Learning Feelings: Foundations of Contemplative Education


The proposed ineffability of subjective experience has meant that it is frequently absent

in educational discourse, where the emphasis is on objective and rational acquisition of

knowledge. This prevailing conception of knowledge leaves the pre-predicative

foundations of learning neglected, which this thesis challenges by foregrounding the

subjective contemplative experience of its ‘co-researchers’ (i.e. ‘participants’). In doing

this, it reveals a subjective interrelational realm, intersecting and being intersected by

the objective that grounds learning through contemplation.

This project, sited in the holistic approach of contemplative education, critically

examines the co-researchers’ experience of this realm. Its interdisciplinary

phenomenological approach and methods provided access to the co-researchers’

contemplative interior experience. The rich data resulting from these methods revealed

their development of feeling languages and maps, which they used to navigate their

inner landscapes. Recognising the importance of these metaphorical languages led to

the central findings of this thesis. Despite the co-researchers’ struggle at times to define

their contemplative experience, what they reported is suggestive of a contemplative

synaesthesia, or their experience of gestalts of affective, somatic, cognitive and

transcendent modes of being. I have termed the process that I believe underpins these

gestalts, the feeling nexus. Further I suggest that the feeling nexus resides in an

elemental ground-of-being, and that contemplative engagement with both provides a

sense of integration that founds the positive outcomes of contemplative education.

This project’s exploration of the feeling nexus starts with a phenomenological and

Yogic examination of an interrelational or ecological body, made permeable by the

interspersion of its contexts. Its interrelational nature provides access to the feeling

nexus, while contemplative experience of it frequently initiates a trajectory through

contemplation where new meaning arises through pre-predictive, somatic and cognitive

phases of meaning making. This study’s translation of the co-researchers’ experience in

each of these stages is a unique approach that traces their creation of new meaning

through contemplation. It offers a schema of learning through feelings for

contemplative pedagogy, and a conception of subjective contemplative experience that

contributes to an ontology of consciousness, which is currently missing from

contemplative education theory.


Patricia Fay Morgan