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Knowing Through Discomfort: A Mindfulness-based Critical Social Work Pedagogy


Yuk-Lin Renita Wong, Ph.D

Assistant Professor
School of Social Work
York University
Toronto, Canada



Critical social work education has largely focused on engaging students in the conceptual and cognitive processes of learning and reflection. Other forms of knowing and transformation through the body, emotions, and spirit have been submerged under the “discursive rationality” paradigm. Proposing an integrated mind-body-spirit pedagogy in critical social work education, this paper introduces the practice of mindfulness and discusses its transformative potential for critical social work education. In particular, the author discusses how the practice of mindfulness was integrated in a course on identity and diversity in critical social work practice to facilitate students to learn through their feeling of discomfort.


Out beyond wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase ‘each other’
Doesn’t make any sense.

– Rumi –

Critical social work practice, from its classical Marxist tradition to its recent postmodern orientation, has predominantly privileged conceptual knowing. Critical social work education, therefore, has largely focused on engaging students in the conceptual and cognitive processes of learning and reflection. Other forms of knowing and transformation through the body, emotions, and spirit have been submerged under the “discursive rationality” paradigm that privileges the mind in categorizing and normalizing the world, an epistemic bias of the Enlightenment in European history.

This paper discusses the problems which will emerge for critical social work education if it continues to neglect bodily, emotive and spiritual knowing. It proposes an integrated mind-body-emotion-spirit engagement in critical social work education. More specifically, the transformative potential of the pedagogy of mindfulness for critical social work education will be discussed.

Restoring “Listening” in Critical Social Work

Core to the mission of critical social work is the pursuit of social justice. Critical theories, including Marxist, feminist, anti-racist and anti-oppressive theories, and structural analysis have been the cornerstone of critical social work. The analysis of power, privilege, inequity, discrimination and domination along identities of race, gender, class, sexual orientations, religion, age, and dis/ability underlies its practice. Students are taught the concepts and histories of domination and oppression, the skills of structural analysis, and the attitude of critical reflectivity on their social locations in terms of power (Fooks, 1999; Garcia & Melendez, 1997; Mullaly, 2002; Razack, 1999; Rossiter, 1995). Postmodern and post-structural theories provide further insights into the construction of multiple subjectivities and truths through language. The classroom becomes a pedagogical site of engagement with students in creating an equitable communicative space for dialogues and respectful negotiations among multiple subjectivities and truths (Healy & Leonard, 2002; Leonard, 1994; Nagda et al., 1999; Rossiter, 1996).

Indeed, in a time when diversity of worldviews has increasingly gained legitimacy, how we facilitate meaningful dialogues between people located in both intersecting and conflicting discursive frames becomes more important for the co-construction of a just society for all. Paulo Freire’s popular education method, experiential and participatory learning model, border pedagogy, critical classroom events, contracting, and coalition building through group project, to name a few examples, are suggested as some pedagogical methods to facilitate dialogues and understanding across differences in the classroom (Coates & McKay, 1995; Garcia & Melendez, 1997; Garcia & Soest, 1999; Giroux, 1997; Kanpol, 1995; Leonard, 1994; Razack, 1999). Underlying most of these methods is the belief that reflection in the mind will lead to action for change.

The preponderance of multiple voices and discourses in critical social work, however, may have drawn our attention away from “the other side of language” (Fiumara, 1990), that is, the significance of listening in any meaningful dialogue. “To have something to say is to be a person,” Carol Gilligan (1993) writes in her early influential feminist work, “But speaking depends on listening and being heard; it is an intensely relational act” (p. xvi). How can we possibly listen to and understand each other if we are all preoccupied with speaking?

In a review of the Western tradition of analytic philosophy and hermeneutics, Gemma Fiumara (1990) uses the work of Heidegger, Wittgenstein, Gadamer, and Ricoeur to restore the “listening rationality” inherent in the semantic of the Greek term “ logo ," which is said to be “pivotal” in western thought. “[T]here could be no saying without hearing, no speaking which is not also an integral part of listening, no speech which is not somehow received” (p.1). Nevertheless, this integrated concept of language or logo , with its semantic roots encompassing both listening and speaking, was gradually “reduced-by-half” in the course of Western history to primarily represent “vocalisation,” and “sound and voice,” which comes to shape all the rational pursuits.

