Correspondence: Sitting and Reading as Two Routes to Community



Mindfulness, Reading Groups, Community Building, Ethics


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.

Author Biographies

Donald McCown, West Chester University of Pennsylvania

Donald McCown, PhD, is Associate Professor of Health and Co-Director of the Center for Contemplative Studies at West Chester University of Pennsylvania. His primary research interests include the pedagogy of mindfulness in clinical applications and higher education, applications of complementary and integrative medicine in the community, and the contemplative dimensions of the health humanities. He is author of The Ethical Space of Mindfulness in Clinical Practice, co-author of Teaching Mindfulness: A practical guide for clinicians and educators and New World Mindfulness: From the Founding Fathers, Emerson, and Thoreau to your personal practice, and co-editor of Resources for Teaching Mindfulness: An international handbook.

Josie Billington, University of Liverpool

Dr. Josie Billington is Deputy Director of the Centre for Research into Reading, Literature and Society (CRILS), University of Liverpool. She has written widely, as editor and critic, on Victorian women writers: Charlotte Brontë, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, Margaret Oliphant, Mary Shelley. She has also published extensively on the power of literary reading to influence mental health through collaborative research with Medicine, Psychology and UK charity, The Reader. Her most recent book is entitled Is Literature Healthy? (Oxford UP, 2016).


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