Imagine Inclusion

By Charles Scott (Adjunct Professor of Education at Simon Fraser University and an Associate Professor of Education at City University in Canada)

Imagine, if you will, imagination as the doorway to inclusion, to not only the recognition but the celebration of diversity, and then to a willingness to create and foster equity.

Let us begin with inclusion.

I draw from the work of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber. A central part of his dialogical philosophy of I-Thou relationships is his concept of inclusion. It is, he suggests, an imaginative move made possible by a deeper, empathic apprehension of the other’s reality and experience.

Buber (2002) writes that it is an “extension of one’s own consciousness, the fulfilment of the actual situation of life, the complete presence of the reality in which one participates” where you live through a common event from the standpoint of the other.

Leaves of Cercidiphyllum japonicum pendulum, Weeping Katsura Tree (CC BY NC 4.0).

It is an “imagining of the real” (Buber, 1965, p. 70); Buber’s work was written in German, and the German term for this is informative: Realphantasie. This expansive extension of consciousness becomes an “actuality of the being” (2002, p. 114). For Buber (2000) in writing about the I-Thou relationship, a Thou is not a thing but a whole presence, boundless, and “fills the heavens” (p. 23). I not only confirm the other’s existence as an independent, fully-present Thou, but also “… experience, in the particular approximation of the given moment, the experience belonging to him as this very one. Here and now for the first time does the other become a self for me …” (1965, p. 70); the other becomes a self with me. This, I suggest, is a true experience of inclusion from which other efforts designed to create inclusive conditions can arise.

The point is that this process begins with the imagined possibility and then proceeds, through additional effort, to make that imagining a lived reality. That combination of imagination and the subsequent, additional strivings results in a true dialogical inclusion of, for, and with the other in which the other becomes Other. As Buber’s biographer and colleague Maurice Friedman (1967) writes: “In genuine dialogue the experiencing senses and the real fantasy which supplements them work together to make the other present as whole and one” (p. 100).

Hypochaerus radicata–False dandelion. Westminster Abbey, Mission, BC (CC BY NC 4.0).

Friedman characterizes this process as a “complete intertwining of sensory and spiritual spontaneity” (p. 67). The imaginative capacity works in conjunction with the senses, with our somatic and sensory sensitivities, and with our awareness to “work together to make the other present as a whole and as a unique being, as the person that he is.” This is an immediate knowledge of the Thou. The German word Buber uses for inclusion is Umfassung, which means ‘embrace’ or ‘embracement.’ One fully embraces the other; in doing so, the other is confirmed as a unique whole being.

This imaginative work allows us, in the words of Peter McLaren (1998), to “… bring about an all-embracing and diverse fellowship of global citizens profoundly endowed with a fully claimed humanity” (p. xxix).

The wisdom or contemplative traditions universally enjoin practices designed to start with imagination leading to inclusion. Although there are variations, the almost universal rituals have three primary steps. And the key to their success is sustained practice.

 Reflections of sunshine, Trout Lake Park, Vancouver (CC BY NC 4.0).

First, one regularly reminds oneself, as a brief or extended effort of imagination, that one lives in a connected universe; one affirms this reality. In the Zen traditions of Buddhism, there is the idea of becoming one with “the ten-thousand things,” which represents an expanding sense of awareness of oneness with all beings. It is the development of “an interdependent, ecological self, embedded in the whole universe and, therefore, enacted by the whole universe” (Bai, Bowering, Miyakawa, Cohen, & Scott, 2020, p. 43). In the Sikh tradition, as another example, the core teaching is a teaching of oneness, known as the Mul Mantar (the Prime Utterance), contained in the very first verse of the Guru Granth Sahib: ੴ ਸਤਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਕਰਤਾ ਪੁਰਖੁ ਨਿਰਭਉ ਨਿਰਵੈਰੁ ਅਕਾਲ ਮੂਰਤਿ ਅਜੂਨੀ ਸੈਭੰ ਗੁਰ ਪ੍ਰਸਾਦਿ ॥ This portion of the Mul Mantar can be translated as “There is only one God, and it is called the truth, It exists in all creation, and it has no fear, It does not hate, and it is timeless, universal and self-existent!” A subtle point made in these contemplative traditions is that, paradoxically, at the heart of oneness, the distinct duality of I and Thou remains.

The second step includes the practices of awareness, developing the ability to free the mind from distractions and focus the attention. These are the various contemplative or meditative practices designed to pinpoint attention. The calm, focused awareness is better able to cognize and thus embrace the “ten thousand things.”

The work of attention directly leads one to the next step of working with and in the heart to fully develop the embrace of the other. As Mary Oliver (2004) writes “When you listen with empty ears, you hear more. And this is the core of the secret: Attention is the beginning of devotion” (p. 56).

One works through a literal felt sense and attendant somatic capacities to develop the ‘love-related’ practices. Arouse love through remembrance of being loved, of giving love to another, be it a lover, child, parent, friend, animal or other sentient or even non-sentient being or beings. Again, there are a multitude of devotional, heart-centered practices that are possible (Scott & Bai, 2017). Hold those remembrances like a sustained note; with practice, one can sustain that note as a heart-felt offering for longer and longer periods until, as Rumi puts it, one falls “into the place where everything is music” (Barks, 1995, p. 34).

Imagine that!

About the Author

I am an Adjunct Professor of Education at Simon Fraser University and an Associate Professor of Education at City University in Canada. I love teaching and my research interests focus on human transformation: contemplative inquiry, dialogue and its applications in education, transformative learning, and human and more-than-human flourishing.


Bai, H., Bowering, S., Miyakawa, M., Cohen, A., & Scott, C. (2020). Unleashing the elephant out of the closet and into the wildness of inner work. In O. Ergas and J. Ritter (Eds.), Exploring self toward expanding teaching, teacher education and practitioner research (pp. 37–54). Emerald Publishing Limited.

Barks, C. (1995). The essential Rumi (C. Barks, Trans.). HarperOne.

Buber, M. (2000/1958). I and thou. (R. Smith, Trans.). Scribner.

Buber, M. (2002). Between man and man (R. Smith, Trans.). Routledge.

Buber, M. (1965). The knowledge of man: Selected essays (R. Smith & M. Friedman, Trans.). New York: Harper & Row.

McLaren, P. (1998). Preface: A pedagogy for life. In P. Freire Teachers as cultural workers: Letters to those who dare teach (pp. xxvii–xxxix). Westview Press.

Oliver, M. (2004). Blue iris: Poems and essays. Boston: Beacon Press.

Scott, C. & Bai, H. (2017).  Bhakti yoga as intersubjective contemplative practice. In O. Gunnlaugson, C. Scott, E. Sarath, & H. Bai (Eds.). Intersubjective approaches to contemplative learning (pp. 199–234). State University of New York Press.

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