Anne Charles / Sun Staff Photographer

November 10, 2016

CORNELL CLOSE-UPS | Prof. Encourages Intellectual Curiosity, Mindfulness Through Meditation

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Prof. Jane-Marie Law, Asian, Near Eastern, and religious studies stays busy teaching Introduction to Japan, operating a sustainable farm and taking a group of students to Japan every summer, yet still finds time to meditate.

Law encourages her students to explore subject matter through movies, theatre and art viewings and helps her students to interact with class material by sharing personal stories.

“What I’ve discovered is that what people really want to hear is other people’s stories,” she said. “They don’t really want to hear other people’s truths. [That’s why] I never talk about something that I don’t really care about.”

In addition to her course material, Law has strong feelings on the education system, which she believes confines students’ curiosity rather than encouraging imagination.

“We have students coming in that have been so intellectually careful — they’re timid, they want things spelled out,” she said.

Law explained that she completely revamps her course every year to make sure every class’ experience is unique. She said she wants to expose students to material they may not encounter in their daily lives, to further develop their individual intellects.

The professor said she also emphasizes self-acceptance and mindfulness in both the classroom and her personal life.

“Meditation gives you permission to be just good enough,” she said. “I don’t stress myself out being a perfectionist, because when you just be here now, you realize that the only thing that you can do in the present is very limited. You can only do what you can do in the present. And that has to be good enough.”

She extends this approach to many aspects of her life, including her appreciation and creation of art — as a practitioner of “cultivation in action,” Law believes that aesthetic training is closely linked to self-realization.

“The physical training that you put your body through kind of presents an opportunity for seeing the true nature of reality and cultivating the depth of a person,” she said. “It was very interesting to me later, as I got to know more about Japanese aesthetics, to understand that the art form I’m best at — which is dressage — is actually tied into Japanese aesthetics.”

Every year, Law takes her “Zen Buddhism” class on a trip to Japan where students live in a monastery for two weeks during the summer. She said students are always surprised by the experience of living in a temple, secluded from society and meditating daily.

“On day seven [of the trip], everybody just kind of hit[s] this wall,” she said. “Imagine hitting a brick wall and sort of sliding down … and what hit the wall was that they had been spending a lot more time being quiet and not having to invent a personality the whole time.”

When students come to her “falling apart,” Law said she tells them to “lower your standards.”

“Regard the ages between 18 and 22 as a time when you should learn some self-care,” she said. “Take care of yourself.”