Art/Research International: A Transdisciplinary Journal
Volume 4 Issue 2, 2019
A REVIEW OF SUSAN CASEY WALSH'S
“CONTEMPLATIVE AND ARTFUL OPENINGS:
RESEARCHING WOMEN AND TEACHING”
Alison Lizette Black
University of the Sunshine Coast
ablack1@usc.edu.au
Ali Black is Senior Lecturer, arts-based and narrative researcher at the University of the
Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia. Ali is interested in autoethnographic, storied and
visual approaches for supporting meaning-making, and the power and impact of
collaborative and relational knowledge construction. She is working to create a kinder
academy and is focused on spaces for female academics to share their experiences.
Abstract: These poetic and visual offerings are responses to Susan Walsh’s book
Contemplative and Artful Openings. Her book offers to readers an invitation to join the open,
emergent space of her text, to wonder and engage. And so, with this review, I have begun.
Keywords: Poetic response; research artifacts; Miksang; awarenessing; (re)imagining
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Are you wanting a different way of being in academia? Tired of the neoliberal
machinations and limiting beliefs that see us competing, isolated, anxious and stressed? Do
you long for kindness and compassion in the academy, research that makes a difference?
Susan Casey Walsh writes that her “deepest aspiration for Contemplative and Artful
Openings is that it be of benefit to others, that it contributes to conversations about research
and living well together” (p. xvi). As a reader and a seeker, Susan has caused me to think
deeply about what it might mean to “live well together” and to “be differently” in relation to
inquiry, to research, to others. From the first to the last page, she has connected me to
ongoing moments of “awarenessing” (p. 25).
Contemplative and Artful Openings is a reminder of what matters, it is sustenance for
the heart, body, soul and mind. In this honest and vulnerable mosaic of stories, poetic
fragments, research questions, and imagery, Susan encourages us to take up Elliot Eisner’s
call to
“see things in fresh ways”
(cited in Saks,
1996, p.
412) and recognise the
transformational power of creative processes for
(re)visiting scholarly ideas, dilemmas,
longings, and uneasiness. Scattering examples and stories like landmarks, she describes
her own journey across the six chapters, inviting us to explore how contemplative and artful
practices might move us closer to an ethic of care and caring, to respectful and
compassionate research.
Contemplative and Artful Openings is a resource for anyone wanting to (re)imagine
an academy that is kinder, more mindful and care-full. It offers a range of invitations to
connect with-in-ourselves-each-other, to become more aware, more conscious of our
interactions and intra-actions. Some of these invitations are practical, offering tools and
ways to make and find meaning: drawing, creative writing, journaling, poetry, contemplative
photography, clustering, art-making, meditation, movement, being with the breath. Invitations
are also ontological and philosophical: linked to ways of knowing and feeling, to respect,
compassion, equality, to Buddhist ideas, ancient wisdom and spiritual traditions. They are
theoretical: feminist and poststructural, acknowledging socio-historical, cultural and political
contexts, and female subjects, voices, words and bodies. And they are human - linked to
stories of the heart, stories of suffering, fear, violence, uncertainty, injustice and distress.
Overarching themes of love and care permeate the artefact-filled pages connecting us to
hope, curiosity and relationship. Her weaving of words and imagery are an energetic
interplay of thought, language, space, senses, perception, tuning in, and turning outward.
Across this work, so many ways to engage with-in-&-with-the-world-with-other-sentient-
beings arise.
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Flowers chopped off headless
the pain of academic life
the weight of deadlines-myriad meetings-committees-expectations demands
less attentive than I desire through research teaching and everyday life
it is a safety
net but it’s a prison too
this book maps a movement from fear to something gentler and more
s p a c i o u s
textual moves
play with language contemplations poetry,
photography musings
an un-fold-ing process of awareness and awarenessing
artful and contemplative processes forms that
help me go deeper e x p a n d outward
I am a co-creator
of this world
What does this mean for the research process?
