Meditation, Creativity, and Consciousness: Charting Future Terrain Within Higher Education
by Ed Sarath - 2006
This article explores the role of contemplative practices within an emerging interdisciplinary area that I refer to as "creativity and consciousness studies." Within this new area, consciousness is studied from an "integral" perspective that brings together insights from a range of wisdom traditions and modern science. Meditation is presented as an essential first-person modality for investigating consciousness, and formal and nonformal approaches to meditation are delineated to establish important guidelines for the introduction of meditation into an academic setting. The role of "first-person" experience helps to develop new notions of rigor and interdisciplinary learning that can lead to an expanded educational experience, which can help to develop qualities such as mental clarity, inner calm, insight, compassion, and creativity. The article closes with reflections on the importance of expanding our approach to education in light of the demanding challenges and creative opportunities in today's world.
There is no dearth of talk in higher education about innovation, change, diversity, risk taking, and other themes that are synonymous with progress. However, initiatives that probe fundamentally new approaches to knowledge are more the exception than the rule, and as most educational reformers will attest, resistance to change seems endemic to the academic world. This is not to deny the new programs that have emerged here and there, but to observe that the dominant approaches in our educational systemshow learning, teaching, and even research are carried outhave not significantly changed amid these developments. In this article, I will examine one of the most dramatic departures from conventional educational strategies in our times: the integration of meditation practices and related studies into college and university classrooms. Meditation brings to the educational spectrum a new and foundational kind of experience that lays the groundwork for what I call creativity and consciousness studies. Combining experience of the innermost dimensions of consciousness, a variety of creative modalities, and conventional educational terrain, creativity and consciousness studies are rooted in an expanded epistemological spectrum that enables the fulfillment of both traditional and innovative educational goals.
Creativity and consciousness studies can be thought of as a movement from educations conventional focus on third-person knowledge toward a more inclusive approach that also includes second- and first-person approaches to knowledge. Third-person education is oriented toward some external content and largely consists of logical, rational, analytical inquiry. Whereas third-person education is content- or object-driven, second-person education is more process-oriented, which brings us into the realm of creativity. For example, we can study art through third-person theoretical or historical perspectives, and we can also study art from a second-person vantage point by creating our own works, not at the exclusion of, but in conjunction with, third-person inquiry. First-person education involves the experience of the innermost regions of the self, the knower, through meditation practices. Long considered in spiritual and philosophical traditions around the world as a basic tool for the cultivation of mental clarity, insight, creativity, inner calm, well-being, compassion, and a range of other personal and transpersonal qualities, meditation would seem to warrant a central place in the educational world. Consider the following description of a meditation experience, which exemplifies a first-person epistemology:
Then, with increased familiarity . . . the process of transcending became more and more natural. The whole physiology was by now accustomed to just slipping within, and at some point it would literally click, and with that the awareness would become fully expanded, the breath would almost cease, the spine would become straight, and the lungs would cease to move. There would be no weight anywhere in the body, the physiology was at rest. At this point, I began to appreciate that this inner silence was not an emptiness but simply silent consciousness without content or activity, and I began to recognize in it the essence of my own self. Eventually, even the thin boundary that had previously divided individuality from this silent consciousness began to dissolve. The T as a separate entity just started to have no meaning. The boundary that I put on myself became like a mesh, a net; it became porous and then just dissolved, only unbroken pure consciousness or existence remained. (Alexander & Langer, 1990, p. 313)
First-person experience at its core is an experience of self-awareness in its most foundational form. Here, a principle important to creativity and consciousness studies emerges: Access to this first-person core enhances engagement, vitality, and creativity in second- and third-person endeavors. Although the prospects may seem dim for acceptance of this educational vision any time soon, indications of openings are evident. Here, the Contemplative Practice Fellowship programsponsored by the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society (CMS) and administered by the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS)may prove to be a landmark initiative. Launched in 1997, this program has enabled faculty at over 90 colleges and universitiesincluding Brown, Columbia, Harvard, Yale, the University of Massachusetts, and the University of Michiganto design and implement coursework involving meditation and related forms of inquiry. Fields as diverse as medicine, business, psychology, religion, architecture, literature, dance, and music have been influenced by the CMS/ACLS initiative. Although most of the resultant activity has to date involved the creation of individual, elective courses at the various institutions, some movement has begun toward a next phase in this project: the creation of related curricular concentrations or majors. I have made some headway along these lines in the creation of the bachelor of fine arts in jazz and contemplative studies (BFAJCS) degree at the University of Michigan School of Music. The BFAJCS appears to be the first program of its kind at a major mainstream educational institution. Students in this 4-year curriculum take a full slate of jazz and broader music courses, music and nonmusic electives, and about 25 credits of coursework from diverse units on campus that involve meditation practice and related theoretical, cultural, and historical studies.
I believe that the BFAJCS is significant for the expanded epistemological basis that it offers jazz students. At the same time, it presents a blueprint that can be adapted by those in other fields who would like to design curricular models with significant contemplative or creativity and consciousness components. The exploration of these possibilities is one of the central aims of Michigans newly established program in creativity and consciousness studies that I founded and direct.
I will draw upon my work in this area and attempt to illuminate important principles for colleagues interested in pursuing these ends at their respective institutions. I begin by tackling the difficult question of the nature of consciousness, some sense of which is necessary to fully appreciate meditation and creativity. I appropriate what I call an integral perspective that embraces the diverse viewpoints of science and a variety of wisdom traditions. I then examine meditation and present a framework whereby it can be taught, evaluated, and awarded course credit in academic settings. This framework paves the way for linkages into the creativity domain through new understandings of, and approaches to, rigor and cross-disciplinary learning that are opened up through an integral approach to consciousness. I close with reflections on the significance of creativity and consciousness studies to the educational and societal needs of our times.
What is consciousness? How might it be studied in academic settings? Where in the modern university might consciousness studies be located? These questions point to the elusive nature of consciousness, particularly in the academy. In contrast to the highly compartmentalized nature of higher education, consciousness seems to defy categorization and could arguably be located within, but not limited to, a wide variety of fields, including psychology, biology, philosophy, religion, neuroscience, physics, music, dance, theatre, visual arts, and athletics. The use of meditation practices, which as I argue above is a necessary part of creativity and consciousness studies, poses additional challenges in the academic world with its divergent epistemological framework, which brings new kinds of pedagogy and assessment. The wide-ranging viewpoints on the nature of consciousness further complicate the introduction of this area in the academy.
