A Contemplative Approach to Teaching Observation Skills


  • Peter G. Grossenbacher Naropa University
  • Alexander J. Rossi


contemplative pedagogy, education, mindfulness, observation skills, sensory awareness


Careful observation of one’s experience provides access to present-moment information, the foundation for mindfulness practice and contemplative education more generally. Contemplative observation comprises a set of trainable skills, including noticing, slowing, and reflecting. Skillful ways to work with observation, including distinguishing (between observation and interpretation), recalling, and describing, can also be taught, learned, practiced, and applied. Two assignments drawn from a course on the psychology of perception, sensory awareness practice and sensory description, are presented as tandem means for teaching all six observation skills. Several aspects of this contemplative observation pedagogy make it useful in higher education generally, and it is also well suited for content-specific use in or adaptation to courses across a variety of disciplines. The aim is to foster (instructor and) student engagement with discovering lived experience through the refinement and focusing of observation skills.

Author Biographies

Peter G. Grossenbacher, Naropa University

PETER G. GROSSENBACHER, PhD, is Associate Professor in Contemplative Psychology and Contemplative Education at Naropa University. After training in mathematics and cognitive science at UC Berkeley, his experimental psychology doctorate at the University of Oregon focused on electrophysiology and attention to vision and touch. After researching multisensory attention and synesthesia at the University of Cambridge and the National Institute of Mental Health, he joined the Naropa faculty in 2000. His book, Finding Consciousness in the Brain: A Neurocognitive Approach, offers insights into the brain’s involvement in conscious experience. His scholarship and research focus on neural function and information processing during meditation, and the instruction of contemplative practice. In curricula that meld scientific and contemplative modes of inquiry, Peter teaches both graduate and undergraduate courses in mindful teaching, the neuroscience of meditation, Buddhist psychology, mindfulness meditation, perception, cognitive psychology, research methods, and research practica. A meditator since 1980, he teaches meditation and trains teachers in a variety of settings.

Alexander J. Rossi

ALEXANDER J. ROSSI earned his MA from Naropa University in Transpersonal Counseling Psychology. His graduate research examined a therapist’s level of embodiment and its impact on somatic countertransference within the therapist-client relationship.  As part of a research team in the Naropa University Consciousness Laboratory,  Alex’s research focused on presence, embodiment, and world view. Before attending Naropa, he counseled adolescents at The Academy at Swift River in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts and facilitated a service learning program in Costa Rica. There he provided emotional growth programming and psycho-educational workshops to students and their parents. Following continued study in Somatic Psychology, Alex investigated body mechanics and embodied movement practices in everyday activities.  Alex’s other interests include private practice, yoga, meditation, and philosophy of mind. He currently brings his present-focused sensory awareness practices to bear in a professional capacity as a connoisseur of craft beer and fine wine in MetroWest Boston.


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