Fulbright Project: Self Care and Creative Practice

Week 1: Cork City, Ireland

Douglas Street

I’ve come to Cork, Ireland for 6 weeks to work with the Crawford School of Art and Design, the MTU academics and a variety of Master’s students to learn and discuss how self care can be a creative practice. Teaching Well-being pedagogy, resilience theory and meditation and mindfulness practices we are exploring the art of being whole, and present. And, investigating rejuvenation, relaxation and replenishing teaching practices and self care commitments. What a beautiful community and city! So peaceful here ( and I love the rain). Everyone I’ve met is friendly and grateful for the “art of the pause” that can allow learning and unlearning. I am working with 30 faculty members and staff, and have 4 small groups that meet weekly, a weekly open meditation practice and a variety of class lectures across the schools and programs. I’m even going to give a careers talk for graduating MA students. Feeling very at home.

Each morning I walk the labyrinth at Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral

Labyrinth St. Fin Barre – 1000 years old
Cathedral St. Fin Barre
Walking along the River Lee to the BlackRock Castle Observatory
Nano Nagle Place Garden
View from the meeting room MTU Crawford

Feeling honored to be here on a Fulbright, to offer these ideas and practices that I’ve been learning and sharing, absorbing and being changed by.. for almost 40 years. Am so grateful to Louise Foott, Head of department of Arts and Health Education at MTU Cork. Between us we came up with this project, and she has worked tirelessly to bring me here. And in-between the coffees, visits to the English Market, the teaching and meetings this first week of the project, I walk along the river feeling “grand”.

#fulbrightspecialist, #fulbright, #exchangeourworld #mindfulness #positivepedagogy #positiveeducation #contemplativepractices #Prattinstitute

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Spirit of Meditation .. which path ?

A friend recently asked for advice on which meditation path to choose. She was considering switching to TM or staying with her breath practice.

This is a copy of my response, thought it might help others as they ponder their paths

“ TM is a beautiful path, if it is the right one for you…..TM is a mystical path and has its secrets that are passed to initiates only, and can feel strange to a western mind as a western practice. I know. The Puja ritual is to call the ancestors to bless your path and alleviate difficult karma and accompany you in your practice .  It is or can be a very powerful ritual to guide your spiritual journey. The mantra as a point of focus and healing can lead to liberation and an enlightened awareness or sense of awareness. The mantra is a cognitive vibration beyond thought and it is yours always, a route to absolute being and consciousness. Or not.. it can just be a focus point for the mind, sometimes breath is distracting and the mantra brings you home.

And with that said, it might not be your effective path for evolving , for healing, or might not be the change in your practice that is needed at this time.  You are already on a path, and perhaps you need to follow that this life. You can be interested in other ways of meditation that is lovely. Does not mean you must commit to a new practice, unless that feels right for you. 

This laboratory of the mind and body lol … ponder and breath. Perhaps you can journal and reflect on your practice. Sit with the ambiguity and follow your intuition. Meditate on it and then you will know what is best. Dissatisfaction with the human existence is a given. Not the reason to try on different meditations as they will all be disappointing. Because it is led by the mind, thought and emotion blind us as if all that is ..is mind.

 Yearning to evolve, to go beyond the relative, perhaps expand awareness enough that it makes the human existence bearable..and leads us beyond so we can train the mind and open the heart to all that is beyond the mind…and open to the calm abiding at the base of awareness..that is a reason to meditate. In my view. And perhaps to seek spiritual liberation, or presence that allows the mind to rest. Peaceful joy. Many paths , some lead us quicker than others to peace and joy. Sometimes unattainable, and still we practice, train the mind, connect to something larger than the mind.”



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Mindfulness in daily life

Every day we breathe. Every day we judge. Every day we are lost and we are found. Moment by moment awareness. It is all one event. Self care is the key.

“Mindfulness begins with ourselves. Learning how to generate a feeling of joy, learning how to generate a feeling of happiness, learning how to handle a painful feeling or emotion, listening to the suffering to allow understanding and compassion to be born, and suffer less. This is the first step”. (Happy teachers Change the World. 2017. Thich Nhat Hanh, pg. 195)

Love that!

Contemplative practices come in many varieties and can be found in many traditions. They are the way that human beings across cultures and across time have found to concentrate, broaden, and deepen conscious awareness as the gateway to cultivating their full potential.

