What good can come from sitting quietly and investigating your mind? Does how you think change your brain? Is it possible to train yourself to be calmer, more focused, kinder and more compassionate? We often hear media reports that science has proven a wide range of benefits of meditation, but what does it mean to say that “meditation works”?

In this course, you will become a scientist of your own experience and explore how mindfulness and prosocial practices can change your inner attitude and, as a result, your experience in college and beyond. Specifically, you’ll be considering contemplative practices both through scientific means and through personal investigation. You’ll learn some basic forms of meditation with the goal of establishing a regular personal practice, and dive into the emerging discipline of contemplative science, developing informed opinions in the face of “mindfulness hype.”

You will explore practices that foster self-awareness, emotional regulation, mental stability, and prosocial attitudes such as empathy, compassion, generosity and gratitude (see schedule). You’ll also be surveying current scientific research on how meditation can change our brains and bodies, as well as the ways we relate to others. In preparation for each class, you will engage in meditation practices, read relevant scholarly material, and reflect on your experiences in our class blog. Class sessions will integrate practice and lecture with small and large group discussions. The daylong retreat will give us an opportunity to deepen our practice together.

This course fosters an inclusive and active learning atmosphere—students without a formal science and/or meditation background are welcome and encouraged! A mix of perspectives creates a richer dialogue for learning. Together, we’ll explore how what you think can change your brain and body, and what this could mean for humanity.

Learning Objectives

By engaging with this course, you will be able to:

  • Appreciate, demonstrate and further develop a regular practice of mindful awareness and compassionate presence; integrate mindfulness into your everyday life
  • Reflect with nuance on your experiences with the practices, their effects on your intra- and interpersonal relationships, and what this means for your developing professional role
  • Describe different contemplative practices and mental qualities with sophistication
  • Value your own and others’ unique subjective experience
  • Critically evaluate scientific results about meditation; analyze and discuss limitations of our current knowledge
  • Apply the concept of neuroplasticity (how the brain changes through experience) to real-world and societal issues
  • Understand the complexity and importance of integrating first-person perspectives with science of mind

Frequently Asked Questions

How will I develop a regular contemplative practice and engage with the research?
To help you understand the basic research on mindfulness and establish a regular contemplative practice, you will engage a variety of in-class and outside of class activities. Please read through the whys and hows of those activities here:

What should I wear?

Comfortable, loose-fitting clothing is recommended.

When and where will we meet?
This 3 credit seminar meets Thursdays from 2:00-4:30 PM in McLeod 2010. It includes a mandatory daylong retreat on Saturday, April 6, 9:30 AM–3:00 PM.

How will I be evaluated?
We will work together to develop evaluation criteria and refine rubrics from previous iterations of this class.

Disclaimer: What this class is not
Although the engagement with contemplative practices can be experienced as therapeutic, this class not a substitute for therapy and we are not therapists.  If you are in emotional distress, please ask your healthcare provider whether you should participate in a course that may bring up uncomfortable feelings (see support and safety information.)