of five DVDs? Was I guiding the students to think and write creatively, while the material was really immaterial? I could no longer tell. At one point, I realized that I was simply going through the motions and that if I couldn't find myself in my work, I should find other work.

Although I had the realization that I needed a change, I was stuck. I couldn't seem to figure out what I should do. So I called together my close friends to sit and be with me as I stated the issue and tried to work through it. I later realized that this is similar to the seventeenth-century Quaker “clearness committee” process. What I discovered during the weekend was that I was not inquiring about what was most meaningful to me and moving toward that in my work; rather, I was watching my actions and trying to discover what I was doing and getting nowhere.

I resolved to inquire about what mattered most to me and to try and integrate that into my teaching. I realized that contributing to well-being was critically important to me, but I didn't know what that had to do with economics. Well, on close examination, I became clear that it is the core of economics. After all, economics is the study of the allocation of scarce resources to ensure well-being. It is the study of demand (namely, wanting and desire) and supply (what is or is produced). Suddenly my courses opened up to me. I thought of teaching economics in a new way and was looking for new approaches. At the same time, a colleague of mine, Paola Zamperini, told me that there was a strange-sounding center in nearby Northampton, Massachusetts, that was offering fellowships to professors interested in integrating contemplative practices into their classes. I was fortunate to receive a fellowship to create one of my favorite classes to teach, Consumption and the Pursuit of Happiness. In that class and others, I came to realize that I could support environments that allowed students to embark on an inquiry similar to my own. Through the use of the practices, they could come to understand the material in both an abstract, analytical manner and from their own experience. They would find themselves in their own studies and relate what they are learning to what they hold most dear.

Without this grounding, education can be a rather empty process. We should not be shocked by the sort of wanton cheating and indifference that we see on campuses today, including the recent charge of over half of the 250 students in a Harvard course who have been accused of cheating: horrible in one way but a wonderful wake-up call for those willing to hear it. We all miss an important opportunity for self-reflection if we only shake our heads at what has happened to students over the years. These students are the product of our industrial model of education. If courses are merely commodities, then why should students hold them as special? Somehow we have lost our way in higher education and abandoned our mission to create lives of purpose and strong ethical and creative minds. Look at any university or college's mission statement, and you'll see they are filled with that sort of rhetoric. However, in the actual education, where does it happen? It mostly does not. We are cheating our students out of the opportunity to inquire deeply into their own meaning and find themselves in the center of their learning, thus providing them with a clear sense of the meaning of their studies. I hope that the practices in this book can help restore our purpose and make our courses as meaningful and exciting as I know they can be.

How to Use This Book

In this book, we introduce the use of contemplative and introspective methods that promote the exploration of meaning, purpose, and values and seek to serve our common human future. Personal introspection and contemplation reveal our inextricable connection to each other, opening the heart and mind to true community, deeper insight, sustainable living, and a more just society. As never before, we are faced with challenges that require both an understanding of technical and analytical reasoning and the ability to sustain inquiries into our connections to ourselves and others. Without a context to develop the awareness of the implications of our actions and a clear idea of what is most deeply meaningful to us, we will continue to act in ways that force us into short-term, myopic responses to a world increasingly out of control.

The book is divided into two parts. In part 1, we provide the theoretical and practical background of these practices, and in part 2, we describe and illustrate some of the many kinds of practices.

We begin in part 1 with background material, defining these practices and illustrating the quantitative and qualitative evidence of their benefits. In the past decade, an amazing surge of activity has coursed through neuroscience, cognitive and consciousness studies, health, social work, and education, providing a rich source of methods to assess the efficacy of contemplative practices. Next, we move to an extended, detailed example of these practices in an economics and a social work course. We hope that these examples illustrate how the practices can be tailored to work within the material and intentions of a specific course. Part 1 finishes with a set of cautions and concerns. As with any other practice, a number of problems can arise. Rather than attempt to catalogue all possible problems, chapter 4 addresses some of the main pitfalls.

Part 2 provides guidelines for establishing a contemplative practice of one's own and illustrates many of the practices used in the classroom. It does not attempt to describe every possible practice. Rather, it provides an overview of some of the major contemplative practices and gives some specific examples.

All the quotations from professors, unless otherwise indicated, are from reports and presentations prepared by them for the center.

We hope this book will serve as an introduction to those new to these practices and as a focusing resource for those more familiar with them. May it serve to transform education and foster the flourishing of the human spirit.


Writing a book describing the work of so many people across all of higher education is a daunting and wonderful task. The incredible community that has developed around contemplative pedagogy includes so many inspiring people that the danger of thanking some is to leave out many. To everyone in this growing community, please accept our deepest respect and thanks. Thanks especially to the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society Contemplative Practice Fellows for your work in developing programs, courses, and exercises that have challenged and inspired your students and colleagues. We recognize that we have not described the entire scope of your work here, but we hope this book will foster and deepen the contemplative approaches that you have been engaged in over the years.

