Philosophy Workshop: “Beyond Mindfulness – Western Meditation Techniques in Theory & Practice”
July 29, 2021 @ 6:00 pm - 8:30 pm MDT
For many people, the word “meditation” is synonymous with “mindfulness”: a technique for quieting the mind, for observing one’s thoughts without judgment, which often carries an exotic flavor, reflecting an “Eastern” origin. Those techniques of mindfulness meditation are powerful tools, which many people have found to be useful. But they’re not the only game in town. Not by a long shot.
Meditation has been part of the Western intellectual and spiritual heritage for thousands of years of recorded history. And the strategies and techniques of meditation have been wildly diverse, as they focus on a variety of different goals. Unlike simple “mindfulness” practices that attempt to still or quiet the thinking mind, most of these styles of meditation are designed to focus, direct, and train the mind: cultivating and strengthening our powers of concentration, understanding, reasoning, will, discernment, and judgment.
(In Asian traditions, too, we find a broad range of meditative techniques for training the mind and developing the powers of human reason and concentration. Those methods are both quite interesting in their own right, and well beyond the scope of this short workshop.)
In this workshop, we’ll explore three techniques of meditation with deep roots in Western spiritual, religious, and philosophical life and practice. We’ll begin with two simple exercises, popular among the ancient Pythagoreans and Stoics, for developing the power of recollection and preparing ourselves for challenging circumstances. Then we’ll turn to a practice known as “discursive meditation,” where a particular sort of focused inner dialogue is used to unlock layers of meaning within a text, an image, or a conceptual system.
For all three of these techniques, we’ll combine practical instruction and hands-on experience, with theoretical reflection on what these techniques can do, and how they differ from common ideas of “mindfulness.” And we’ll make sure to discuss some common dangers and pitfalls of all these methods of meditation, along with basic precautions and safeguards. All of these practices have been used by countless people over thousands of years, with great success. Still, any tool that has the power to be useful or helpful (whether in carpentry, electronics, medicine, spiritual development, etc.) also has the potential to be ineffective or even counterproductive, if used inappropriately. So we’ll discuss both the strengths and the limitations of these methods, and give practical advice for avoiding common problems.
Along the way, we’ll likely touch on a variety of related issues and questions, including the relationship between philosophy, spirituality, and religion; and what it means when we say that philosophy is a “way of life.”
You’ll come away with:
A preliminary understanding of three Western meditation techniques: daily recollection, pre-meditation, and discursive meditation.
About ten pages of handouts, giving detailed guidance for how to practice these techniques at home.
Suggestions for further reading, study, and practice.
What to bring:
Please wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothing. To take part in the exercises, you’ll need to be able to breathe fully and deeply, so please avoid any clothing that is too tight around the waist, stomach, or chest.
Please bring a blanket. For one activity, you’ll be invited to lay flat on the ground for about five minutes; the blanket will help keep off mud and dirt! (An alternative, seated activity will be provided for those with more limited mobility.)
Warnings and safeguards:
The techniques we’ll be exploring are considered to be generally safe, and can be practiced by most people on their own, even without an experienced teacher.
If you suffer from clinical psychiatric disorders or mental illness (especially, but not only, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder), please consult with your health care provider before beginning any type of meditation, including (but not limited to) the techniques taught in this seminar. I do not recommend practicing any form of meditation while suffering from, or receiving treatment for, psychiatric disorders or mental illness. If this applies to you, you are still warmly welcome to attend the workshop for the sake of intellectual conversation and learning the theory, but please wait to begin the practices until you have completed treatment or received the approval of a licensed medical provider who is familiar with your personal circumstances.
When & Where
This evening workshop led by philosopher David Nowakowski will take place outdoors at Caretaker’s Lawn (in Reeder’s Alley) on Thursday, July 29th 2021. No prior background in philosophy or meditation is required to participate.
*If the weather is not conducive to being outdoors, we’ll move indoors into the Reeder’s Alley Conference & Convention Center.*
RSVP: Scroll Down/Register below Cost: Free (Donations Welcome) Other: Water & Iced Tea provided Bring: See ‘What to Bring’ in the workshop description above
David Nowakowski is as a philosopher and educator in the Helena area whose professional work is dedicated to helping people of all ages and backgrounds access, understand, and apply the traditions of ancient philosophy to their own lives. David began studying ancient philosophies and classical languages in 2001, and has continued ever since. A scholar of the philosophical traditions of the ancient Mediterranean (Greece, Rome, and North Africa) and of the Indian subcontinent, reading Sanskrit, Latin, and classical Greek, he earned his Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton University in 2014. His work has appeared in a variety of scholarly journals, including Philosophy East & West, Asian Philosophy, and the Journal of Indian Philosophy; as well as in presentations to academic audiences at Harvard, Columbia University, the University of Toronto, Yale-NUS College in Singapore, and elsewhere.
After half a decade teaching at liberal arts colleges in the northeast, David chose to leave the academy in order to focus his energies on the transformative value of these ancient philosophical and spiritual traditions in his own life and practice, and on building new systems of education and community learning that will make this rich heritage alive and available to others.
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