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Lions Roar : July 2011
SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2011 57 Education that is merely a process of acquiring intellectual knowledge is learn- ing from the outside in, disconnected from the heart, the spirit, and the rest of the world. In contrast, contemplative edu- cation fosters learning from the inside out. It brings intellect and intuition together in a powerful pedagogy of creativity and insight. Why is that of value? In contem- plation, the heart and mind are equally engaged. Meditation and other contem- plative practices enhance our awareness of our lives and the lives of others. Aware- ness, felt in the body, held in the heart, and known in the mind, brings with it the desire and capability to lead an engaged life of mindfulness and service. In a contemplative educational setting, a student who is developing the tools for en- gagement will find that awareness perme- ates life both in and out of the classroom. For example, someone interested in the environment would not just read textbooks and case studies on the subject, but would also participate in a community project to clean a local river and petition for legisla- tive changes to ensure its safety. By reflect- ing both quietly during meditation practice, aloud during class discussions, and publicly on the causes and effects of environmental degradation, the student learns holisti- cally through study, personal insight, and informed action. To complete the holistic circle, students must be enabled to probe further, discovering how their own choices have contributed to the problem and what steps must be taken to improve the situa- tion on a personal, as well as a societal level. This training is particularly relevant given the need for ethical decision-making so evident today. At Naropa, students are asked to utilize contemplative practice in their investiga- tions of life’s big existential questions: Who am I? What is happiness? How do I lead a life worth living? How can I be of service to others? Such questions, when united with contemplative inquiry, can be a profound inspiration to the academic pursuit, breathing life and meaning into one’s higher educational career. These big-life questions are difficult to approach in a traditional educational curriculum. How- ever, by learning the value of personally experiencing the subject matter, intuitive- ly as well as intellectually, students of con- templative education begin to embrace the immediacy of their interior lives as a means of fully integrating what they learn. And while these important topics may be largely unexplored in traditional educa- tion, their profound mystery remains at the foundation of our very lives. The full meaning of contemplative edu- cation is very subtle and difficult to describe concretely. One way to approach this meth- od of teaching is to see its results in the lives of students, in the choices they make in re- gard to service, in their efforts to meet the world as it is and change it for the better. Danny Sprague-Chaffin, a peace studies major at Naropa, formed a nonprofit organ- ization, raised funds, and led the effort to build a school in a remote region of Nepal. Until he found a meaningful purpose and application of his passion, Danny didn’t feel comfortable with his place in school or in the community. His need to improve the world drew him to the children of Nepal; Danny combined his own insight with the learning he received in the classroom, allow- ing him to perform effective actions that served the world community. Through hard work, dedication, and insight, he has made lasting changes in the lives of many children, all from a place of contemplative inquiry and informed and compassionate action. Naropa alumna Amber Gray is another wonderful example of the results of a con- templative education. Amber trained in somatic counseling psychology, and today offers psychotherapy, training, and program development throughout the world, par- ticularly to survivors of extreme trauma. Amber spent much of 2010 in Haiti after its devastating earthquake, offering informed, compassionate service to Haitians. She col- laborated with their community and Who am I? How do I lead a life worth living? Such questions, when united with contemplative inquiry, can breathe meaning into one’s higher education. PHOTOBYCLAUDIALOPEZ