In the two years since this work began in 2018 we have made steady progress. We have held an initial consultation with 133 experts across Europe from which we produced a landmark report as the platform for this initiative, held an inaugural meeting to set overall direction, created a linked together community supported by an increasingly rich website and hosted regular virtual meetings with small groups of experts working on three areas - research, teacher education and holistic approaches.
These two years of activity have catalyzed productive links and collaboration both within the expert groups and across the wider community, including some new research projects and several scientific meetings. Thanks to the CCE those at the heart of the field are now more able to actively share best practice and research results, collaborate on new projects and hold productive meetings and discussions. Mind & Life Europe has supported this activity with financial support for core staff to lead, coordinate and administer this network, and a growing website and cloud-based databank of resources.
In our highly fragmented and environmentally endangered world, education is of central importance. There is a critical need to develop educational environments in which all of us, young and old, can develop our full cognitive, critical, creative, social and emotional potential to face the challenges of our fast-changing society, developing an ethical compass for orientation. A whole person education is the cornerstone for a healthy society.
What has to date largely been neglected, even in holistic approaches within western education, is a recognition of the central importance of the mind to all learning and human development. Contemplative Education (CE) is a holistic approach which focusses on helping students of all ages, and teachers of all kinds, develop the embodied and practice- based skills to understand and manage their own minds. These skills are transformative and foundational to all effective education and healthy human development. CE combines current knowledge from modern research, e.g. neuroscience, with the practices of traditional wisdom-based philosophies and practices.
There is growing evidence for the beneficial effects of CE, and particularly for mindfulness, which is showing clear impacts across the whole educational and wellbeing agenda, with outcomes that are beneficial for psychological, social, emotional, cognitive and physical wellbeing. As a foundational human capacity, CE can be central to help transform educational efforts to cultivate deep and authentic learning, wellbeing and flourishing, to become more ethical, compassionate and connected, and equip individuals to meet the escalating social and ecological crises facing our society and our planet.
Since its foundation, Mind & Life Europe has supported numerous research projects to learn about how contemplative practices, including various forms of meditation, can improve cognitive, social and emotional skills and how this relates to the ability of education to promote human wellbeing.
In 2012, His Holiness the Dalai Lama identified what he called ‘Education of the Heart’ as a key priority for his mission and for the work of Mind & Life Europe. A small group at the heart of Mind & Life Europe who met at the European Summer Research Institute (ESRI) in 2018 felt it was time for a greater emphasis to be placed on education with Mind & Life Europe and for a new initiative.
We were aware that there a good deal to build on. Researchers and practitioners across the world have developed research initiatives, projects, practices, curricula and methods to apply contemplative and mindfulness-based approaches to the education of students and to the training of teachers. This work is uncovering many demonstrable benefits for wide range of aspects of human wellbeing. However there is still much to be understood and the need for further actions.
- There is a lack of awareness of the value of Contemplative Education (CE) in education and across society, and some degree of uncertainty on what it means and what its benefits are. This in turn leads to a reduced rate of uptake by educational leaders and authorities.
- There is a similar lack of awareness of nature and the value of education among those involved in CE, many of whom think that education is synonymous with the far narrower concept of ‘schooling’ and do not appreciate its foundational nature and integral links with contemplative approaches.
- To date the best-known work on in this field has emanated from the US. Innovative work in many parts of Europe has also been developing in ways that are appropriate for European issues, cultures and contexts, but the work is not currently well known or well-connected across the continent.
Within Europe, knowledge on how to best teach and apply contemplative practices in educational settings is scattered and underdeveloped. There is a large degree of isolated experimentation and variety, while evidence-based research on its effectiveness is lagging.
Mind & Life Europe launched the Community of Contemplative Education (CCE) in 2018. Its aim is to develop a coherent pan-European platform to bring together experts, research knowledge and best practices in Contemplative Education (CE). It is supporting the development of a strong and coherent community of experts who can exchange knowledge and improve their skills, develop the concept of CE and spread awareness of the value of CE to those in the field of education policy and practice, including political leaders.
The CCE does not develop educational programmes to be in competition with work that is developing naturally. Rather, its purpose is to develop thinking and reflection, and uncover, support and build on existing work on contemplative and mindfulness-based education in Europe, in schools and universities, including a broad range of approaches and traditions.
A small team at MLE developed an online and Skype consultation of 133 education experts throughout Europe to set direction for the CCE.