Financial support for this book has been generously provided by the Hemera Regnant Foundation. The research and writing of the book was fostered by grants from Hemera, and we appreciate the connection with Ru-Jün Zhou and Caroline Pfohl over the grant period. We are deeply grateful for their guidance and support in the fostering of contemplative practice and perspective in higher education. Their appreciation of the value of practice in cultivating insight, compassion, and wisdom is aligned with our own and has enabled us to promote contemplative pedagogy through this book and associated programs.

David Brightman provided wise, caring, and intelligent editorial advice, which gave us a feeling of great support.

We also are grateful to the Fetzer Institute and the Nathan Cummings Foundation, which funded the Contemplative Practice Fellowships administered by the Center with the American Council of Learned Societies. Much of the work reported in this book was accomplished by these fellows. Fetzer Institute also funded an early draft of this book.

To everyone who has worked with the Center—present and past board members, staff, fellows, and members of the Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education—we thank you and have been greatly inspired by your work. Very special thanks go to the visionary work of Charlie Halpern and Rob Lehman who, along with Mirabai Bush, founded the Center and helped stimulate the work that has grown over the past eighteen years.

Of course, the book would not have happened without the pioneering work of Arthur Zajonc. Arthur's work, including his inquiry into the nature of contemplative epistemology, has been the foundation for much of the contemplative work in the academy. We feel blessed to have worked with Arthur as director of the Center's academic program and are honored to consider him a dear friend. We are excited to continue our collaboration with him as president of the Mind and Life Institute. Thank you, Arthur.

Deep gratitude goes to Sunanda Markus for the dedicated work of her research for the book and coordination of the fellows over ten years. She inspired a multidisciplinary collection of diverse scholars to become a contemplative community. Carrie Bergman nourished that community by creating a supportive and beautiful website. Beth Wadham, Lila Mereschuk, Jen Akey, Rose Sackey-Milligan, and Kim Foster also contributed, doing the work of a staff twice our size, and we were constantly impressed and inspired to be working with all of you. Thank you so much. Thanks also to Barbara A. Craig, who wrote an evaluation of the contemplative practice fellows program, providing invaluable information for the book.

Friends of the Center Jon Kabat Zinn, Dan Goleman, Robert Thurman, and Joseph Goldstein gave talks on contemplative education for the Center when the program was just beginning, helping to frame what we were doing before we could name it. Steven Rockefeller wrote a paper for the Center on the potential of meditation in the university that we quoted endlessly.

Daniel Barbezat: I bow to Ellen Kaz, Sam Barbezat, Lia Kaz, and Dante the wonder dog. Thank you for your honesty, integrity, challenge, and support; you have each profoundly affected my work and life. May you all ways (and as you say, Ellen, “all ways and always”) feel my great appreciation for you. To Dix McComas, Joe Howe, Gerome Miklau, Johanna Callard, Bill Rohan, Roger King, and Elizabeth Lund, I thank you greatly for your friendship and support in practice and in life. You have made this a far more interesting ride.

I am also deeply grateful to Mirabai for her generosity and graceful mentorship. It has been much fun and rewarding learning and working with you. Thank you, dear Mirabai.

Mirabai Bush: Thanks to Dan for his brilliance, his humor, and his teaching that desire is at the heart of all economic decisions. And much love and appreciation to Charlie Halpern and Rob Lehman for the partnership that grew into the Center and all its good work.

No thanks are enough for my many teachers of contemplative practices and contemplative learning, teaching, and knowing, including Neemkaroli Baba Maharaj, Ram Dass, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Kalu Rinpoche, David McClelland, Tsoknyi Rinpoche, and Kanai Sensei.

I have special appreciation for Ram Dass, not only for being a dearest friend and wise teacher, but for leaving Harvard, traveling to India, and becoming one of the first in the West to understand and share how contemplative practices deepen and enrich how we learn, teach, awaken, and live our lives. When he helped Chogyam Trungpa start Naropa Institute, the first contemplative university in the United States, one thousand students enrolled in his course to learn a contemplative way of being.

I also bow to my contemplative peers, coteachers, and friends, including Norman Fischer, Joseph Goldstein, Steve Smith, Sharon Salzberg, Jack Kornfield, Rachel Cowan, Surya Das, Sylvia Boorstein, Hal Roth, Jeremy Hunter, Zuleikha, Sun Hee Gertz, Linda Susan Beard, Bokara Legendre, and Chade Meng Tan. Brant Passalacqua and Anna Neiman-Passalacqua inspired me to be on the yoga mat regularly to keep my energy strong yet flexible as I worked on the book. Joan Konner, Betty Sue Flowers, Deborah Klimburg-Salter, Rhonda Magee, and Carolyn Jacobs helped me remember just how magnificent women in the academy can be. My years of dedication to this work would not have been possible without the seamless support of my loving partner, E. J. Lynch. My commitment to a more meaningful education for future generations has been deepened by my unconditional love and respect for my granddaughter, Dahlia Bush, and her father, Owen.

