Committed to uniting spirituality and psychology, the SMBI Master's program (Directed by Professor Lisa Miller) launches this year at the Summer Intensive. The approach to research, theory, and practice fully integrates modern science and ancient wisdom, creating a program of study that is the first of its kind in the Ivy League.
What life experiences or motivations led you to this particular intersection of academe and spirituality?
Although not Buddhist myself, Buddhism has a theory of dependent origination, which states that all things arise in dependence upon multiple causes and conditions. It is very clear that the motivations that led me to this particular intersection of academe and spirituality have come from both my personal interests as well as from faculty, students, and staff at Teachers College.
Professor Lisa Miller has been a great inspiration for me. The SMBI programming, work at Covenant House, and many other initiatives have developed out of her encouragement. The seedling thought for creating the Mindfulness and Education Working Group
arose from taking her class Psychotherapy, Religious Diversity, and Spirituality
. In my perspective she is truly a visionary in the field, paving the way for many of us to follow our passion in the field of Spirituality Mind Body and Psychotherapy.
Conflict resolution professionals often have to confront parties on multiple levels: from the intellectual to the emotional. How might a student of the SMBI benefit from incorporating spiritual approaches in their practices.
I have met many young adults and mid-career professionals in various healing and holistic centers, yoga studios, monasteries, and so on. They have experienced a process of inner awakening and are looking to deepen their practices. They are also looking for a community of others who can support their process. Many of these centers are great because they offer support for individuals on their spiritual journey. The distinction between these centers and what SMBI will offer with its Master's degree program is that SMBI hopes to move from the individual experience towards the roles in their interpersonal and professional lives. SMBI will offer a supportive environment for individuals to further integrate into society in a deeply meaningful way.
The SMBI Master's Degree program will provide the opportunity for individuals to broaden their language and understanding of spirituality and mind-body on the level of first person embodied attainment, and perhaps becoming more familiar with the subtle levels and layers of being. The three-week summer immersion SMBI will have highly experiential curriculum, inviting both scholars and practitioners in the field to share their work with our students, so that we may all grow together. This kind of spirituality mind-body experiential work is a first of its kind in the Ivy League and would be invaluable for professionals in any career.
How do you think spirituality can arouse one’s sense of self and otherness when mediating and/or negotiating conflict?
Spirituality is particularly valuable for those in conflict resolution, where professionals are constantly confronted with highly charged, complex situations, in an ever-changing environment. As the world changes around us, SMBI hopes to help individuals develop an orientation and deeper wealth of resources from which to navigate.
From my perspective, we are more than just our cognitive mind. If you ask most people to point toward their mind they will most likely point towards their brain. However the mind, body, spirit, and who we really are go much further than just our brain. When we interact with others we connect on many different levels, some of which are gross and easier to perceive, and others are subtler.
Some scholars maintain that the Western discipline of conflict resolution marginalizes indigenous worldviews. How will the SMBI curriculum address the dominance of unspiritual Western values?
Many people hold a view that spirituality, meditation, and other contemplative practices belong to another time and place. Perhaps if one was to imagine a picture of a spiritual setting, one might envision an ashram in India, or a Zen monastery in Asia, or a pilgrimage route in Europe. I hold the view that one place is not necessarily more spiritual than another, and one does not have to go to a faraway locale to connect in a deeper way. Rather, it is a fundamental orientation that an individual has which can create this feeling. Connecting to a deeper space within one’s self moves beyond religious structures, and as difficult as it can be to perceive, this deeper space that I am referring to is beyond time and space.
In response to the question, I would say that each culture has its unique contribution to spirituality, and we all have our own practices. If you ask a mother, she might say that connecting with her child is one of her most spiritual moments. Others find unity in nature. Others feel connection when dancing, playing sports, and so on. We each have our own ways, so I feel it is important to honor the many paths. At the same time, I do believe we can look towards various traditions and scholars (there are many spiritual Western scholars!) for directions and maps to chart as they provide valuable maps. If we can look closely and deeply at each other on a case-by-case basis, there are many different ways to connect with one another.
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Interview conducted by AC4 Research Coordinator, Nathanael Andreini