capturing the spark of east and west in the learning mind

Isn’t contemplation a part of all education?
Isn’t contemplative education redundant?

The first step to understanding contemplative education is to grasp that it doesn’t mean solely self reflection, and it is not the act of contemplation alone that makes it unique.

Contemplative education is learning infused with the experience of awareness, insight and compassion for oneself and others, honed through the practice of sitting meditation and other contemplative disciplines. The rigor of these disciplined practices prepares the mind to process information in new and perhaps unexpected ways. Contemplative practice unlocks the power of deep inward observation, enabling the learner to tap into a wellspring of knowledge about the nature of mind, self and other that has been largely overlooked by traditional, Western-oriented liberal education.

This approach to learning captures the spark of East and West working within; it’s the meeting of two of the greatest learning philosophies in the history of higher education, applied at Naropa University in the context of today’s rapidly changing world.

Naropa University has offered mission-based contemplative education to both undergraduate and graduate students for more than thirty years. Informed by ancient Eastern educational philosophies, contemplative education at Naropa experiments with another way of knowing through its joining of rigorous liberal arts training and the disciplined training of the heart. Transcending the belief that knowledge arises in the thinking mind only, this educational philosophy invites students to embrace the immediacy of their interior lives as a means for fully integrating what they learn.

Contemplative education is not solely traditional education with a course in meditation thrown in; it is an approach that offers an entirely new way of understanding what it means to be educated in the modern Western liberal arts tradition. At Naropa University, students wholeheartedly engage in mindfulness awareness practices in order to cultivate being present in the moment and to deepen their academic study.

Woven into the fabric of the curriculum are practices that include sitting meditation, t’ai-chi ch’uan, aikido, yoga, Chinese brushstroke and ikebana. The depth of insight and concentration reached through students’ disciplined engagement with contemplative practices alters the very landscape of learning and teaching at Naropa.

Through such a focused self-exploration, students and faculty acquire the ability to be present in the classroom and in their lives; to engage in active listening with an open mind; to analyze a subject; and to integrate what has been learned with personal experience.

Other resulting qualities include the development of openness, self-awareness and insight; enhanced speaking and listening skills; the sharpening of insight; and an appreciation of the world’s diversity and richness. From this self-understanding comes an ability to appreciate the value of another’s experience.

The goal of a Naropa University education is not to nurture the solitary contemplative only; it is also to cultivate those at the other end of the spectrum whose interior work acts as preparation for compassionate and transformative work in the world. More specifically, the value of contemplative education is measured in Naropa students’ ability to put their wisdom and insight into practice through creative, helpful and effective action.

Source: Naropa University website

Judy Lief, trustee and former Naropa University president writes:

The point is not to abandon scholarship but to ground it, to personalize it and to balance it with the fundamentals of mind training, especially the practice of sitting meditation so that inner development and outer knowledge go hand in hand…

A balanced education cultivates abilities beyond the verbal and conceptual to include matters of heart, character, creativity, self-knowledge, concentration, openness and mental flexibility.

Also see: visual arts at Naropa

arts and consciousness

dharma art courses

education for wholeness

fellowships for contemplative artists

visual arts at naropa

zen arts

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