Graduate Liberal Studies Program

Course Description

GLS 592: Meditation: Theory and Practice

Instructor: James Brewster

symbolic sign - Medication - Theory and Practice


Meditation is often helpful in reducing stress, discovering inner resources for peace and mind, healing, creativity and calming of spirit. Meditation is not "new age," but a universal, health-giving resource used for hundreds of years and in most cultures.

The course will include both the theory and practice of meditation. Emphasis will be given to its definition, general characteristics, as well as guidelines and aids in personal practice.

One assumption of the course is there is not just one, but several different styles and forms of meditation. Participants will take a survey of multiple intelligences and determine how their personal learning styles can help in selecting the most helpful practice of meditation.

The class will explore several forms of meditation, e.g. walking, writing, photography, reading, meditation beads, art and music. Resources will come from many traditions: far eastern, native American, Islamic and Judeo-Christian. The course will include lectures, videos, readings, music and art. Each session will have one or two periods of meditation. (revised, from initial course description)

Assumptions for the Course (jnb)

  1. Defining "meditation" is essential.
  2. Meditation can be pursued from an academic perspective.
  3. Even without defining it as such, people are already meditating.
  4. At least part of the course time will be devoted to practicing forms, styles of meditation.
  5. Just as in learning styles, each of us may have a particular style of meditation. These styles will be encouraged.
  6. Meditation is not just for "professionals," but something we all may pursue.
  7. People in the American tradition may find meditation awkward or difficult.
  8. Meditation is a practice that people from all traditions share.
  9. We will be looking at several traditions in meditation.
  10. Your instructor is a facilitator. The student is not a disciple.
  11. One's grade in the class will not be based on one's practice of meditation.
  12. The personal nature of meditation will be respected!

Basic Texts

Lawrence LeShan, HOW TO MEDITATE: A GUIDE TO SELF DISCOVERY. (New York, Back Bay Books, 1974)


Anne Morrow Lindbergh, GIFT FROM THE SEA. (New York, Pantheon Books, 1955, copyright renewed 1983)

Course Requirements and Grading

1. Personal meditation "template"---your reflections on topics of study, readings and/or personal practice of meditation during the course. Since this is a "personal" journal, no grade points awarded, only "completed" or "incomplete."

2. Completed 15 page paper, topic of your choice, due last day of class. List of possible topics will be distributed by the second week of classes. Students' topics, determined by the fourth session. Produced in accordance with UNCW formating guidelines. Hard copy, double spaced, etc.40 points.

3. Five graded assignments (questions assigned beforehand) 30 points.

"Next week" assignments are based on reading assignments; as noted, hard copy, typed, double spaced, to be handed into the instructor at the beginning of class, date noted on the syllabus.

4. Participation in class 30 points

Total: 100 points.

Grade Scale:

  • 90-100 A
  • 80-89 B

(Noting that a passing grade must be 80 or above)

Course Outline

Session One: Introductory materials

Expectations from the class

Assumptions for study: Dr. Brewster

Reviewing the Syllabus

Defining "Meditation"

A lecture based on readings from LeShan and Kabat-Zinn.

LeShan: "What is meditation: basic types of meditation" (Chapter 5-6, pp.47-67)

Kabat-Zinn, "The heart of practice: Sitting meditationā€¦" p. 103-135

Meditation: Posture in meditation.

Practice: Structured meditation

Guided meditation (JNB)

Discussion: Dealing with distraction.

Session Two: Unstructured Meditation and Learning Styles

Class Discussion re: Gift from the Sea.
Unstructured/structured meditation defined.
The role of Multiple Intelligences theory in meditation.

An overview of Howard Gardner's educational theory and how it applies to the study/Practice of religious instruction and meditation. Class participation: Each student will Take an MI survey to determine potential formats for her/his personal meditation style.

Templates for personal study/practice of meditation.

Introducing "The Ten Ox-herding Pictures" (Buddhist), "The Interior Castle" (Christian) and several other formats. Students will select any of those presented, or determine their own "catalogs" as a semester-long project.

  1. By next class session, select a template and use this as a format, to be handed in on April 7th
  2. Be sure to date each entry.
  3. The importance of the Template is not based on the number of pages/entries.
  4. It shall be typed and hard copy given to the instructor. EXCEPTION: A journal may be handwritten.

Session Three: The Path of Action

Follow up discussion re: selected templates and assignment re: trees.

Lecture and discussion re: crafts and skills as meditation.

George Nakashima's contributions to wood-working.

Guided Meditation (to be announced)

Resources: Video: "Japanese National Treasures" (National Geographic) segments on kimono cloth maker and sword maker.

Video: "Rare Visions and Roadside Revelations: Southern Flavor" (KCPT, Kansas City Public Television) episode on folk artist Howard Finster.