Dualism, which holds that mind or consciousness and body are fundamentally distinct entities, appears to be the most common point of departure in the contemporary framing of theories of consciousness. Challenged by an increasing body of research in neuroscience that shows consciousness and physiology to be intimately linked, dualism has largely fallen by the wayside in recent years. In academic circles, materialism, which presumes that consciousness is rooted in a physical substrate, has become the prevailing viewpoint. In other words, matter is primary, and all human experiencelove, hopes, desires, dreams, transcendenceoriginates in the bodily, material realm. Reductionism is a form of materialism that views consciousness as nothing but physiological processes, as indicated in Francis Crick and Christof Kochs (1998) conviction that the problem of consciousness can, in the long run, be solved only by explanations at the neural level (p. 277). More moderate forms of materialism reject reductionism and view consciousness as epiphenomenal to a physical substrate. In John Searles (1997) words, Consciousness is caused by lower-level neuronal processes in the brain . . . [and because] it emerges from certain neuronal activities, we can think of it as an emergent phenomenon . . .. but . . . it cannot be explained simply as a summation of the properties of these elements (p. l8). In other words, although consciousness is still presumed to originate in the brain, the emergent whole is greater than, and thus not reducible to, the sum of its parts. Experiences such as love, hope, anxiety, and transcendence may have physiological correlates and origins, but they represent emergent properties of consciousness that are not entirely explicable in physicalist terms.
Although materialists cite findings in neuroscience to support their claims that matter is primary, it is important to note that the same findings can be interpreted just as readily to support nonmaterialist views of consciousness. In other words, intimate linkages between mind and body are just as compatibleand some might argue more compatiblewith the notion that consciousness is primary. Idealism, at the other end of the nature-of-consciousness spectrum, is one such perspective. Rooted in the notion of a universal, eternal domain of consciousness or spirit that underlies and is the source of all creation, some form of idealism is central to most (if not all) of the worlds wisdom traditions.
Huston Smith (1992) distinguished between materialist and idealist conceptions of the physical creation:
We tend to think of mind as an epiphenomenon, as a gloss on matter with spirit a patina on that gloss. The truth is the reverse. Matter is the rarity; it obtrudes from the psychic with perhaps the frequency of a few stalactites from the roof of an enormous cavern. (p. 42)
The Vedantic tradition elaborates on this idea by viewing the material creation as a result of the self-referential play, or lila, of the cosmic intelligence. As Sri Aurobindo put it, consciousness is the inherent self-awareness in existence . . . which . . . in its movement . . . becomes the electron, the atom, the material object (Dalal, 2001, pp. 328, 10). Maharishi Mahesh Yogi illuminates the role of sound as primordial frequencies generated in this self-referential play that functions as the fundamental building blocks of creation. The hymns of the Vedic literature, in fact, are viewed as direct manifestations of these transcendent frequencies: This mechanics of transformation of self-referral intelligence into the ever-expanding material universe is available to us in countable stages in the structure of Rk Veda.1 All the material and nonmaterial expressions of creation have specific frequencies (sounds) (Druhl, 1997, p. 149).
Pan-experientialists, somewhat aligned with idealists, believe that neither consciousness nor matter is primary element in creation, but that both originate in and evolve from a kind of universal flux (Bohm, 1980) that is neither consciousness nor matter.
Integralism acknowledges the questions raised by materialism as important to an ultimate understanding of consciousness, even if these questions in turn challenge materialist premises. Two important questions include the binding problemhow discrete neural events could sustain continuous conscious experiencewhich is a facet of what is called the hard problem of consciousness. David Chalmers (1996) framed the hard problem as the question, How could a physical system give rise to conscious experience? (p. 25). Yet because a response to this question has been so elusive, Chalmers confessed to considering dualism, the rejection of which has been a starting point for much contemporary philosophy of mind, as a viable explanation for human experience. I resisted mind-body dualism for a long time, but I have come to the point where I accept it, not just as the only tenable view, but as a satisfying view in its own right (p. 357). Nobel laureate Stephen Weinberg (1997) asserted that the reductionist worldview is chilling and impersonal, but . . . that is the way the world is, yet then concedes that of all the areas of experience that we try to link to the principles of physics . . . it is consciousness that presents us with the greatest difficulty (p. 53) Although Daniel Dennetts (1991) statement that materialism of one sort or another is now a received opinion approaching unanimity (p. 106) may adequately reflect tendencies in mainstream scientific and philosophical circles with regard to the nature of consciousness, the absence of compelling responses to fundamental questions, in part raised by materialists themselves, also gives reason to wonder how viable materialism will prove to be as the investigation into consciousness continues.
One can see from this brief overview how divergent the explanations of consciousness are, and the challenges that some viewpointsparticularly those with any sort of mystical or spiritual overtonespose to the broader educational arena. Given this disparity of perspectives, I believe that faculty and institutions should pursue as broad and inclusive an investigation into consciousness as possible. I propose for this purpose an integral approach, inspired by thinkers such as Ken Wilber, Robert Forman, Jenny Wade, William Stace, Huston Smith, and others who have contributed to a cross-traditional understanding of consciousness. The compelling features of an integral approach are its breadth, inclusiveness, and unifying capacities. Although these features make integralism more disposed toward non-material rather than material perspectives, the integral approach takes into account salient features of materialist thought. For example, it embraces research in neuroscience that illuminates mind-body connections even if it balks at materialist interpretations of that research as the total story of consciousness. Most important is that integralism provides a framework for wide-ranging inquiry that will stimulate provocative reflection and dialogue, and enable students and faculty to come to their own conclusions. Whereas materialist approaches are usually grounded in third-person investigation, integralism asserts the essential place of first-person modalities of investigation that include meditative practices. How can one know about consciousness without delving into the innermost recesses of his or her own experience that underlie thinking and analysis? And whereas materialist approaches dismiss the perspectives of wisdom traditions in favor of science as the ultimate authority on truth, integralism regards both wisdom traditions and science as dynamic, creative, and central sources of inquiry into ultimate realitythe mysteries of which may always elude human understanding. In this regard, the subtitle of the Journal of Consciousness Studies, Controversies in sciences and the humanities, provides an apt reminder about the contentious nature of inquiry into consciousness. This not need suggest that consciousness is so hazy a subject that it may be best kept safely outside the doors of our colleges and universities. Rather, I would argue that the study of consciousness is a foundational educational topic whose study, particularly from an integral perspective, can bring profound meaning to the educational enterprise, and that its contentious nature can be harnessed as a source of rich connections to a wide range of educational terrain.
