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.




About Rhonda Schaller

Rhonda is a long time meditator, artist and educator teaching visualization, mindfulness and meditation as life and art practices for over 30 years. She is a certified visualization meditation and qualified Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction teacher. She is a Visiting Associate Professor and Assistant Vice President for Resilience, Wellness & Well-being at Pratt Institute; founder of the Meditation Incubator project, and a Made in NYC fellow. She chairs the Pratt Resilience, Wellness and Well-being Council, founding chair of the Mindfulness Initiatives in Student Affairs Committee, and Mindful Pratt community. Rhonda was recently awarded a Emily Hall Tremaine Grant for her Mindful Collaboratory project, a national training and study for artists and arts leaders in meditation and mindful community building. She was also awarded a Fulbright Specialist grant to bring contemplative and wellbeing pedagogy into faculty teaching and learning at CIT, Ireland. She is the author of Create Your Art Career (2013, Allworth Press), Called or Not, Spirits are Present (2009, Blue Pearl Press), and contributed chapters for The Mindful Eye: Contemplative Pedagogies in Visual Arts Education (2018, Common Wealth Pub) and Starting Your Career in the Fine Arts (2011, Allworth Press). Her artworks are in the permanent collections of Memorial Art Gallery University of Rochester and Dartmouth University's Medical School Art of Healing Gallery.
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