Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Teaching Mindfully

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Teaching Mindfully

Article excerpt

The Spirituality of Teaching This past semester, a colleague who teaches Islamic Studies at California State University, Northridge was talking to his students about Sufism, and one put up his hand to complain that he could not understand why, as "less than one percent of Muslims are Sufis, and anyway, Sufis are not Muslim" (both points, by the way, are false). When the professor tried to discuss this, the student remained unmoved. Earlier that week, one of his Canadian colleagues received his first hate e-mail. A student in an intro class created a free Yahoo e-mail address to criticize the course, the approach, and the professor anonymously. Though he wanted to write, "I stayed up 'til three in the morning every day this week preparing lectures for this class, rather than go to bed with my wife and go for a walk with my son," he responded instead: "I appreciate the feedback. You know, a class this size cannot unfortunately please everyone, and I'm sorry it isn't suiting you...." The next e-mail was more humane and confirmed the professor's hunch that the attack was religiously motivated. That note made him appreciate that the student was lashing out against him in hurt, fear, and ignorance.

Unfortunately, many of our students, rather than being broadened, enriched and supported spiritually, are, as this professor observes, "left as invalids by their religious traditions." As instructors we become targets for some of their pain and fear. At minimum, we are often on the receiving end of the ignorance of immature people who are so self-focused that they either cannot imagine or do not care what it feels like to be treated this way.

Many of us straggle to be more understanding and tolerant, frustrated with both students and ourselves when we fail. However, teaching can be approached as a growth process, an opportunity to practice a spiritual philosophy in which every encounter is one in which we are, in the words of Buddhist monk Thich Naht Hahn, "mindful" (our whole selves fully present in the moment) and compassionate, regardless of the way we are being treated. …

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