Let us probe more deeply the what is consciousness? question to get a better sense of an integral perspective. Websters New World College Dictionary (2001) tells us that consciousness is the state of being conscious (p. 310). This deceptively succinct yet fertile statement allows us to infer several important aspects of consciousness. One is that consciousness is a self-referential, integrative phenomenon. In other words, consciousness, as the awareness of being aware, is the uniquely human capacity to reflect on the subject, process, and object of knowing; it is the capacity for self-knowledge. Self-referential awareness is commonly thought to be a uniquely human trait and has been argued to be the basis for the range of human creative achievement. In Teilhard de Chardins (1965) words,
Beings endowed with self-awareness become, precisely in virtue of that bending back upon themselves, immediately capable of rising into a new sphere of existence: in truth, another world is born. Abstract thought, logic, reasoned choice and invention, mathematics, art, the exact computation of space and time, the dreams and anxieties of love: all these activities of the inner life are simply the bubbling up of the newly-formed life-centre as it explodes upon itself. (1965, p. 93)
Closely related to the integrative and self-referential capacities of consciousness are its transformational properties. One can be conscious of being conscious, or self-aware, to varying degrees. In what are called heightened or transcendent states, one is optimally self-aware, in ordinary states less so. As suggested in Teilhards insights, heightened self-awareness poses extraordinary educational ramifications, for it not only suggests enhanced capacities for introspection but also external creative activity and achievement. For these reasons, the capacity for ordinary consciousness to be transformed into a heightened state is key to an integral approach to consciousness studies.
We may ask what it is that is transformed. In a variety of traditions, some notion of a personal selfthe aspect of consciousness that engages in moment-to-moment rational thinking, decision-making processes, judgments, survival strategies, and so onis seen to shift from being experienced as a discrete, independent entity to being part of a broader realm of experience or consciousness. Descriptions of this transformation as both emptiness and fullnesscomplete dissolution or annihilation of the self, or merging of the self with a more expansive realm of consciousnessabound across and sometimes within traditions. At this point, we begin to encounter some of the contentious issues inherent in consciousness studies.
The first has to do with the nature of the self. Buddhists, in adherence to the principle of impermanence, hold dear the concept of anatman, or the absence of a transcendent self. The dissolution of the personal ego results in shunyata, emptiness, which is the source of creation. However, almost every other wisdom tradition acknowledges some transcendent dimension of the self, or soul, that is rooted in a cosmic, eternal dimension of spirit. Might the rejection of this idea be where Buddhism is unique among the worlds wisdom traditions? Or might these distinctions be more semantic than phenomenological? As Wilber (1999), Mansfield (2002), Goswami (1993), Govinda (1969) and others have noted, Buddhist teachings also acknowledge an oceanic, universal aspect of consciousness with which the egoic self can merge, a notion that is strikingly similar to that of many wisdom traditions. Aurobindo stated that Buddha, it must be remembered, refused always to discuss what was beyond the world. But from the little he said, it would appear that he was aware of a Permanent beyond similar to the Vedantic Para-Brahman, but which he was quite unwilling to describe. The denial of anything except a negative state of Nirvana was a later teaching, not Buddhas. (Dalal, 2001, p. 375)
The suggestion here is that a closer look at Buddhist thought may reveal closer parallels with other traditions than are immediately apparent concerning transcendent realms of consciousness. It might be also noted that exemplars from a variety of non-Buddhist traditions speak as Buddhists do of the dissolution of ego into nothingness, but they do so in conjunction with a merging with a greater fullness. For example, the Christian mystic Meister Eckhart discussed a state of nothingness as absolutely devoid of content, but which is also the ground of all being (Forman, 1990). Vedantists talk about total cessation of ego and form, as well as merging with Brahma, the infinite, eternal source of creation. The Islamic mystical poet Rumi reminded seekers of the need for the annihilation of the personal selfyou must die to yourselfat the same time urging them to go on a journey from self to Self (Harvey, 1999, p.1).
Closely related to the atman/anatman question is what Forman (1990) portrayed as a debate between constructivists and perennialists about the idea of common ground in transcendent experience across traditions. Constructivists, reflecting the postmodern orientation of the academic world, argue against common ground, asserting that mystical or transcendent experience is largely mediated by the beliefs, concepts, expectations . . . and linguistic backgrounds the subject brings to them (p. 3). Perennialists, on the other hand, hold that significant common ground connects mystical/ transcendent experience across fields, thus pointing to its universality. As Forman put it, mysticism is by and large transculturally homogenous, having a small number of core characteristics that could, indeed, should be analyzed independently of any specific, culturally-bound mystical philosophies (p. 3). Integralism bridges the divide by acknowledging both the role of tradition-specific, relativistic (constructivist) factors in shaping mystical/transcendent experience, and the universal (perennialist) aspects of such experience.
What is the basis for integral or perennialist arguments? Forman (1990) proposed the notion of a pure consciousness event as a core connecting thread across wisdom traditions, and Ken Wilbers (1999) cross-cultural taxonomy of advanced stages of consciousness development presents a more elaborate case for such connections. Forman described pure consciousness as entirely devoid of content, thought, image, mental, emotional, or physical activity of any kindjust a wakeful experience of awareness itself. Although seekers from diverse perspectives will use different methods for invoking this experience, the pure consciousness event transcends the pathway that leads to and follows it. In being entirely devoid of content, it manifests at a threshold of consciousness that is untouched by relativistic influence. This does not rule out the possibility, or in fact likelihood, that other aspects of experience, during meditative practices, may manifest that are shaped by the expectations of ones tradition and background. Rather, there is a transpersonal core that can be accessed that is transcendent of expectations.