According to Fiumara, in a culture where language is associated only with vocalization and speech, we fall within a “discursive rationality” which makes the world amenable to linguistic and discursive ordering, molding, and systematisation. Any speech act is “potentially normative,” Fiumara argues, as “the speech act selects an aspect of reality simply by speaking about it, and whatever is said is then transformed into the statutory basis of a discourse” which “can ultimately result in constraint and epistemic control” (p.24, emphasis in original). In a culture of “discursive rationality,” the dominant form of knowledge is one that objectifies, organises, conceptualises, normalizes, and dictates. To “know” the world, we categorize what we see and experience in the world – things, people – into concepts and ideas. Instead of being open to the rich moment-to-moment experiences in our encounters with people and things, we “know” and relate to them primarily through our presumed concepts about them. Such orientation produces a sense of cognitive order and control in our relations to the world. A well-known example is the European empires’ extensive categorizing and detailed mapping of the geography, fauna, flora, habitat, and people of their colonies in their effort to rule and control them (Anderson, 1995).

“Listening rationality,” on the other hand, functions in the context of “silence.” It quiets our mind, takes away our (illusory) sense of security and control, and opens us to the untidiness, contradictions, and richness of being which cannot be bound by conceptual ordering. It invites us to the openness of not knowing and the “risk” of growth. Silence can be “a very fertile way of relating,” Fiumara suggests, as it “might indicate a healthy desire to set aside certain automatic defenses that are only intended to fill emotional vacuums” and “a desire to abandon automatic verbal sequences that fill our games [of social interactions]” (p.103). “The highest function of silence,” therefore, “is revealed in the creation of a co-existential space which permits dialogue to come along” (p.99). Listening in the context of silence involves “the renunciation of a predominantly molding and ordering activity” (p.123) and represents “the readiness to tear away ideologizing modes of reflection which define and constrict the ways of coexistence” (p.165). It can be “a support to the hermeneutic effort whereby we seek to establish a relationship between our world and a different ‘world,’ between our own attitude and a different attitude” (p.168).

Listening is also “the attitude which can unblock the creative resources immobilized by the rigidity of traditional ‘logical’ education” (p.165). It requires considerable “dialogic patience” to give space to the “inexpressible,” so that “the inner experience which is less suited to being ‘spoken’ can be expressed in some way” (p.98). In “listening rationality,” the person who knows is someone who transforms him/herself in order to know, rather than objectifies the world in order to recognize her/himself in his/her cognitive conceptual immobility (p.125).

To reach the “highest function of listening silence” for coexistence to be possible, therefore, it is important that we are not confined by the conceptual mind and dominant discourses which categorize, normalize, and exclude. bell hooks (1994) proposes education as “the practice of freedom.” I suggest that is also what critical social work education is about: the practice of freedom from the predominant order of things, that is, “to transgress” the mode of “discursive rationality” which privileges the mind and has been governing our production of knowledge and our relations to the world. Like bell hooks, I consider the reunion of mind, body, spirit in our critical social work education an important transgression. It is an attempt to disrupt dominant forms of knowledge premised on the body-mind split, including critical knowledges (Ng, 1998). A few critical social work authors also recognize the limit of the conceptual mind and the significance of bodily and emotive knowledge for critical social work (Piele, 1998; Tangenberg & Kemp, 2002). According to Tangenberg & Kemp (2002), the commitment of social work to social justice demands our recognition that understanding of diversity and social equity must include the experience of difference in its most fundamental form. This inevitably requires attention to the body and bodily knowing, because difference and hence both privilege and marginality are fundamentally inscribed and experienced through the body. Colin Piele (1998) argues that missing in critical theories of change is the importance of bodily and emotive knowledge in governing our actions. Roxana Ng (1998) contends that “the contradiction between what we think and how we act goes beyond a simple theory-practice split” (p.3). It has to do with the fundamental way in which knowledge is organized. Our inability to translate what we know about social and environmental problems into appropriate actions, Heesoon Bai (2001) suggests, is related to the disembodiment of knowledge which replaces our multiple and fluid experiences of the world with restrictive concepts. Both Bai and Ng propose that a re-embodied pedagogy – that is, the reunion of our mind with our body, emotions, and spirit in teaching and learning – is essential to the integration of what one learns and knows with how one acts.

My journey to a mindfulness-based pedagogy for critical social work began with my experience of the limit of traditional critical pedagogical methods which primarily rely on the discursive-conceptual mind in facilitating students’ critical reflections. As well, I find problems with the dualistic framing of oppression and anti-oppression in critical social work because it imposes an erroneous conceptual division between oppression and anti-oppression which is usually simplistically associated with the moral categories of bad and good. Such dichotomous conceptual frame allows those who self-identify as anti-oppressive (and hence morally “good”) to find comfort in their sense of innocence and to avoid examining their implication in domination and oppression.

