Sunday, November 02, 2008

Acme School of Meditation

The meeting I'm at is sponsored by the Association for the Contemplative Mind in Higher Education. If you're feeling acronymish: ACMHE pronounced "Acme"

We've spent time this weekend thinking about integrating contemplative practices into college classrooms. Why? How? When? Who?

One question that arises is "decontextualization" of practices that emerge from a particular tradition or stance, long standing or otherwise. When practices are taught outside of their specific context - what is lost? How integral is context to the practice and the practice to the context?

My own contemplative life grows from the Roman Catholic traditions - its monastic and mystical traditions. When I teach pieces of my own practice to students in a secular setting, how much do I share of the broader context is an ethical issue for me. My current stance is that I need to tell them that I do practice, that it is in a religious context, that many religious and secular traditions share practices and theories about practices, but that I don't intend to teach anything about the traditions.

If I stick to things like breathing or centering exercises that can be used in many contexts, I don't think there's an ethical issue or an issue with the integrity of the practice. Last year, in an extra-curricular project I taught a secular version of the examen to a group of students from many faith backgrounds. This becomes a choice between teaching a particular tradition and the integrity of the exercise itself. Is there any value in teaching a "vanilla version" of any religious practice? The Acme Co. version of a worship service?

Stand at the crossroads, and look,
and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way lies; and walk in it,
and find rest for your souls. Jer 6:16


  1. I too ponder this in my classroom, though it is a bit different than yours. From time to time I have the students read an article and tell them to respond to the word, phrase, sentence, paragraph, concept... whatever it is that resounds with them. What I get back is usually much more interesting than summaries. I think this came from lectio divina.

    when they bring up something that is still a mystery and will likely always be a mystery... how did life start? I tell them to always be a cynic if someone acts like they know with absolute certainty, and it does not matter whether it is a religious or scientific theory. I tell them to relish that there are mysteries and they can chose what to believe.

  2. Such an interesting set of questions.

    When I do yoga, it is completely de-contextualized. It's a good thing for me to do, but it probably sounds like an impoverished practice to someone who does it within a spiritual context.