Wilbers (1999) scheme of psychic, subtle, causal, and nondual levels of experience and development that are evident across traditions provides additional support for an integral perspective. Briefly considered, the psychic level involves the first instances of transcendence and dissolution of egoic consciousness. The subtle level involves the first stage of permanent infusion of transcendence, or self-Self integration, characterized by the experience of self as Witness to itself. At the causal level, perception becomes refined and capable of mystical visions and associated phenomena. Finally, nondual consciousness is characterized by a total absorption in the Self, the subject-object division is revealed as an illusion, and all of creation is perceived as a manifestation of the integrated self-Self system. An experience of oneness with creation prevails.
This scheme is significant in revealing an underlying common invariant sequence of stages, despite vast cultural and linguistic differences as well as styles of practice (p. 51). Wilbers work also exemplifies integral thought in its connections to science. He maps his developmental sequence onto conventional models of psychological development such as Piagets. Whereas Piagets model stops at the formal operations stage and concludes that psychological development is basically complete at around adolescence, Wilbers scheme affirms and extends Piagets to also include transpersonal stages of development. Again we see the inclusiveness of the integral approach as a bridge between not only various wisdom traditions, but also between such traditions and science. As Wilber (1999) put it,
Taken together, these various approachesconventional and contemplativeseem to point to a general, universal, and cross-cultural spectrum of human development, consisting of various developmental lines and stages, that, however otherwise different their specific cultural or surface features might appear, nevertheless share certain recognizable similarities or deep features. (p. 49)
Another debate in consciousness studies circles pertains to neuroscientific research in recent decades that has revealed intimate linkages between the brain and mind/consciousness. Although an integral perspective embraces this research as indicative of such linkages, it balks at reductionist and other materialist conclusions from this research that rule out the possibility for nonphysical and nonlocal dimensions of experience. In other words, that physiological parameters may be equated with a variety of experiences does not mean that consciousness is reducible to, or even a by-product of, the physical. Physiological correlates may be epiphenomenal to consciousness, whereby neurophysiological research could just as readily be interpreted to support idealistic perspectives.
The most serious challenge to materialist interpretations of findings in neuroscience may come from what is perhaps the most contentious area in consciousness studies. This involves research into nonlocal and nonphysical dimensions of consciousness, sometimes called psi. Conducted at institutions such as Princeton, Duke, and Stanford Research Institute, this research includes capacities such as remote viewing (the ability to gain specific information at a distance through no known sensory channels) and psychokinesis (the capacity for mind to exert subtle influences on matter at a distance; Griffin, 1997; Jahn & Dunne, 1987; Radin, 1997), among a wide array of associated phenomena. Stevenson (1997), Wade (1996), and Griffin presented findings on discarnate capacities of consciousness. Orme-Johnson and colleagues (1988) work on the harmonizing effects of collective meditation suggest a nonlocal, collective/intersubjective aspect of consciousness, a conclusion that Radin also advocated through his measurements of field coherence that corroborate with highly publicized events that attract collective attention.
Although it is difficult to imagine more challenging considerations in mainstream academe, it may also be difficult to imagine a serious study of consciousness that neglects these phenomena. This is particularly so given the range of phenomena considered, the research that has been devoted to them, and the ramifications of that research on our understanding of consciousness. Even the acceptance of a small proportion of this research in mainstream scientific circles would likely topple materialism.
Although this may not happen anytime soon, it is important in consciousness studies to acknowledge the complex dynamics of the debate itself. Psi debates are nothing new in Western scientific and philosophical circles, and one might note that what tend to be sensationalized as psi in modern society have been acknowledged in a variety of wisdom traditions to be spontaneous by-products of development of consciousness. Evans-Wentz (1967) stated that telepathy, or the transmission of thought naturally, i.e. without the cumbrous mechanism(s) [acknowledged by] Western science, has been . . . a matter of common knowledge . . . for unknown ages for the yogin (p. 211). Patanjalis yoga sutras, estimated to date back at least two centuries, provide explicit explanations and a developmental context for capacities that correspond to what we now call psi. It is not that ancient acknowledgment of psi capacities ought to be considered proof, but rather, that we should take them into account in constructing models of consciousness. Combined with an increasing body of empirical studies, in addition to the host of eminent thinkers who have been receptive to these possibilities including Kant, Brahms, William Blake, William James, Einstein, Upton Sinclair, C. G. Jung, and Arthur KoestlerI believe that a strong case can be made to at least include consideration of psi possibilities in consciousness studies coursework.
Compelling research in recent times has been done at Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research (PEAR) laboratory. Jahn and Dunne (1987) reported that their work at PEAR on precognitive remote perception demonstrated the acquisition of information about locations remote in distance and time and inaccessible by any known sensory communication channel (p. 90). Even with intercontinental distances of several thousand miles, there is no discernible deterioration in the signal-to-noise ratio. . . . If, as sometimes postulated, some form of physical wave propagation, such as electromagnetic waves or geophysical waves, were involved, an inverse fidelity of the information on that distance would be expected (p. 182).
It is important to expose students to all sides of this fundamental debate. An issue of the Journal of Consciousness Studies (2003), for example, raised questions about replicability, even if that particular volume only addresses two forms of psi researchremote viewing and psychokinesis. Advocates of psi have suggested that inherent in the phenomena might be unique challenges to laboratory replicability. Radin (1997) and others argued that replicability has been amply shown but that the research has not been properly circulated. Again, the debate itself offers a lively forum for reflection. Even a neutral presentation of the topic could serve as a firsthand examination of Kuhns (1962) ideas about the evolution of science, in which the following pattern prevails: Anomalous phenomena are observed and rejected by the majority until supporting data reach an irrefutable threshold, causing the collapse of the existing paradigm and the ushering in of the new. Are nonlocal and nonphysical dimensions of consciousness suggested by psi examples of anomalous findings that will ultimately overthrow materialism, or are they simply another in the long list of illusions that have been dispelled during periods of what Kuhn would call normal science?
Regardless of where one stands on psi, it should be clear that consciousness is a highly rich and controversial topic about whose nature consensus may not be arrived at any time soon. Where an integral perspective makes unique and important contributions is that it grounds investigation into consciousness in first-, second-, and third-person modes of inquiry. The robust patterns of scrutinizing external findings that are treasured in mainstream thought are accompanied by access to inner experiences that not only expand the basis for defining consciousness but also enable a kind of self-scrutiny that promotes a freedom from bias and conditioning that is essential to creativity. In the next sections, I will explore more deeply how first-person experience lays groundwork for enhanced second- and third-person experience, expression, and understanding.
