Intentions Found in the Spaces Between

A delineation must be made between contemplative practice and contemplation of life.  To think that we don’t spend much of our lives contemplating our immediate situations is misguided.  Humans today are incessantly focused on themselves, their friends, money, careers, looks and trends. We contemplate how others see us, what grades we will need to achieve which goals, our lives are plenty reflected on.  My form of contemplative practice, and the one that Karen leads us in, seeks spaciousness from one’s own life in order to understand someone else’s. Imagining what it might be like to taste chocolate for the very first time, after growing cacao your entire life, gets you further from you typical frame of reference, further from your own sphere of thought, away from you average contemplations.  

These contemplative practices offer an alternate form of reflection.  Not how do we perceive our own understanding of the world? but what does the world look like from other eyes?  In what ways are our perceptions simplistic? Could our concerns be assessed as trivial? The beauty of these practices is that when you get the furthest away from your personal situation, you become the closest to the world.  You are able to realize that life goes on even when you don’t think about it constantly.

Thinking of others has lead to doing for others in my life.  During my first contemplative practice with Karen in the fall, I walked into her classroom stressed out with a lack of focus.  I had just arrived at the UW and was already lost in the fog of grades, credit and success. These moments in her class, simple seconds of sitting with an intention, to realign with the importance of education, did just that.  I was moved by the capacity my mind had to clear out when I gave it a chance. In the mess of moving everything out of my conscious stream of thought, the dust settled. The people that live on this earth are what matter to me.  It is not how those people see me, not how much money I could accumulate or the type of house I will own, but how will my actions affect people. This focus makes depressing articles of wealth inequality, burning forest videos and dying birds livable.  This attention to helping something outside of myself makes living worth it. These practices gave me the space to find that truth.

Thank you Karen for everything you do for us.

7 thoughts on “Intentions Found in the Spaces Between

  1. Bunjinjargal Bayasgalan

    Your perspective on how contemplative practices serves as a way for us to alienate the thousands of worries we have about ourselves and instead allows us to get a better understanding of someone else’s life is really eye-opening and true. I was thinking of the practices as a way for students to reflect on their own behaviors when consuming food, however, I really enjoyed the point you make that nowadays we are so consumed with our own lives as a part of a system. This post has given me a deeper understanding of how I should be focus during these contemplative practices: instead of seeing myself as a player in a system, it is more effective to attempt to see the world from someone else’s eyes.

  2. Than Naing Zaw

    I have found your take on contemplative practice very thought provoking in terms of how you said that we often just care about how others would view of us. How that has become the basis of how we proceed in life or what grades we may have to get in order to impress others. So these immediate situations that misguides but by seeking spacious in one’s own life in order to understand someone else concept reminds me of ethnographic studies that I have done before in my other JSIS and poly-sci courses. For example, in my senior thesis paper on me trying to understand the plight of the Rohingya refugees was done through by trying to reflect my experience of growing up in Myanmar and how my experiences helps me understand the “other.” These contemplative practices are very similar to ethnographic studies in a sense where we get into the nitty gritty details of zooming out by zooming into one particular aspect such as raisins or seeds exercise we did in class with Professor Liftin. Your post just have made me have a stronger connection to help on my senior thesis by putting in contemplative practices as a form of ethnographic study of myself in order to deeper my understanding of the Rohingya refugees.

  3. Mackenzie Bull

    Response #2

    I really resonated with the point you made about the focus of individuals on themselves that seems inherent in contemporary society, and in my opinion, is even more prominent in the culture of developed nations existing within globalized civilizations. The interconnected nature of today’s world has led to a culture characterized by appearances, as well as a fascination of individuals in the way that they are perceived by others. As a result, many view themselves as the most important factor in their own lives, failing to see interpersonal relationships and life experiences as vital to their sense of self. My initial reaction to being introduced to contemplative practices was one of neutrality, as they seemed unnecessary, and to some degree foreign. As I continued to participate in the careful thinking that they require, I began to realize that the purpose of these exercises is more to understand the relationships that connect one’s individual sense of self to the world around them, in order to reflect on how these relationships create that sense of self, as related to the larger whole. As you mention, these contemplative practices “offer an alternate form of reflection,” allowing us the ability to examine our personal situation within the world in the context of the series of connected systems that define us. In a sense, these exercises serve to make us examine the true effect of our actions, as there are none that exist without responding reactions. These practices also allow us to imagine ourselves is the place of someone else, regardless of who that may be, further increasing our understanding of the variety of situations that individuals find themselves to be a part of throughout their lifetimes. My appreciation of these contemplative practices has developed overtime, as their true purpose became evident as a result of the issues that we were tasked with examining on both an individual, and on an interrelated level.

  4. Emily Halvorson

    Thank you for your meditation on the concept and implementation of contemplative practices in a collegiate academic setting! I find your interpretation of the individuality of our culture, specifically consumer culture, intriguing, especially because while it’s individual, it is definitely also part of the greater capitalist system as a whole. It’s like the systems theory we talked about in class – the theory Karen centers her research around and that connects every topic we’ve discussed. While it’s primarily food that we discussed in our class, your questions as to our obsession with material goods versus the welfare of our society are ones that we should all contemplate and think about in our own time outside of the classroom! I agree with your statement that the focus derived from the practices made the depressing material more bearable, but it also made it more meaningful. It’s so easy to just watch the videos in class and move on, but forcing yourself to sit down and think about what you saw, how you fit in, and what you can do to help, allows you to engage with the material in a more participatory way and get more from it.

  5. Anna C Maxwell

    Hey Willa, I also really enjoyed your experience with the contemplative practices. Contemplative practices offer a time and space to bring ones complete attention into the present -to really be self-aware. You discuss how the contemplative practice helped you look beyond yourself, and helped you see the world from someone else’s perspective. I think this offers a really powerful argument that contemplative practices can help people better understand the positions of privilege they come from. If taking a few moments to be mindful helps you create enough space to widen your world view to better relate to the experiences of others in different situations – mindfulness then offers a really powerful tool for teachers at institutions like the UW to help educate students from a variety of backgrounds to become aware of the often overlook position of power and privilege we examine topics from.

  6. Ava Ruhi Rezaee

    Wow! You have perfectly described this past quarter. In a world obsessed with the daily me, social media, and a personalized digital realm, we are constantly fed information created only for us and our interests. Everything we do is about ourselves and consumer capitalism feeds off of this self-greed. I think it is important to differentiate between contemplation of life and contemplative practices. As you have mentioned, if we only contemplate on our own lives and ways we can improve personally, we are not opening our minds to new perspectives and ideas. However, I disagree with this statement. I think that it is valuable to contemplate and meditate on our own lives and the decisions we have made. Through this self-meditation and contemplative practice on ourselves, we may be able to understand that we have faults and corrupt thoughts. This may only be understood through a self-evaluation and coming to the realization on your own. Often, we cannot see what is wrong with our minds until we work through it ourselves. Yet, perhaps this is not the solution to every problem, but just a suggestion.

  7. Alex Wenman

    This perspective really resonated with me. There are often times we struggle to maintain the balance of school, work and personal life, but I believe Karen’s contemplative practices really brought the concept of understanding that life is precious, and we are all one through the reductionist perspective of organic chemistry. In that space, problems of our daily life seem so trivial. Purpose is a challenging concept to grapple with, and I think your reasoning of helping others is spot on. The demands of our consumer economy and making as much money as possible really pushes these issues to the margins but you have the right mindset to turn this unsustainable perspective on its head. Conveying your experience and purpose of helping others with everyone you meet will bring about so much positive change, and I believe it already is!


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