Contemplation Practice is about openly, honestly and lovingly taking a good look, as much at reality, as we can possibly handle at any given point in time, without having to get the defences of your mind out of the way. 21 ways to practice contemplation will show you how to heal and then transform your life.
To do that we need to show up for ourselves and start thinking more deeply about what we are actually thinking. To do that, we need to get the endless drone of our mind-chatter out of the way.
Contemplative Practices are like doorways or portals that provide the bear attention of present moment transcendence, simple self-awareness that can allow you to mindfully be focused and aware of one’s deeper thoughts and emotions.
A contemplative practice helps you to “awaken your inner observer”. Aristotle said that contemplation is known both as the highest form of activity, and also it is the most continuous, because we are more capable of continuous contemplation more so than we are aware of any other practical activity. So it is doing everything and nothing all at the same time. And it is truly wonderful to experience it!
The part of your brain that lights up when your Sacred Self is activated is the opposite area of your brain that is activated when you are in ego’s defensive, survival mind. Here are 21 WAYS TO PRACTICE CONTEMPLATION so that you can experience yourself, others, and the universe far more wholly, and holistically for yourself.
Contemplative practices develop many aspects of ourselves. As practices disciplines of body and mind, they share a number of benefits:
- Mindfulness and profound self-awareness
- Awareness of physical movements, posture and rhythms of the body
- A holistic approach to well-being
- Empathy, compassion, and connectivity to all things internal and external
- Self-awareness, self-regulation, self-inquiry
- Psychological transformation and mental training
“We must go beyond the constant clamor of ego, beyond the tools of logic and reason, to the still, calm place within us: the realm of the soul.” – Deepak Chopra
Contemplative practices quiet the mind in order to cultivate the capacity for deeper awareness of what is and are practical, radical, and transformative, developing capacities for deep concentration and quieting the mind in the midst of the action and distraction that fills everyday life. This state of calm centeredness is an aid to exploration of meaning, purpose and values. Contemplative Practices are designed to quiet the mind in the midst of the stress and distraction of everyday interconnectedness with all life.
THE 21 WAYS TO PRACTICE CONTEMPLATION LIST
1. Gratitude Practice
People who regularly practice gratitude by taking time to notice and reflect upon the things they’re thankful for experience more positive emotions, feel more alive, sleep better, express more compassion and kindness, and even have stronger immune systems. Gratitude is the opposite of your minds best friend, judgement. Name 5 things you are grateful for as you wake up and before you go to sleep and don’t ever underestimate what the power of gratitude can do for you.
2. Contemplative Communication in Relationships
Typically, we associate being contemplative as part of a spiritual practice one does on their own, but in order to relate to others we need to go inside ourselves. We need to become vulnerable and open up into connection if we want deep meaningful relationships to last. Relationships all need sacred space to flourish. In Imago Relationship Therapy, they teach couples a dialogue process which embodies the notion of contemplative communication.
The process creates a safe space for couples to go deeper and experience stronger connection. Asking What do I bring into that space in my relationships? Is it stress, anxiety or perhaps shame, blame and criticism? Some of us are defensive and closed and quiet by nature while others scream, shout and force themselves to be heard and understood. Learning contemplative communication starts with enough trust to know that you’re able to regulate your emotions long enough to allow reality of the situations at hand to remain out there. Love is a verb. There is little more loving than allowing others space and time to feel, think, connect and contemplate.
3. Contemplative Walking
Walking is still said to be the best all round exercise a person can do today. Contemplative Walking, especially in nature, brings you closer to nature and your body, the internal is drawn to the external and vice versa. Wear comfortable clothing and open shoes, or no shoes. Become aware of the heal to toe and knee to foot and hip rhythms as you slowly walk feeling and hearing the ground beneath your feet and staying conscious of your balanced breathing. Turn the volume down on your internal mind-chatter and when you attention drifts, bring it back by naming what you see, and then contemplating that “tree” or “wave” or “butterfly” for a brief moment, noticing how everything is as connected as you are to the ground. Lift your arms whenever you remember to and take deep breaths. A gentle greeting, bow or hand wave to people, objects and animals can make you even more connected if you are willing to be a little out there with your thinking.