MEDITATION: THE FIRST-PERSON EXPERIENTIAL CORE OF CONSCIOUSNESS STUDIES
What is meditation? What are its benefits? How might meditation be taught in academic settings? Will students be assessed, graded, and awarded course credit for meditation practice? Might the integrity of meditation practice be compromised when these practices are extricated from their traditional frameworks and integrated into the academic world? Might the incorporation of meditation in the academy be tantamount to spiritual or religious instruction? An adequate response to these questions is essential to the advocacy of consciousness studies.
A wide variety of meditation practices exist, from the silent sitting practices of Buddhist, Vedantic, Daoist, Christian, Islamic, and Judaic contemplative traditions, to movement meditations such as Buddhist walking meditation and Sufi dancing, to contemplative approaches to poetry, music, and theatre. By taking time to withdraw from ordinary mental, physical, emotional, or other sensory engagement, meditation practices provide not just temporary glimpses of heightened consciousness; their ultimate aim is to cultivate the capacity for heightened consciousness throughout the whole of life. By regularly allowing the conscious mind to fathom deeper levels of itself, awareness becomes more receptive to transcendent infusion inside and outside of meditation. Day-to-day experience and actions become increasingly grounded in a deeper and more expansive awareness. Qualities such as inner calm, well-being, compassion, unboundedness, and freedom from anxiety that are accessed in meditation begin to gradually become present in everyday life. Even though the focus of meditation may appear to be a temporary retreat from daily activities, which is sometimes misunderstood as an escape from life, the underlying purpose of meditation is for one to be able to engage in life with more passion, creativity, and dynamism. Ultimately, all of life can be a meditation. Spirituality is not something to be pursued or experienced separately from day-to-day existence. Rather, it is the spontaneous integration of transcendence into every breath, every thought, every desire, every action, every interaction.
Following are representative student testimonies of their experiences in meditation and the benefits that they have gained:
[In meditation] . . . I experience a kind of immense stillness . . . a lightness and calmness in my mind and body. If I have had a stressful day, I often feel as though a weight has been lifted off my shoulders.
Meditation helps me . . . to relieve stress [and] is the perfect way to start the day because I open my eyes feeling elated and energized. After meditation I am much more calm and my mind is more clear to make better decisions. I feel happier, calmer and lighter. I feel so rejuvenated after sitting meditation.
Meditation has allowed me to appreciate more deeply and fully the world around me. The colors of the sky, the movement of animals, the smells of trees and flowers on my walk to class, the feel of clothing on my body.
Meditation has also enriched my experience as an English student. I find myself more delighted in and excited about words, their sounds and almost infinite connotations. My reading process itself seems to have been enhanced; I become more effortlessly engrossed in the novels and poetry I read, and also absorb more of their content and meaning.
Ive noticed that I take more delight in the happiness of others. Oftentimes when I see someone else smile, even a total stranger, I feel happy for them and with them. Sometimes just seeing someone smile or laugh is a stress reliever. Also, when someone does something kind for me, I often feel a powerful gratefulness and love.
For the purposes of integrating meditation practice into the academic world and to gain ultimate benefits from the practice, I believe that it is important to distinguish between formal and nonformal meditation practices. At first glance, these distinctions may seem to be driven by an effort to favor certain forms of meditation and exclude others. This is not so; if all of life is to be lived as a meditation, then all instances in which meditative experiences can be invokedfrom the exquisite silence of sitting meditation to the turbulent flow of ice hockeymust be embraced as important formats for this experience to be cultivated. However, formal meditation practices make unique contributions to this integration of wholeness, and informal practices make others. An understanding of the differences between these kinds of practices is essential to reaping their benefits.
I propose the following criteria as central to formal meditation practice. One is regularity of practice. Formal meditation is done daily, not just on occasion, just as formal musical study involves daily, not occasional, practice. Second is a systematic understanding of the mechanics of the practice: how to meditate, the wide range of experiences that might constitute proper practice, how one deals with thoughts, agitation, and other experiences that may arise and be misunderstood as impediments. In most instances, this presumes direct contact with a teacher and affiliation with a meditation tradition, as opposed to learning meditation from a book. One can gain from a book instructions and perhaps some degree of insights, but one cannot ask a book questions and gain the kind of inspiration and guidance that is possible in the presence of a skilled instructor.
A third aspect extends directly from the secondthe inclusion of theoretical models of the structure of consciousness and its development. It is not just that one meditates and temporarily taps into some heightened level of consciousness in order to enhance ones creativity and vitality, as beneficial as this is. Access to a teacher and tradition also provides analytical understanding of the nature of consciousness and the stages through which consciousness develops over time. Most meditation traditions cite multiple stages of growth, perhaps culminating in some notion of enlightenment or permanent awakening as an exalted level of self-realization. Although history suggests that few individuals in any era seem to attain this elusive goal, the notion of this kind of development is significant because of the landmarks it can providewhich can be glimpsed early on in ones meditative journeythat indicate that growth in this direction is occurring. Wilbers (1999) cross-traditional taxonomy of higher stages of development cited above is one example of a developmental scheme available through a tradition.
Nonformal meditation includes any activities that induce transcendent states to any degree that lack the above criteria. Meditation books, CDs, or DVDs that provide meditation instruction yet neglect broader development of consciousness and corresponding understanding are examples of non-formal approaches. This is not to invalidate these resources; it is simply to acknowledge their limitations and the unique benefits of formal affiliation with a meditation tradition and personalized instruction. I might mention here that I use the nonformal practice of guided meditation in my teaching to provide students initial glimpses of meditative experience in hopes they will be inspired to pursue more formal, systematic approaches.
