Class of 2013
Contemplative Studies, B.A.
I came to Brown with an interest in studying religion, philosophy, and art. While it made sense to me that these subjects should be pursued together, I assumed I would defer to the conventional wisdom of the university, that draws solid lines between modes and methods of learning. Through a concentration in "Contemplative Studies: Creativity & Consciousness," I have been able to pursue humanistic studies of religion and philosophy alongside visual and literary arts work, within an integrative framework. I have come to learn more and more that what I am studying is inseparable from who I am, and who I am informs and determines what I study. I am thankful for the opportunity to be treated as a whole human, a learner who has become educated in these four years at Brown not just by my academic coursework, but through art and meditation practice, exposure to visiting contemplative scholars and practitioners, and engagement with Brown and Providence communities.
Class of 2013
Contemplative Studies, B.A.
Chemical and Biochemical Engineering, Sc.B.
For much of my life, my intellectual attention was directed at the external world. This is why I applied to Brown as a chemical & biochemical engineering major, seeking to not only learn the lawful ways in which our lived universe is constructed, but also how to control the constituents of the physical world to better our lives. Although this concentration has been rewarding and fascinating in its own realm, the mechanistic, analytical, and truly objective approach of education in natural science was not enough to explain the depth and complexity of our inner lives. Through the rich experiences I have had at Brown as a student from Japan, my intellectual curiosity also opened its eye to the internal world of human nature: why do we think and behave the way we do, how does our culture shape our self-hood, how do such differences in turn determine the way we suffer, and most importantly, how do we better our inner lives? To answer this inquiry of both personal and academic interest, I decided to pursue Contemplative Psychology: a concentration in which I am able to use the first-person learning of my own bi-cultural mind, alongside the conventional third-person leaning methods to study the human mind and its interconnectedness to the body. As a student interested in integrated medicine, I am grateful for my education at Brown, where I can examine the art of healing from both a truly biochemical aspect of engineering technology, as well as the humanistic and philosophical aspect of psychotherapy.
Class of 2010
Honors Contemplative Studies, Sc. B.
My concentration included courses in Buddhist studies, cognitive science, neuroscience, philosophy, and psychology. The program allowed for the study of mind from both first and third person perspectives. The degree culminated in an honors thesis in which I explored cortical dynamics and mental training. After graduation I will begin a full-time research position studying the effects of meditation on somatosensory brain rhythm modulation using magnetoencephalography (MEG).
Class of 2010
Narrative Approaches to Medicine, A.B.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a doctor. I just haven’t always been able to explain why or how. Why did I want to become a part of a medical system that is so impersonal and dehumanizing? How can I become a doctor, without also being absorbed into a system I see as deeply flawed? These are questions I tried to answer during my time at Brown. As other students diligently fulfilled the requirements of the pre-medical curriculum, I took courses in philosophy, comparative literature, and contemplative studies; as my classmates studied anatomy, I explored Qi Gong, meditation, and other diverse practices of alternative medicine; and as others conducted lab research and shadowed surgeons, I volunteered in acupuncture clinics, observing doctors of classical Chinese medicine.
What I found is that the conventional pre-med science courses could give me the tools to examine and describe the complex neural circuits involved in a patient’s perception of pain. But these science courses could not help me feel another’s pain, or give me insight into the suffering of an individual; they could not teach me how to interpret the chaotic stories of patients, how to understand and respond to their experiences, how to make sense of their illnesses. In short, science couldn’t provide me with the thing I wanted the most: the capacity to care for the person who’s hurting.
I created this independent concentration because I’ve always been driven by the view that we are not simply bodies; each of us is also a story. Drawing on literature, art, and contemplative practices, I have sought to gain a deeper, nuanced understanding of patients and their subjective experiences of pain, illness, and suffering – those aspects of their personal lives that cannot simply be portrayed by lab data, MRI scans, and hospital charts.
The medical discipline often places a heavy emphasis on objectivity, empirical research, and scientific detachment, but, through the Contemplative Studies Initiative, I’ve discovered that there is also value in studying human subjectivity and being mindfully aware of people’s daily lived experiences, especially in a field such as medicine. In my next four years at Brown’s Warren Alpert Medical School, I hope to continue my involvement in the Contemplative Studies Initiative as I work to promote humanism in medicine.
Class of 2009
Honors Contemplative Studies, A.B.
My concentration is entitled Musical Dimensions of Contemplative Study. I became involved with the Initiative as a sophomore through the Intro to Contemplative Studies course. Before long, I realized that an independent concentration in Contemplative Studies was the only way to go for me. I wanted to incorporate the critical first-person component of my art, study, and practice into my academic work, and I wanted to pursue so many interdisciplinary interests that no one concentration seemed like a good fit. To my delight, I was able to incorporate my work as a musician and my budding contemplative practice into a concentration exploring the musical state of mind, a contemplative state in which we all participate every day. My culminating work is the composition and recording of an original Yogic song cycle blending traditional Eastern and Western instrumentation with ambient recorded samples from my environment. This concentration has taught me mindful listening, which is not only a valuable skill but an enjoyable pastime.
Class of 2009
Contemplative Studies, A.B.
Surveying the past 6,000 years of human history, I see persistent strife and conflict. Situations change but the fundamental roots of suffering remain, such as greed, fear, and hatred. My focus in Contemplative Studies has been to examine whether this is an inexorable part of the human condition or if we can dramatically alter our core internal states. This investigation consisted of first-person observation and third-person learning. Meditation labs, retreats, and reflective writing provided insight into my own mental and emotional patterns. The training guides and reports of mystics, the latest research on neuroscience and meditation, philosophical treatises on the human condition, and psychological practices of behavior modification offered an analytical framework for understanding the innate human characteristics that lead to suffering.
After graduation I attended a three month silent meditation retreat in order to further my first-person investigation. It is clear that the roots of suffering are embedded deep within the fabric of our being. To fully uproot them requires years of practice and the utmost dedication. There is hope, however. The first step to overcoming the roots of suffering is to become aware of them. Contemplative practices, such as mindfulness and meditation, provide this awareness.