The Contemplative Net Project

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This page is part of our archive of past program activities.

The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society works to support the contemplative dimension of teaching, learning and knowing in higher education. We invite you to learn more about our current initiatives.

The Contemplative Net Project

Overview

In May 1999, Contemplative Mind board member Rob Lehman had an idea that the Center should perform a qualitative research study to uncover the ways in which contemplative practices are being employed in mainstream American society. When Rob shared his idea with our Board, it was clear that such a project would help to clarify the next stage of the Center’s work. The Board recognized that the Center should have two primary objectives: to continue our existing work in our own program areas as well as acknowledge and support work ‘in the field’, performed by other individuals and organizations using contemplative practices in contemporary culture. A research study such as Rob proposed would be a great way to build the Center’s capacity to support this emerging movement.

Consultant Stephanie Clohesy refined the vision and scope of the proposed project. In addition, a Board subcommittee, comprised of Charlie Halpern, Charles Terry, Joan Konner, Harlon Dalton, and Mirabai Bush, was formed to work with Stephanie and the Center’s staff. It was decided that the project should be conducted in-house, by a staff member, so that the knowledge gained during the research would “reside in the Center” and serve our goal to support those using contemplative practices in innovative ways.

In early 2001, the Center’s staff worked with Stephanie to turn her project proposal into a grant proposal to be submitted to the Fetzer Institute and the Ford Foundation. Once support was secured, the first phase of the project began in Fall 2001.

Our emphasis has been on “Naming the Phenomenon” – identifying people who are key figures in bringing contemplative practice into society and the practices they use. During next past year, we interviewed 79 people who incorporate contemplative practice into their work and gathered inspiring stories of transformation. We also provided opportunities for organizations involved in the study to network with each other at two events, a Social Justice Gathering in Essex, Mass., in January 2003, and a Digital Storytelling Workshop at the Fetzer Institute, Kalamazoo, Mich., September 2002.

As an result of this study, our Social Justice Program is developing resources and training materials for individuals and organizations working for social justice who wish to integrate contemplative practices into their work.

 

Our Values

The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society’s Contemplative Net team holds the following values as our guiding principles:

Advocacy and Service

We believe that our work should sustain people to do their work in a way that feels “real” to them and helps them remember the heart and compassion with which they originally came into their work. We want the fruits of our efforts to be of direct benefit to those on the front lines of social change/social justice work. We believe that the information that comes from our research and other activities of the Contemplative Net can help to sustain these visionaries. We will use the power, privileges, and resources available to us to help others leverage resources, shift power, and legitimize this way of working.

Diversity

We believe that diversity is an opportunity, not an obstacle, that it is a gift to have our own worldview enlarged and celebrate the richness of human life and expression. We believe that diversity has many dimensions, including spirituality, race, ethnicity, age, class. We recognize the tendency of projects and organizations to impose their own definitions on something dynamic, ever-changing, and multifaceted. As we carry out our work, we hold the intention of not creating more divisions and hierarchy. We will consistently remind each other of the need to break out of our internal networks and circles in order to encompass a larger point of view. We will strive to make the Contemplative Net the most inclusive container possible and get at “emic” (the insider perspective) definitions of contemplative practices.

Qualitative research with honesty and integrity

We believe that high-caliber research will lend credibility and legitimacy to contemplative approaches, thus benefiting our research participants. We value the act of research itself as an opportunity to practice contemplative principles: being aware of our own assumptions and biases; an openness to be with “not knowing,” valuing questions as much as answers, a willingness to be surprised. We believe in being participants as well as observers in this process of research. We will explore the core questions of our project within our team and the organization, as well as in other organizations: what does it mean to work from a contemplative approach? What is the actual experience of working in a “contemplative organization”? In what ways do we (and do we not) live up to those principles? We will help to keep each other honest in our research efforts, and be aware of our own attachments to ego and outcome.

Knowledge is shared, not owned

We believe that the research process should be collaborative, both within our team and with our research participants. We believe in practicing generosity with our knowledge and experiences. We see ourselves as co-creators with our research participants of this body of knowledge, not possessors of some kind of “special or elite” knowledge. We honor the experiences of those who have devoted much energy to exploring ways to bring a contemplative approach to their work. At the same time, we recognize that we have a unique perspective; as gatherers of these stories and information, we can reflect back a larger picture to those who are in the midst of their work. We will make our best effort to ask for and listen to our research participants’ ideas, but we will also be honest and clear in the cases where final decisions about how to use information rest with us. We will welcome critique of our findings and ideas and we will do our best not assume a position of reactivity or defensiveness.