Another kind of nonformal practice is important to a consciousness studies program, even as we emphasize the need to distinguish it from formal practice. Here I am talking about the wide array of activities in which transcendent experience or meditative states can be invoked as a byproduct. Athletes, artists, writers, and scientists may rightfully describe their work as meditative. But because such activities contain no analytical models of consciousness or its possible transformations that might shed light on the significance of what is experienced, nor systematic procedures for ensuring consistency of experience, nor for dealing with obstacles that might arise, they are categorized as nonformal rather than formal. Perhaps another criterion for formal practice emerges in this contextthe capacity for the practice to integrate transcendence into life as a whole. Murphy and White (1995), for example, noted tendencies among long-distance athletes who, while experiencing dramatic and frequent transformations in consciousness in sports, nonetheless turn to formal meditation and related disciplines for more systematic access and infusion of these experiences into life as a whole. I reflect elsewhere (Sarath, 2002) that silent, sitting meditation may be widely regarded as a kind of an integrative anchor, and thus is commonly cited as a primary kind of formal practice, because of the mental and physical stillness it affords. By taking complete recourse from physical and mental activity, one gains the most complete reprieve from ordinary kinds of functioning and is also perhaps optimally receptive to infusion of transcendent experience.
These distinctions enable us to identify a broad continuum of formal and nonformal practices that present rich possibilities for creativity and consciousness studies. Formal practices may be seen as the primary means for first-person experience. Nonformal practices may be seen as ways of enlivening second- and third-person experience, giving rise to a spectrum that spans of mental, physical, emotional, creative, transpersonal, and other dimensions. Later we will investigate how second- and third-person epistemologies are enhanced by first-person experience later.
A further benefit of distinguishing between formal and nonformal practice is that it helps uphold integrity of practice. Why affiliate with a formal meditation center when one can just download instructions from the Internet? For the same reasons that serious music students seek personal contact with established teachers: access to personal guidance, systematic understanding, and a framework for ongoing development. Or one might ask, Why sit in silence when a quasi-meditative state can be invoked writing poetry or music? Because as wonderful as experiences writing poetry and music are, silence can deepen them and provide a broader context for overall growth and understanding. There is also a strong tendency in our push-button, instant gratification society to flit about from one methodology to another when results are not immediate. Here, a simple Zen saying is perhaps apt: Many shallow wells do not yield water.
The navigation of the inner dimensions of consciousness can be a very subtle and elusive affair, and thus I believe it prudent to do all that is possible to ensure a smooth and fruitful journey for all involved. And when we as a field make the move from elective coursework to curricular models in contemplative/consciousness studies, the argument for distinctions between formal and nonformal practices become all-important to the inner experience of students and the exterior advocacy of this new academic area.
TEACHING MEDITATION IN THE ACADEMIC WORLD
There are multiple ways that meditation practice and study might be approached in the academy. The most logical approach, it might seem, would be for the institution to assume the role of meditation center. In other words, meditation would be taught by faculty with corresponding expertise, and coursework dealing with tradition-specific theoretical knowledge about consciousness and its development would also be offered. In this way, first-person and third-person aspects of creativity and consciousness studies would then be intact within the framework of a tradition selected by the institution.
Although that approach may work at some private institutions, it is important to examine its limitations, particularly when it comes to public colleges and universities. One is that it requires the availability of faculty with adequate expertise. Having experience practicing meditation does not necessarily qualify one to teach meditation. A second problem is that this approach may impose, if unwittingly, a tradition-specific ideology that runs counter to todays needs for diversity. Different students, because of different cultural/ethnic backgrounds and individual learning styles, will have different transpersonal orientations, and institutions must be able to accommodate such diversity. And if a tradition-specific ideology has spiritual overtones, then church-state conflicts may arise because the institution may be seen as advocating a particular spiritual or religious pathway.
The solution is not to exclude exposure to or engagement in tradition-specific practices, with or without spiritual or religious connotations, from academic consciousness studies. In fact, these can be integrated within an expanded, transtraditional context. How? Here I advocate an entirely different approach to the integration of meditation into the academic world.
The basis for this approach is the enlistment of community resources for meditation instruction, which in many college and university vicinities are formidable, and then uniting that training with consciousness studies coursework offered by the educational institution. In other words, instead of the academic institution assuming the role of meditation center, why not partake of external resources that exist in many university vicinities and that are optimally equipped to fulfill this role? This does not necessarily preclude faculty members who are so inclined from teaching meditation in their courses. Below I describe a course where I provide introductory exposure to meditation and also encourage students to then pursue more formal practice from external resources. However, the provision to involve external resources either at the very outset or later opens up a much broader spectrum of possibilities from which students can engage in viable formal practice in addition to nonformal practice.
Affiliation with meditation centers is the ideal format for formal practice and as such can provide many benefits. It is likely to promote expert instruction. It enables students to become part of a community of practitioners with whom they can meditate, ask questions, socialize, and establish important bonds. This affiliation also provides students access to retreats and intensive forms of experience, which most serious meditators cite as essential to their growth. Many meditation traditions also initiate practitioners through some sort of ritual or ceremony that can inspire beginning meditators to make a strong commitment. I tell my students that involvement in meditation can be compared to marriage, both of which have their ups and downs, and that many couples whose union has endured will attest to the commitment made in a formal public ceremony as important to getting them through rough times. Although most meditators will not go through exceedingly difficult times in their practice, the distractions to daily practice in todays world can be challenging, and an initiation ritual can be important to launching an individual on a path of regular practice.
Let us examine how affiliation with an external meditation center can work in conjunction with academic coursework. The first step I recommend is to create an interior curricular space (ICS) within those courses that comprise the consciousness studies core. The ICS is a kind of interior bridge between the classroom and the external instruction students receive in meditation. Faculty frame the ICS, but do not enter it, by establishing a protocol whereby consciousness studies majors sustain a regular practice. Here, faculty might provide a list of approved practices and external meditation centers in the area from which students can choose, with the provision to consider requests for engagement with practices perhaps not on the list. Faculty and institutions evaluate and award credit for experiences in the ICS through conventional assignments, such as writing, relating readings, and discussions. In this way, students are given both a flexible, personal space for first-person inquiry, yet also third-person frameworks that integrate that experience within the overall educational fabric. This maintains the first-person/third-person continuum that is central to consciousness studies, and ideally, any kind of educational program.
Through this approach, students affiliate with an external meditation center that provides them with tradition-specific first-person/third-person grounding, and at the same time, they also gain transtraditional understanding through their coursework at the educational institution. Students get the best of both worlds. They gain solid grounding in a practice and tradition, along with an understanding of consciousness studies that cuts across traditions and disciplines.
