CPRD 104 Syllabus Spring Semester 2018

CPRD 104: Contemplative Practice

David Ambuel (dambuel(at)gmail.com) Office Hours:  MWF 9:00 and by appointment

chair meditation

Section 2 MWF 10:00-10:50
Trinkle B39 (Leidecker Center)

Course Description

This course offers a practical, experiential and theoretical introduction to Mindfulness Meditation and Contemplative Practices. By practical, we mean praxis, a word that originates from the ancient Greek prattō, meaning “I do” or “I act”.  In other words, we will learn the basics of meditation not just by discussing a variety of theories about contemplative practice, but by actually experiencing meditation through personal practice, with the goal of enhancing concentration, understanding, critical thinking and engagement.  Every class period will involve guided meditation and discussion of readings about contemplative practice from a variety of cultural traditions (Buddhism, Taoism, Ancient Greek philosophical and dramatic traditions, et al.) and disciplinary perspectives (drama, psychology, philosophy, neuroscience, religion).

This course offers an optional and highly encouraged Meditation retreat.

Learning Objectives

·     Student develops a daily practice of at least one model of contemplative meditation

·     Student explores contemplative practices from a variety of classical and modern perspectives

·     Student explores contemplative practices through multiple genres and disciplines, including drama, philosophy, neuroscience, psychology and art

·     Student practices mindfulness mediation through creative, intentional and attentive reflection-writing and improvisational creativity

·     Student develops increased concentration, engagement and critical thinking skills.

·     Through consciousness-raising mindfulness meditation, student cultivates ethical values such as sympathetic joy, compassion, equanimity and loving kindness

As described in these learning goals, the objectives of the Contemplative Practice course are in no way related to religious belief or conversion; students will never be asked or required to believe in course content (or anything else for that matter). Instead, students are only asked to approach contemplative experience openly and inquisitively, simply observing what arises during meditation.
A more detailed discussion of this type of learning has been composed by Professor Hal Roth of Brown University, who is one of the pioneers of teaching contemplative practice to undergraduates in a secular context. In a syllabus for his course, he writes (edited):

The modern Western [university system] is dominated by what we might call “third-person” learning. We observe, analyze, record, discuss a whole variety of subjects at a distance, as something “out there,” as if they were solely objects and our own subjectivity that is viewing them doesn’t exist. Certainly there are exceptions to this: in Public Speaking, in Studio Art, Theatre, and sometimes in Music, Environmental Studies and other disciplines, students combine academic study with direct first-hand experience of what they are studying. But in general in the Humanities we tend to value “third-person” learning at the expense of all other forms. Despite this, I have found that when students are called upon, for example, to reflect on what a haiku poem means to them, that they derive a deeper understanding of it…
This… is an example of what we call “critical first-person learning.” I say “critical” because in many forms of first-person learning in the contexts of religion, one must suspend critical judgment and believe in the various truths of the tradition. There is an important place for this form of “committed” first person learning in our private lives, but we should be careful to not require that kind of commitment in a secular university. By contrast, in the “critical first-person learning” about meditation we do in this course, the need to believe is removed. We will read and analyze a variety of texts on meditation (“third-person learning”); we will observe how our minds and bodies work while trying out a variety of simple meditation techniques derived from these texts (“first-person learning”); and we will critically discuss these texts in light of our experiences in [contemplative practice].

Additionally, it is important to recognize that contemplation signifies a closer examination of oneself and one’s experience, which will lead to new discoveries and insights, not all of which will necessarily be of the Buddha’s beatific smile variety. Emotional challenges may arise. It is not necessary to anticipate or expect them––such do not arise for all individuals––but it is important to be aware of the possibility and to seek support as necessary in the event that help is needed. Professors Susan Bauer-Wu, David Germano, and Kurtis Schaeffer at the University of Virginia offer a course relying on contemplative practice as well. On their syllabus, they write (edited):

Just as a back might go out due to a simple movement because of years of bad posture and so forth, just so, a simple turn to watch your mind can trigger awareness of emotions that are the expressions of issues laying just below the surface, which may have developed over many years and yet remained ignored or unnoticed. The practice of meditation is deeply personal and can involve an emotional response; unexpectedly intense feelings may arise. In addition, turning your awareness and scrutiny to yourself ––your body, your mind, your emotions, your relations––often results in you noticing things for the first time, which is not surprising at all. However, this does not mean that meditation produced those things, but that you are now spending some quiet time reflecting on yourself and your experience, and therefore you notice things that are already there. Regardless of how issues arise, if any of this leads to persistent emotional distress, such as increased agitation or anxiety, impaired sleep or appetite, poor concentration, low mood, or any challenges functioning as usual, please seek expert support immediately.

