Contemplative Practices: Systems As a Whole

Rarely in college classes do students get to sit down for a few minutes and absorb the materials that they learn in lecture. We sit through an hour or two of lecture and immediately leave when the bell rings without thinking about the impacts that the learning materials have on us as individuals.

In a class that explores the environmental, social and political effects of food production around the world, contemplative practices are an integral part for the students to retain the material. It is never easy for individuals to view themselves at fault for the negative environmental and social issues around the world because we often do not feel as if we are important actors in those situations and that our behavior does not directly impact the environment.  However, the contemplative practices that are used in this class is an incredible tactic to get students to take a step back and see themselves from another perspective: a perspective in which we are crucial parts that make up a whole system. Contemplative practices serve as a great form of reflection in that we can we can visualize how our actions, small or large, are impacting something that is greater than us: the planet that we call home.

The form of self-reflection not only allows us to engage in the materials with a more personal experience, but also allows us to think about the life-cycle analysis of the commodities that we consume. Before taking this course and partaking in the contemplative practice on virtual water, I never would have believed that 70% of water consumption in the world is from agriculture. The virtual water practice allowed me to focus on the foods I consume and think about the amount of water that goes into making a good even before I pick it up from the grocery store.

These practices are effective in its ability to make students more aware of their own decisions on their consumption of food, but also makes it much easier to visualize a system as a whole.

6 thoughts on “Contemplative Practices: Systems As a Whole

  1. Elizabeth A Cusanelli

    This post is intriguing. I completely agree with you, that as students we are hardly given time for self-reflection in our class setting, and don’t have this reflection time in our busy lives unless we purposely set aside time to do so. In the social sciences, we frequently learn about very jarring topics, and I often find myself overwhelmed by everything in this world that is problematic, from famine to political unrest to war… The list could go on.

    To me, a huge part of the reason social sciences are studied is to make us uncomfortable. If more classes made time for contemplative practices, perhaps we would be able to think deeper than just the hour or so we sit in lecture for. Since we often do not think of ourselves or an individual at fault for negative social and environmental issues like you mentioned, perhaps more contemplation would allow us to reflect on the consequences of our own lifestyles, such as how much water we use, what we eat, and where we get our food.

  2. Bailey Sipes

    Response 1:
    I really enjoyed this post not only because I agree with you but because you point out the crucial emergent of these contemplative practices which is setting aside time to actually digest the course material in order to make a difference in our observation of our world. I know many people agree when I say that this class is chalk full with jarring information that many times is very surprising and even disturbing, to think that some of the things we have been told our whole lives are untrue, like everyone has the ability to become a force in the global economy if they just worked harder, or how deeply entrenched we are in our global problems.

    This class identifies a lot of problems that we as individuals increase such as wasteful water usage, what we eat, and the industrialized practices we support. It is easy as students to become defensive since we are not used to having to look ourselves in the eye and admit that we are causing the problem that we are being taught about everyday. With these contemplative practices we are given that time to decide if we will take action of continue to idly sit by while we learn about destruction. College is a time to morph people into who we are meant to be and make this next generation good for the world, and these moments of thought are helping this become reality.

  3. Eric Wei-Chung Lang

    I read through a couple of contemplative practice posts, but this one rang the most true to me. When thinking about participating in contemplative practices, I never considered classes where we didn’t have contemplative practices and how it might have been able to affect my learning in a positive way in classes where I may have been struggling. In lecture were we sit for hour(s), it certainly is nice to have a time set aside to not only reflect on all the information that was just given to us, but the practices that we do also connects back to whatever lesson was taught that day.

    I also agree largely with the statement that you made saying we have a hard time blaming ourselves for what negative environmental and social issues arise because we feel that we aren’t important enough factors. I wanted to add on to this by saying that yes, that certainly is the problem, but it should also be widely known that if everyone thinks this way, then there won’t be anyone that is taking the blame and trying to make a change. Realistically, nowadays there are groups of people that are trying to fix our environmental issues not only for us, but also for future generations who will ultimately be the ones that deal with the negative side affects of what we are doing. But my point is that there aren’t nearly enough people invested in making a change because they feel like them being a change won’t matter because they are just one person, but if everyone could agree, the positive effects would be exponential. The water practice brought into perspective the resources that we use, and it also brings up the question of how we are going to regulate certain things that cause environmental issues. Are we going to have to put in place laws in the near future? That might be the only way to make sure that everyone takes part in saving this place we called earth for us and future generations.

  4. Alec Evan Bellis

    Great post! Do you think that contemplative practices are useful because of, say, the virtual water activity we did? The reason for my question is because given your statement that “the virtual water practice allowed me to … think about the amount of water that goes into making a good”, I am left wondering what about the contemplative practice is more useful than a simple presentation of information?

    The benefit of contemplative practices is that they allow students to situate themselves within the information that they are learning about, much as you said at the beginning of your post. I think that identifying one’s own position in the capitalist system is important for understanding what resistance to that system can look like while still being productive, which I wrote about in my essay. Only new learning techniques can disrupt the stagnant learning that hegemonic capitalism tries to feed us on the regular.

  5. Amanda Grace Mcmillan

    Hey Bunjinjargal!

    I agree with you that contemplative practices are an important part of educating students about their impact on the environment. Expanding on this point I believe that these practices were meant to expand students thinking about the world as a larger system. Understanding our role in environmental impacts is valuable, but really analyzing the world food system as a whole is important in comprehending the connections that our food has around the world and how actions in the United States can affect a chain of events globally. I agree with your statement that often times as students we do not usually feel or see our negative impacts on the environment. Throughout these contemplative practices and our extensive use of systems theory like you, I have been able to really analyze the way in which I use food practices. The contemplation practice about virtual water that you mention made me think of the larger picture and how our input into the water system is much less than our output and use. The consumption of water in the United States outweighs those of other countries greatly, according to the United Nations Americans use about 5.3 to 13.2 gallons of water a day while 11% of the world’s population still does not have access to clean water (Wiel). Our larger system of water disproportionally outputs into the United States where we have an excess and leaves those who need it most without water. Understanding the larger systems that affect our everyday lives like the water system is an important part of contemplative practices. This is why I agree with your statement that contemplative practices are important in educating students about their role in the larger system that is the environment.

    Wiel, Sydney. “How Does Water Use in the United States Compare to That in Africa?” African Wildlife Foundation, 6 Sept. 2013,

  6. Kevin Liang

    One important part I want to reply to this post if because we have the same viewpoint about the contemplative practices. By just seeing slide on powerpoint about the lecture, it is a little bit abstract especially when we are not really involve in it, and this is one of the problem that we encounter in the modern diet that we has disconnect ourselves from food. Since we have some many different agenda in our own life, eating food is only for fueling up our own body but not to think more about where is it from and why we have this instead of that.
    Having the contemplative practices is something new to me as a senior in UW because I have never experience the same thing in my other classes. Through lecture slide and the product we introduce then make connection at the end of class between those two, I simply not only just has to remember the class material but, make connection, or experience it through different way. The connection with the food get me an easier way to understand what is behind the food, and most importantly, the appreciation of the people who make the food and presented in front of me instead of take it for granted. Of course, we can simply go to store and buy it without thinking any other thing. As for me, the connection is more important.


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