Nearly 15 years ago, Fran Grace voluntarily offered a meditation class on top of her normal teaching load at the University of Redlands. “I wanted to see if such practices could benefit college students,” says Grace of what she initially considered an experiment. “I offered the course in the spirit of the classic dictum of liberal arts education: ‘Know thyself.’”
That experiment grew into an academic program affiliated with the Religious Studies Department on the Redlands campus. Today, more than seven courses include not only reading and assignments, but also “a range of contemplative practices such as mindfulness, walking meditation, nature observation, compassion practices, and more,” according to Grace. A professor of religious studies, Grace started the program with English Professor Nancy Carrick, Economics Professor Lorenzo Garbo, Creative Writing Professor Pat Geary, and colleagues from the Religious Studies Department Bill Huntley, Lillian Larsen, and Karen Derris.
Academic courses, private practice, and free classes open to the public are offered in the Meditation Room in Larsen Hall, a peaceful space designed for quiet contemplation used by several hundred students each week. February 2018 marked the 10-year anniversary of both the room and the program. “The Meditation Room has a tranquil atmosphere, different from anywhere else on campus,” says Grace. “Students find
Courses within the program focus on the “inner arts and inner sciences” and not just meditation. “A liberal arts education does well to include in its academic curriculum courses that introduce students to time-tested methods for self-development and self-inquiry,” says Grace. “Whatever field students go into, it matters who they are on the inside and whether they have learned how to master their own mental and emotional reactions. On a basic level, contemplative education is a form of inner training, and, as such, improves the intellectual and attentional capacity of students.
“Just as importantly, students learn through these courses how to access the intelligence of the heart, which holds the key for our future as a global community.”