A List of Purposes of Contemplative Practices

Tom Murray

The following list was originally inspired from a brainstorming session of the Five Colleges New Epistemologies and Contemplative Practices faculty group meeting on 10/18/04.  (Thanks particularly for input from Phyllis Robinson and Dianne Dana.) A goal of the meeting was to gather answers to the following questions:

1)        What are some different definitions of contemplative practice (as used in the classroom)?

2)        What benefits are these methods supposed to  provide for students (I.E. what are our goals in using them)? 

3)        What methods have been used or thought of? 

4)        How might we measure or  document the effects of these methods? 

5)        What sources, theories,  experts, forums, etc. would be good references for further  investigating these questions?

6)        What should this group do next to continue exploring this issue?



A. Physiological, attention, safety, and stress-related :

  1. Scientific work requires focus, stilling or slowing the mind, noticing our progress...
  2. Stress reduction; health
  3. Create a safe space (in order to go to places of imagination, exploration)

B. Epistemological and cognitive:

  1. Experiential understanding of  how our minds work--- All the clatter and chatter. 
  2. To note how our conscious and unconscious assumptions, judgments, emotions, and affect our beliefs
  3. To know the difference between experiences /observations and thoughts /inferences
  4. Understanding the structure of the self and the relativity of our thoughts/knowledge
  5. Develop critical thinking skills
  6. Expands us to find connection between conscious and unconscious.
  7. To see how understanding can come from insight or intuition, from within us
  8. Develop attention to the "what is" of the moment, both inside and outside -- as opposed to future and  past and interpretation
  9. Develop the skill of open curiosity.  Asking "why", wanting to know.
  10. Develop cognitive empathy, ability to put oneself in someone elsežs shoes.
  11. Develop capacity to hold paradox, ambiguity, multiple perspectives; incomplete and multifaceted information
    --- Learning how to embrace the obverse/opposite.
  12. To experience  certain things that can not be adequately described in words

C. Self-Transformative, healing, and emotional intelligence:

  1. Connect with and/or articulate our core values, beliefs, goals, who I am
    --- What kind of world do I want to live in?  What does this have to do with me?
    --- investigate and find meaning in life
    --- Experience  a new sense of self and who we are in the world
  2. Gaining strength and support to face our fears
  3. Develop resilience, patience, persistence, willingness to let things unfold.
  4. Encouragement of discernment of own truth and self-authority; trusting intuitions.

D. World-transformative, social justice, activism

  1. difference and commonalities between and within religion and spiritualities
  2. Diversity is revealed , noticing to learn about attributions and stereotyping
  3. loving kindness , compassion, positive affect, acceptance and welcoming of people or ideas that are "other" or resisted
  4. Awareness of how bound we are to our cultural conditioning.
  5. sensitivity to appropriating other peoples traditions and cultural productions
  6. create and experience spheres of collective intentionality, collective intelligence, collective action

E. Transcendental, Connecting with creativity, spirit, being, infinite, source, the ineffable ...

  1. Attention to and active development of imagination and  insight; bring it into form
  2. To move the student from I/It to I/Thou, to know as we are known