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A Moment of Silence

After eleven years on the job in faculty development, I just led my first session that didn’t have anything to do with technology.

The subject? A moment of silence.

We began the session with a brief moment of silence, then I led a short discussion.

What mindset is most conducive to learning? What mental states might actually obstruct learning? What do we do as teachers that encourages the latter or the former?

We went around the table and talked about these things for a bit.

Then I took us back to the beginning and asked how the prefatory silence shaped the discussion. Did it foster a better mindset? The consensus seemed to be that it did. It provided a transition that allowed people to let go of their previous tasks and focus on the matter at hand.

Then I asked the faculty present to consider if such a technique could work in their classrooms. In fact one person (a Dominican brother) has been doing this for thirty years. Another person tried it for one semester a while ago with seemingly good results. Another has just started practicing a moment of silence this week, inspired by this very session.

After we talked about the potential challenges and pitfalls this technique presents, I distributed copies of the Tree of Contemplative Practices and noted that silence was but one practice of many. At this point I asked if anyone sitting around the table engaged in any sort of contemplative practice that they’d care to share with the group. Interestingly all three faculty who have used silence to open class also are regular practitioners. But the balance of attendees did not seem to engage in any regular practice. Or perhaps they just didn’t want to share at this point.

I threw out the phrase “contemplative pedagogy” as a blanket term for using contemplative practices in teaching, which linked with integrative learning seems to be part of a emergent trend in the academy today. I mentioned the Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education which I joined this summer. I also hyped the faculty book club which I’ll be leading this semester. We’re reading The Heart of Higher Education. I also referenced Meditation as Contemplative Inquiry, a book I just finished and am still digesting.

And then I talked about why I think all of this is potentially important to the University and its mission, and asked what the group thought. I also confessed myself remarkably unqualified to be promulgating this topic, since I know so little about it, but I just feel it’s so important. And of course I had to mention that contemplation was not just a means to an end, but a worthwhile end to itself — if you can call something inherently transformative an “end.”

I let the group know I was interested in collaborating if anyone wanted to study the effects of a moment of silence on classroom learning.

Finally we talked about possible future directions for the conversation which we’d begun. Indeed, the main purpose of this session, to my mind, was to gauge faculty interest in contemplative pedagogy and integrative learning. I hope this is the beginning of a sustained dialog on the topic, and it will be up to me to nurture that dialog and expand the circle.

I was pretty happy with the whole session. But mainly I’m happy to have finally taken this step, breaking out of being strictly a “tech guy” in my professional life, and venturing onto a new path.

Published inThe Ed Biz


  1. Simon Dorfman Simon Dorfman

    The faculty book club books sound great. Would you (and whoever else would need to okay it) like the idea of inviting faculty from other universities in the city? I bet I could get some Tulane folks interested…

  2. Jack Schick Jack Schick

    I hitched down the Big Sur coast way back in ’79-’80-’81…
    Broother Brendan (Irish accent) picked me up and said he hadn’t left the Hermitage for
    a couple years, before going up to SF for some conference.
    I got to stay the night up there at the Camaldolese Order of St. Benedict monastery
    overlooking the water from way up on the bluffs.
    Broother Brendan told me he only ate a meal once every other day. He slept on a
    Spartan thin mat for a bed. I got to sleep on the extra mat.
    They have “cells”, within which the Hermits do their undisturbed Thing. Some of
    the Cells were complete with a walled patio for taking sun.
    They shared some talky-talk with me, and gave me a couple of Merton books,
    one of which was “The Seven Storey Mountain”. Yummy scrambled eggs from their home-grown chickens. Then I was back on the Road…
    “Contemplation” can be interpreted or defined a lotta ways.
    I spent much more time alone than with common social groups back then.
    I think that most people do very little “thinking”, much less the Richer field of
    “Contemplating” something.
    Hey B….directly to your new expansion into this world…the Moment of Silence
    is a cool thing….now, how about a moment of group –listening– to music
    of 528-Hz Solfeggio harmonics, to TUNE people into the Lesson?
    Your Cathedral Chants–Gregorian and Eastern Orthodox, and Tibetan and more, served to bring folks together into a “VIBE”….cool stuff?
    The forces of Evil want to destroy everything Good.
    There are sources talking about the establishment of the Musical pitch standard
    of “concert-A, 440 CPS” as being an intentional DEGRADATION and forced
    disharmony with the Divinely-created Physical attunement.
    Rothschilds and Rockefellers did this deed, intentionally to Screw up our LOVE
    and our COMPASSION, and HAPPY MINDS.
    Look into it, Bart.
    Not just a Moment of Silence.
    A Moment of Love, Divine, Harmony made manifest in THE CORRECT PITCH!

  3. martin m martin m

    Every class of the “Introduction to Buddhist Psychology” from Berkeley Webcasts starts with 5 minutes of mindful silence.

    I find it very hard to stop monkey mind chatter for 5 minutes.

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