There is a richness to life beyond what we have, what we do, and what we think about all day. You are much more than all of these things. It is that “more” which contemplative practice teaches you to explore, experience, and become. Contemplative practice is an experiential mode of learning and self-inquiry.
Historically, contemplative practice has been taught by the world’s spiritual traditions. However, in the last three decades, the fields of psychology, medicine, and education have recognized that contemplative practice can contribute to well-being and maturation. As a result, health professionals and educators have been teaching contemplative practices in ‘non-religious forms’ that can be used as a resource for resilience by agnostics and atheists, as well as by people with a spiritual or religious worldview.
For an atheist or agnostic, contemplative practice can be a resource to regulate destructive emotions, make thoughtful decisions, develop a more focused mind, and deepen inner peace. In addition, for a person with a spiritual or religious worldview, contemplative practice can become a vehicle for a deeper relationship with God.
There are two major types of contemplative practice:
Contemplation of behavior: When stressed out, angry, or afraid, we tend to become reactive. In such moments, we often act impulsively, in ways that harm ourselves or others. Contemplative practice teaches us to examine and change these destructive forms of behavior.
Elevation of awareness: The stress of daily life is like a sticky spider’s web. It ensnares us. It prevents us from experiencing the beauty that surrounds us, our capacity for love and compassion, and the presence of a transcendent dimension in life. Through meditation, prayer, the arts, and observation of the natural world (and many other techniques), contemplative practice can help us restore our ability to rise above our anxieties, and to perceive life’s mystery and beauty.
As psychology, medicine, and education have begun to acknowledge the spiritual roots of contemplative practice, they have started to re-build important bridges to the spiritual traditions. These bridges can support appropriate boundaries between religion and our public institutions while recognizing the important role that spiritual maturation can play in the well-being of individuals and society.
Examples of Contemplative Practices – Religious and Secular
- Mindfulness: A practice that brings together concentration and insight by training the mind to bring attention to: (1) the present moment, (2) responses to phenomena, (3) awareness of mental states, (4) experience of objects of mind.
- Council: A process where people speak honestly and constructively, and listen with openness, nonjudgment, and concentration. Council is a bridge to greater mutual understanding, respect, and discovery of collective wisdom.
- Sand tray: A process than enhances insight through self-exploration. It uses the imagination as a vehicle to bridge the unconscious and the conscious to discover new insights or meaning. The process uses a clear field such as sand as the ground for self-exploration by mindful selection of symbols that have meaning in response to a specific inquiry question. A partner witnesses the process and the story that is shared about their discovery.
- Yoga: Yoga focuses on harmony between mind and body using movement, breath, posture, relaxation, and meditation in order to establish a healthy, lively, and balanced approach to living.
- Meditation: A general term that is used to describe a practice or set of practices to engender mindfulness.
- Prayer: Lectio Divina, literally meaning “divine reading,” is an ancient practice of praying the Scriptures. During Lectio Divina, the practitioner listens to the text of the Bible while reading scripture with the “ear of the heart,” and moving one’s lips as if speaking the words written, and as if he or she is in conversation with God, and God is suggesting the topics for discussion. The method of Lectio Divina includes moments of reading (lectio), reflecting on (meditatio), responding to (oratio) and resting in (contemplatio) the Word of God with the aim of nourishing and deepening one’s relationship with the Divine.
Study the Tree of Contemplative Practices above for more ideas to incorporate into your own practices.
The Blue Pearl: A Research Report on Teaching Mindfulness Practices to College Students
A Webinar with Deborah J. Haynes
Professor, Art and Art History, University of Colorado-Boulder
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Professor Haynes writes, “For several years, I conducted formal research with students in both small and large lecture-format courses. My research will be published in the journal Buddhist-Christian Studies later this year.
“The blue pearl” is how one of my students described the experience of developing mindfulness. She said that the ability “to draw inwards and be peaceful shows as a concentrated blue light in my brain.” In this webinar, I will describe the results of my research with undergraduate students on the efficacy of and their experiences with contemplative pedagogy. I teach first-year students both techniques of meditation and contemplative approaches to making art. My presentation will focus on conceptual issues raised by my formal human-subject research with students over three years, research that included qualitative feedback from them through narrative exercises and journals, a series of quantitative questionnaires about their experiences, and their own works of art.”
Before coming to CU-Boulder, Deborah was Director of Women’s Studies at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington.
With an M.F.A. degree from the University of Oregon and Ph.D. from Harvard University, she is the author of two books published by Cambridge University Press, “Bakhtin and the Visual Arts” (1995) and “Vocation of the Artist” (1997), as well as “Art Lessons: Meditations on the Creative Life” (Westview, 2003). Haynes also edited “Opening our Moral Eye” (Lindisfarne, 1996), a book of M. C. Richards’ last talks and essays; and was a consulting editor for “The Subjective Eye” (Wipf and Stock, 2006). She has published numerous articles and reviews in the last 17 years. Her latest book, “Book of [THIS] Place: Spirituality, Art, and the Land,” reflects the integration of her scholarly and creative work, which includes drawing and writing in marble.
Deborah has practiced yoga for more than 30 years, and has experience in Zen, Vipassana, and Tibetan Buddhist meditation traditions. After helping to care for several friends who died, during 2007-08 she completed training to serve as a hospice volunteer.