This is not to rule out the capacity for meditation instruction to be provided in whole or in part by faculty with such expertise. When external resources are limited or nonexistent in a given community, there is no other choice. If external resources are available, faculty may still want to provide such instruction, which is fine as long as students are given a choiceand are, indeed, encouragedto affiliate with an external teaching resource. Even with faculty deeply grounded in a tradition, it is unlikely that they will provide the kind of instruction and environment within an academic setting that can be found at a meditation center. Still, as long as students engage in regular practice and gain exposure to mechanics and theoretical understanding, the requisites for formal practice may be met. And when a trans-traditional theoretical component can be added, such practice and inquiry can be readily integrated into an academic context.
Here is how I have used these strategies in the program that I have designed. A 2-year core course sequence consisting of Creativity and Consciousness I and II, and Contemplative Practice Seminar I and II, provides a framework for progressive involvement in meditation practice and related studies. The Creativity and Consciousness I class provides introductory exposure to consciousness studies through a variety of methods. These include guided meditation, drumming, movement, and a variety of other methods. The course, which is listed in the jazz department but is open to students from all fields, also involves readings, writings, and discussions. Readings in the Creativity and Consciousness I and II sequence include such works as Ken Wilber, One Taste and Integral Psychology; Abraham Ma-slow, The Farther Reaches of Human Nature; Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, Flow; Howard Gardner, Multiple Intelligences; C. G. Jung, The Spirit in Man, Art, and Literature; A. S. Dalal, A Greater Psychology: The Psychological Thought of Sri Aurobindo; Anagorika Govinda, Foundations of Tibetan Buddhism; and Andrew Harvey, Teachings of Rumi.
As part of the course, I distribute a list of local meditation centers and talk about the distinctions between formal and informal practice. The main priority in this class is to provide a taste of meditation and heightened consciousness, after which students can decide to what extent and through what means they wish to commit to this kind of development. I explain that engagement in a regular practice will be expected for those who wish to take Creativity and Consciousness II, which also explores new theoretical terrain. Many students will take only the first term of Creativity and Consciousness, while others will go on to the second term and beyond (such further study is, of course, required of those who are majoring in creativity and consciousness studies).
The Creativity and Consciousness sequence is followed by the Contemplative Practice Seminar I and II sequence, in which regular practice continues as a priority. Whereas the theoretical/third-person aspects of the Creativity and Consciousness sequence are more oriented toward a general overview of how heightened consciousness impacts the various realms of creative activity, the Contemplative Practice seminar sequence delves more into issues related to meditation (e.g., examination of different meditation practices, cross-traditional perspectives on the mechanics, the challenges and rewards of regular practice, discussion of experiences). Class meetings begin with a longer group meditationusually 15 to 20 minutesthan was held in the previous classes. In this way, the course serves both as a community of practitioners, even if they come from different traditions, and an academic class. Great emphasis is placed throughout the course on the value of formal practice.
Taken together, Creativity and Consciousness courses and the Contemplative Practice seminar form a kind of consciousness studies core, where students gain exposure to meditation practice and then are given an opportunity to go more deeply into practice. Moreover, these classes establish a strong first-person/third-person link, which can then be a platform that supports other consciousness studies coursework. This includes courses such as Psychology and Consciousness, Psychology and Spiritual Development, Christian Mysticism, Jewish Mysticism, Zen Buddhism, and Indigenous Healing Systems. The first-person and third-person breadth of these courses provides an entirely new conception of rigor.
I would now like to address the issue of course credit. As I have explained elsewhere (Sarath, 2003), the rich array of conventional assignment protocols that can be deployed in conjunction with the interior curricular space enables programs in creativity and consciousness studies to minimize the amount of course credit that is solely linked to meditation practice, yet, at the same time, maintain a framework in which meditation practice is a fundamental part of the program of study. The key point here is similar to what happens in musical study, in which music students spend far more time on their instruments than they get credit for (for example, they must sustain intensive practice regimens during summers and holidays). Meditation for creativity/consciousness studies majors is somewhat like daily practice of a musical instrument, though usually not taking 3-6 hours daily, as is the norm for music majors.
It is important to stress that the framework that we have developed promotes an integrity of practice by retaining linkages with traditional formats. Moreover, concerns regarding teaching spirituality or religion in the classroom are addressed by the interior curricular space approach; because instruction occurs externally, the institution does not impose a particular kind of spiritual viewpoint or practice even though creativity and consciousness students may not be involved in practices with spiritual connotations.
Let us now examine how both second-person creative considerations and third-person theoretical considerations are enhanced by first-person meditation experiences.
CREATIVITY: HEIGHTENED AWARENESS IN SECOND- AND THIRD-PERSON ENDEAVORS
Meditation enables us to tap into deeper dimensions of consciousness, which then enables us to engage in ordinary activity with greater presence, mind-body integration, freedom, calm, clarity, focus, inventiveness, and interactivenessimportant criteria for creativity. The above discussion reveals that inherent in a meditative continuum consisting of formal and nonformal practices is a strong basis for second-person creative engagement, which thus impacts third-person inquiry. Pure consciousness, the experience of the self-Self union, epitomizes first-person inquiry. From this standpoint, pure consciousness might be viewed as the core of the creative experience. What is created when the self is aware of only its silent, contentless, self-referential nature? The experience itself, which then informs the full scope of active creative experiences.
Second-person creative inquiry may begin with contemplative approaches to reading, writing, or movement, in which engagement in some kind of action or sensory perception is pursued with contemplative intentions. Because these nonformal second-person modalities also involve a third-person kind of inquiryindeed, they are often approached solely through third-person meansenlivened second-person creative engagement can be seen to directly enhance third-person experience. This represents a critical linkage in the creativity and consciousness continuum: The expansiveness, freedom, and fluidity of inner silence begins to move through newfound channels of receptivity in the realms of thought, feeling, perception, and movement, rendering all activity more creative.
Here, a variety of approaches to second-person creative inquiry are possible. These can be generalized in terms of subject-object relations and intersubjective (subject-subject) relations. The subject-object domain involves new modes of perceiving and interacting with self, content and environment. In my Creativity and Consciousness class, I use rhythmic, improvisational, and movement exercises to heighten spontaneity, mind-body integration, and sense of flow. I use writing and drawing exercises to elicit a flow of ideas and expand inventive capacities. I move into the intersubjective domain with exercises done in small groups that invite students to share and connect deeply with others. Common examples are exercises in which students reflect on, identify, and discuss inner feelings, behavior patterns, frustrations, and sources of fulfillment. Community-based learning is another example of intersubjective learning that can both thrive within and feed back to strengthen a creativity and consciousness framework.
