Gold standard meditation and contemplative practice

The Contemplative Studies Centre is informing best practice for contemplative practices so our society and world can flourish. The Centre was established in 2021 thanks to a transformative $10M gift from Mr Martin Hosking and Dr Loreto Hosking through the Three Springs Foundation.

Looking after our mental health has climbed towards the top of many people’s priority lists since the emergence of COVID-19, but even before the pandemic began there was an explosion of interest in contemplative practices such as mindfulness and meditation as society sought to achieve a quietening of the mind in a fast-paced and uncertain world.

At the same time, many of us are considering how this new focus on contemplative practices can help us to face significant global problems such as climate change and human rights issues. By becoming more contemplative individuals, we can develop more connected communities to be less focused on ourselves and more focused on each other and the shared world.

Today, contemplative practices are more accessible than ever thanks to mobile apps that remind you to ‘observe your breath’, and amateur-run classes in workplaces and schools offered during lunchbreaks. But while these practices can be incredibly helpful for most people, recent studies show they can also be harmful if not approached with consideration and care.

Fresh start for ancient traditions

The Contemplative Studies Centre (CSC or the Centre),  sitting within the University’s Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences, is helping inform best practice for modern contemplative practices so our society and world can flourish through greater connection and compassion.

CSC Director and Associate Professor of Psychological Sciences, Nicholas Van Dam, is passionate about ensuring the wider community have a safe and impactful relationship with mindfulness and meditation.

“Contemplative practices can help people to understand themselves, the world and each other better,” said Associate Professor Van Dam.

But in order to do that well and to reap the benefits and to minimise the harms, they have to be authentic practices based on evidence.

Associate Professor Nicholas Van Dam Associate Professor Nicholas Van Dam

Through interdisciplinary, evidence-based research, the Centre is working to determine what authentic and effective contemplation-based offerings should look like.

Mr Hosking has been interested in unlocking the benefits of meditation and contemplative studies for many years.

The Redbubble co-founder recognises how invaluable meditation and mindfulness practices have been for him personally as a business leader – particularly when coping with anxieties induced by the COVID-19 pandemic. “It means you are less immediately reactive to events that are occurring,” he shared.

Mr Hosking has a particular interest in students and young people.

I know the personal benefits of meditation and believe the introduction of study in this area will have a profound impact on our future leaders, professionals and educators.

Timely and diverse meditation

As the CSC started operating in 2021, the team were acutely aware that many University of Melbourne students and staff were experiencing COVID-19 fatigue and isolation. The Centre surveyed the University community on their interest in participating in guided meditation.

The response was overwhelming with 882 participants attending 27 Meditation for Lockdown sessions facilitated by expert teachers from four different faith and wisdom traditions – Buddhist Korean Zen, contemporary insight (secular), Wayapa Wuurrk (Indigenous) and contemporary Christian. In 2022, this suite of engagement offerings continues to grow with the establishment of The Contemplation Conversations public engagement series; an interdisciplinary academic exchange series aimed at advancing the field of contemplative science; and a range of inter-faith and wisdom tradition salons, tradition deep-dives and dialogues.

The CSC also has flagship research projects moving into operation and trials, and has launched its inaugural round of seed funding to support creative and collaborative academic projects that advance the interest, capacity, and impact of contemplative studies and practice.

Leading practices for all

Professor Sarah Wilson, former Head of School, Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences – now Pro Vice-Chancellor Student Life – welcomed the Hoskings’ generous gift to the School in 2021.

“This exciting new Centre is a timely gift to our whole community, as it brings the latest research evidence and an interdisciplinary approach to guide us on the most effective ways to contemplate and navigate the complexities of our lives.”