I invite you to start a personal practice, help yourself to the joy of breath, mindfulness of the moment. As you breathe, you begin to develop and deepen your attentional meditations. It’s all good, just the way it is. Process, journey, product, attitude everything shifts with an intention.  Need guidance or a road map? There are so many sites and spaces to aid your process.

Here are some resources to help you launch your practice.


Let me know if you have questions. Open your heart and let be.



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Just be present

I did an interview for the German Magazine Design Report with freelance writer May-Britt Frank- Grosse about meditation, why it matters, and how the Meditation Incubator Project came about. The English version is below, and she sent me what it looks like in the magazine, so in case you can read German…. It is fun to see it in print :  https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B0sAH0ybNsEfYUtZUjdXU2JuWHJVQVBIcFhoUGIwMzNNTmdJ/view?usp=sharing

Here is the transcribed interview:

Interview: Rhonda Schaller, Director of Career and Professional Development, Pratt Institute, Brooklyn Author: May-Britt Frank-Grosse

“My main mission is to teach people just to be present. It is not that who I am and what I do is different. Everything is enlivened with the same value and the same inspired sense of self. ” Rhonda Schaller
Mrs Schaller, what is the Meditation Incubator? Frau Schaller, was ist der Meditation Incubator?
The Meditation Incubator project is a 10 weeks course. It is not for credit and open to faculty, students, alumni, and staff from Pratt Institute. In the course I teach three main things: meditation, visualization, and self-reflection.

Could you explain the curriculum? Wie ist der Ablauf des Workshops? The first couple of classes are on the tools of meditation. We look at the personal myth, we look at archetypes and metaphors in our life and our work. I teach four different types of meditation practices. The Tibetan Healing Meditation, which is the orb of light. The Basic Mindfulness, which is just breath work. Mindfulness Insight Meditation from Burma and Thailand and Mantra, which is sound based meditation and was made popular by Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey. After three weeks the practitioners pick the one that resonates most strongly and that’s the one they continue with.

So every class we start with a group meditation and we end with a meditation. In between we talk about how to deepen creativity, how to think fluently and flexibly how to create a visualization as a tool through which they slowly built a career plan or a life plan.

In the third session we try to bring everything so far together. We start talking about wholeness, happiness, and how we connect that to career wishes and a sense of presence. Because people tend to segment: I am happy here, I dream of this but then I am anxious and so I am lost.

Another class will look at visioning. What is my vision of myself and my life. You might come up with personal, financial, creative, or business goals. What do those look like. Another class will be on success. How do I define success. What does it look like, what does it smell like, what does it taste like. Who´s definition am I working from – family, culture, school, personal.

That is the authenticity part. It is about finding your authentic voice and defining it.
The next series of classes will be around value. What’s the value of your vision out in the world and the value of your vision to yourself and your personal values. Do they connect or disrupt. Then we will talk about the market, about networking and communication. We meditate on all of these things, we visualize different components and we plot it out.

The last part is always about perseverance. I found my authenticity, I defined my value, I created my market, and now how am I going to sustain momentum and persevere and actually make it happen in the world.

There is homework, assignments and worksheets and there is a lot of mapping. In some of the classes we actually mind map in the class, we lay it out on the table and we talk about it. Other classes you do it at home and upload ideas to our virtual classroom and people would comment on it.

So the 10 weeks curriculum really moves the participant from who am I to how do I get there and why does it matter. At the end through this contemplative practice tools practitioners leave with either a sense of “this is who I am,” “This is where I am going,” “This is how I will get there,” or “This is what I want to create” and “This is what it looks like and then I actually begin to build it”.

Do the participants come with certain questions to the workshop? Kommen die Teilnehmer mit bestimmten Fragen zum Workshop? Each individual has their own series of questions they are looking for answers for. So the tools that we teach are really about: how do we source the answers from within. How do we cultivate wisdom, awareness and reflection as part of a planning process. How do we begin to let answers rise to the surface and then actualize them. People will do it in different ways because they will be fine artists, graphic designers, interior or industrial designers. Everyone does it in their own way. But everyone is looking for meaning and purpose.

I don’t tell them what to do and how to make it real. I just give them the tools so they can implement and make it real. We call this the “professional career tool box” or “your life skills tool box.”.

