labyrinth at Windhover contemplative center

‘Contemplation by Design’ events Nov. 4-12 will include opportunities to experience breath-based movement practices, including labyrinth walking at the Windhover contemplative center. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

The academic environment can cause a lack of sleep, stress and anxiety for faculty, staff and students. But it is always possible to refresh and revitalize your well-being, a Stanford expert says.

It all begins with a “pause.”

Next week, campus community members have an opportunity to experience this “pause” during this year’s  “Contemplation by Design series.”

Contemplation By Design was launched in May of 2014 with a midday carillon concert, followed by a series of events last fall. This year’s is the most ambitious yet.

The program takes place Nov. 4-12 and is a chance for people to learn about contemplative practice, research findings in this area and skill-building techniques. Contemplation by Design reflects Stanford’s efforts at building community spirit and its commitment to well-being and compassion, organizers say. All events are free, but registration is required.

‘Clearing of the mind’

Tia Rich, a Stanford senior specialist in health promotion and director and creator of Contemplation by Design, said contemplative practice is built around the P-E-A-C-E process, which, she explains, stands for pausing, exhaling, attending, connecting and expressing. By calming the mind, it becomes more open to new ideas and perspectives, she added. In a higher education community like Stanford, this “clearing of the mind” can better help someone make a discovery or realize which action to take, she said.

The signature event is the Carillon Concert and Contemplative Pause at the Hoover Tower at 11:30 a.m. on Nov. 6, which begins with guided relaxation options. The Hoover carillon bells will ring at noon with an expression of gratitude and the university’s commitment to emotional well-being.

With the ringing bells, Stanford is saying, “we care about you,” according to Rich.

The sounding bells will last 20 minutes, followed by a community pause for 20 minutes of silence and reflection. Throughout history and in cultures around the world, Rich said, it is recognized that a certain power exists when one sits in silence in a large group.

Contemplation by Design will also include opportunities to experience breath-based movement practices, including yoga, tai-chi and labyrinth walking. Labyrinth walking involves moving along a non-linear pattern on the ground. The 11-circuit labyrinth at Stanford’s Windhover contemplative center is modeled after one in the Chartres Cathedral in France, built in the early 1200s.

“As you go through the physical pattern, and tend to the pattern, it brings you into your body, which helps you to relax,” said Rich.

At 12:30 p.m. on Nov. 9, Harry J. Elam, vice provost for undergraduate education; Jane Shaw, dean for religious life; Alia Crum, assistant professor of psychology; and Chris Pelchat, director of the Health and Human Performance program, will participate in a panel discussion about contemplative practices in higher education. The panel invites a campus-wide conversation; questions can be submitted by Nov. 3 here.

‘Heart of the storm’

Contemplation by Design culminates with a noon concert at Bing Concert Hall involving students, faculty and staff. Performers will include Music Department professor and chairman Steve Sano, who will play the slack key guitar. Karin Moriarty, an employee in student services, will unveil an expressive dance number, and Michael Chung, ’18, will play the cello. A cappella group Talisman will conclude the concert.

Rich said that Contemplation by Design is a collaborative effort involving various organizations, including the Health Improvement Program, Office for Religious Life, Faculty Staff Help Center, Health and Human Performance, Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education and BeWell. Resources are available all year long, in other words.

“Contemplation helps us enter into feelings of safety, comfort, kindness and connection to other people and to something larger than one’s individual life,” she said.

According to Rich, the educational system is beginning to implement contemplative practices, from kindergarten through college. For example, this year Stanford launched a new initiative, Cardinal Service, which makes it possible for students to spend a quarter engaging in public service.

Rich said that contemplative practices can help prepare students for the rigors and demands of public service experiences. This way, they are more apt to find such experiences rewarding and then continue to engage with their communities throughout their lives, she said.

“Contemplative practice prepares you to sustain competence in the heart of the storm that you are about to enter,” said Rich.