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We are pleased to share with you our first peer-reviewed collection, embodying The Arrow’s mission to create a space for rigorous, scholarly investigation of the relationship between contemplative practice and teachings on the one hand and issues of politics, economics, ecology, and activism on the other. With this issue, we break new ground in the field of contemplative studies by examining directly the ways in which mindfulness practices and contemplative teachings can be put in service of responsible citizenship, social justice, and social transformation. With the commodification of mindfulness and yoga continuing apace, and with most scholarly research on these practices still focusing on their individual benefits—psychological and physiological—we are thrilled to publish this first peer-reviewed issue, featuring articles that bring the political relevance of such practices and teachings into relief.
In “Good-for-Nothing Practice and the Art of Paradox: The Exemplary Citzenship of Ta-Nehisi Coates,” Dean Mathiowetz explores meditation as one method that may help people to embody qualities essential to democratic citzenship, and he examines Ta-Nehisi Coates as an example of the type of citizenship to which we might aspire. In “Contemplative Pedagogy: Equipping Students for Everyday Social Activism,” Amanda Wray and Ameena Batada look specifically at applying contemplative tools to social justice activism among university students, discussing the ways in which contemplation and dialogue can help students investigate their own participation in harmful systems and opportunities for transformation. In “Georges Bataille, Chögyam Trungpa, and Radical Transformation: Theorizing the Political Value of Mindfulness,” James Rowe investigates parallels between the writings of philosopher Georges Bataille and the teachings of meditation master Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, exploring how these can support radical social transformation. Finally, Becky Thompson’s “Domes of the Body: Yoga, Alignment, and Social Justice” critiques the commodification of contemporary yoga and draws a nuanced and evocative picture of a more fully embodied, holistic practice that respects its historical roots and serves social justice.
We hope you enjoy these essays and find within them ideas for furthering this scholarship, as well as practices of social engagement that are grounded in both contemplative wisdom and theoretical nuance.
Good-for-Nothing Practice and the Art of Paradox: The Exemplary Citizenship of Ta-Nehisi Coates
By Dean Mathiowetz
The work of social justice requires attending to deep divisions and disagreements in a community. This work in a democratic polity demands the ability to hold, rather than foreclose, the tension between those disagreements and the vision of justice by which we hope to harmonize them. This essay explores the potential in meditation, as a “good for nothing practice” (and as a “good for no-thing practice”), to foster a kind of citizenship, understood as people’s active disposition to share in the co-creation of their power and their worlds, that is capable of attending to these divisions in the search for justice. Good for no-thing practice, I argue, mirrors in significant ways the demands of democratic citizenship. This parallel is not accidental, but rather reflects the deep connection between both intimate and collective practices of liberation. Grounding this argument in a vibrant and contested tradition of political theorizing, I develop a theoretical image of citizenship by putting the writings of Aristotle into conversation with the demands and insights offered by meditations’ “good for no-thingness,” especially in how it supports careful attending to the heterogeneity and differences in the polity. I also turn to the work of Ta-Nehisi Coates, a public intellectual whose engagement with questions of social justice (and reparations in particular), exemplifies the practice of democratic citizen deliberation in the face of deep divisions and the demands of justice.
Keywords: meditation, citizenship, Aristotle, mindfulness, justice
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Contemplative Pedagogy: Equipping Students for Everyday Social Activism
By Amanda Wray and Ameena Batada
The following article presents classroom approaches that use contemplative practice to engage students meaningfully in social justice-oriented, everyday activism. Dominant tropes in our language falsely insist that we are a “post-racial” society where focusing on the individual, even to the exclusion of seeing systemic oppression, reflects progressive consciousness (Bonilla-Silva, 2001; Wise, 2009). Oppression has become rhetorically objectified as “over there” and “back then,” and such disconnect from reality disempowers individuals to feel less implicated in injustice. As critical pedagogues working in a public, liberal arts institution, we often navigate the classroom as a space for creating and inspiring social change. This article presents a theoretical foundation and pedagogical strategies for (re)connecting students to the material realities of everyday objects and for implicating students as change agents in everyday discourse situations. Through guided visualization and critical dialogue, we invite students to trace histories of everyday needs (e.g., food), tools (e.g., a coffee maker), and encounters (e.g., with housekeeping staff) in order to foster reflection on their interconnectedness and to analyze rhetorical tropes of innocence (“I’m not racist, but…” and “I didn’t know, so…”).
Keywords: contemplative pedagogy, social justice, pedagogy, social change, anti-oppression, mindfulness, everyday rhetoric
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Georges Bataille, Chögyam Trungpa, and Radical Transformation: Theorizing the Political Value of Mindfulness
By James K. Rowe
Social movements are increasingly turning to mind-body practices like meditation to support their work. This is a new, but still marginal trend. The spread of mindfulness practices among social justice organizations will grow if a compelling case can be made that mind-body practices are central, not peripheral, to collective liberation. The philosophers Georges Bataille and Chögyam Trungpa provide that case. Both Bataille and Trungpa, in their respective works, articulate how easy it is for humans to feel small in the face of a contingent and finite existence, and how this felt smallness often fuels compensatory desires for aggrandizement and domination, desires with profound material effects. If there are existential drivers behind systemic dominations like colonialism, capitalist exploitation, white supremacy, and hetero-patriarchy, then existential change strategies become central to addressing the causes of injustice. The accounts provided by both Bataille and Trungpa clarify how efforts to integrate mind-body practices into social movements are central to the pursuit of social and ecological justice.
Keywords: mindfulness, micropolitics, Tibetan Buddhism, Chögyam Trungpa, Georges Bataille, root causes of domination
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Domes of the Body: Yoga, Alignment, and Social Justice
By Becky Thompson
While we have witnessed spectacular growth in yoga in the last twenty years, many activist yogis are concerned about multiple inequalities that threaten to cut yoga from its roots, compromising its core healing powers. This article examines somatic principles that address current post-colonial, race, class, and gender inequalities, specifically how five domes of the body—the arch in the foot, the perineum, the diaphragm, the palate and the crown at the top of the head—reveal current contestations. The domes represent a middle way—a path toward physical, psychic and spiritual alignment. Drawing upon yoga philosophy, justice studies and multiracial feminism helps us to see how individual alignment depends upon collective vision. As a long time yoga practitioner, scholar, and social justice activist I write seeking ways for yoga to nurture us as individuals and communities seeking justice and wholeness.
Keywords: yoga, social justice, intersectionality, de-colonization, healing, multiracial feminism, domes
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