Poetic response 1 by Ali Black: Experimenting with found/read
words, ideas and spaces
As a reader interested in arts-based methods, creativity, living well and
counting
differently, I devoted several
restorative days to being with
Susan’s ideas-writing-invitations. I
sat with her words, the images, the
felt sense, and I sought to honour
and hold space for her offerings,
and then to respond
- to make
connections and open to the
sensations. It truly took me on a
journey of noticing, of contemplating
the ways I know, being with who I
am, moving beyond myself. It
caused me to explore slowly,
heartfully, with fresh eyes. I didn’t
read it in one sitting. I stopped and
Figure 1. Practicing Miksang, celebrating rest, love,
engaged in note taking, in writing
connection and relational space. Photo credit: Ali Black
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my own poetry, in searching the internet to find out more about Miksang (contemplative
photography). I gave time to practicing Miksang, celebrating my cat and his whiskers, and
the joy of rest. I allowed my eyes to close in meditation, allowed myself to fall into an
afternoon nap. My cat and I. Communing. Relational beings.
This book has aroused a sense of spaciousness, through its language, its invitations,
its message. Before I began my day of working I walked the beach. I wanted to relate to the
earth, to create space in my overworking habits. I touched the earth gently, revelled in the
emptiness, the happy dogs, the warming sun, the crashing waves of turquoise and green,
the eagle in the blue-grey overhead. I gave time to stillness. Sitting in stillness. Attending to
my breath. Noticing. Being-with-in my body and listening more openly. I gave time to my
body’s sensations, to experiencing each of my senses. I stayed in the moment. Open.
Listening to the space around my thoughts, letting them go, inhale and exhale, ebb and flow.
“Awarenessing space” (p. 61).
As I walked the beach on a new day something had shifted. I was more alert to the
beauty of the world around me. That day, I saw the beauty and I let it in, playfully, somehow
more connected to my environment, to the open space. The other day as I was reading
Susan’s book, I recognised that I simply go too fast, too fast to be with what is, too fast to
notice and observe. I
blame it on the relentless
demands of my work, the
never-ending tasks, but
now I am more mindful, I
know that I co-create. I
recognise that I fill my
mind with thoughts, with
replays of conversations
said and unsaid. I am too
caught up with thoughts in
my head that I barely
touch the world around
me, constantly distracted. I
realise that I long for
space and spaciousness.
Where I notice. Where I
am still. Where I look with
Figure 2. Practicing Miksang, witnessing tumbleweeds:
awake eyes and an awake
movement, shifting and letting go. Photo credit: Ali Black.
heart.
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this book is a gift, a collection of text and imagery
I feel myself-heart-mind opening as
it invites
spacious ways of being sensing thinking responding as
it invites
my contribution reflection pondering stories ideas awareness
My engagement in a process that exceeds this text, these readings, these
writings.
What do I need to learn from this that can help me today?
Engage in processes that make more
room
the tumbleweeds greet me and remind me to let go go with the flow and
relax
notice
allow something new
to emerge
to manifest to fall
away
they call me to play
and explore and wonder and bring
my whole self
I walk the beach senses keener the eagle swirling above me my heart
swells
with joy
the waves over my feet the air
on my skin and in my hair
attuning to the more than human world the energy the beauty the shifting
my toes in the sand
remembering the purple flowers and the red beating of your heart and the
yellow
clay and the orange clay too
remembering the value of feeling the clay
holding
it very care-fully
softening
noticing the space around me
softening
you have shifted my attention listening
breathing being bearing witness
aware of
my own red beating heart
commingling of inside and outside red blue-grey yellow turquoise orange
green purple
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recognising how we
might all live
together more gently and see ourselves
in the other
thank you Susan
Poetic response 2 by Ali Black: responding poetically, describing feelings, awareness,
spaces found
Contemplative and Artful Openings is totally unique. It calls to our essence as
humans and as researchers; it calls and connects through its vulnerable and stunning
writing, through its heartlines of kindness and compassion. For arts-based researchers it
shows what thoughtful methodologies can look like. For contemplative practitioners it
highlights how interconnectedness can be fostered and supported. For anyone in the
academy it shows research and writing as compassionate contemplative practice, as a way
to transform ourselves, our academy and our communities. It is a most beautiful offering
that will call you to respond, to imagine, to hope, and to “be” differently.
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REFERENCES
Saks, A. L. (1996). Should novels count as dissertations in education? Research in the
Teaching of English, 30(4), 403-427.
Walsh, S. C. (2017). Contemplative and artful openings: Researching women and teaching.
New York, NY: Routledge.
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