In the following pages, I will discuss my first experience of teaching a course on identity and diversity in which I was confronted with the problems I mentioned above. I will then introduce the practice of mindfulness, which I later integrated into the course to support students to befriend their discomfort and internal resistance and look into their participation in systems of oppression, as well as to foster their commitment to social justice.

The Risk of Knowing

Teaching critical and anti-oppressive social work can be a “risky” endeavour. For the most part, neither the teacher nor the students feel safe in the classroom. The teacher, however, is expected to take the full responsibility for creating a safe space for everyone. The image of this safe space provided by the teacher ignores the multiple relations of power operating in the classroom. In a critical reflection on her teaching experience as a minority faculty, Ng (1998) identifies three power axes in the classroom: that between the classroom and the larger academic institution; that between the teacher and the students; and that among the students. Hence, despite the formal authority of the teacher, a minority woman faculty may be challenged more than her white male colleagues because of her minority status in both the academic institution and the larger society. More importantly, anti-oppressive work is inevitably unsafe and uncomfortable because it challenges existing modes of thinking and working (Ng, 1993). What needs to be cultivated in teaching critical and anti-oppressive social work, therefore, is not so much a sense of safety, but more an openness to the feeling of discomfort. The teacher’s role is not to promise and guarantee a safe space, but to support and provide a means for students to embrace and learn from their discomfort.

In the winter of 2000, I taught for the first time a course on Identity and Diversity, a core course in my social work program committed to social justice. In this course, students learned to examine how identities and cultures are both socially constructed and personally negotiated in the historical and systemic context of race, gender, class, sexual orientation, age, dis/ability and power relations. Students were encouraged to deconstruct the duality thinking of “us” versus “them,” “self” versus “other,” and to see how we are all implicated and interconnected in each other’s histories of domination and oppression. “Their” history is thus also “our” history, and vice versa. Underlying the design of this course is the belief that understanding the systemic contexts of identities and culture and critically examining one’s own social locations in the web of these power relations is of paramount significance for social workers to engage meaningfully with people of different and multiple identifications.

Like some critical social work educators, I consider students’ critical reflectivity on their social locations in the web of systemic power relations crucial. Students in this course were asked to keep a journal reflecting on their identities and social locations in light of the course readings and class discussions of the week. To provide students with a (relatively “safe”) space to engage in their reflective process, the journals were not graded. Students received marks as long as they handed in the journals. Students were also asked to build learning communities through working together in group projects to learn with and from each other about a particular identity and diversity issue which they were unfamiliar with. In the last three classes of the course, students presented in group to other class members the historical, political, social, economic, and global contexts of the identity and diversity issue they chose to learn about. Each group member also conducted an interview with one individual who self-identified him/herself with the selected identity issue. For their individual final paper, students were asked to reflect on how working on the group project had changed their views on their selected identity issue and how their analysis of the issue was shaped by their own social locations.

The course is inevitably contentious and uncomfortable for many students who are brought to confront their privileges and experiences of oppression. Most of us, especially social workers, are invested in a sense of innocence (Jeffery, 2002; Rossiter, 2001) and sometimes victimhood, as well as the noble vision of social work to help and to do good. We are led to think in the dualistic conceptual frame of oppression versus anti-oppression, and bad versus good. When we are challenged to recognise our participation in systemic domination and oppression despite our best intention, it is not surprising that this state of cognitive dissonance may result in some students’ denial, resistance and even hostility towards the teacher. Minority teachers, as discussed earlier, are more likely to be undermined in the classroom (Ng, 1993).

In this course, a minority student wrote in one of her reflective journals about her observation of the classroom power dynamics as well as conversations among students after class. She felt indignant at some white as well as a couple of minority students’ blatant discrimination against and intolerance of a minority teacher. She questioned how students could learn and grow to become a critical social worker if they were prejudiced against someone – the teacher – who “looks different.” Two white students respectively expressed in their journals their discomfort with the course and criticized it as “white-bashing,” despite the emphasis in most of the course readings and class discussions on multiple and interlocking systems of oppression of race, gender, class, and sexual orientations. After reading one of the course readings on the appropriation of Native culture in the white dominant Canadian society, a white student defended fiercely and repeatedly in her journals one of her family member’s Native art business as supporting Native artists. A second-generation Chinese-Canadian student could only see Chinese women as submissive and oppressed by “traditional” Chinese culture in both her journals and final paper. At the end of the course, a group of white students who were unhappy about their grade – ranging between “B” and “B+” – organized to meet with the School Director, challenging my authority in grading as well as discrediting the course content and my teaching.

