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Meditation, Improvisation, and Paradigmatic Change: Integrity of Practice as Key to Individual and Collective Transformation

Ed Sarath


Both contemplation and improvisation were central in previous eras of their respective knowledge traditions—contemplation in the Western intellectual tradition, improvisation in the Western musical tradition—yet in more recent times have been viewed as anomalous. This essay explores parallels between the two epistemologies, arguing that integrity of practice is key to progress in accepting and integrating them in higher education formats. I draw upon my experience as long-time practitioner and educational innovator in both areas, viewing the Bachelor of Fine Arts in Jazz and Contemplative Studies curriculum at the University of Michigan, the first curriculum of its kind at a mainstream academic institution, as a prominent site where systematic approaches to both meditation and improvisation come together. Examining the processes as part of a synergistic framework highlights the potential for optimal discipline, rigor, theory-practice balance, and personal creative latitude—keys to progressive contemplative inroads in the 21st century academy—to be upheld in both.


Mindfulness; Music Education; Contemplative Education; Consciousness Studies; Improvisation; Meditation

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