LifeWorks - Course Listings

Current Courses

Tools for a Meaningful Life

LIFE 101

Instructors: Aneel Chima, Diane Friedlaender, Gigi Otalvaro, and Andrew Todhunter 

3 Units, WAYS-CE and WAYS-ED

Explores the foundational skills for a meaningful life.  Features lectures by faculty from across the university and labs for experiential practice.  Draws on research and practices from fields related to psychology, philosophy, literature, and neuroscience, as well as wisdom traditions from around the world.  Focuses on developing human capacities necessary for a meaningful life including: attention, courage, devotion, resilience, imagination, and gratitude.  Exposure to these capacities influences personal growth and its development in communities.


Meeting the Moment: Inner Resources for Hard Times


Instructors: Andrew Todhunter & Jonah Willihnganz 

1 Unit

In the face of social, economic, and public health upheavals, many of us are experiencing an unprecedented degree of uncertainty, isolation, and stress that affects academic and day-to-day life. Challenging times ask us - in a voice louder than usual - to identify sources of strength and develop practices that sustain and even liberate. In this experiential, project-oriented class, students will explore, first-hand, experiences and practices many have used to find their true ground and enact positive change for themslves and their communities. After experimenting with practices that help cultivate natural capacities like presence, courage, and compassion, students will develop, in teams, resources to share with one another and the entire Stanford community.

The Counterstory in Literature and Education

LIFE 124 
This course is cross-listed with EDUC 341/EDUC 141/CSRE 141E

Instructor: Anthony Lising Antonio

3 Units, WAYS-CE and WAYS-ED

Counterstory is a method developed in critical legal studies that emerges out of the broad "narrative turn" in the humanities and social science. This course explores the value of this turn, especially for marginalized communities, and the use of counterstory as analysis, critique, and self-expression. Using an interdisciplinary approach, we examine counterstory as it has developed in critical theory, critical pedagogy, and critical race theory literatures, and explore it as a framework for liberation, cultural work, and spiritual exploration.

Art, Meditation, and Creation

LIFE 180
This course is cross-listed with ARTHIST 180/ARTINST 280

Instructor: Gigi Otalvaro


Art and meditation invite us to be fully present in our minds and bodies. This class will give you tools to integrate mind and body as you explore artworks on display at the university’s museums and throughout campus. In your engagement with activity-based learning at these venues, you will attend to perception and embodiment in the process of writing and making creative work about art. You will also learn meditation techniques and be exposed to authors who foreground the importance of the body in both writing and making art. For your meditation-centered and research-based final creative project, you will have the option of writing an experimental visual analysis or devising a performance. 

Performing Race, Gender, and Sexuality

This course is cross-listed with TAPS 150G/ARTSINST 150G/FEMGEN 150G/CSRE 150G & 350G

Instructor: Gigi Otalvaro

4 Units, WAYS-CE & WAYS-ED

In this theory and practice-based course, students will examine performances by and scholarly texts about artists who critically and mindfully engage race, gender, and sexuality. Students will cultivate their skills as artist-scholars through written assignments and the creation of performances in response to the assigned material. Attendance and written reflection about a live performance event on campus are required. Students will also learn various meditation practices as tools for making and critiquing performance, in both our seminar discussions and performance workshops. We will approach mindfulness as method and theory in our own practice, as well as in relation to the works studied. We will also consider the ethics and current debates concerning the mindfulness industry. Examples of artists studied include James Luna, Nao Bustamante, Renee Cox, William Pope.L, Cassils, boychild, Curious, Adrian Piper, Xandra Ibarra, Valérie Reding, Guillermo Gomez-Peña, and Ana Mendieta.

Affiliated Cross-Listed Courses


Transforing Self and Systems: Crossing Borders of Race, Nation, Gender, Sexuality and Class

LIFE 144 (ASNAMST 144, CSRE 144, FEMGEN144X)

Instructor: Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu

5 Units

Exploration of crossing borders within ourselves, and between us and them, based on a belief that understanding the self leads to understanding others. How personal identity struggles have meaning beyond the individual, how self-healing can lead to community healing, how the personal is political, and how artistic self-expression based in self-understanding can address social issues. Engaging these questions through group process, journaling, reading, drama, creative writing, and storytelling. Study is academic and self-reflective, with an emphasis on developing and presenting creative works in various media that express identity development across borders.


Feminist LifeWriting

LIFE 151 (FEMGEN 151)

Instructor: Annie Atura Bushnell

4-5 Units

This course explores life-writing as a form of feminist praxis. Feminist life-writing is an art form grounded in truth-telling, activism, and self-making that emerges from the long tradition of women writing private lives. Beginning with the politicized practices of second wave feminists up through contemporary trends in memoir and autofiction, we will confront an array of intersectional autobiographies that connect personal experience to broader movements, power structures, and oppressions. As we think about the politics of life-writing, we will also consider feminist rhetorical and aesthetic strategies for confronting issues like trauma, disability, incarceration, motherhood, and friendship. As we research the critical historical contexts for feminist memoir, we will simultaneously conduct our own creative experiments in life-writing.


