Carnegie Mellon University

photoPatricia Carpenter


Many individuals experience complete or partial disconnection from the environment – not just from trees and parks, but also from other people and our own trash dumps. But many traditions claim that our experience of the world as outside and independent of us is an illusion. Moreover, some claim that our ‘discriminating mind’ is the source of the illusion, a claim that was quite perplexing to me as a cognitive psychology researcher, when I began reading Eastern philosophy and psychology. What I discovered over the past 10 years is that some of the practices that these traditions suggest are helpful in opening me to more experiences of connection – meditating, walks in Schenley Park and occasional retreats. Also, practices that emphasize carefully attending to bodily experiences have been helpful –for me, these included Alexander Technique lessons, and (slowly) learning tai chi and shiatsu (a Japanese acupressure system involving the Chinese meridians). My teaching includes exploring some of these ideas and approaches with students. Typically many undergraduates have already tried or read about at least one of these before enrolling, and many are interested in exploring further. In my research, I investigate how it might be that the ‘discriminating mind’ gives rise to such a pervasive and well-accepted illusion. It strikes me that it is this illusion that is central to our ‘environmental’ crises. I explore that research with students as well.