Teaching for Self-Transcendence: Spiritual Practices in the World Religions Classroom

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A spiritual practices project has become the centerpiece of my  9th grade World Religions curriculum. Students can choose any spiritual practice, such as meditation which resulted in the dreamy image of rebirth above, to help themselves grow. This entry shares my approach to teaching the course, the role of this project in the curriculum, and 14 examples of student projects. 


Over the last five years as I’ve taught World Religions at Hong Kong International School, I’ve continued to weigh the most fundamental questions about this area of study: what is the purpose of religion and how do I teach toward that purpose?

I’ve come to the tentative conclusion that, in the midst of a society that trains us to be separate, autonomous individuals, the purpose of religion, which literally means to “reconnect,” is to offer followers self-transcendence, uniting a lower, self-protective self with a more generous, outward-focused Larger Self. Continue reading

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Teaching Consciousness of the Body: Two Practitioners in Dialogue

DSC_3799In contemporary culture which overemphasizes the mind’s ability to accomplish and achieve, most students consider paying attention to the body for the purpose of “being” an unexplored strategy for stress reduction. In this dialogue Marty Schmidt and Sangeeta Bansal, both teachers of mindfulness practices, discuss the importance of the body in their teaching and how they lead their students towards greater body consciousness.  Continue reading

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“I Feel Myself Radiate with Life:” One Student’s Journey of Awakening through Holistic Education Courses

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“We have gone neither deep nor broad. We have emphasized neither solitude nor solidarity as essential to the spiritual journey. In fact, most of us are afraid of both and given little concrete training in either.”

– Richard Rohr in the forward to Solitude and Compassion: The Path to the Heart of the Gospel by Gus Gordon, p. 1. 


My educational philosophy finally settled a few years ago on a yin-yang approach. The yang, which comes first, is the opening of students’ eyes to the suffering of the world, and realizing that as part of an interconnected world, it is one’s responsibility to relieve the suffering of others. Compassionate action is the goal of our grade 9 Humanities I in Action curriculum.

Not long after completing my doctorate in this course curriculum, I was struck by the sharing of one of my students, Jaclyn, at a high school assembly where she reflected that while she was trying to save the world in Humanities I in Action, at home she was unloving towards her own grandfather who later passed away. This is when I realized that I needed to teach the yin of inner awakening as intentionally as the yang of social conscience. Continue reading

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The Role of Inner Awakening in Compassionate Action: The Worldview of Wisdom Teacher Cynthia Bourgeault


“In my own efforts to live the gospel I have found that it is virtually impossible to reach and sustain that level of ‘perfect love’ without a practice of contemplative prayer . . .. Ordinary awareness always eventually betrays itself and returns to its usual postures of self-defense and self-justification . . .. Only from the level of spiritual awareness do you see and trust that all is held in the divine Mercy . . .. You can begin to reach out to the world with the same wonderful, generous vulnerability that we see in Christ.”

– Cynthia Bourgeault, Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening, 17.


My teaching career has focused much of its energy on helping students to develop compassionate action in society: encouraging our school community to see beyond its primary achievement orientation and care for others. However, for all of the growth of social conscience education at our school, there has always been a persistent ache within me. Put simply, what is the role of the inner life in developing compassionate action? I kept waiting for “Sojourners,” the inspiring Christian social justice magazine, to write as in-depth about the interior journey as they did about social issues, but they never did. This was the ache. Continue reading

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Die Before You Die: Facing Fear on a Spiritual Retreat


The inviting, human-scaled central courtyard of the Te Moata Retreat Center where 40 of us gathered from February 4-9 to attend Australasia’s first Wisdom School taught by Cynthia Bourgeault. In the upper right hand are the loft quarters where I slept at night.

“Daily, keep your death before your eyes.”

-St. Benedict

“This is thy hour O Soul, thy free flight into the wordless,
Away from books, away from art, the day erased, the lesson done,
Thee fully forth emerging, silent, gazing, pondering the themes thou lovest best,
Night, sleep, death and the stars.”

– “A Clear Midnight” by Walt Whitman

Perhaps it had something to do with Jesus’ statement in the Gospel of Thomas from the previous night’s study, “I assure you, whoever grasps their meaning will not know the taste of death.” Certainly it had something to do with the bed, which was so flexible that it seemed to split in two when I lay in it, sandwiching me in the mattress. It was my second night at the Buddhist Retreat Center in Te Moata, New Zealand, about 3 hours southeast of the capital of Auckland, and I was relieved to sleep after a restless first night in the simple loft quarters of the retreat house.

At 4:30 in the morning my sleep was broken and I awoke to a pitch dark room. Continue reading

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In Search of Transformative Power in Education (Presentation at Hong Kong Institute of Education)

Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 10.08.13 PMI was invited by assistant professor Tracey Alviar-Martin to speak to her International Education class on January 25 at the Hong Kong Institute of Education to address how I have developed new courses for students at Hong Kong International School.

In this presentation I share how students at international schools like HKIS face the challenge of very high levels of achievement, as well as commensurate levels of stress, that seem at odds with these schools’ inspiring mission statements. Through many years of experimentation I have created a 9th grade interdisciplinary service-learning course called, “Humanities I in Action,” and a senior religion elective entitled, “Service, Society, and the Sacred,” that assists students to re-frame their sense of purpose. As I share in the presentation, Humanities I in Action fosters a greater sense of compassion within students, while Service, Society, and the Sacred aims to develop inner awakening. Together compassionate action and inner awakening offer students a far more fulfilling educational experience than the achievement model alone.

You may scroll through the slides or view as a slideshow at the bottom of the entry.

Continue reading

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Rising and Falling: Best Books and Resources of 2015

Screen Shot 2016-01-07 at 3.13.47 PMIntroduction

With the exception of a summer religion class in Bhutan, this past year had little of note in the externals of my life, teaching the same classes at HKIS in my 25th and 26th year at the school. However, something was astir internally that I’ve struggled with throughout the year. I had a distinct sense, beginning in late fall of 2014 and becoming most palpable in the early months of 2015, of a rising energy. It was as if something inside was trying to break through an invisible ceiling. It became such a preoccupation that I sought out the counsel of three friends in separate conversations in February and March, but to no avail. Continue reading

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