Help if needed 

UMW offers counseling for students via the Student Health Center and the Talley Center for Counseling Services, which is located in Lee Hall 106. In the event emotional challenges arise and you need help, please visit the Talley Center or call (540) 654 1053. It is staffed Monday–Friday, 8am–5pm. For emergencies outside of those hours, please call Rappahannock Area Community Services: (540) 373-6876, UMW Campus Police at (540) 654-4444, or dial 911.

Required Texts

1. Sophocles, Antigone. tr. By Reginald Gibbons and Charles Segal. Oxford, 2003 ISBN: 0-19-514373-6
2. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics. Translated by Christopher Rowe and Sarah Broadie. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0198752714
3. Thich Nhat Hanh, 2009. Happiness: Essential Mindfulness Practices. Berkeley: Parallax Press. ISBN 978-1888375916
4. Thich Nhat Hanh, 1988, 2009. The Heart of Understanding: Commentaries on the Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra. Berkeley: Parallax Press. ISBN 978-1888375923
5. Hanson, Rick. 2009. Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness. Oakland: New Harbinger Publications. ISBN-13: 978-1-57224-695-9
7. Lao-Tzu, 1988. Tao Te Ching. Translated by D. C. Lau. Penguin. ISBN: 978-0140441314 (Consult also the translations for comparison at http://www.daoisopen.com/ddjtranslations.html)
8. Nachmanovitch, Stephen. Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art. ISBN: 9780874776317
9. Gunaratana, Bhante Henepola. 2011. Mindfulness in Plain English. ISBN: 9780861719068
11. Marcus Aurelius. Meditations. Books 1 and 2. (Click on link for an on-line pdf edition of a useable translation with a fine introduction).
12. Suzuki. 2011. Zen Mind Beginners Mind. ISBN: 978-1590308493
13. Kabat-Zinn, Jon. Full Catastrophe Living. ISBN: 978-0345536938
14. Thich Nhat Hanh and Lilian Cheung. Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful LifeISBN: 978-0061697708


Other Resources and Electronic Assignments (Course Blog, Podcasts, and Video talks)

· Course Blog: http://meditation.umwblogs.org**

· Tara Brach’s audio dharma talks: http://www.tarabrach.com/audiodharma.html

· San Francisco Zen Center Podcasts: http://www.sfzc.org/zc/display.asp?catid=1,10&pageid=558

· Audio Dharma: www.audiodharma.org

· Buddhanet: http://www.buddhanet.net/audio.htm

· Access to Insight: http://accesstoinsight.org

· Thanissaro Bhikkhu on “Appropriate Awareness”: http://www.audiodharma.org/talks/audio_player/884.html

· Writings and talks by Ajahn Chah: http://ajahnchah.org

· Principles and Practices of Zen, five parts, starting with: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hj12o7vXalg

**All other links may be found on the course blog


race to enlightenment

This course emphasizes practice and participation. Therefore, there will be no tests or research papers of traditional type. Full participation and engagement in reading, discussion, journal writing, reflection writing and creative practice is, therefore, essential to success in the course; absences and tardiness for any reason will adversely affect your grade.  It should also be mentioned that tardiness will disrupt the concentration and focus of other students who are meditating, so please be conscientious about arriving to class on-time.

All students are required to:

1. Come to class regularly and participate regularly. Presence is required for meaningful participation.

2. Complete all readings and assignments and participate in class discussions. During class periods, we will learn a variety of meditation techniques, including postures and practices for sitting meditation, walking meditation and  standing meditation, with a variety of internal and external focal points (breathing, sound, physical sensation, metta meditation, etc.) to develop focus, mindful experiential awareness and concentration.  It is essential to your success to devote yourself seriously to each practice.

3. Meditate on your own outside of class per our daily instructions and keep a log of your experiences, using the insight timer, which is freely available for both Android and ios platforms. (See http://insighttimer.org) We recommend meditating AT THE SAME TIME each day whenever possible.

4. Keep a practice journal, including a meditation log (#3 above) and reflections on your developing practice. We will periodically review your journal and provide feedback and suggestions for working through common and idiosyncratic challenges.

5. Complete five  2 page reflection papers (12 point, Times New Roman, 1.5 spacing) over the course of the semester. Each reflection paper should respond to some specific aspect of one of the readings.

6. Complete a Mindfulness-based creative project, including a proposal and a reflective essay. Final creative project due at the end of the semester (see accompanying assignment description).

7. There will be a meditation retreat at the Bhavana Society in West Virginia on the weekend of March 16 (leaving campus Friday at 4 and returning Sunday afternoon). While this retreat is optional, it is an experience that we cannot replicate in class, and you are strongly encouraged to make ever effort to attend. So please plan now and plan accordingly. There is no charge for the retreat (including transportation, lodging and meals), but space is limited.

