Many Rivers, One Ocean: An Initiative for Contemplative Study and Practice


  • Deborah Kipps-Vaughan James Madison University
  • Jared Featherstone James Madison University
  • Edward Brantmeier James Madison University
  • Marsha Mays-Bernard James Madison University
  • Kimberly DuVall James Madison University
  • Shari Scofield James Madison University


Initiative, Transformative, Strategic Planning


Contemplative practices, with their intentions toward well-being, authentic relationships, and deep learning, are beneficial to a community. Therefore, a sense of responsibility exists for universities to explore avenues for developing a culture of contemplative inquiry. This article describes a process embarked upon by members of a large state university community in their intentional pursuit to develop a more pervasive contemplative community on campus. Several faculty and staff with well-established personal practices in mind-body exercise, meditation, and mindfulness were motivated, within their respective professional roles, to incorporate contemplative work in classrooms and programs. Such integration is increasingly common at universities of this size. But how does a university evolve from this isolated integration to a campus-wide collaborative culture of contemplative study and practice? This article offers a description of this process from the perspectives of the initiative’s originators, through interviews in which they share their vision, development, and planning of actionable goals. The critical functions of a formalized strategic planning process are presented as helpful in institutionalizing a campuswide initiative to promote contemplative practices. We offer the story of our journey, one path among many in facilitating the development of such an initiative, in the hope that it may be useful to others across higher education settings.

Author Biographies

Deborah Kipps-Vaughan, James Madison University

Graduate Psychology, Associate Professor

Jared Featherstone, James Madison University

Associate Director of the University Writing Center

Edward Brantmeier, James Madison University

Assistant Director of the Center for Faculty Innovation

Marsha Mays-Bernard, James Madison University

Associate Vice President of Wellness, Orientation & Multicultural Engagement

Kimberly DuVall, James Madison University

Department of Psychology, Lecturer

Shari Scofield, James Madison University

Coordinator for MAD4U Student Activities


Coutant, L., & Caldwell, K. (2017). The mindful campus. The Journal of Contemplative Inquiry, 4(1), 229-250.

James Madison University. (2018). JMU’s strategic plan. Retrieved from

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2005). Coming to our senses: Healing ourselves and the world through mindfulness. New York, NY: Hyperion.

Napora, L. (2017). A contemplative look at social change: Awareness and community as foundations for leading. The Journal of Contemplative Inquiry, 4(1), 188-206.

Robinson, P. (2004). Meditation: Its role in transformative learning and in the fostering of an integrative vision for higher education. Journal of Transformative Education, 2, 107-119.

Schwind, J., McCay, E., Beanlands, H., Martin, L. Martin, J., & Binder, M. (2017). Mindfulness as a teaching-learning strategy in higher education: A qualitative exploratory pilot study. Nurse Education Today, 50, 92-96.

Starr, K. (2012, September 18). The eight-word mission statement. Stanford Social Innovation Review. Retrieved from

Tierney, W. G. (2008). The impact of culture on organizational decision-making: Theory and practice in higher education. Sterling, VA: Stylus.

Tisdell, E. J., & Tolliver, D. E. (2003). The role of spirituality and cultural identity in transformative education. Journal of Transformative Education, 1, 368-392.