4. Silent Retreat
When last did you do no talking in silence, only listening. It may be no coincidence that listen and silent both contain the same letters. You may be surprised how vocal we can be out of pure habit. Scrolling on phones, chatting to a partner, all form no part of a retreat like this. Silent retreats are a tool to help us to master obsessive thoughts, the habit of mindlessness and to connect with self, Higher Power and nature. Being contemplative is deliberately focusing your attention on the present moment. This means becoming comfortable with stillness and silence, striving to grow in awareness of your thoughts and feelings without judgment. By getting in touch with the here and now, you can let go of the stress of regretting the past or obsessively worrying about the future. Enjoy a silent retreat by:
- Start with intention by taking your own vow of silence for 20 minutes or so in the beginning.
- Keep quiet and sit. Preferably in nature but anywhere will do. Phones off. No smoking. Consciously focus on the present moment. Start by focusing on your breath, and keep gently reminding yourself to return your attention to your breath. Breathe deeply. Purposefully.
- Gradually work on paying attention to other sensations in your body and what’s around you. Look at the sights nearby and appreciate what is beautiful. Connect to it all. Listen to the sounds and observe colour and light. But no running off with your thinking where possible. Savour the scents. Noticing is a gift. Embrace all that you can fully experience in this one moment.
- Just Be
- When your thoughts start to wander return your attention to this one moment in time. Experience the sensation of being safe and at peace right here and right now. Silently ask for what you really need. Let go, and become the silence and just be like it is. Be like silence.
- You can also use a Centering word or sentence to bring you back out of your thoughts. You may use: All is well. I am well. All manner of things are well, to keep you centered in the silence.
- Relax. This Contemplative Practice takes practice. You’ll get better over time. As Lao Tzu once said “Muddy water, let stand, becomes clear.”
5. Contemplative Pages
Contemplative pages are central to the practice of Sacred Journaling. It follows stream of consciousness writing and is designed as a free association kind of exercise more than anything else. Practice upon waking, or when the thought to write crosses your mind. Go and do it. This practice is a purgation that brings catharsis and a refreshing release that has somehow helped many people find healing and peace over the centuries. Set a timer for 20 minutes or just write 3 pages of long hand if possible, letting go of all ideas of perfectionism and wrong and right. The main thing is to just let thoughts flow onto paper. No one should see these pages ever, that can really disrupt the flow of what may need to materialise from heart to head and hand to paper. Write without thinking and see what flows from the writing. There is no wrong way to do Contemplative Pages and seldom have I ever heard of anyone who did not have a profound personal break through after a few days of writing.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
— Phillippians 4:6
6. Practise Contemplative Art
It can also be called Slow Art, Zen art, or Mindfulness Drawing. But what we are interested in most here is how it gets us to awaken to reality and presence. Before you get pencil and paper out, try and prepare to be a contemplative artist, just for today. Why not try out the artistic persona for a while? Our minds are our records of the past. Taking mental short cuts is second nature to the brains daily activities. The consequence however is that we can loose the gist of really seeing things.
Contemplative Art is a Zenful practice that helps us to re-appreciate as we re-see things again. Photographers and artists alike have shared how practicing Contemplative Art, is meditative by nature, and has changed the way they see images, things and even the world itself. Gaze rather than glance at all the art you have around your home. Paintings, carvings, ornaments; when was the last time you really noticed them? Gaze out your window frame and see the contents as works of art. Now draw, scribble, do a stick man sketch…anything that comes to mind. Create something, anything, everything. Contemplative Art practices naturally induce a contemplative state of consciousness and provide personal insight.
7. Lectio Divina
Lectio Divina is Contemplative reading or divine reading. This Lectio Divina, or sacred reading involves taking short pieces of text and really focusing on the words and their deeper meanings. Make more conscious contact with God in 4 simple steps. Saint John of the Cross said Seek in reading and you will find it in meditation; knock in prayer and it will be opened to you in contemplation.Read a text, meditate, pray and then contemplate the mystical experience. There is no need to analyse or direct or even understand what you read ass much as to focus on how the words relate to you personally. Practice alone or with others and approach the practice with an open mind and an attitude of reverential hearing. You may be profoundly surprised at what you can start to understand from this wisdom practice.
8. Centering Practice
Centering is an incredible tool for stress relief and can be used before you do anything that you may ordinarily find stressful. Your brain needs to be practice softening instead of tensing, and staying open instead of activating stress responses like fight, flight or freeze.