8. Schedule an meeting with me twice during the semester, to individually discuss your progress.

Preparation, Attendance, and Participation (20%)

Class attendance and participation is required. Attendance will be taken every class. Grades will be lowered for arriving late; succumbing to distractions, digital or otherwise;
distracting others; failed pop quizzes (2 points each) and lack of preparation. The first 2 unexcused absences will be penalized 5 points per absence; the next 3 unexcused absences will be penalized 10 points per absence; more than 5 unexcused absences will result in a 0 for the Preparation, Attendance, and Participation grade. Upon receiving a 0, students are encouraged to approach the professor during office hours
to discuss their grade––some restoration may be possible if attendance improves thereafter.

Students may be excused from class only with advanced email notification of and approval from the professor in legitimate circumstances of illness, accident, or other unavoidable and unforeseeable circumstances. Excused absences will be explicitly granted by email reply; if you do not receive a reply, your absence was not excused. Student athletes must notify the professor at the beginning of the semester and email before each class to be missed due to away games.

The use of laptops, tablets, phones, and other digital devices is prohibited in the classroom.The only exception to this rule is to refer to assigned readings (that you only have an electronic version of) at the time when they are being discussed in class.
Outside the room before class is fine, but upon entering through the classroom doors all devices must be put away. Notes must be taken by hand.

Active participation requires that students complete all readings and assignments and participate in class discussions. This does mean that grades will be lowered for students who do not regularly offer meaningful contributions to discussions, so an effort must be made. There is quite a bit of reading, and it is intended to be read at different times. Rather than try to skim through all of it at the last minute, establish a routine where you find a quiet moment to pick up the reading at different times between class meetings. Be mindful of your interest and intention. Put the book down when it gets too heavy; pick it up when mind is motivated again. There will be weekly, single-question pop quizzes on the reading that ensure students have adequately
completed it. Each pop quiz will be worth 2 points of the participation grade.

During class periods, we will learn a variety of meditation techniques, including postures and practices for sitting meditation, walking meditation, and standing meditation, with a variety of internal and external focal points (breathing, sound, physical sensation, compassion, etc.) to develop focus, mindful experiential awareness, and concentration. It is essential to your success in the course to devote yourself seriously to each practice.

Daily Meditation and Journaling (25%)
The primary component of coursework is meditation on your own outside of class every day. An array of meditative foci, traditions, and techniques will be presented in class; regardless of which one is used, all daily sessions must be done in an upright seated position. We recommend meditating AT THE SAME TIME each day whenever possible. In support (and for proof) of your practice, you will keep a meditation log and journal that states the date, start and end times of each session and reflects on your developing practice. Entries must be unique and appropriately reflective; credit will not be awarded for entries where the date and time are simply written in prose without reflection on the experience. You will also use Insight Timer to keep time and record your sessions, which is available for both iOS and Android (See http://insighttimer.org). After downloading the app, go online to set up an account. Your journal will be reviewed every three weeks, providing brief feedback and suggestions for working through common and idiosyncratic challenges. Given that what arises in meditation is inherently personal, the content you provide is foremost for you, and in terms of grading is foremost used as a tool to track the completion of sessions. Further discussion during office hours is both encouraged and welcome. Also, again note that the guideline is for students to meditate every day––including weekends after journals have been submitted––so you must record your sessions on post-its or note cards to be inserted into the journal upon its return to you. While the Insight Timer app automatically times and records your sessions, and includes an option to journal within the app, you may NOT use the app for journaling. You must use a handwritten paper journal. Likewise,
Insight Timer offers guided meditations (mostly for purchase), but these do not count for your personal sessions at home. These must be done silently and without additional supports, based on the instructions presently being explored in class.

Reflection Papers (25%)
You will complete five 2-page reflection papers over the course of the semester (12 point Times New Roman font, 1-inch margins, 1.5 spacing, and no spacing between
paragraphs). Each reflection paper will respond to a specific topic of the readings for those weeks, focus on one particular form of meditation within that topic, and rely on a thesis statement to introduce and anchor your discussion. These must be uploaded to Canvas on designated days before class begins. Late submissions are marked down 10 points for every 24 hours or part thereof.

Final Creative Project and Presentation (25%)
Students will complete a mindfulness-based creative project, which will include a preliminary proposal and timeline, a time log recording at least 10 hours of work on the project, the final product itself, a final reflective essay, and the presentation of the product during exam week. More detailed requirements and grading rubrics
are here on the course website (meditation.umwblogs.org).

Extracurriculars and Practice Instructor Meetings (5%)
Students will individually attend three mindfulness-based extracurricular activities, such as yoga classes, meditation instruction, the meditation retreat etc. Within 1 week of completing an extracurricular, you must input the date, time, and brief reflection on each activity within the Assignment on Canvas to receive credit.

There will be a FREE meditation retreat at the Bhavana Society in West Virginia, date TBD. While this retreat is optional, it is an experience that cannot be replicated in class, and you are strongly encouraged to make every effort to attend. It is impossible to know what mind is capable of without intensive practice, and the retreat will count as 2 extracurriculars, so please plan accordingly.