Stories with Soul

We believe in the power of story to transform lives and society. We also value storytelling itself as a contemplative act, composed of both deep listening and heart-ful sharing. Our intention is to communicate the story of contemplative practices in the U.S. with soul intact! We will find creative ways to enable our research participants to tell their story, and also to convey the other findings of our project. By doing so, we will contribute to increase public knowledge, understanding, and excitement about the potential of contemplative practices.

The Power of Community to Build a Movement

We believe that we are helping to form a community of people who want to create a more just and peaceful world. We value the act of connecting the many strands of this web, because the community itself amplifies our ability to bring this transformative way of working into the world. We believe that our power as a collective whole is greater than any of us alone.

 

Project Staff

 

Maia Duerr, Research Director

With a background in qualitative research and writing, Maia served as the associate editor of Turning Wheel (the journal of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship) and a researcher with the UC San Francisco’s medical anthropology department. She completed an MA in cultural anthropology from the California Institute of Integral Studies in 1996, where her thesis focused on the psychiatric survivor and consumer movement. Prior to that, she worked as a mental health professional and was active in advocating for the rights of people with psychiatric disabilities.

Maia is the Director of Community Outreach and Development at Upaya, and also directs Upaya’s Buddhist Chaplaincy Program. She sometimes serves on Upaya’s Engaged Buddhism faculty. In 2012, Maia received lay ordination from Roshi Joan Halifax as a lay Buddhist chaplain. She is also a student in the Soto Zen lineage of Suzuki Roshi, and has lived and practiced at the San Francisco Zen Center where she received jukai from Victoria Shosan Austin in 2008. She is also a former Executive Director of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship.

 

Gina M. Nortonsmith, Project Associate

Gina M. Nortonsmith has worked as a college Ombudsperson, law school Assistant Dean, law school Assistant Professor and Attorney, bringing her compassion and sense of justice to those considered institutional outsiders. Her interest in spiritually based social justice was awakened listening to her grandmother’s stories of growing up African-American in racially segregated Baltimore, and being raised in a socially active United Methodist congregation. Her work as a community activist has been in housing, racial justice, children and families, sexual orientation issues, media and cycling. She is a community producer for Northampton Community Television, and a member of several community committees in Northampton.

Gina’s spiritual path has led her to the Religious Society of Friends, (Quakers). As a result of her interest in justice, she has earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore School of Law, and a B.S. from Towson State University in history and political science. She is Mommy to two young sons, Avery and Quinn. She and her wife, Heidi, were plaintiffs in an historic lawsuit pressing for the right for same-gender couples to marry in Massachusetts, and were the recipients of a 2001 Human Rights Campaign award for their work.

 

Jesse Maceo Vega-Frey, Project Coordinator

Jesse is a writer, artist, brother and son holding it down for Holyoke, Massachusetts. He received his BA in History from Macalester College in 2000 and continues to pursue his interests in oral history and storytelling using graphic, written, and digital techniques. He is also involved in developing a program of community-based cultural activism in his hometown. He is a Buddhist practitioner and a Supporting Director at stone circles.

 

Special Thanks

Narelle Bouthillier, Dan Edwards, Rich Fournier, Stan Hoffman, and Andrew Weiss were interviewers

Stephanie Clohesy for forming the initial goals and organization of the project

Meghan Cope for guiding us with her expertise in qualitative research

Amy Gross and Meg Wheatley for helping our Board form a cohesive vision for the project

Prajna Hallstrom for her leadership and direction during the startup of the project

Neila Hingorani and Nancy White for help conceptualizing and planning the online community

Rob Lehman for his initial inspiration which lead to this work

Patrick MacNamara for leading us through grounded theory as a research methodology for the project

Olivia Nix for her wonderful help as an intern

Project Reports

Our reports are all available as free .pdf downloads.

APS cover

A Powerful Silence: The Role of Meditation and Other Contemplative Practices In American Life and Work

by Maia Duerr, 159 pages, 1.2 MB .pdf file

See also: Assessing the State of Contemplative Practices in the U.S. by Maia Duerr, 2011. This chapter from Contemplation Nation: How Ancient Practices Are Changing the Way We Live serves as an update to A Powerful Silence.