Use this at an important meeting, recital, public speaking engagement or sports event. If stressed focus consciously on the breath. Then do some lunges, flap your arms, straighten your spine, or tense and then release your muscles throughout your body. Many actors do this before walking on stage. Then find your center and then redirect your energy, body and mind back to your purpose and intentions which may be to share your talents, your words and thoughts with others. This tends to keep the main thing, the main thing and can even be achieved by repeating a centering word, phrase or mantra. It is a beautiful practice of letting go and just accepting being yourself.
Aikido means the way of harmonizing energy and Aikido trains your mind to control your body’s reactions using mindfulness and energy, shakti, or chi. This holds that all physical and mental power comes from the flow of energy around your body. Energy is lost when you are tense or stressed, but Centering redirects negative energy in a beneficial way. Another four part contemplative practice that starts with breathing calmly and focusing, then seeing yourself as centred in a ball of bright, warm colours. Next you consciously feel gravity supporting you as it weights on your body, your arms and legs and steadies you. Fourthly, gently think of three main qualities you want to embody like peace, purpose or harmony.
10. Contemplative Prayer
You don’t need to be religious to practice Contemplative Prayer or sacred communication, because with Contemplative Prayer other faculties are actively employed in an effort to understand our relationship with God. Contemplative prayer curtails the ordinary and has been described simply as “a gaze of faith”, or “a silent love”. Contemplative prayer is all about remaining silently and openly there, in God’s presence and almost instantaneously rewires our brains to think with empathy, love and compassion. It allows us to experience God as Mystery rather than just what we think we know. Holding this space, we can begin to let go knowing that All is one with Divine Reality.
What is contemplative prayer? St. Teresa said that Contemplative prayer in my opinion is nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us. Contemplative prayer seeks him ‘whom my soul loves’. God is beyond being and is a hyper-being; God is beyond the gulf of nothingness that we think separates us from God and all things Divine. There is no separation in reality and Contemplative prayer helps us to see this for ourselves.
11. Mindfulness Practice
The Rain method of Recognise, Allow, Investigate and Nurture is as simple as mindfulness practice can get and as complicated as it ever needs to be. When we practice mindfulness, we’re practicing the art of creating space for ourselves to think, space to breathe, space between ourselves and our reactions and actions. Any Mindfulness Practice is about the quality, or state, of being conscious or aware of something.
12. Yoga Nidra
Yoga nidra or yogic sleep is a state of consciousness between waking and sleeping, like the “going-to-sleep” stage, typically induced by a guided meditation. It helps us to embrace and hold liminal space for ourselves, which is the space between where we have come from and where we are going to. To practice Yoga nidra start by repeating a clear intention you have for yourself several times. Next, rotate your awareness through one side of your body in quick succession. Fingers, then hands, then limbs and so on, repeating your intentions or mantra whenever you become conscious of saying it. It is not called yogic sleep for nothing and people often fall asleep doing this practice, which is more than okay. Use a guided Yoga Nidra video or audio if you can to help you.
13. Practice of the 5 Contemplative Life Questions
This practice comes from the area of Contemplative Intelligence or CQ. 5 fundamental life questions are as profound as they are healing. The right contemplative questions will open the doors to knowing the right answers. Spending a few minutes contemplating each of these questions will bring some stress and then comfort follows. You see, all these questions need to be known and are known. We have come from somewhere, have become something, and are going somewhere with it all. Practice of the 5 Fundamental Life Questions:
Where have I been?
Who am I?
Where am I now?
Why am I where I am right now?
Where am I going?
14. The Power of the Anjali Mudra Practice (prayer hands).
Anjali Mudra is a powerful, super simple and quick practice to help you instantly rebalance. It is when you bring right and left hands together and more significantly, right and left brain together in yoga; and of course in prayer. Obsessive thinking, depression, stress and coping are all about not being able to be here now in the present moment. Comfort zones are our most preferred addiction. As much as monkey mind is an addiction to non-presence and chaos, to the rubbish of yesterday and tomorrow, so we can all become very stuck in the way we DO life. There are many definitions of Anjali Mudra. Most are misunderstood. The main essence of the super simple practice is that of returning to the heart, to a state of composure. This is the only way we must tackle any of life’s problems. Never with “Monkey Mind”. Hands together as a sign of your intention to stay open, humble and connected to life, other people and nature itself is enough to ensure you grow spiritually in your life.
