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A conversation between Xavier's very own Robin Vander and Ron Bechet hosted by CAT+FD's Bart Everson and Elizabeth Yost Hammer, on the contemplative breakthrough, Imagining Grace.

Robin Vander

Robin G. Vander is Associate Professor of English and African American and Diaspora Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana. She earned her doctorate in Comparative Literature from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) where her training developed at the intersections of literary studies, Performance Studies, ethnography, and Diaspora Studies.

She is co-founder of Xavier University's Performance Studies Laboratory, contributing editor to the Xavier Review, and has served as guest editor for a special issue of The Review of Black Political Economy examining recovery and development in post-Katrina New Orleans.

The Imagining Grace project sits at the intersection of Dr. Vander’s interests: the use of literature as the beginnings to how we might learn to navigate immense challenges, vulnerabilities, and uncertainties, imagine our individual and communal possibilities, and embody grace and gratitude through the processes.

Ron Bechet was born in New Orleans and lives in the Gentilly neighborhood. He began his college career with an athletic scholarship at Mississippi State University but returned to study art at the University of New Orleans where he earned a B.A. degree. He went on to earn an MFA degree in Painting from Yale University School of Art. He is also the Victor H. Labat Professor of Art at Xavier University of Louisiana where he has been teaching for more than twenty years. He is known for intimate large-scale drawings and paintings. This work is inspired by his experiences and observations of the consequences of forces of nature and time, on the place and the human experience.

Elizabeth Yost Hammer (headshot)
Elizabeth Yost Hammer

Elizabeth Yost Hammer is the Director of the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Faculty Development and a Kellogg Professor in Teaching in the Psychology Department. She received her Ph.D. in experimental social psychology from Tulane University.

Bart Everson is a media artist and creative generalist at Xavier University's Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Faculty Development. His recent work draws on integrative learning, activism, critical perspectives on technology, and Earth-based spiritual paths.

Imagining Grace is a performance-oriented installation of wellness and contemplation inspired by the work of St. Katharine Drexel and the words of Toni Morrison in recognition of Women’s History Month, presented by Xavier's Women’s Studies Program, Performance Studies Laboratory (PSL), and Department of Art & Performance Studies.

Photo courtesy Robin Vander. All rights reserved.

We've heard a lot about "breakthroughs" over the last year, in contexts that are often alarming. That's why it's so refreshing to get news of a different and thoroughly beneficial kind of breakthrough on our campus.

I'm talking about Imagining Grace, of course. You've heard of it by now, I'm sure.

To call it an art installation might miss the point. It is artful, to be sure, but moreover it's an invitation to participate, to immerse oneself, to chill, to simply be. I call it a breakthrough.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, stop by the Administration Building Art Gallery at your next opportunity and experience it for yourself. Moreover, I urge you to allow yourself a little time for that experience.

Dr. Robin Vander says the space is there for everyone "to make it what they need." So you can sit in silence, you can meet a colleague, you can meet a student, and so forth. There's no right or wrong way, but here are a few pro tips.

  • Candle remotes are tucked under the rear of the basket in the center room; change the candle colors to fit any mood.
  • Read the weekly prompt in that room and see if you want or need to respond to it; if you do, place the card in the other basket in the meditation space.
  • Each Tuesday, there's an African Dance class in the space at 5pm, led by Kai Knight, Founder and Creative Director of Seasons Center. Space is limited, so please register by emailing Dr. Vander.

Please make sure you spread the word. Many students have been discovering the space on their own, but Dr. Vander says the biggest thing she's confronting is "trying to let staff know that the space is there for them as well."

CAT+FD has been advocating for contemplative practices on our campus for over a decade now, and we are proud to support this initiative in our own small way. We're moving our long-running weekly Quarter of Quiet meditation to the space for the duration. Join us there at 12:30pm on Mondays for a silent meditation, about 15 minutes — a great way to start your week.

Photo courtesy Robin Vander. All rights reserved.

See also: Imagining Grace press release [PDF]

The following event is sponsored by our friends at the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society. We are sharing here because we think this timely topic may be of great interest to Xavier faculty and staff. For more information, and to register, please visit the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society

A virtual retreat with Ruth King and Kamilah Majied
Broadcast live via Zoom on Sunday, June 7th
3:00 – 5:00 pm EDT

We are painfully living through what the emerging data confirm: that Black people are dying at disproportionate rates and experiencing more negative economic, legal, health and safety consequences due to COVID-19 and the ensuing Shelter in Place mandates. This is having a profound impact on our communities and on each of us personally and professionally. We also know that the causes and effects of these difficult times are deeply rooted in generations of injustice and neglect. Yet, our well-being depends on our response as leaders. It is time that we gather as Black practitioners, educators, artists, activists, and leaders and share the wisdom of our beautiful collective community.

