Guiding spirit takes class on a trip

February 26, 1999

Jack Miller gets his Toronto University class underway by turning off the lights and telling his students to close their eyes.

If students monitor their feelings better, they will become better learners, says Professor Miller, who has used meditation as a tool for over a decade.

He says higher education could benefit from some spiritual healing. In his book The Contemplative Practitioner, he writes: "There seems to be a gulf between the subjects and the inner life of the student. Contem-plation can bridge that gulf."

Reaction to his courses has been loud and enthusiastic. Classes have waiting lists and sceptics have been transformed into cross-legged believers. Student Jackie King said talk of meditation had made her think of 1960s flower children on drugs, but she soon found herself swept along. In one session Professor Miller visually led students out of the classroom, the building, the city and beyond to the universe to wish everyone well, happy and at peace.

Toronto's Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, where he teaches, has responded to some of the popularity by housing a meditation centre in the downtown building. Taoists, Muslims and others wanting quiet space are appreciative of the simple room.

Professor Miller believes the university is primed to move beyond being an institution that tends to focus primarily on the intellect.

"Education is not about accumulating knowledge and stuffing your head," he said. He says universities will have to stop putting so much authority in texts and teachers and begin to listen to what the emotions and spirit of the student are saying.

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