While some traditions may have quite precise definitions of contemplation, I will approach this article using that term rather loosely. Contemplation in this sense might be thought of as the inquiring mind, the function inside of us that brings us to ask questions about the nature of who and what we are, or why things happen the way they do. This part of ourselves can be inspired by awe as equally as it can be inspired by fear because within each of those experiences there is an opportunity to to inquire within. However, contemplation doesn't always entail discovering an answer, or understanding. Rather I might think of it as the propensity to openly inquire into our experience.
There is not necessarily some formulaic protocol that you need to follow in order to engage in contemplation. However if you desire such a protocol you can indeed find one in one of the many meditative traditions. At the same time if we are doing something other than engaging our inquiring minds openly, and calling that contemplation I would consider that a misnomer. Nevertheless, each of us has our own innate gifts and proclivities... some may find certain practices or situations more conducive for contemplation than others- and this is likely to vary from person to person. One person may find art to be contemplative, another writing, another taking long walks through the woods. The fluidity and spaciousness of contemplation can offer us the possibility of practicing it in varying circumstances. However if we approach our practice looking for a highly specific outcome, then we miss out on the potential of touching an unconditional quality of contemplation. When we set aside the compulsion to accomplish something, it is possible that we might discover a spaciousness that supports us in deep, open-ended inquiry.
Contemplation as a Life Disposition
So when we think about contemplation, it is easy to think about it as a kind of action. However, it is also true that contemplation is a disposition I carry into my life, a general approach. Nevertheless, I have found that certain activities and circumstances support this inquiring mind more than others. Our inquiring minds both ask us for space, and provide us with spaciousness. Therefore, it is important to understand when and how this part of us asks us for space/time, and attention. Furthermore it seems significant to familiarize ourselves with how much space, and what qualities of space this inquiring mind needs.
Surely for most contemplatives, alone time is very important. Once we get there, engaging contemplatively can be the easy part. But when you throw in the reality that most of us are juggling jobs, school, relationships, maybe kids, the inquiring mind can start feeling very restricted. Therefore, I think it is important to also recognize how our relationships can and can't support this part of ourselves. And how we can invite our inquiring minds in to our relationships, and the rest of our lives. The following ideas are some ways I have come to think about how I support my own inquiring mind. Feel free to come up with your own :)
- putting ourselves in situations where contemplation is validated and normalized
- recognizing that not everyone is interested in contemplative dialogue
- discovering our limitations in being in situations where contemplation is not supported/built in
- giving ourselves the space to develop a consistent contemplative practice
- shaming yourself never helps you to develop into a more spacious, loving being
- being triggered is not the absence of contemplation, but the perfect opportunity to practice
In this short blog post I have talked about some things to consider when trying to live a contemplative life in this society. These are just some of my own thoughts, derived from teachings/trainings I have received, and/or personal insights I have experienced. I hope to write more about this topic again some day (this is why it is called pt. 1). I would like to ask you though, how do you take care of your contemplative self?