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Correspondence: Sitting and Reading as Two Routes to Community

Donald McCown, Josie Billington


This epistolary dialogue between teachers involved with different, but complementary, contemplative practices—mindfulness-based group programs and reading groups (in which people come together to read literary poems or stories)—explores how such practices build community and imbue participants with the potential to act in caring and just ways in other contexts. Through narratives of group experiences and presentations of physiological and neurophysiological evidence, the two correspondents delineate three pedagogical strategies to achieve the desired ends: (1) looking beyond individualism, (2) attending to intensity, and (3) living with the text. Number one notes that students come to a group with expectations for individual progress and satisfaction, which, paradoxically, are most available within and because the atmosphere of group setting holds, supports, and offers each participant opportunities in which each can be fully with and in their experience, or, to put it another way, to touch the “really real.” Number two notes that the more often the group touches the really real, there is formed a more emotionally open human community, to which students belong, and together may move more towards justice and caring. Number three, living with the text, suggests the routes toward such community, which are essential to the contemplative dimension of academic teaching: profound spoken dialogue arising from meditation practice may become unique texts for the group, and literary texts read aloud and responded to also serve to intensify the atmosphere of the moment and quicken an ethical way of knowing that may become available later, in other communities.


Mindfulness; Reading Groups; Community Building; Ethics

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