15. Contemplating The Labyrinth
Contemplating the Labyrinth is a contemplative practice that really brings all the senses together and they were often found attached to churches in medieval times, which is a sign of their spiritual significance in themselves. A Labyrinth, which is not a maze and has a singular path and single destination that is a metaphor for an adventurous journey and the mystery of the path of life itself. You can walk a Labyrinth or use your finger to do a finger Labyrinth. The practice takes you out of monkey mind and sets it to task. If you pause, breathe, pray simply and even let go and allow the journey to flow, you may just be getting the best out of it.
16. The Work
The work was developed by Byron Katie and is rooted in contemplation, as the art of seeing reality as it is. The Work is contemplation. It is a method of inquiry into self. This practice allows you to access the wisdom that always, always exists within you. Whenever you are stuck, confused, lost or cannot find any answers to problems that you feel you have, ask yourself four simple questions and write the answers down. Worksheets are available free online.
With the work we question stressful thoughts head on, and through that questioning the thoughts lose their power over us. Great spiritual texts describe the what—what it means to be free. The Work is the how. It shows you exactly how to identify and question any thought that would keep you from that freedom. To begin, drop into stillness and observe what arises in the mind’s eye.
17. Concentration Practice of Cloud Shifting
Doctor Wayne Dyer used to practice the art of Cloud Shifting whenever he wanted to connect to the universe more deeply. Gaze at the clouds for a few minutes. Then simply make shapes with the clouds. Create as creation does. Connect as it does and see how powerful you can be when you are cool, clam and collected consciously. The sky really is the limit to what we can do, and whom we can become.
Qigong practices are combined contemplative body practices and meditation techniques that emerge from Chinese philosophical, medical, and martial traditions. Qigong is movement and breath in unison. People practice qigong for recreation, exercise, relaxation, preventive medicine, self-healing, alternative medicine, meditation, self-cultivation, and training for martial arts. In Qigong you focus on rhythmic breathing, settle the mind and then relax the body. Then you learn to move and breathe in unison. Unison, much like Yoga, is what this practice is all about.
19. Questing or Pilgrimage Practice
Go on a journey to somewhere where interesting things have happened that appeal to you. Discover how people lived, thought and loved. How they worked, what they ate. Discover what their spiritual practices were. We have become so used to being entertained when we go on a vacation somewhere. Instead, discover traditions, roots and ancestors on your quest. Adventure may be calling you to embrace more mystery, uncertainty and adventure in your life.
20. Cultivate a beginners Mind
Re-look at everything you have ever seen. Re-listen, re-learn and re-imagine reality. Our perceptions have changed since we first thought about an apple, an ocean, or an insect. Yet our mind and its mental short-cut tendencies are flooded with daily habit making that make us eat the same food, get out of bed on the same side, shower in the same way and dress or brush our hair and teeth a certain way.
Try to cultivate a beginners mind as a daily contemplative practice, also known as Shoshin in Zen. We can experience the world in a fresh new way today, no matter what our past may have been like. If you think the world is a bad and evil place, look outside your window right now. Even though human thinking is extremely primitive, broken even, the world, people and places are still intrinsically good. The world is a beautiful, big and mysterious place for us to explore and navigate until the day we move on to whatever lies next. Re-examine everything, everyday as you re-cultivate a beginners mind.
21. Radical Self Love
Self Love means having a high regard for your own well-being and happiness. Self-love means taking care of your own needs and not sacrificing your well-being to please others. Cultivate self love by stopping comparing and judging others, and yourself. In turn let go of the opinions of others. Love is patient, kind, generous, unafraid, and is not selfish. So loving yourself more deeply each day is something everyone can benefit from. A practice you can try is to go on a date alone. Spend quality time in places you love, on your own. Self love allows us the space and the time to become more conscious and contemplative of who we are, where we have been and where we are going in life. Practice radical self love daily knowing that you cannot give away anything you don’t already have yourself. You can’t give patience, generosity or selflessness if you don’t have it to give!
CONTEMPLATION IS A LOVING LOOK AT WHAT IS
So now we know that the contemplative state of mind is rather a state of being and a way of living. It is about giving and receiving, listening and making sounds, stillness and movement, breath and no-breath. It is being present to the real moment, rather than it being lost by the ego’s endless judgements. You may resonate more with some practices than others, which is perfect practice. There is no right or wrong way to practice contemplation “If you’re doing it, you’re doing it right!” Namaste.
For more information on 21 ways to practice contemplation, or our online course, or center retreats get in touch. firstname.lastname@example.org