We invite you, our beloved Black community, who do so much holding, caring, and leading, into a space of learning about how meditative practices can help us awaken to and sustain our physical, emotional, social, and communal wellness.

All the practices offered in this 2-hour session will seed your capacity to further nurture wellness in the Black communities you practice and lead in, thus enabling you to feel more fortified in guiding your respective communities towards surviving and thriving through the pandemic and beyond.

Join us for this pre-Juneteenth celebration of Our Black Lives as we learn together how to liberate and nourish our well-being and that of one another.

For more information, and to register, please visit the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society

by Janice Florent

young lady sitting in a relaxed position with her eyes closed in a warm-water river

Taking a break is important for your overall health. Even Olympic athletes take a break from their training. Rest days are an important part of their training regimen so they can give their muscles time to recover. Without these rest days they cannot perform at their peak ability.

You deserve a break. Hopefully during our upcoming fall break you will be able to give yourself one.

In a recent blog post, Dr. Karen Nichols described something she discovered while attending a webinar called a “doorway moment.” Taking a deep breath at the doorway to get centered and focused. When we get back to the hustle and bustle of the academic year remember to take your doorway moments and take a deep breath.

Additionally, please join us for group meditation on Mondays at half past noon in the Meditation Room of St. Katharine Drexel Chapel for a “Quarter of Quiet.”

Photo credit: Like a SPA by Juan | CC BY-NC 2.0

Meditation Room

The Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Faculty Development invites you to join us for a regular group meditation. We'll meet each Thursday afternoon throughout the summer of 2016. Drop in when you can.

What to expect?

As the meditation room is located directly beneath the bell tower, we are using the bells in our meditation. They chime quarterly, so our period of silence begins at 12:30 and ends at 12:45.

But I've never done this before!

You needn't have any experience with meditating; just stop by and give it a try. There's no commitment and no pressure.

Why meditate?

Meditation has numerous well-documented benefits, including stress management, improved emotional balance, increased focus and awareness and increased responsiveness to student needs.

  • Date: June 8-August 4, 2016
  • Time: 12:30 - 12:45 PM
  • Location: Meditation Room, St. Katharine Drexel Chapel
  • Sponsor: CAT+FD

Photo credit: Bart Everson

No registration necessary; just join us when you can.

I've just finished up a series of six essays for College Contemplative on the topic of "Contemplative Faculty Development."

  1. Greetings & Introduction
  2. My Story
  3. Stepping into Silence
  4. The Transformative Banquet
  5. Sustaining the Dialog
  6. What's Next

Read at your own risk; I apologize in advance for the length. Now I'm off to the Fifth Annual Conference of the Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education to present on this same topic. Catch you on the flipside! And please don't miss our Nov. 14th workshop on Zen meditation.

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Scott Belsky has written an interesting article titled "What Happened to Downtime? The Extinction of Deep Thinking & Sacred Space."

We are depriving ourselves of every opportunity for disconnection. And our imaginations suffer the consequences.

The relevance to the Academy and the "life of the mind" should be clear. The themes Belsky raises resonate with the message of David Levy's stunning "No Time to Think: Reflections on Information Technology and Contemplative Scholarship." (See the video, read the paper.)

Belsky's article helpfully includes five potential mindsets and solutions to consider. Check it out.

Download Conversation #8

Arthur Zajonc

A conversation with Dr. Arthur Zajonc of Amherst College on teaching, learning, and contemplative inquiry.

While we may begin with the "pause that refreshes," if we leave it only at that then it's seen only as a break from learning. I'm really keen on it being seen also as a means of learning. That is to say, we school our attention — that's long been a part of the contemplative traditions, the deepening and stabilizing of attention — then, if we can bring that deepened and stabilized attention to the work at hand, it's going to be far more productive. And in addition, if one can take up a practice such as this contemplative inquiry practice, we add to that an enhanced learning capacity. So not only attention is schooled but also a new modality of inquiry is also offered to the student.

Links referenced in this episode:

A tip of the hat to the good folks at TalkShoe who helped us with some technical problems.

...continue reading "Conversation #8: Contemplative Inquiry"