Guidelines for Writing Exercises
* Electing the practice-oriented approach involves a commitment to maintain your own contemplative practice a minimum of three times a week, preferably every other day. You must also attend one of the group meetings for contemplative practice held Monday at 5-5:45 pm, Wednesdays & Fridays at 12-12:45 pm each week, though you need not attend the same session each week; your silent presence at these meetings, as well as at both retreats, counts as part of your attendance. Your experience of sitting in silence will serve as the primary topic for an informal journal, which you will submit for review every two weeks (see "Schedule of Topics & Readings" for precise dates).
* Opting for the theory-oriented approach, on the other hand, exempts you from maintaining a practice, but also involves a greater commitment to analytical writing: in addition to preparing reading notes for the sources assigned each week, you must complete an analytical exercise for three of the four major pre-modern sources (i.e., those assigned for purchase), due the Monday immediately following the last class during which the chosen source is discussed. You are still required to attend both retreats as an observer, and to incorporate our insights from this observation into your written work.
Students in both the practice- and theory-oriented categories will write a short formal reflection sometime during each unit (see "Schedule of Topics & Readings" for the dates from which you may chose), as well as a slightly longer final reflection due on Friday, May 9th. The guidelines below spell out this common task.
Your Task: I suggest you work in the following order, although you may find some other process that accomplishes the same thing:
1. Choose some theme or issue that particularly inspired, perplexed, annoyed, or otherwise engages your thinkingpassionately, if possible--related to something you read in either (a) the contemporary guiding text that you chose for review during the first two weeks of class; or (b) the pre-modern readings assigned throughout the class. (For those who have elected the practice-oriented approach, this will probably be an extension of your required discussion of these two types of sources in the journal.) Begin writing by referring briefly to your chosen source; but then move on to consider the deeper issue(s) which it raises for you, rather than dwelling on particular details or quotations from the source.
2. Ponder at some point the extent to which what you assume with regard to this issue is in fact really accurate; keep rereading and revising your sentences to make them more focused and clearly connected. You may find it helpful to relocate some of your concluding insights to your opening paragraph, and then revising so that everything supports such insight(s).
3. When you have finished at least a draft, add a visual dimension to your reflection: create (either drawn by hand or computer) a diagram or concept map that in some way illustrates your thinking about the larger idea(s) you have tackled. To do this, arrange symbols, images, and/or short words and phrases (rather than sentences) in spatial relation to one another on the page, in order to illustrate the relationship of key concepts described in your written reflection.
Suggestions for your focus: you might work out systematically what you think contemplative practice (or some aspect of it) is all about, perhaps based on one or more comments of one of the sources; you could also reflect consistently on particular successes or difficulties you are having in your practice, if you are maintaining one. Your reflection might be a narrative account (fiction or non-fiction), a letter (to yourself, to me, to God (or a god), or to someone else), a poem, but should always include some picture or diagram expressing your reflections. If you have some other form of reflection you want to try (a song? a more detailed visual representation?) please suggest it to me.
Criteria for Evaluation: in assigning a point value to your reflections (out of 5 points for each one during the term, and10 points for the final) I will consider first the creativity, honesty, & insight reflected in your writing; but also, as a close second, the care with which you choose your words and organize your sentences and paragraphs. With regards to the three steps suggested above, I will look closely at:
1. the skill with which you connect your chosen source to some issue or theme of personal interest, accurately and succinctly noting some detail of your source but then focusing primarily on your own insights. Wherever you do mention the source it should be explicitly (and if necessary repeatedly) referenced with a page number in parentheses (especially if you are simply paraphrasing); see “Notes on Written Work” regarding the format for doing this.
2. (a) the care with which you have articulated and examined your own unstated assumptions about the detail or issue on which you have chosen to reflect, and the degree to which you have allowed new understanding to emerge.
2. (b) the degree to which you have pursued a single train of thought about that theme or issue as far as you can without changing the subject, and the extent to which the connections between your sentences and paragraphs are clear.
3. the success with which your diagram or concept map clarifies and supports what you have written (please include a brief explanation of if its connection to your prose is not evident); note that I will not evaluate your drawing skills! Also WRITE YOURSELF A NOTE to make sure to include some diagram, since you probably don't usually submit one with your written work; your score will be significantly reduced if the visual part of your reflection is missing.
Final Reflection: for the last of these reflections, you should choose some theme or issue that allows you to refer to three of the four major pre-modern sources we have studied, as a way of providing a summary and conclusion to the ideas you have wrestled with all term.
Reminders about length: 700-1000 words = 2-3 pages with most fonts and margins; deadlines: Friday 5pm of the week whose readings inspired your reflection (see "Schedule of Topics & Readings" for possible dates) ; and media: word-processed, spell-checked & proofread, stapled or paper-clipped hard copy (if you email your reflection to meet a deadline, make sure you also drop off a hard copy as soon as possible afterwards). Also make sure to review the "Notes on Written Work" especially regarding parenthetical references, loose pages, late work, and the limits of consulting with others for these written exercises.
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