The Authors

Daniel P. Barbezat is professor of economics at Amherst College. He has been a visiting professor at Northwestern University and Yale University and has taught in the summer program at Harvard University. In 2004, he won the J. T. Hughes Prize for Excellence in Teaching Economic History from the Economic History Association.

Over the past decade, he has become interested in how self-awareness and introspection can be used in higher education, economic decision making, and creating and sustaining well-being. With the support of a contemplative practice fellowship from the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society in 2008, he has developed courses that integrate contemplative exercises designed to enable students to gain deeper understanding and insight. His approach to these economic classes has been featured in the Boston Globe, U.S. News & World Report, as well as on the NPR program Here and Now.

Since 2009, he has worked with the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society as a board member, treasurer, and associate director of the academic program. In 2012, he became the executive director of the center. He is working to expand and deepen programs, making the center's work more inclusive and transformative for all in higher education.

Along with his experimental research on choice and awareness, he is editing a group of papers on contemplative pedagogy with Arthur Zajonc and writing (and thinking, thinking, thinking about …) a book entitled Wanting.

His practice is supported by retreats at Insight Meditation Center and the Forest Refuge in Barre, Massachusetts.

Mirabai Bush is senior fellow and founding director of the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to encourage contemplative awareness in American life in order to create a more just, compassionate, and reflective society. She has designed and led contemplative trainings for corporations from Monsanto to Google, led a national survey of contemplative practice, and directed the contemplative practice fellowship awards program with the American Council of Learned Societies to explore such practices in academic courses. She has directed a study for the US Army on promoting resilience and performance among army medical and chaplain caregivers through meditation training. The center also sponsored a program to bring contemplative practices into social justice organizations and into the profession of law, engaging law students, law faculty, and attorneys in an exploration of the role of contemplative practice in legal education and the practice of law.

She formerly taught writing and English literature at SUNY Buffalo, under the mentorship of Robert Creeley, John Barth, and Lesley Fiedler. She directed an innovative program there for diversifying the university and preparing students of color for academic challenges. She now teaches in the contemplative clinical practice program at the Smith College School for Social Work.

She directed the Seva Foundation Guatemala Project, which supports sustainable agriculture and integrated community development. She codeveloped Sustaining Compassion, Sustaining the Earth, a series of retreats and events for grassroots environmental activists on the interconnection of spirit and action. She is coauthor, with Ram Dass, of Compassion in Action: Setting Out on the Path of Service, and editor of Contemplation Nation: How Ancient Practices Are Changing the Way We Live. She cofounded and directed Illuminations, Inc., in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her innovative business practices are available on Working with Mindfulness (CD and download) from

She is or has been a board member of Shambhala Sun, Omega Institute, Seva Foundation, Military Fitness Institute, Sacred Slam, the Dalai Lama Fellows, and Love Serve Remember.

Her spiritual studies include meditation at the Burmese Vihara in Bodh Gaya, India, with Shri S. N. Goenka and Anagarika Munindra; bhakti yoga with Hindu teacher Neemkaroli Baba; and studies with Tibetan lamas Kalu Rinpoche, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Kyabje Gehlek Rinpoche, Tsoknyi Rinpoche, and others. She was a student of aikido master Kanai Sensei for five years. She has cotaught with many prominent spiritual teachers including Ram Dass, Surya Das, Sharon Salzberg, Krishna Das, Daido Loori, Bernie Glassman, Norman Fischer, Arthur Zajonc, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Joan Halifax, Margo Adler, and Terry Tempest Williams.


Theoretical and Practical Background

chapter ONE

Transformation and Renewal in Higher Education

As teachers, we guide and support our students to become independent thinkers. We endeavor to teach the whole person, with an intention to go beyond the mere transfer of facts and theories. The advent of online learning and the availability of information on the Internet have made our focus on deeper and richer experiences of teaching and learning ever more important. While concentrating on these holistic goals, we also want to challenge and develop students' analytical problem-solving skills as well as provide careful explanations of complicated material. We want to create the opportunity for our students to engage with material so that they recognize and apply its relevance to their own lives, to feel deeply and experience themselves within their education. In other words, while fostering their knowledge base and analytical abilities, we want to present material in a way that supports students in having their own agency so that the material is not simply a set of intellectual hoops for them to jump through but an active opportunity for them to find meaning and develop intellectually.

This is no easy task. Focusing on our students' agency does not mean that our courses should or even could be equal collaborations. Negotiating this divide carefully—on the one hand, wanting to engage with students rather than talk at them, while on the other, knowing that we remain their teachers (however we conceive of that)—is a difficult but worthwhile process. In traversing these two poles, we often err on the side of rigid structure, and we stress the abstract and conceptual.

