Contemplative Pedagogy and Mindfulness: Developing Creative Attention in an Age of Distraction

Journal of Philosophy of Education 49 (2):187-202 (2015)


Over the last decade, there has been a considerable expansion of mindfulness programmes into a number of different domains of contemporary life, such as corporations, schools, hospitals and even the military. Understanding the reasons for this phenomenon involves, I argue, reflecting upon the nature of contemporary capitalism and mapping the complexity of navigating new digital technologies that make multiple and accelerated solicitations upon attention and our affective lives. Whilst acknowledging the benefits of mindfulness practice, this article argues that it is equally important to attend to the ethical framework that gives orientation to these practices and the outer conditions that shape lived daily experience, such as school or work environments. I suggest that the well-meaning efforts to secularise mindfulness, provide scientific evidence for its effectiveness, and introduce it to wider publics may have served to impoverish the rich contribution that practices of mindfulness, situated within a broader ethical framework, can make to human lives, and arguably contribute to the educational endeavour. For example, the emphasis on transforming inner conditions of students’ lives can lead to the neglect of outer conditions, such as structural inequality, or unhealthy and exploitative work practices. This can result in practices that privilege individual wellbeing over compassion and concern for the happiness of others, providing a buffer against loving attention to the world and others. Instead, I ask how mindfulness in educational settings could come to be viewed in a different light if we reflect upon the ways in which school environments and curricula can promote mindfulness, awareness, sensitive inquiry, and contemplative practices through the day, rather than offering it as a discrete intervention focused on the self and wellbeing

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