From the Newsletter of the Association of Contemplative Mind In Higher Education (ACMHE):
Tips of fingers meet my MacBook keyboard just as five students complete a political philosophy seminar, “Getting Jobs.” Steve Jobs ditched his program at Reed College and hung around taking calligraphy courses. The Apple aesthetic was borne in those hours of leisure, and the gadgets he conceived reflect Jobs’ encounter with the East: a trip to India as a young man and then his life-long meditation practice. Knowing the more sordid details of Jobs’ life gives pause to whatever virtues we may attribute to his contemplative mind. Likewise, the clouds that he puts in place and myriad devices that enrapture us may seem more unsettling than contemplative.
Yet, this curious marriage of Western scientific rationalism, entrepreneurial spirit, and Eastern spaciousness is mirrored in our own contemplative practices and neurosciences of mindfulness. In the seminar we compared Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs to Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra. The six of us in “Getting Jobs” knew implicitly that any insight we might have about these unconventional paths would demand that we pause and practice the contemplative arts. So we did, throughout, by weekly visits to the Bodhi Path Buddhist Center.
Greeted by the generosity of Lama Tsony, former abbot of the Dhagpo Kundreul Ling Monastery in France and currently resident teacher at the Bodhi Path Buddhist Center in Natural Bridge, Virginia, we practiced how to be conversant (as we would wish all seminars to be). In the art of conversation, listening is essential, and this we did by the discipline of silence. The Heart Sutra and Guanaratana Bhante’s Mindfulness in Plain English served as textual guides for our discernment; we had the Bodhi Path context and a meditation master to ease the way. By mutual consent, the principal writing assignment became a series of blog posts (two five-hundred word entries each week). Most students wrote well over 10,000 words: one has over forty single-spaces pages. Mimicking consciousness, the posts reveal student’s self-conscious movements, appearing and disappearing, and the blog medium emulates Nietzsche’s aphoristic writing and thinking.
I see quanta of creativity as a new form, an investigation about our own minds and thinking. While not a replacement of the mechanical research paper, so often seen as the only legitimate way to write in an academic setting, the medium allowed us to learn from our own personalities. On the art of story-telling, we reflected on Jonathan Gottshall’s discussion of how neuroscience explains our propensity to metaphor and allegory in The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make us Human. Our writing confounded and conflated first and third person perspectives self-consciously; not pretending unadulterated objectivity or subjectivity.
For our inspiration, we took the work of neurophenomenologists who have been creators and defenders of contemplative space in higher education and proposed a new multi-perspectival rhetoric that we believe will become a staple in the academy. For now we baptize it contemplative political philosophy. Students deftly took the reins of this unwieldy chariot (as Plato’s horseman in Phaedrus) and steered themselves to the edges of academic convention.