Public Television series (KCET, Los Angeles, 2007) "Craft In America" Segment on Geo. Nakashima, 9 min.

Additional Resource: George Nakashima, The Soul of the Tree: A Woodworker's Reflections

(Tokyo, Kodansha International, 1981)

Session Four: The Path of Action, continued

(When time permits, a showing of Jon Kabat-Zinn's clinical work at Mass. General Hospital)

Hand-in topic for term paper.

Reflections/discussion re: personal meditative style, defining the "route through the body."

Examples of meditation through bodily movement e.g. yoga, tai chi, running, swimming, canoeing, etc. Students are encouraged to share these experiences.

"Kodo: The Heartbeat Drummers of Japan." (VHS video) ten minutes.

Sufi Meditation/specifically whirling dervish and group meditation (Video)

Session Five: The Route of the Intellect and Mala

The role of the intellect in meditation practice.

Albert Schweitzer's discovery of his life-principle. Teresa of Avila's The Interior Castle.

Meditation beads (mala) as a way of organizing meditative skills; planning and making one's personal beads. Meditation as a kinesthetic experience. Orthodox, Buddhist and Roman Catholic examples of mala.

Resource: Caroline Myss, Entering the Castle: An Inner Path to God and Your Soul (New York, Free Press, 2007)

Session Six: The Way of the Word

"The Way of the Word" Lectio Divina

Meditation practice based on the reading of poems and traditional religious literature, including (Jewish tradition) the story of Jeremiah and the potter's house

Poetry and Video: "The Methusalah Tree"

Session Seven: The Way of Music

Music as an entry into meditation. Jazz to Gregorian Chants to Black Spirituals.

Students are invited to bring personal examples of music (CD or tape)

A Summary of the life and talent of Hildegard von Bingen

Resources and meditation: Native American music,

Video: The Paul Winter Consort in the Grand Canyon

CD: Hildegard of Bingen, "Ten Thousand Virgins: Celebration of the Festival.

Session Eight: The Way of Mantra

Mantra as a gateway to meditation. Examples of repeated words from various traditions.

Student selection of possible mantra in personal meditation.

Meditation Practice: The repetition and ritual of mantra.

Session Nine: Native-American Meditation

Text Box: Dr. J. T. Garrett, Public Health Director, Carteret County, will share his understanding of meditation from a unique perspective. Dr. Garrett is Cherokee, member of the Eastern Band, Cherokee Nation, retired from the U.S. Indian Health Service. He is trained in Native American medicine and the author of several books, including Meditations with the Cherokee. This program will include history of the Cherokee, the uses of music, dance, nature, and the importance of Circle in the Indian community. (Students are encouraged to invite guests to this presentation)

Session Ten: Sacred Places, Mandalas and Sacred Geometry

Are there places that, because of their location and settings, can be designated as "holy". places such as Yosemite, or "vortexes" with special healing powers?

Sacred Geometry defined; Altars and symbolism examined. Mandala defined and its role in meditation examined. Japanese gardens noted.

Resources: "Ming Garden" Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC VHS, 28 minutes.

"Dream Windows: Reflections on a Japanese Garden" (DVD, National Geographic, excerpts)

Session Eleven: Labyrinth as Meditation

Lecture: "Labyrinth: Ancient and Modern Paths for Contemplation"

Meditation practice: Students will participate in walking a labyrinth that will be set up on the lawn behind the classroom building (weather permitting) , and also learn how to design a labyrinth.

Resources: "Sacred Geometry" in Rediscovering the Labyrinth Video: Grace Cathedral, San Francisco

Session Twelve: The Way of Nature

Discussion of graded assignment: "If there was a sacred placeā€¦"

Lecture: Nature and Meditation: Poems and Preachin' (JNB)

The presentation will begin with excerpts from "Henry", a one-man show by

Jim Brewster, highlighting Thoreau's meditation practices.

Discussion will include contributions from Basho, John Muir [founder of the Sierra Club], Ralph Waldo Emerson, Howard Gardner, the book, Last Child in the Woods,
and an "encore" look at Thomas Berry.


Public Television Series (KCET, Los Angeles) "Craft In America" Ceramics by David Guerney, California 9 min.

"Andy Goldsworthy: Rivers and Tides: Working with Time" (Docurama, DVD. Excerpts)

Guided Meditation (jnb)

Session Thirteen: The Way of Nature, concluded)\

Additional resources/presentations as needed.

Dr. Brewster will discuss the meditation templates (as appropriate)

Term papers will be given to Dr. Brewster during the class.

Session Fourteen: Last Class.

Summary, Evaluation of the Course.

Last Update: November 15, 2013