My first experience of teaching this course was unpleasant and anxiety provoking, to say the least. I felt powerless in dissolving the tensions that emerged from the course. I questioned why my experiential-participatory critical pedagogy did not seem to facilitate students’ reflections on their social locations. Rather, it invited some students to ride on the dominant racial and gender relations to discredit me as a minority teacher, and to evade from facing the challenges the course had brought them.

Taking the insight from my own spiritual practice of mindfulness, I tried, not without struggles, to stay in touch with my feelings of discomfort and vulnerability and recognised how I also wanted to run away. I began to see that for me to continue teaching anti-oppressive and critical social work while keeping myself hopeful and healthy, I must learn and support my students to learn how to engage and work with my/their discomfort. The key lies in “relaxing into” (Chödrön, 1997) and befriending discomfort (Thich Nhat Hanh, 2000) as an opportunity for openness, learning, and growth. In the following pages, I will introduce the practice of mindfulness and then discuss how I later developed a mindfulness-based pedagogy for the course.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the core teaching of Guatama Buddha. Thich Nhat Hanh (1996), a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk in exile, a peace activist who was nominated by Martin Luther King Jr. for the Nobel Peace Prize, tells a story which best illustrates the meaning of mindfulness. Once Guatama Buddha was asked, “What do you and your students practice?” He replied, “We sit, we walk, and we eat.” The questioner continued, ‘But everyone sits, walks, and eats.” The Buddha then said, “When we sit, we know we are sitting. When we walk, we know we are walking. When we eat, we know we are eating.”

While originating in the teachings of Guatama Buddha, mindfulness has little to do with religion. In recent years, many practitioners in the health and mental health field have adopted the practice of mindfulness in working with clients with chronic pain, stress, depression, and other psychological distress (Deatherage, 1996; Kabat-Zinn, 1990; Linehan, 1995; Segal, Williams & Teasdale, 2002). Mindfulness is about being here, fully present with all our activities and thoughts, with body and mind united, and not in a state of dispersion (Chödrön, 1997; Thich Nhat Hanh, 2000). It means paying attention in a particular way: in the present moment and non-judgementally . This kind of attention nurtures awareness, clarity, and openness to present-moment experience. When we are fully present in the here-and-now, we begin to see how we are often caught in our past, or carried away by our thoughts about the future. We are awakened to the fullness of our moment-to-moment experience, and brought to question our presumed view of the world and our concept of who we are. When we commit ourselves to paying attention in an open way, without being trapped in our likes and dislikes, good and bad, opinions and prejudices, projections and expectations, we have a chance to free ourselves from the constraints of the conceptual mind and predominant discourses. We see new possibilities. Our relation to each other and to the world also opens up. Mindfulness, therefore, is a practice which helps us arrive at the place of listening silence. All in all, it is a practice, not an abstract concept or ideology, of being fully in touch with life.

Going hand in hand with mindfulness is insight: looking deeply into cause and effect and the interconnectedness of all things. For insights to arise, the practice of “resting” and “stopping” is crucial (Thich Nhat Hanh, 2000): stopping our auto piloting, reacting, and ongoing running. In other words, mindfulness facilitates us to quiet our mind from predominant discourses which keep us busy with categorizing and discriminating – our “discursive rationality.” Instead, we stay fully present with what is unfolding in the moment. Mindfulness, therefore, is the cultivation of listening silence opening us to dialogic communication and relations.

