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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The outward contemplative in higher education : mindfully forging ontological security in intersubjectivity Zhao, Steven


This thesis is concerned with three fundamental questions. First, why does North American higher education minimally engage with the existential dimensions of its students (their interests and inquiries regarding the formation of their personal narratives of meaning, moral directions, and a sense of stable identity)? Second, what are the potential psychological and social consequences of such negligence? Third, how can contemplative pedagogy adequately address such existential dimensions? This thesis explores the history of Western higher education, particularly the way that changing educational philosophies and curricula of education have affected the understanding of the self. I argue that there has been a radical shift in the understanding of self in higher education. The self has been progressively ejected from its proximate temporal, material, institutional, and metaphysical surroundings. In the process, the internal self became the source for truth and ethics formerly derived from the objectivism of religion and science. With the loss of objective moral and existential facts as philosophically disputable, politically uncomfortable, and institutionally irrelevant, this new self was made to bear a heavy burden. In these conditions, minimal engagement with existential dimensions of students in higher education can exacerbate ontological insecurity, where the individual experiences an instability and discontinuity in their sense of self. I argue that ontological insecurity has become normalized within higher education, leading to the perpetuation of destructive behaviours on both individual and group levels. Contemplative pedagogy has the potential to address issues of ontological insecurity. By examining the major discourses of contemplative pedagogy, I argue that current two dominant discourses of mindfulness, scientific-psychological mindfulness and transpersonal mindfulness, are inadequate in addressing ontological insecurity. I propose supplementing mindfulness with traditional Theravada notions of dependent co-arising and the phenomenological-existentialist understanding of intersubjectivity. By integrating dependent co-arising and intersubjectivity with mindfulness, a student can be sensitized to their existential dependence on social relationships with others. Ethically sensitive relationships with others provide the fundamental source of ontological security.

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