The findings, responses and reflections were summarized in an extensive landmark report which drew together the input of the community to explore the following issues
- Why we need CE – clarity on its core role in meeting current challenges and crises, in the mental health of young people, in a rapidly changing and polarized society, and in a planet in ecological crisis.
- What CE means in practice – clarifying the concept, terminology/language, core elements, what it contributes to education, how it interfaces with adjacent areas such as social and emotional education, neuroscience, compassion, equity and sustainability, the values it embodies and its relationship to social and environmental change.
- What is happening in CE across Europe – and a sketch of the state of development within countries, identifying current sources of expertise in research and good practice, existing networks, programmes and approaches, and opportunities and barriers to development.
- The role of MLE within this picture, and its potential as an independent forum to help build a community of contemplative education.
The report was presented and discussed at an inaugural meeting in Rotterdam in September 2018 attended by over 45 European experts who, between them, represented 16 European countries. They were drawn from the spectrum of academia, research, policy creation, schools programmes, work in Universities, and from neuroscience and contemplative backgrounds. The meeting endorsed the report as an accurate overview of the field, and the attitudes, terminology, expertise, current programmes, and challenges to be found across Europe.
The Rotterdam meeting adopted a proposed model of CE and committed to several practical steps for realizing the vision for the CCE with three initial areas of focus, areas which have been shown to have long term sustainability.
- holistic approaches (whole school/university, the whole person, joined up thinking)
- teacher education;
- research, enquiry, evaluation.
We established a European community of over 100 core experts in the field in regular communication with MLE and each other.
- They represent 29 European countries, including Israel, and the spectrum of academia, research, programme development, school development and policy creation.
- They include 34 senior academics undertaking research of many kinds, including neuroscience, education and psychology, from 34 European Universities. They include the directors of 9 major school programmes, the heads of 10 independent Institutes of mindfulness, those practically engaged at the grassroots of mindfulness and CE in schools and universities, and supporters and advisors from outside of Europe, including the US.
We developed a CCE website to share resources, contacts, research papers, evidence reviews, bibliographies, publications, news and information on scientific meetings.
We formed three small expert virtual groups to progress specific areas of work. Three groups formed, around 1) Holistic approaches 2) Teacher Education and 3) Research. They include a core of 32 highly active and engaged members from 12 European countries, and 3 from Israel. These groups meet once a month and share their expertise drawn from research and practice and have created online resources to support their work. New collaborations – meetings, research projects are developing from this activity.
In October 2019, a meeting of CCE members at the Contemplative Science Symposium (Munich, Germany) of MLE where over 20 members met and exchanged, and reaffirmed their commitment to the CCE.
2020 (January to April)
- We continued to work with small virtual expert groups around three themes – research, holism and teacher education.
- We started the groundwork for making a major funding bid to the European Union for a COST grant and carried out the initial work of outlining the bid and finding the necessary partnerships across Europe, including in eastern and central Europe.
- We prepared a meeting of the core expert members in June 2020 to review progress and set direction for the following year to enable us actively to engage more members in an expanding, effective and productive network. The meeting had to be postponed due to Covid -19.
- We started on the development of a searchable (interactive) map of existing activity across Europe to help researchers, theoreticians and practitioners find one another.
- We invited members to send in resources that are intended to support families during lockdown, using the CCE website as a ‘resource hub’ to link to this work (click here to explore the resources).
- We invited members to send inspirational videos for the CCE website (click here to watch them).
2020 - Next steps
- To finalise the interactive map of members and their activities.
- To expand the number of virtual groups, their numbers, and the range of themes, while finding ways to support them to become self-sustaining.
- To expand the number of European members actively engaged in this activity and actively in touch with one another.
- To capture more clearly the changes that the CCE has catalyzed so far in terms of new projects, meeting, collaborations.
- To further develop an online platform to support this work.
- We are increasing the functionality of our website to make it searchable by anyone interested in the field, including researchers, practitioners and policy makers.
2021 onwards. Reaching out to relate the CE to the broader (mainstream) community
- Form productive partnerships with (European) national organizations, including to seek joint funding.
- Help the CE community to find ways to integrate into the mainstream, to work in education on related fields such as social and emotional learning, educational leadership legislative and educational policy professionals, and politicians.
- This may involve the creation of materials, training for advocates.
- Hosting a larger (annual) meeting of CE European-wide experts, review of progress and impact.