This first- and second-person continuum extends naturally to enhance third-person inquiry. Let us return once more to first-person experience invoked in formal meditation practice. Because the inner experience is deeply transformational and meaningful, the investment in the theoretical is also meaningful. Alfred Lord Tennysons description of transcendence as the clearest of the clear, the surest of the sure (Alexander & Langer, 1990, p. 321) is consistent with testimonies through the ages regarding the noetic nature of such experiences. Noetic experiences are characterized by a profound sense of knowing, of apprehension of a level of reality in which the perceptual layers that predominate in ordinary life are dispelled, giving rise to a profound sense of truth. Such experiences compel individuals to proclaim, This is it! The extent to which such subjective experiences are in fact absolute confirmations of some deeper truth is not nearly so relevant here as the fact that powerful, transformational first-person experiences elicit levels of inner awakening, meaning, and inspiration that motivate an entirely new quest for understanding. They give rise to an interior receptivity and thirst for analytical inquiry that dwarfs what is possible in the absence of such transformational experience.
Meditating students (particularly those in a creativity and consciousness curriculum) who have had these experiences thus bring to a neuroscience class a newfound investment in study of the components of the brain, and to a psychology class firsthand experience of levels of mind and developmental schemes. As Figure 1 illustrates, such students similarly have a unique vantage point in relation to a variety of issues, many of them broached above, in the sciences, arts, and humanities. These include theories about the nature of consciousness, cross-cultural connections, postmodern and alternative aesthetic concepts, integration of science and spirituality, paradigm shifts, creativity, and change. Having an interior link between experience and theory, and also possibly having had preliminary exposure to these issues through tradition-specific and transtraditional study, meditating students bring a new level of engagement and investment to conventional and innovative coursework alike. A new basis emerges for conventional notions such as rigor, interdisciplinary learning, and diversity. The argument here is that important aspirations for racial, ethnic, and gender diversity will be enhanced by epistemological diversity.
I have been no stranger to educational reform during my academic career. In 1987,I was appointed to the faculty at the University of Michigan School of Musica predominately classical schoolto establish a jazz program. Jazz is an improvised music with African and African American roots, and although it has integrated aspects of European harmony and compositional structures, jazzs rhythmic foundations depart fundamentally from
European classical sensibilities. Notions such as swing, groove, time feel aspects of what Pressing (2002) categorized as Black Atlantic Rhythm call for an entirely different aesthetic and performance perspectives and practices than are the norm in musical academe. Jazz educators have thus had to overcome formidable obstacles in their efforts to bring this important contemporary genre into the academy. My experience in this realm has provided me with invaluable insights into the complex dynamics of academic curriculum reform in general, and the entirely new order of challenges inherent in advocating creativity and consciousness studies in particular (Sarath, 2002).
These challenges escalate when we begin to move from single elective courses toward curricular models or concentrations. This represents a significant evolutionary stride in this emergent field, with significant ramifications for education and society, and thus carries with it new requirements for advocacy. In this article, I have attempted to lay the groundwork for this advocacy, and following is a summary of what I believe are its main requisites.
The first requisite is a clear articulation of the terrain. What are creativity and consciousness studies? What is meditation? What benefits do they offer? How are these areas integrated into the academic environment? I have responded to these questions through an integral understanding of consciousness and a corresponding model for creativity and consciousness studies that integrates first-, second-, and third-person epistemologies.
A second requisite for advocacy involves stimulating and sustaining reflection and dialogue on the big questions about education. What is knowledge? What does it mean to be educated in todays world? What is the role of the modern university in preparing students to not only enter the workforce but also to thrive within and contribute to a world increasingly characterized by change, unpredictability, and a complex network of environmental and social challenges? What is the place of inner fulfillment, spirituality, self-knowledge, and emotional and interpersonal development in the educational process?
When these questions are placed on the table, colleagues pause and reconnect with their deepest convictions about education. Individualsand by extension, the collective educational community, even if just for brief momentsbecome more mindful and aware of the inertia that pervades the academic world. The deeply ingrained tendency to reject new ideas begins to soften as a newfound receptivity begins to stir. This stopping and reflecting is critical if there is to be any hope for a concentration or even a major in creativity and consciousness studies. Many colleagues are neutral or supportive regarding creative and consciousness electives, yet hesitate at the thought of a curricular concentration in this area. As they put it, Why a curriculumwhy not just let students take courses in this area to fill out their other studies?
One reason is that a curriculum in creativity and consciousness studies enables students to gain deeper grounding in the diverse aspects of this area. Students not majoring in this area could still gain introductory exposure to the area by electing from its offerings, just as many non-music majors take music electives, and many non-student athletes play intramural sports. But there is a difference between cursory involvement and the kind of commitment that is involved when majoring in an area.
A second reason for a curriculum in creativity and consciousness studies is rooted in the need for foundational overhaul in our educational systems in order to address the challenges and opportunities of our times. Humanity has reached a pivotal juncture in which the patterns of living, knowing, being, and interacting that have brought us to the present juncture are no longer sustainable. In the words of Robertson Work (2004), The overwhelming array of crises plaguing planet Earth will not be resolved with the same methods and strategies used heretofore. New capacities of leadership are needed that integrate inner transformation and outer service. Yet this is also a time of unprecedented growth in knowledge and creativity. Regardless of whether one wishes to focus on the dire straits or the vibrant creative potential of contemporary life, there is little question about the need for a vastly expanded vision of human development to guide our educational systems.
How might the design of curricular models in creativity and consciousness studies address these challenges? Here we come to an essential aspect of curricular reformthe design of new prototypes, which can be implemented as pilot programs, that embody on a small scale the broader principles sought. As these models establish their own integrity and begin to attract large numbers of students, institutions that are committed to responsive leadership will bring increased resources to this area. If there is any substance to my personal conviction that the current generation of students is ripe for creativity and consciousness studies, then it will not take long before a groundswell of student interest reaches a point where it cannot be ignored. Even the most modest curricular inroads may lead to substantive reform.
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