Contemplative practices are activities that require us to slow down, reflect, and intentionally choose the directions and responses in which we engage with ourselves and others. They include, but are not limited to, introspection, meditation, reflection, silence, and visualization and can help students reduce stress and also develop intellectual inquiry, creative approaches to scholarship, analytical skills, empathy for others, and personal insight into their research. They also assist them to reflect on the relationship between their personal and professional lives (Barbezat & Bush, 2014; Owen-Smith, 2017)
Based on interactions and feedback from students, The GMC took a risk and developed a contemplative mentoring approach. By using the five tenets of the Five-Fold Path to guide our teaching and praxis, we aim to reduce mental and physical stress of graduate students while they pursue and complete their degrees The tenets were created by using contemplative practices (e.g., storytelling) and creative methods of community action research (e.g., “parking lots” at each meeting and on my office wall) to gather information from students, and to address their responses to one question. What do you need to be personally and professionally successful during and after graduate school? The Five-Fold Path emphasizes that trust, reciprocity of learning, shared responsibilities, and personal growth are fundamental to mentoring.
Mentoring as Contemplative Practice: Bearing Witness
Why incorporate contemplative practices into mentoring, especially during and between the stages? Contemplative practices help you slow down and reflect on yourself and your interactions with others. They also help you better focus and develop an intentional awareness of living. There are different types of contemplative practices that you can use not only in mentoring, but also in your classroom. However, the practice of Bearing Witness is one of the most important and will help you create a foundation for trust as your mentoring relationship grows.
To Bear Witness is to commit to seeing the person before you because we all want to be seen. To bear witness is to intentionally focus on who and what is before you. When incorporated into each stage of mentoring, mentor and mentee commit to slowing down long enough to become aware of what is happening with each other. The practice of Bearing Witness is one way of letting each other know that you are actively listening and paying attention. You can do this by listening:
- without interrupting the person speaking.
- without allowing yourself to be distracted by other activities while meeting.
- reflecting back what has been said and asking a question for more information or clarification. For example:
- Thank you for taking the time to meet today. What I am hearing you say or ask for is [fill in the blank]. Could you tell me a little bit more about [fill in the blank].
- Or, let me make sure that I understand what you are asking/saying.
- These questions or statements will serve both mentor and mentee well in staying focused on what is being said and having clarity of what is being said.
- To bear witness is to intentionally focus on who and what is before you. To do this, you can contemplate the questions below.
- Who is before you?
- What ideas about them do you need to take in or let go?
- What assumptions do you have about them because of identity? Previous experiences?
- What is before you?
- What is the situation being experienced, described?
- What ideas about it do you need to take in or let go?
- What do you need/want?
- How do you ask what is needed/wanted, if it has not been stated?
- How do you ask if your need/want can be met?
- How can you serve or be served?
- Do you have reservations about working together based on what you have heard?
- This can be as simple as recognizing that you do not have time, resources, or attitude to work together.
- How can you listen to learn more?
- How can you help them decide what they need and get it?
- What are your next steps? Individually? Together?
What Other Practices Inform The GMC Model?
The contemplative practice of Bearing Witness is integral to each stage of mentoring. However, other contemplative practices include deep dialogue and deep listening, both which invite us to be aware of how we speak and listen to each other, even on passing. Learn more about these practices through the Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education (ACMHE) and the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society (CMind).
The GMC also developed the practice Have You TALKED? to help mentors know how to assess what a mentee needs and how to offer the assistance that may be needed. Combined with Bearing Witness, Have You TALKED?, provides mentors with strategies to create a strong mentoring dialogue that is student centered and asks that mentors become familiar with campus resources to support graduate student well-being and professional growth.