(15 minute read)
The Contemplative Interbeing (CI) Learning Model is fundamentally based around three dimensions, which broadly encompass the types of knowledge and competencies it seeks to foster in students: (1) Contemplation, (2) Compassion, and (3) Engagement. Furthermore, these three dimensions can be approached in three domains: (1) Personal, (2) Social, and (3) Interbeing. This framework is evidence-based and parallels the model suggested in Goleman and Senge’s The Triple Focus: a focus on self, a focus on others, and a focus on interdependence and systems.
The three dimensions of CI Learning—Contemplation, Compassion, and Engagement—relate intimately to each other and are therefore depicted as overlapping. Each contains a set of specific competencies that can be taught individually but are best understood within the context of the whole.
In order to take constructive action – individually or collectively – first one must become aware of the issue or problem. Second, one must care and develop an emotional investment that generates motivation to act. Finally, one must act skillfully.
It is the trifecta of contemplation, compassion, and skillful engagement that can yield the most beneficial results for self and others.
This parallels the idea of “head” and “heart” and “hand.” CI learning breaks things down to these dimensions to help students grasp each individually and then collectively. This page briefly outline the three domains and three dimensions.
THE THREE DIMENSIONS
The CI learning framework is grounded in the principle of compassion, which lies at the center of the three dimensions of CI learning. Compassion refers to cultivating a way of relating to oneself, others, and humanity as a whole through kindness, empathy, and a concern for both happiness and suffering. Since the values in CI learning are not based on injunctions but rather on personal insight and understanding, the cultivation of compassion and kindness cannot happen by merely instructing students to behave in a compassionate way. Critical thinking is crucial to the dimension of compassion. This is not just any kind of critical thinking, but a specific type that seeks to understand the individual needs, wants, and values of oneself and others. This includes the ability to discern what will bring about one’s own and others’ long-term well-being. When this mindset is extended beyond oneself, it includes recognizing and discerning the needs of others and ultimately coming to recognize common humanity on a larger scale.
In many ways, the other two dimensions serve as supports for the dimension of compassion: awareness of our own mental states and the mental life of others—especially their experiences of happiness and suffering—is essential for cultivating self-compassion and compassion for others. Awareness of interdependence and the broader systems within which we and others exist is essential for effective engagement as global citizens oriented by compassion. Similarly, the actual practices of engagement and the skills required for compassion—whether oriented in the form of self-care, toward others around us, or toward wider communities—must be learned and in turn become both expressions of, and supports for, compassion and care.
Contemplation refers to cultivating a nuanced, first-person understanding of thoughts, feelings, and emotions. It pertains to the ability to perceive inner and outer phenomena in an increasingly sophisticated way, including one’s own inner life, the presence and needs of others, and interdependence as a feature of one’s own life and of the systems within which one exists. Cultivating this type of awareness requires practice and the refinement of attention, and CI learning approaches attention as a skill that can be cultivated just like any other. By learning to attend to one’s own inner states, to the presence of others, and to wider systems, one is able to develop what Goleman calls “inner, other, and outer focus.”
One may have awareness of a need or opportunity, and also a sense of care and concern, yet still lack the ability to take action skillfully and engage effectively. This is why engagement is the third dimension of CI learning. Engagement refers to the methods by which one puts into practice what one has gained from the awareness and compassion dimensions. This dimension refers to learning the behaviors and habituating the attitudes, dispositions, and skills that are conducive to personal, social, and communal well-being. This includes practices of self-regulation in the personal domain; social skills and the ability to relate to others in the social domain; and in the systems domain, engagement as a global citizen who is aware of larger systems and acts conscientiously and compassionately within them.
THE THREE DOMAINS
By accepting compassion as the foundation on which CI learning education is built, the stage is set to help students become more mindful of physical and verbal actions, and to abandon actions that are harmful to themselves and others. This leads to the first domain of CI learning, the Personal, which is focused on care of the self. The second domain, the Social, expands this focus to encourage students to develop an awareness of others that includes empathy and compassion, as well as the development of effective interpersonal skills for relating to others. Lastly, the Systems domain is oriented toward helping students develop the types of awareness, values, and skills that pertain to broader communities and the world at large so that they can become responsible decision-makers and effective global citizens.
CI learning is intended to help students at an individual level, in their interactions with each other and with their families, and as global citizens who make responsible decisions that benefit themselves and others. Although all three of these domains can be approached independently and in any order, to a great extent the Social and Interbeing domains find their support in the domain of the Personal. If students are to learn to care for others and engage in sophisticated ethical decision making, they must also learn to take care of themselves. If they are to learn to attend to the needs of others and of wider communities—even the entire world—they must learn to attend to their own needs and inner life. In the context of CI learning, this means developing “emotional literacy” and the skills that support it, such as attention. Emotional literacy has many aspects. It consists of the ability to recognize and identify emotions, to connect emotions to a larger context including one’s own needs, to develop discernment with regard to the effects of emotions, and to navigate emotions successfully. Ultimately, emotional literacy allows students to refrain from reactive and impulsive behavior that could harm oneself and others, while having the calmness of mind necessary to make sound decisions that are in one’s own best long-term interests. As such, it is a crucial skill for the student’s ability to flourish.
Emotional literacy and the ability to self-regulate are skills of unquestionable benefit for students during their studies and throughout their lives. But because human beings are social by nature, the ability to relate well with others is of equal importance. Although in the past we may have thought of this ability as inborn and immutable, scientific research suggests that prosocial traits can be cultivated through learning, reflection, and intentional practice. The results of such cultivation include measurable changes in the brain, body, and behavior, with associated benefits for physical, mental, and social well-being. Based on the mounting evidence, an education that is meant to help children thrive should offer students not only the skills of self-regulation, but should also include essential skills to promote social flourishing. In this context, the word “Social” refers to immediate interpersonal interactions.
We do not, however, solely interact with each other one-on-one. In our increasingly complex world, compassion alone is not enough to reach the ultimate goal of effective ethical engagement in the world; it must be complemented with responsible decision-making based on an understanding of the wider systems within which we live. Without knowing how to engage a situation from multiple perspectives or evaluate a course of action and its likely consequences over time, even actions motivated by kindness can result in negative, unintended outcomes. The world in which students are growing up is increasingly complex, global, and interdependent. The challenges that face current and future generations are expansive and far-reaching in nature, and solutions will require a new way of thinking and problem-solving that is collaborative, interdisciplinary, and systems-oriented.
Students will gain greater first-person attentiveness and awareness of their own thoughts and feelings; greater awareness of others and their mental lives; and greater awareness of interdependence as it relates to their own lives and to broader systems within which they live.
Students will cultivate skills of emotional hygiene and self-care; empathy and courageous compassion for others; and an abiding recognition of common humanity that values all people everywhere.
Students will develop increasingly sophisticated self-regulation skills and the ability to discern behavior that is beneficial to self and others from that which is not; the ability to relate productively and caringly to others; and the ability to engage effectively and confidently on a larger community and global level for broad social benefit.