But concentration on outcomes, abstraction, and narrow information handling has its costs. In her book Mindfulness, Ellen Langer writes that perhaps one of the reasons that we become “mindless” is the form of our early education. “From kindergarten on,” she writes, “the focus of schooling is usually on goals rather than the process by which they are achieved. This single-minded pursuit of one outcome or another, from tying shoelaces to getting into college, makes it difficult to have a mindful attitude toward life. Questions of ‘Can I?’ or ‘What if I can't do it?’ are likely to predominate, creating an anxious preoccupation with success or failure rather than drawing on the child's natural, exuberant desire to explore” (Langer, 1989, pp. 33–34). Indeed, the history of educational reform is full of examples of the responses to the heavy costs of this sort of concentration. It is this sense of deep exploration and inquiry that has led us to develop a pedagogy that uses contemplative methods.

We have often stressed the highly instrumental form of learning to the exclusion of personal reflection and integration. It is understandable how this happens; developing careful discursive, analytical thought is one of the hallmarks of a good education. However, creative, synthetic thinking requires more than this; it requires a holistic engagement and attention that is especially fostered by the student finding himself or herself in the material. No matter how radically we conceive of our role in teaching, the one aspect of students' learning for which they are unambiguously sovereign is the awareness of their experience and their own thoughts, beliefs, and reactions to the material covered in the course. In addition, students need support in discerning what is most meaningful to them—both their direction overall and their moral compass. Without opportunities to inquire deeply, all they can do is proceed along paths already laid down for them.

Researchers and educators have pursued the objective of creating learning environments that are deeply focused on the relationship of students to what they are learning as well as to the rest of the world. We have found that contemplative practices respond powerfully to these challenges and can provide an environment that supports the increasing diversity of our students. While contemplative practices vary greatly, they all have the potential to integrate students' own rich experience into their learning. When students engage in these introspective exercises, they discover their internal relationship to the material in their courses.

To be sure, others have thought about expansive and reflective approaches to teaching. For example, the famous work of John Dewey and Jean Piaget and the radical reframing of education by Paolo Freire all have experiential components at the heart of their systems (Dewey, 1986; Piaget, 1973; Freire, 1970). Dewey, in particular, has keen insights on the relationship between experience and reflection. (See, for example, Rodgers, 2002.) In fact, entire educational systems have been built around experience. For example, the experiential learning theory system of Daniel Kolb posits two sets of related inquiries: concrete experience and abstract conceptualization on the one hand and reflective observation and active experimentation on the other. Indeed, the advocates of the integrative education movement, influenced by the systems of thinkers like Ken Wilbur and Sri Aurobindo, call for the active attention on combining domains of experience and knowing into learning (see, for example, Awbrey, 2006). Thus, our focus on contemplative and introspective practices is not unknown in academia; what distinguishes the experience and integration discussed in this book is that the experience is focused on students' introspection and their cultivation of awareness of themselves and their relationship to others. The exercises are relatively simple and mainly conducted in their own minds and bodies, relating directly to their personal experience discovered through attention and awareness, yet these private investigations yield increased empathy for others and a deeper sense of connection with the world (Birnie, Speca, & Carlson, 2010).

Contemplation, Introspection, and Reflection

In this book, we will be talking about contemplative practices and pedagogy, sometimes using introspection, reflection, or other terms interchangeably. Although the range of these practices is very broad, all of them have an introspective, internal focus. Whether they are analytical exercises asking students to examine a concept deeply or opportunities to simply attend to what is arising, the practices all have an inward or first-person focus that creates opportunities for greater connection and insight. Although students might be silent or speaking, still or in motion, the practices all focus on the present experience, either physical or mental. The practices certainly include meditation, but not all are meditative in the traditional sense. They range from carefully beholding chemical mappings and making observations, to sitting in stillness, to imagining the impacts of distributing different proportions of goods to loved ones and to strangers. They include both simple and complex concentration practices that sometimes require periods of calm and quiet and sometimes sustained analytical thinking. The critical aspect is that students discover their own internal reactions without having to adopt any ideology or specific belief. They all place the student in the center of his or her learning so that the student can connect his or her inner world to the outer world. Through this connection, teaching and learning is transformed into something personally meaningful yet connected to the world.

We recognize that the idea of a first-person focus has complex ontological and epistemological implications. In essays like Hans-Georg Gadamer's “On the Problem of Self-Understanding” (1976) and Evan Thompson's “Empathy and Consciousness” (2001) the metacognition necessary for evaluative self-awareness is examined and evaluated. While these inquiries are fascinating and important in considering the nature of awareness, self-conception, and knowing, we will not consider them here. Here we are stimulating the inquiry.