Could you give and example from one of your participants? Können Sie den Prozess anhand eines Fallbeispiels beschreiben? There was a photographer in my workshop who couldn’t find the right subject. She was making shots, they were good, and she was finding a lot of commercial work, but when she started to use the meditation to give her the imagery she started making this really ethereal type of photograph. And they were so beautiful. She started getting in fine art shows. And she had never seen herself as a fine artist and all of a sudden her arts career began to materialize out of her work. She started to sell her work and people are collecting her. She still does commercial work to earn a living but she has found that fine artist in herself.

Other people have used it simply to deepen their sense of wellness and their sense of purpose and their work has gotten richer and their goals have gotten clearer though it wasn’t brand new goals.

What is the difference to coaching? Wo liegt der Unterschied zum Coaching?This particular class is about life planning and business planning. And so coaching people to find their purpose is inherit in the curriculum. But coaching offers just particular tools to help people make that leap from not knowing to knowing. So I think inherent in the process is probably coaching. Though it is more about how to find out who you are, experience your essences of spiritual creative being and then see yourself in the world being of service, what this journey looks like and how you get there. That is different.

How did you come up with the idea for the workshop? Wie ist die Idee für den Meditation Incubator entstanden? I taught meditation the first time at the School of Visual Arts in New York. It was in the masters of digital photography department. There it wasn’t as career focused in action steps but it was more centered on content and expanding what the work means and what it is saying. It was part of the curriculum and it changed the way the students worked so strongly in the masters of digital photography program that that it got very much recognized.

So when I came here an alumnus came up to me and asked me if I would create something for alumni at Pratt. So I created the meditation incubator. It has been wildly popular. But here at Pratt I teach it from a career professional development standpoint. Depending on the audience, the tools can be used in a variety of settings and a lot of different ways. But what they have in common is a deepening of tranquility. An expansion of calm and sense of self. And then that’s what we imprint and what we build. So you can define what the outcome should be. That’s the core.

Is there a movement to implement meditation at Universities in the US? Gibt es eine Meditations-Bewegung in den amerikanischen Universitäten? I have only been in higher ed for 7 years – I was a working artist for many years. I believe this kind of practices have been gaining popularity since the late 90’s. There is very established universities like Brown or Columbia that have contemplative studies in the curriculum and in teaching and learning centers. But I wouldn’t say it is wide spread. The center for contemplative mind and society – it is a wonderful organization – they sponsor trainings for higher education professionals to create contemplative practices in pedagogy.
And there is a foundation called “tuning the student mind.” They fund initiatives that bring meditation and contemplative practices to colleges and universities. They would like me to create a module that can go to other colleges. Especially in the art and design colleges. Because artists and designers are very open to these practices. Whether scientists and bankers would be I am not sure, maybe the physicists will. (Laughs)

Would it be even more helpful if students did the meditation program in their regular classes? Meinen Sie, es würde helfen, wenn Meditation in die Lehrpläne integriert würde? Just 10 minutes of meditation before class or even in the middle of the class to meditate on the information they just got and then come back to the learning would have great impact. You know this opening deepens the knowledge. I think it would be an amazing tool which I hope to incorporate in business classes that I am going to teach in the spring. I let you know how this goes! (Laughs)

It is an entrepreneur class for artist. One is on strategy. How do I create a vision, create the steps and make it happen. The other one is on communication. How do I articulate what I do, how do I present it. How do I communicate verbally and in writing. And how do I create a strategy.

But the meditation will just be a contemplative practice to introduce and augment the curriculum. So there is different emphasis. It will be the first time to introduce and combine what I did in the workshop and at SVA into an elective class at Pratt. I am looking very forward to it.



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Meditation as Contemplative Inquiry

Beautiful book by Arthur Zajonc (2009) reminds me of what matters on Labor Day. No emails, no phone calls, just quiet study watching the leaves dance as if on springs in the wind, and how all is connected and projected in the light of my personal hologram. The Book jacket reads ” when we turn to meditation, we turn toward renewal, peace and insight”.  And on a random opening to pg. 63 I find this beautiful Navajo Night Chant:

“With beauty before me, I walk. With beauty behind me, I walk. With beauty above me, I walk. With beauty below me, I walk. With beauty all around me, I walk.”

We are invited to open to the unexpected, in the moment, on the breath and to deeply see.

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