THE BLOG
07/05/2016 10:17 am ET Updated Jul 02, 2017

What Are Contemplative Practices, Anyway? And What's 'In It' For Me?

"Whoever is wakeful, mindful, alert, centered, sensitive, calm and clear, rightly exploring Truth, will, at once, shatter the darkness. So be devoted to wakefulness - and you will realize right here - a self-awakening unsurpassed." ~ Buddha
I started meditating when I was about 20 years old. We won't "do the math" here, but just know - it's been around 40 years! And lately, I have been taking some extra time to sit quietly in the grass, eyes closed, feeling the sun, and noticing the warm breeze. I can hear the soft tinkling of my chimes; the splashing of cascading water from the outdoor fountain; the occasional 'toot' from the local train in the distance; and the low hum of a small plane in the sky. I invite deep silence: and ~ become quiet; suspending and surrendering my thoughts ~ and embrace the stillness.
Are there moments or circumstances that are opportune to propelling an individual into a new and transformative mindset and being ~ one attuned to the flow of Life . . . and maybe - even, our spiritual Source? Perhaps if we earnestly studied the sacred Hindu scriptures of the Bhagavad Gita; the Buddha's time sitting under the Bodhi tree; or Christ's 40 days and 40 nights in the desert; or Thoreau's essay on civil disobedience; or Nelson Mandela's experiences in prison; we might find nuggets of shared truths, such as the profound wisdom found in deep silence and deep listening to the Voice Within.
Scientific studies show that certain disciplined exercises, kept up over time, have been shown to produce changes that provide the practitioner with greater levels of awareness and deep knowing. These key tools of Contemplative Practices can help you access transcendent wisdom and emotional balance. These practices include forms of meditation, contemplative prayer, yoga, quality time in the natural world, qigong, and others. I have found that having a contemplative practice, in my 'tool-box' of life skills, has helped me develop my personal and spiritual awareness. My practice provides access to the inner silence - the inner stream of consciousness and what is sometimes called Spirit or Source.
Contemplation comes from the Greek word, theoria - meaning a passion and dedication to understanding the nature of reality. Just as scientists conduct experiments with technology, contemplatives conduct experiments using silent perception and enhanced awareness. Through contemplation and meditation, one can begin to objectively view the full tumult of conscious awareness and its contents: sights, sounds, sensations, thoughts, intentions, and emotions. We are inundated by innumerable distractions. We are so overwhelmed that we are 'trained' to not pause; not question; not to go within; not to trust our inner self; and not to 'take stock' and detach from our endless doing, doing, doing. Our minds are ever-so-gushing-along with thoughts that randomly trail after each other, spewing forth thoughts that often extrapolate, take on their own meaning, psychology, emotions and associations. Because we are not monitoring or are even aware of many of these thoughts and inner conversations, our ignorance misconstrues the thoughts; and before you know it, the thoughts are in control; rather than us, controlling our thoughts. Contemplative Practices provide the self-awareness to objectively and mindfully be present and aware of one's thoughts so they can viewed as mere phenomena flowing in and out of one's consciousness (along with our perceptions, viewpoints, feelings, etc.).
I believe that people resonate with different types of Contemplative Practices - which I sometimes call "portals" or doorways, to opening up to the Transcendent within themselves. Some may call this these paths to inner awareness; portals to awakening; self-realization, and more. I have learned over many years of practice and study that these practices usually fall into the overall categories of meditation, true yoga, qigong-type exercises, centering prayer, time in nature, and more. They can also be found when you lose yourself in an endeavor such as art or music . . . when you become immersed in the "zone" of a peek-peak-like numinous experience. Additionally, I believe that although some individuals may only practice one path that resonates for them, others may have more than one and practice a combination.
As mentioned, I think that the core results from practicing one or several of these Contemplative Practices can contribute to the individual aspiring to develop and accelerate their own self-awareness. With a consistent practice, an individual accesses a deeper level of conscious awareness which is foundational to finding inner peace, happiness, and self-knowledge.
Begin, or step-up your Contemplative Practice, eat primarily fresh, organic foods, do more body/energy work, and spend more time in silence and in nature. Your meditations will become deeper. These are called "practices" because - as any coach will tell you - any new endeavor takes 'practice'. You will find yourself, as Emerson would say: feeling the embrace of nature and insight. An important point to make is that, although a sudden and unexpected numinous illumination can occur seemingly out-of-the-blue, it is uncommon if the individual has not been consistently 'clearing' their inner channel to the quiet hearing from Source. Creating within oneself, a clear ability to hear, sense, and be-open-to Source, requires deep, inner practice.
The primordial 'sounds of silence' cannot be over-emphasized ~ whether it is in deep meditation; a retreat of silence; simple time alone; the space between one's thoughts; allowing quiet after someone has spoken to allow their sharing to be really felt and heard; sensing the soft stillness of nature or the hum of the cosmos. You can touch upon this profound and important element. It is where and when you feel, sense, and silently hear Source within yourself and outside of yourself ~ all reflected in the beauty and the mystery of nature, others, all of life, and the entire cosmos.
Today, amidst the clamor and noise of untold sources in the world, is the time to start. You will find that having a regular "contemplative/meditative" practice will provide you with the peace and emotional balance that you have been searching for your whole life.
Shawne Mitchell Copyright 2016
Contact: Shawne@ShawneMitchell.com
ShawneMitchell.com