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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Our reports are all available as free .pdf downloads.
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
Creating the Contemplative Organization: Lessons from the Field
by Maia Duerr, 84 pages, 1.9 MB .pdf file
Inviting the World to Transform: Nourishing Social Justice Work with Contemplative Practice
by Maia Duerr, 90 pages, 771 KB .pdf file
Building a Community of Change: A Report on the Social Justice Gathering
by Maia Duerr, 27 pages, 919 KB .pdf file
Our case studies are available as seperate web pages:
Or, collected together in a .pdf file:
The Contemplative Net: Profiles (by Maia Duerr; 18 pages, 222 KB)
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