Contemplative Pedagogy: Activating the Imagination

This post is one of a series on contemplative pedagogy, where the subject is as much the absence of language as language itself.

In an essay writing class, a fictionalizing imagination is not necessary, but students must think of everyday events and reactions in new ways, and must link these events and reactions to larger ideas. The imagination must be unleashed to do that. This exercise may aid in the process.

EXERCISE: We sat in our customary circle, feet on the floor, lights off, following the breath in its courses. This takes a minute, two minutes.

I asked them to imagine themselves getting out of their chairs and going to the door.  This thought rested about a minute.  They might, in their imagination, be putting down their purse, or meeting up with another person, or waiting a little while before getting up.

Once at the door, they were instructed to choose a place on the campus which they would walk to, always in their imagination.  And then to walk there. Another minute.

What do they do once they get there? What do they see? What is the weather like? What season is it? Are they alone? What are they carrying or wearing? Do they stand still, turn around, walk around? This should take a minute or two.

They were then instructed to return to the classroom and sit down, always in their imagination.

Lastly, they were asked to think about their little journey. Do they feel different upon their return? Is the sun still warming their hair? Have they seen something beautiful? Something awful? How does sitting feel different from walking?

The lights went back on, and I asked for reflections.  “We should do this every class,” said the burly construction worker.  The rest of the class agreed that it was a very pleasant experience and they would like to do it again.

I cannot say what was accomplished by this exercise. The first step in a meditation practice is likely a small one. All I can say is that they fell deeply into the exercise, enjoyed it, and wanted to do it again. Perhaps they will feel more confidently about the workings of their own imaginations. They bonded as a class just by sharing in the experience.

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