Creating the Contemplative Organization

Creating the Contemplative Organization: Lessons from the Field

by Maia Duerr, 84 pages, 1.9 MB .pdf file

Inviting the World to Transform

Inviting the World to Transform: Nourishing Social Justice Work with Contemplative Practice

by Maia Duerr, 90 pages, 771 KB .pdf file

Social Justice Gathering Report cover

Building a Community of Change: A Report on the Social Justice Gathering

by Maia Duerr, 27 pages, 919 KB .pdf file

 

Case Studies

Charles Lief of Greyston Foundation, Marian David of Sustaining the Soul that Serves, and Simon Greer of Jobs With Justice

Contemplative Net Profiles cover

Collected together in a .pdf file:

The Contemplative Net: Profiles (by Maia Duerr; 18 pages, 222 KB)

 

Participants

Geoffrey Shugen Arnold Sensei, National Buddhist Prison Sangha

Angeles Arrien, Angeles Arrien Foundation for Cross-Cultural Education and Research

Adi Bemak, Holyoke Youth Alliance

Dr. Herb Benson, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Body/Mind Medical Institute

Rev. Daniel Nagacitta Buckley, Strawberry Dragon Zendo

Grove T. Burnett, Vallecitos Mountain Refuge

Eugene Callender, Christian Parish for Spiritual Renewal

Pam Caraffa, Monsanto

Andre Carothers, The Rockwood Fund

Arrington Chambliss, No Ordinary Time

Arnie Clayton, Cambridge Rindge and Latin School

Gary Cohen, Healthcare Without Harm

David Cooperrider, Case Western Reserve Weatherhead School of Management, Appreciative Inquiry at Case Western Reserve

Joe D’Arrigo, Tuscan Sabbaticals

Marian R. David, Sustaining the Soul that Serves

Lorain Fox Davis, Rediscovery

Father Patrick Eastman, Monos Community

Nancy Eggert, Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation, Inc.

Peter Forbes, The Trust for Public Land

Robert Forman, Hunter College, Department of Religion, retired

Robert Gass, Consultant

Bernie Glassman, Zen Peacemaker Order

Soren Gordhamer, The Lineage Project

Simon Greer, Jobs with Justice, Jews United for Justice

Joan Halifax, Upaya Foundation

Vijali Hamilton, Earth Mandala

Pat Harbour, Healing the Heart of Diversity

Kurt Hoelting, Inside Passages

Lorin Hollander, Creative Vision Education, Inc.

Claudia Horwitz, stone circles

Cathy Howell, AFL-CIO

Kavita Kapur, Self-Knowledge Symposium

Father Thomas Keating, Contemplative Outreach Ltd.

Rachael Kessler, PassageWays Institute

Michael Lerner, Commonweal

Thea Levkovitz, The Wilderness Society

Carol Miller Lieber, Resolving Conflict Creatively Program

Charles Lief, Greyston Foundation

Frederique Marglin, Center for Integrative Learning and Action

Marcelle Martin, Religious Society of Friends

Fleet Maull, Prison Dharma Network

Corinne McLaughlin, Center for Visionary Leadership

Michael Meade, Mosaic Multicultural Foundation

Wayne Muller, Bread for the Journey

George T. Mumford, Consultant

Charles Murphy, Power of Hope

David Murphy, North King County Rehabilitation Facility

Rabbi Jonathan Omer-Mann

Frank Ostaseski, Zen Hospice Project

Harrison Owen, OT Network

Pythia Peay, Journalist

Phyllis Robinson, Center for Integrative Learning and Action

Judy Rodgers, Inner Voices of Hope

Nancy Roof, United Nations Spiritual Caucus

Fred Rooney, CUNY Law School

Rachel Rossner, UC Santa Cruz/Social Change Across Borders

Paul Sabin, Environmental Leadership Program

Janine Sagert, Time Out

Sat Santokh, Creating Our Future

Saki Santorelli, Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society, UMass Medical School

Edward W. Sarath, University of Michigan School of Music

David Sawyer, Manage Mentor

Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, Spiritual Eldering Institute

David Scott, Center for Integrative Learning and Action

Peter Senge, Society of Organizational Learning

Linda Stout, Spirit in Action

John Stowe, Gay Spirit Visions

Susan Szpakowski, Shambhala Institute

Kazuaki Tanahashi, Calligrapher

Rev. Doug Tanner, Faith and Politics Institute

Judith Thompson, Spirit in Human Rights

Robert G. Toth, Executive Director, The Thomas Merton Foundation

Sue Turley, Institute for Health and Healing, Cal Pacific Medical Center

Andrew Weil, Program in Integrative Medicine, University of Arizona

Margaret Wheatley, Berkana Institute

Angel Kyodo Williams, UrbanPEACE

Marianne Williamson / Mathew Albracht, Global Renaissance Alliance

Diana Winston, Buddhist Peace Fellowship

Leah Wise, Southeast Regional Economic Justice Network