Professor Laura Rendón’s book, Sentipensante (Sensing/Thinking) Pedagogy: Educating for Wholeness, Social Justice, and Liberation (Stylus Publishing 2014), offers important insights into integrating contemplative practice into social justice courses. Sentipensante pedagogy, according to Dr. Rendón, works with three goals:
1. “Disrupt and transform entrenched beliefs…about teaching and wholeness…that act against wholeness and appreciation of truth in all forms” (135).
2. Cultivate “personas educadas, well-rounded individuals who possess knowledge and wisdom” (136).
3. “Instill learners with a commitment to sustain life” (136).
All of these goals focus on cultivating self-awareness within the larger context of social justice.
She challenges many of the values that have become embedded in academia, many of which privilege Western knowledges over Nonwestern and Indigenous wisdom. Some of these values, with their emphasis on the intellect and productivity, often cut us off from our whole selves. (How often do you find yourself exhausted in a semester, wishing for more time for your personal life, for instance?)
A full discussion of her rich theory of sentipensante pedagogy is beyond the scope of this website, which is designed to focus more on practices than on theory. But I do highly recommend her book. To learn more about the values she wishes to challenge in academia and the agreements she embraces instead, see both her book and the webinar she does with Dr. Vijay Kanagala through the Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education.
Both her book and the webinar Dr. Rendón leads with Dr. Kanagala describe the practice of creating cajitas to help students examine their positionality in culture and identity (76-80). This project is drawn from the work of Dr. Alberto Pulido, one of the interviewees for Dr. Rendón’s research. It is important to note that this project, according to Dr. Pulido, was done to commemorate El Día De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead). If the project is done at a different time of year or in a class that does not address Chicano/a issues, this context (or lack thereof) needs to be addressed.
A cajita, or sacred box, is a project in which students reflect on their relationship to their family and their culture in their everyday lives. It is a ritual in which they can pay tribute to their roots and their loved ones, while also reflecting on what has shaped them. In both the process of creating the cajitas—which often includes a reflection paper—and in sharing them with the class, students often express/develop a political consciousness related to their positionality in culture.
The process of creating and sharing a cajita includes a ritual component that requires a level of contemplation. It also builds community in the classroom and helps participants better understand the diverse experiences of people in the room, including the professor, who also makes a cajita.
Though I myself have not yet made one nor have I assigned this project in my classes, I imagine the tactile nature of creating the piece is both artistic and transformative. For instance, in the webinar, Dr. Kanagala’s described his own creation, which revolved around a suitcase that had been used in his family’s move to the United States. The history and family stories represented in that suitcase, along with the conversations it seemed to produce between him and his mother, was as much a transformative part of the process as the sharing of it with his class.
Hear his rich description of his project and learn more about how to use the practice in a social justice classroom in this webinar. The entire webinar is well worth listening to, while the description of the practices begin at about 25 minutes into the talk.