Mindfulness of Discomfort:
Leaving the Comfort Zone for Personal Growth and Social Transformation

Having experienced the quality of openness in mindfulness practice, I decided to develop a mindfulness-based pedagogy when I taught the same course for the second time in the summer of 2000. In the first class, I prepared the students for the discomfort the course might bring up for them. I told the students that this course would probably be very uncomfortable for many of them because it would unsettle many of their old beliefs and conceptions about themselves and the world. Integrating the practice of mindfulness, I asked the students to stay in touch with and embrace their feeling of discomfort, not to judge it wrong and push it away. To encourage the students to relax into and befriend their discomfort, I invited them to take their feeling of discomfort as a teacher and a friend – as a precious opportunity for learning and growth – by greeting their discomfort with a gentle smile and a friendly hello. I encouraged students to “stop” and “rest” when they felt uncomfortable, to listen to what their feeling of discomfort may tell them, instead of busying themselves with reacting, defending or hiding: “What is my feeling of discomfort trying to tell me, about myself, about my social locations in the society?” I also suggested the students to see the place of discomfort as a place where change begins. Only when we feel uncomfortable would we begin to feel the need for change. Social work is fundamentally about change and the possibility of change, individually and collectively. Throughout the course, I introduced simple breathing exercises to facilitate students to pause and go back to their body after some intense class discussions or disturbing videos about systemic oppressions, to allow room for their feelings and for insights to unfold in the moment of “listening silence.” Asking student s to stay fully in touch with their thoughts and feelings as they arise in a gentle and non-judgmental way, and to look deeply into what the feelings reveal to them is in fact mindfulness practice. Mindfulness, as Pema Chödrön (1996) puts it succinctly, is about “diving into your real issues and fearlessly befriending the difficult and blocked areas and deep-seated habitual patterns that keep us stuck in ignorance and confusion” (p.301).

In this course, a number of students expressed in their reflective journals how they engaged with their discomfort and noticed their emotional and mental reactivity to the course materials, lectures, and discussions. A student talked about her growing awareness of how she had always tried to run away from her discomfort, rather than facing the challenge of looking into what made her reacted in certain ways. Another student recounted her “uncomfortable” feeling and even “resentment” at “having to rethink her notions” after watching a video which intensely deconstructed the stereotypes of Muslim women in North America. Learning to befriend and engage with her feelings, this student was gradually able to appreciate the experience as “an excellent learning opportunity.” Another student took her uncomfortable feeling as “a good thing” when she was confronted with the relations of oppression between the aboriginal people and the dominant (white) Canadians. One student began to recognise how her failing to critically examine the policies and institutions of the society had allowed her “to find comfort in ignorance.” For this student, the teachings in the course “have removed the security of ignorance and have illustrated that ignorance is not bliss.” Another student recognised how her saying to herself that she had no culture when she felt uncomfortable with class discussions and activities related to culture and race was “just an easy way to escape feeling uneasy with racism.” Instead of pushing away her feeling of discomfort, she took it up as “a good place to be in” and opened herself to the questions about her social locations. Her discomfort thus became a “learning opportunity” for her to move out of her “protective cocoon” towards “taking personal responsibility” for her growth as a person and a social worker by inviting her to examine the power and privilege which she “pretend[ed]” she did not have.

In the following year when I taught this course again using the pedagogy of mindfulness, many students similarly identified the moment of discomfort as one of their most important moments in the course which brought about new realisation and change in them. A student commented on how the class not only challenged her “on an intellectual level,” but also “on a profound introspective level that often arouses feelings of discomfort.” Taking the suggestion of “go[ing] with the feeling” despite having “a hard time” doing so, this student was not only able to recognize her privilege, but also realise how she wanted to “deny” that she “contributed to maintaining that privilege through subscribing to the process of making assumptions and generalisations.” Being in touch with her feeling, therefore, this student was able to gain insights into how she participated in perpetuated oppression when she let her mind prevail in making assumptions and generalisations.

Through mindfulness of their feeling of discomfort, these students become conscious of their habitual mental reactivity to issues of domination and oppression. The practice of stopping and non-judging in mindfulness creates room for these students to observe their thoughts and feelings as they arise. In the process, they become aware of how their mind are constantly categorizing and labelling everything they experience, reacting to the experience in terms of what they like and dislike, or judging people and themselves as good or bad.

If we all care to stop and observe the rise and fall of our thoughts and feelings, we will notice how our mind, like the students’, is also dominated by the habit of categorizing and judging which often leads us to mechanical reactions. The practice of mindfulness, however, enables us to be a witness to our judging mind. The stance of a witness makes it more possible for us to break away from our habitual mental activities of labelling and judging, as well as the normative dualistic ordering of good and bad, right and wrong. Mindfulness, therefore, is a practice which helps us cultivate “listening silence” – a space where the automatic mental activities of molding, ordering and ideologizing is set aside to make room for our hermeneutic effort to engage in genuine dialogues (Fiumara 1990).

