Mindful Classics: Embedding Contemplative Pedagogy into the Study of Antiquity
The odds of being born are one in 400 trillion. Yet, we spend much of our life worrying about the future or rerunning the past. University life amplifies stress, anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. Mental health conditions among students and staff in the HE dramatically increased over the past years and months. Ruminating minds can petrify our academic performance as if we looked at the Gorgon's head.
How can we build educational spaces that are more compassionate, enlightened, and calmer? One of the most effective evidence-based programs to cope with stress and anxiety is the mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) protocol, developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the Massachusetts Medical School (J. Kabat-Zinn, Mindfulness Meditation for Everyday Life, 1994). It is a secular training in meditation, embodied attention, and moment-to-moment awareness. Mindfulness is now included in corporate working patterns as well as in some primary and secondary schools across the UK. However, in Higher Education, MBSR is still only offered as a possible solution to a problem rather than being embedded in pedagogy.
The Mindful Classics project intends to increase awareness and knowledge of self-care techniques to deal with difficult thoughts and tackle academic challenges. It will explore what works specifically for Classics as a discipline, its curriculum, and its students. Meditation cannot be taught, but we can share experiences of meditative practices and tools for building mental resilience. Various training resources to be used in and beyond classrooms and exam halls (both physical and virtual) will be tested and developed.
Staff and students as co-researchers will identify how contemplative pedagogy can improve the learning experience in Classics and Ancient History at Exeter. At the same time, the project intends to open the discussion on mindfulness and pedagogy in other Departments here as well as other UK HEIs and schools.
I am carrying out this project as Education Incubator Fellow 2020/21.