When Half is Whole: Developing Synergistic Identies and Mestiza Consciousness


Instructor: Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu

5 Units

An exploration of the ways in which individuals construct whole selves and heal in societies that fragment, label, and bind us in categories and boxes. We examine identities that overcome the destructive dichotomies of “us” and “them,” crossing borders of race, ethnicity, culture, nation, sex, and gender. Our focus is on the development of hybrid and synergistic forms of identity and mestiza consciousness in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. We engage questions through group process, journaling, reading literature, drama, creative writing, movement, drawing, music, and storytelling. Our studies are scholarly and self-reflective, with an emphasis on developing and presenting creative works in various media that express identity development across borders.




Instructor: Lochlann Jain

5 Units

In this course we will examine the meaning, processes, and challenges of urbanization. Through a series of targeted readings across history and geography and through the study of varied means of representation (anthropology, literature, cartography, film, etc.), the class will analyze the ways in which urban forms have come into being and created, met, and/or ignored challenges such as disease, water, transport, religious and class conflict, colonialism, labor, and trade. Students will read anthropology in conjunction with other disciplines (literature, urban planning, public health, architecture, and economics) to learn the ways in which ethnographies of immigration, urban poverty, class disparity, economic development and indicators, noise, and transportation substantively augment our understandings of how people live within globalization.

Past Courses


Dance and the Politics of Movement

LIFE 161 (DANCE 161P, TAPS 161P, TAPS 361P)

This course examines how the dancing body has been viewed, exhibited, analyzed, and interpreted from the late nineteenth century to the present. We will discuss how ideologies about race, gender, and sexual orientation are mapped onto the body, as well as investigate the body's place in discourses on religion, health, war, performance, and consumer culture. We will explore how people create meaning through dance and how dance, in turn, shapes social norms, political institutions, and cultural practices. The course's structure challenges the Western/non-Western binary by comparing dance forms across the globe.


Body Mapping 

LIFE 102

A Body Map is a creative tool that combines self-reflection with artistic expression to develop a visual ‘map’ of one’s life story.  In its basic form, Body Mapping involves drawing one’s body outline onto a large paper or canvas and then filling it in.  The form of Ethnographic Body Mapping I have developed for this course embraces anthropological theory and a range of contemplative practices that guide students as they use paints, pictures, symbols and words to visually represent on their maps various aspects of their lives, their identities, their bodies, their embodied experiences, and the world around them. Body Mapping is a pathway to both understanding and sharing one’s life story through an anthropological lens that unpacks the impact of culturally-constructed “norms” on everyday lived experiences. 


The Stillness of the Dunes

LIFE 125

An advanced writing course in nonfiction craft, drawing, and contemplative practice. A significant portion of each class meeting will focus on the development and sharpening of writing craft, especially of the essay, in a hybrid form both scholarly and personal. We will also explore writing as meditative practice, through examples and through short exercises. We will deepen our cultural understanding of the desert and its impact, through art, literature, philosophy, film, and contemplative practice, and the course will build toward a four-day camping trip to the dunes of Death Valley, six weeks into the quarter.

Trauma, Healing and Empowerment

LIFE 145

This course will look at the ways in which humans are affected by the legacy of war, occupation and colonialism through themes of home, displacement, community, roots, identity, and inter-generational trauma. The approach is integrative, including scholarly investigation, embodied practice, and creative approach. This self-reflective process uses narrative, oral and written, as a means of becoming whole and healing personal, historical, and collective wounds.

The Mythic Life


Why in the twenty-first century do many of our most acclaimed and popular stories carry narrative forms that are thousands of years old? Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, Titanic, Batman - all are deeply informed by ancient myth, folklore, and oral traditions. One reason is that the deep stories of myth and folklore act as a bridge between our personal lives and the profoundest aspects of the human condition. They offer a way to understand our lives and how to live them.n nThis course offers an in-depth study and experience of myth and folklore, the roots of modern story and the roots of our own stories. You will hear these myths live, as people have for thousands of years¿from Trickster folk tales to the medieval Arthurian grail epic Parzival. You will also draw from these epics to create and tell a mythic story of your own. This will give you an appreciation for myth as a living principle, not just something from a long time ago. It will also help you become a good storyteller by developing your memory, improvisation, and image-based thinking. This ability to tell a story well is at the root of authentic leadership and helps us bring a powerful, embodied perspective to championing a cause or just debating over coffee

Mindful Citizen

LIFE 165

Our study explores the development of mindfulness and related abilities that lead to mindful citizenship in ourselves and in the world. We examine the intersection of race and ethnicity with the emerging field of contemplative studies through the teachings of leaders whose lives were dedicated to both contemplation and social action. Through self reflection, experiential learning, and creative expression we explore the personal as political. We aim to develop the capacity to move among worldviews, transcending particular identities while simultaneously honoring each of them, finding peace among the component parts of our own psyche, and possessing the inner resources to make peace in a multicultural society.