Being fully present with the here-and-now through the practice of mindfulness, we discover the richness and untidiness of the present-moment experience, and notice the limit of the concepts, categories and ideologies we have lived by. When we are not stuck in our categorizing and judging mind, we are more likely to see clearly the flow of our thoughts and emotions: where they came from and where they go. We begin to recognize how our self-identifications are related to the dominant discourses and systemic relations that determine what is good and bad, what is desirable and undesirable in the world we live in. Attending to the source of our thoughts and emotions, we are also brought to touch our deep-seated vulnerability – shame, guilt, fear, despair, and wound – in being part of and caught by these systemic relations. Touching our vulnerability with a gentle and non-judging attention of mindfulness is an important embracing and caring act for ourselves, others, and the world. It helps release us from the grip of our vulnerabilities and supports us to confront our implication in the interlocking systems of power relations, without judging ourselves or others as inherently bad or unworthy, or denying our responsibility in the world.

Mindfulness practice thus enables students to build a new relationship with their discomfort – a feeling they would usually push away – and possibly with others whom they find different and feel uncomfortable with. Being mindful of their mental and emotional reactivity, students learn to realize, not just conceptually, but also emotionally, bodily and spiritually, how their existence and experiences are structured by their location in the larger web of life and relations. Discomfort, therefore, becomes a transformative resource enhancing students’ learning and growth, personally and professionally. How students would carry their classroom mindfulness experience into their field practice and actions for systemic change would be a meaningful topic for further study.

Implications for Critical Social Work Education

How we know and what is privileged as legitimate knowing constitute our knowledge about and relation to the world. For critical social work education to challenge the status quo and unsettle the dominant power relations, therefore, it is critical that we problematize and inquire into the very fundamental way of how we know. The commitment of critical social work to social justice demands us to recognize the experience of difference and diversity in its most fundamental form – the many different ways we know, through our mind-intellect as well as through our bodily, emotive and spiritual experiences. It must be made clear, however, that what is proposed in this paper is not about renouncing the conceptualizing mind and privileging other forms of knowing, but more about a reunion of the mind with the body, emotion, and spirit of our being, knowing, and doing.

Acknowledging different ways of knowing means that we provide room for students to explore, discover and nurture their unique creative capacity and resources for learning. Creative classroom pedagogies such as mindfulness exercises and popular theatre that engage students in their bodily, emotive, cognitive, and spiritual knowing and reflection can become significant sites of transgression and decolonization (Smith, 1999). In an advanced course specifically on critical perspectives in social work, I encourage students to “go outside the box,” to honour marginalized knowledges, and to bring together their mind, body, emotion, and spirit in presenting and expressing what they have learned and what they aspire to in their assignments. Openness to alternative knowledges is an important attitude for students to cultivate as critical social work practitioners working with people of diverse backgrounds. Over the years, I have had increasing number of students who responded with enthusiasm and excitement in exploring different forms of learning and in expanding their repertoire of knowing. Alongside their analytical writing and presentation, many students also produced video, tapestry, painting, sculpture, mosaic, play script, and poetry for their assignments.

A mindfulness-based critical social work pedagogy also means that we honour listening silence as much as vocalization in our teaching. Fostering students’ capacity to listen to others and themselves is therefore as important as encouraging them to speak. Engaging students in breathing and listening exercises as well as in mindfully observing their internal activities and chatters can facilitate students’ awareness of the richness of silence and the fluidity of themselves and of others.

A mindfulness-based pedagogy also requires us as teacher to practise what we teach. Only if we actively practise daily mindfulness can we see the limit of “discursive rationality” and understand the struggles students wrestle with, and be effective in cultivating a meaningful dialogic communicative space for the co-creation of a just world for all.


To learn that things and life are more complex than we think is more difficult than staying in the comfort and security of the idea that there is a good or bad, a right or wrong, anti-oppression and oppression, and that we simply need to decide which side we are on. To create a dialogic communicative space, however, it is crucial that we are not preoccupied with categorizing people into good or bad, right or wrong – “us” or “them” – but rather we learn to appreciate the fluidity of being and engage with each other in the openness of “listening silence.” Concepts, categories and theories formulated in our discursive-analytical mind may be useful tools and conceptual maps to help us understand our experience and the world around us. But it is important to remember that they are not the experience itself, nor can they fully represent the experience or the world we live in. We must, therefore, not be dictated to by the predominantly ordering and discriminating activities of our mind, but be mindfully open to our bodily, emotive and spiritual knowing in our relation to each other and the world.


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Renita Wong, Ph.D can be contacted via e-mail at:


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