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Contemplative Dialogue - round by round

blog by Els Cornelis – 18 May 2022
dossier: Future Art School
The Contemplative Dialogue is not difficult to initiate. As a workshop leader it is however especially important to provide a safe and quiet environment. Put the tables and chairs in a circle to emphasize the equality and the connection within the group. Take care there is enough time to switch moods: from ‘busy, busy, busy’ to taking time to contemplate on what is being read or heard. Explicitly ask if there is a willingness to openly explore this alternative way of communicating with each other, and to see how they experience it. There should be no forcing, there is only an invitation. What is shared within the Contemplative Dialogue is not judged as 'right or wrong'. How this way of working is experienced also falls outside the scope of 'right or wrong'. If participants become feeling uneasy, or start laughing, explain that is precisely what humans tend to feel or do when they do something out of the ordinary. And that is okay.

Here are the instructions to the participants of the Contemplative Dialogue. Personally, I share these instructions round by round with the participants, so that everyone feels equally involved in the process.

ROUND 1: READING TEXT / INDICATING TEXT FRAGMENTS (also possible as preparation)

Keep a pen or pencil by the hand when reading the text.
Mark in the margin, the text fragment that you consider important, triggers you in some way, or raises questions. Some questions to help you on track:

What do you feel when you (re)read this fragment?
Do you see a connection with your own ideas or experiences in life, at school or work, in art or art education?
Is it something you would like to delve into further – does it arouse your curiosity?
How is it related to your own artistic ideas or art (educational) practice?

TIP: It is convenient to use different indications, e.g. “?” for a question, “!” for something you consider as important or an eye-opener, a “ϟ” (lightning symbol) to indicate something you find shocking, a “V” when you have had similar experiences or wholeheartedly agree, and so on.


After having read the text, choose one of the most important text fragments you have indicated.
Write down why you have chosen this text fragment. Questions that can help:

Why did this fragment touch you in some way or caused you to think?
What questions do you face when reading this fragment?

The chosen quote and the reaction (questions/ observations/ ….) are used in the collective dialogue, starting in Round 3.

TIP: Try to stay away from an attitude in which you do not agree. For a lot of people that seems to be the first reaction. “To think is to exist” could nowadays be almost completely covered by “to disagree is to exist”. So what other reactions could you tap into?

It is important to write out the full reaction. It causes you to slow down, and to carefully choose the words with which you express your feeling or train of thought. Of course, for people with difficulties in writing, other methods such as drawing can be implemented to word the reaction on the text fragment chosen.


Everyone in the group will, one by one, read out lout the text fragment that is chosen. It is convenient to also mention the page number and the position of the text fragment. After having read the text fragment, continue by reading out loud your written reaction on the selected text fragment.

TIP: Refrain from reacting to one another. I am aware this is not the way we are used to do things. But really, you contribute more if you just sit quiet for a while, and give space to whatever is shared. By not reacting you let each other know that every reaction is equally accepted and appreciated.

Take the time to read the quote. So really, take the time. You are sharing something precious. Feel that everyone is happy to receive what you are offering.

Take a pause in between the contributions. So you can contemplate and let sink in what the previous participant just shared. If desired, this could also be a good moment to write down some keywords that you can use in the next round.


Choose one of the previously read reactions you were touched by in some way (intellectually, emotionally, …) and write this out as closely as you remember it.
Additionally, write down your own reaction on what you previously heard. Questions that can help:

Why did this reaction touch you in some way or caused you to think/ feel/ observe/ …?
What questions came to your mind when you heard this reaction?
What is the relationship between the reaction and your own experiences/ thoughts/ dreams/ fascinations/ …?


Once again, one by one, no comments in between, and reading out loud slowly with pauses in between.


Note to workshop leader: It is possible to repeat this as many times as the participants like or there is time. Just be sure that there is enough time to really listen to one another. When rushing the rounds, you are probably missing the point of the Contemplative Dialogue.


It is important to take the same approach as within the previous rounds of the Contemplative Dialogue, meaning providing a space and time in which you all slow down, are open to all reactions, and experience safety.

Note to workshop leader: One possibility to initiate this group discussion is to let the participants first write down one word or make a small drawing on a card. What do they take with them from this Contemplative Dialogue? What did they notice or experience? What interesting insights did they gather? (…) On basis of the words or drawings, the group discussion can start in a more contemplative way.

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