Although this article is looking at contemplative pedagogy in teaching liberal arts, much of what is written can apply to any kind of learning or training, including, with just a little imagination, law school.
More than a century ago, William James foreshadowed the growth of contemplative higher education with his claim that “the faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again, is the very root of judgment, character, and will. No one is compos sui [i.e., master of him or herself] if he have it not. An education which should improve this faculty would be the education par excellence.” In the past few decades, colleges and universities have increasingly seen the value of using contemplative or meditative approaches alongside traditional pedagogical approaches in many areas of the curriculum. The use of this
pedagogy is evident throughout Naropa University, a Buddhist inspired contemplative liberal arts institution founded in 1970 in Boulder, Colorado, and at smaller scales in entire departments or particular courses across the country. (See the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society for example syllabi.) In order to introduce others to this burgeoning movement, this brief essay will outline a taxonomy of contemplative methods relevant to pedagogy in the liberal arts.
Because they involve an inward focus, contemplative modes of inquiry result in greater self-awareness, greater capacity to focus attention, and greater capacity to expand attention without losing precision or focus—in other words, “the faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention over and over again.” Brad Sullivan’s essay in LiberalArtsOnline on the educational role of cultivating attention, “Liberal Arts Education and the Cultivation of Attention,” points to the value of embedding the training of attention in liberal arts curricula. Traditional modes of inquiry in the liberal arts, such as analytical and critical thinking, require intellectual engagement with text, laboratory experimentation, and so on. Due to their inward focus, contemplative pedagogical methods can enrich and complement the disciplinary modes of inquiry already used in the liberal arts by enhancing the learner’s personal connection with the subject matter. In many areas of academic inquiry, contemplative practices have been found to enhance attention, creativity, open-mindedness, the ability to hold paradox, and compassionate civic engagement. Moreover, they specifically encourage such mental skills and habits as sustained and focused attention, open-mindedness, suspension of judgment, compassionate listening, and a sense of awe.
Click to read the rest of "Contemplative Modes of Inquiry in Liberal Arts Education" (LiberalArtsOnline).