Students are required to come to office hours at least twice during the semester–one of which must occur before Spring Break–to discuss their practice, and this is the best opportunity to raise any issues and experiences that arise in meditation. More regular office hour
visits are both encouraged and welcome.

Course Schedule

Week 1: Jan 17 – 19

Introduction to Contemplative Practice and Meditation – What is mindfulness? – Basic techniques: posture and breathing.


Short, 5 min. guided meditations and Discussion of Reading Assignments.

Reading Assignments:

1. Bhante Gunaratana, Mindfulness in Plain English.

2. Listen to “Appropriate Awareness” audiofile by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

3. Watch the film: Dhamma Brothers  also: Doing Time, Doing Vipassana and after that, you may enjoy seeing the filmmaker Jenny Philips’ TED talk about the Dhamma Brothers, and filmmaker Eilona Ariel’s TED talk about Doing Time, Doing Vipassana.

Week 2: Jan 22 – 26

Meditation sessions (10 minutes) and Discussion of Reading Assignments.

Reading Assignments:

1. Bhante Gunaratana, Mindfulness in Plain English.

2, Thich Nhat Hanh, Happiness: Essential Mindfulness Practices.

3. Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living, ch. 1 – 4.

Week 3:  Jan 29 – Feb 2

Tuesday, January 30, guest lecture: “My Journey to Mindfulness” by La Sarmiento. 4:00 pm in the Colonnade Room, UC
La Sarmiento is one of the teachers of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington, and a guiding teacher/leader of the IMCW Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer (LGBTIQ) Sangha and the IMCW People of Color Sangha

Meditation sessions (15 minutes) and reflection; Discussion of reading assignments.Reading Assignments:

1. Hanson, Buddha’s Brain.

2. Kabat-Zinn, ch. 11 – 16.

Reflection paper 1 due Fri. Feb. 2

Week 4: Feb 5 – 9

Meditation sessions (20 minutes) and reflection; Discussion of reading assignments.

Reading and other assignments:

1. Hahn and Cheung, Savor

2. Bhante Gunaratana, Mindfulness in Plain English

Journals Due:  Fri. Feb. 9

Week 5: Feb 12 – 16

Meditation sessions (20 minutes) and reflection; Discussion of reading assignments.

Reading Assignment:

1. Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of Understanding.

2. Read selection on the concept of “dependent co-arising

3. Kabat-Zinn, ch. 21 – 25.

Creative Project: Proposal and Timeline due Fri. Feb. 16

Week 6: Feb 19 – 23

Meditation sessions (20 minutes) and reflection; Discussion of reading assignments.

Reading Assignment:

1. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book I

Reflection paper 2 due Fri. Feb. 23

Week 7: Feb 26 – Mar 2

Meditation sessions (20 minutes) and reflection; Discussion of reading assignments.

Reading Assignments:

1. 10 poems of the Tao Te Ching (Your choice)

2. Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.

Journals Due: Wed. Feb. 28

SPRING BREAK – Sat March 3 – Sun March 11

Week 8: Mar 12 – 16

Meditation sessions (20 minutes) and reflection; Discussion of reading assignments.

Reading Assignments:

1. 10 additional poems of the Tao Te Ching (your choice)

2. Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.

3. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book II

Week 9: Mar 19 – 23

Meditation sessions (25-30 min.) and reflection; Discussion of reading assignments.

Reading Assignments:

1. Nachmanovitch, Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art.

2. Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.

Reflection Paper 3 due Fri. Mar. 23

Week 10: Mar 26 – 30

Meditation sessions (30 min.) and reflection; Discussion of reading assignments.

Reading Assignments:

1. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Books VIII – X

2. Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Journals Due:  Fri. Mar. 30

Week 11: Apr 2 – 6

Meditation sessions (30-35 min.) and reflection; Discussion of reading assignments

Reading Assignments:

1. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Books VIII – X.

2. Sophocles, Antigone

Week 12: Apr 9 – 13

Meditation sessions (35-40 min.) and reflection; Discussion of Reading Assignment

Reading Assignment:

1. Sophocles, Antigone

2. Marcus Aurelius, Meditations.

Reflection Paper 4 due Fri. Apr. 13

Week 13. Apr 16 – 20

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Reflection paper 5  Fri. Apr. 20

Week 14: Apr 23 – 27

Meditation sessions (35-40 min.) and reflection; Discussion of Reading Assignment

1. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book VIII- X

2. Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Journals Due:  Fri. Apr. 27






Final Exam Period:

Section 2 (10:00) Fri. May 4, 8:30 – 11:00: Creative Project Presentations

During the final exam period, students will give 5-10 minute presentations of their final projects. Presentations followed by meditation.