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Robert Pryor, Al Denman, Katie Egart, Dianea Wanicek, Amy Maruyama (by Megan Bachman)

Robert Pryor, Al Denman, Katie Egart, Dianea Wanicek, Amy Maruyama (by Megan Bachman)

Antioch College— Contemplating mindfulness

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Stop. Close your eyes. Now envision an Antioch College where students are challenged to contemplate as well as analyze — to understand the outer world and reflect on the inner.

Imagine that classes might start with a 10-minute meditation, that students experiment with contemplative practices from spiritual traditions around the world, and that they bring mindfulness to bear on math and physics equations as well as to works of art and literature.

If this sounds Antiochian, it’s because it is. A group consisting largely of former Antioch faculty and students is promoting contemplative education as the fourth “C,” and one which would enhance the existing principles of classroom, co-op and community.

And if the group is successful in its efforts, beginning with a groundbreaking symposium this weekend, the college’s future students may have better attention, empathy, tolerance, equanimity and less stress, anxiety and distractions than other college students, organizers said.

At “Green Space for the Mind,” on Saturday, April 9, at Antioch’s Herndon Gallery, leading scholars will report on their efforts to incorporate contemplative practices into higher education. A Christian monk, a University of California neuroscientist, a professor of Buddhism and a Brown University institute director will offer advice on how the revived college could lead in this emerging field. The event, which runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., is free and open to the public.

“The college would be at the forefront of something that is a big part of where higher education is heading,” said organizer Amy Maruyama, a 1996 Antioch graduate.

Contemplative practices would help students think more deeply about subjects and integrate new perspectives, according to organizer Robert Pryor, founder and director of Antioch Education Abroad’s Buddhist Studies Program.

“It’s not an alternative to rational thinking, it’s an enhancement,” said Pryor, also the symposium moderator. “We don’t have a different goal about liberal arts — these methods help achieve the traditional goals of education.”

Harold Roth, director of the Contemplative Studies Initiative at Brown University and a panelist at Saturday’s symposium, said he sees contemplative practices as a way to foster academic learning as well as to help students deal with emotional stresses and get along with one another.

“They are less judgmental about themselves and have more compassion for themselves and others,” Roth said of students employing such practices.

Sponsored by the Southwest Ohio Council for Higher Education, or SOCHE, the symposium is the first of four events over the next few years introducing the Antioch and greater academic community to the benefits of contemplative practices and how to use them on campuses and in classrooms. SOCHE has given $10,000 to the initiative, with half going to its first event.

Daniel Goleman, best-selling author of Emotional Intelligence, will speak via Webcast at 10 a.m. on environmentally-conscious consumerism, the topic of his latest book, Ecological Intelligence. Goleman’s son, Hanuman, is an Antioch alumnus.

Following Goleman’s address and a lunch break, a panel discussion will begin at 1 p.m. among Roth, Linda-Susan Beard, a Bryn Mawr College associate professor of literature; John Makransky, professor of Buddhism and comparative theology at Boston College, and Clifford Saron, associate research scientist at the Center for Mind and Brain at the University of California at Davis.

Beard will offer contemplative practices from a Western spiritual perspective and Makransky brings an Eastern one, while Antioch’s model would be secular.

“It’s not only a spiritual practice or a wellness practice,” added Maruyama. “It can contribute to scientific innovation by opening new pathways in the brain to allow thoughts to expand and grow.”

While the traditions date back millennia, scientific research into their effect on the brain only go back several decades. Saron will share the results of his groundbreaking research on the long-term neurological changes resulting from meditation and mindfulness practices.

Learning meditation, mindfulness and relaxation techniques could particularly be valuable to Antioch students, who may have more stress from the community process and their co-op experiences, organizers said. Plus today’s generation, they said, needs to learn how to quiet and focus their minds now more than ever as the rise of digital media has shortened attention spans and increased distractions.

Like an Antioch education, contemplative practice may be hard to quantify. But the organizing team of Maruyama, Pryor, Egart, Denman and Dianeah Wanicek stress the value of contemplation, and its importance for the college.

“Antioch has an opportunity to build contemplative practices into the curriculum from the ground up,” Roth said. “Places already established don’t have the flexibility.”

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