A Few Basic Contemplative Practices
This short reflection is intended to be only a general sketch of a few practices which are recommended in the contemplative traditions of all the world religions. We will go much more into depth about some of them in later threads. But for now, I thought it would be good to get this big picture in mind so that one doesnt have to read the whole forum to understand whats being recommended. <grin>
In a nushell, to me, contemplative practice can be summed up in the phrase, Be Here Now in Love. Its about being present to whats going on within yourself and in the environment around you, attentive to the movements of the Spirit of Love within and in the outside world.
Given this understanding, you can be involved in contemplative practice all the time. It doesnt really matter where you are or what kind of activity youre doing, you can always be here now in love to some extent. For those who make a commitment to contemplative practice, this becomes a more conscious approach to living. We are constantly waking ourselves up or asking the Spirit to do so, that we might not sleep through most of our lives and act out of old conditioned behavior.
A Listing of the Practices
There are a few simple disciplines which help to support and deepen contemplative practice. In all of these, we ask the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
A. Awareness. Whats going on inside of you . . . in the outside world? Notice and observe, first and foremost to see rather than to judge and evaluate. Let reality makes itself known so that the Word expressing through reality might be perceived more clearly.
B. Honesty. No spin. Acknowledge at least to yourself the truth in a situation. No discounting perceptions because some are supposedly more correct than others. This practice helps to calm the mind and emotions and nibbles away at delusions youve bought into.
C. Benevolence. Wishing the best for all, including yourself, other people and creation. Interacting in behalf of what is good. The reality and truth acknolwedged through awareness and honesty is expressed in a spirit of benevolence. Forgiveness as letting go of hard feelings and ill-will toward others is also in the spirit of this virtue.
D. Simplicity. Get rid of what is inessential in your life. See how materialism complicates things and produces anxiety. The fewer your needs and the easier to fulfill them, the more calm you will experience.
E. Silence. Take more time for quiet. Turn the TV or radio off if youre not really listening; set boundaries for yourself about this. You cant really access your inner life without silence. Unnecessary stimulation of the mind creates an unhealthy stirring of thoughts and emotions which makes it difficult to be very aware, honest, and benevolent.
F. Solitude. Allow yourself to be alone with yourself and your God. There is a need to be involved with people, of course, but do you do so to avoid being alone? You can experience solitude while driving to work if you turn your radio off. . . goes hand in hand with silence.
G. Prayer. Enables you to practice all of the above in the explicit context of relating yourself to God and receiving Gods life and guidance. There are various prayer and meditation methods which will be explored in other threads.
H. Examen. Taking time to look back on your day to see when you were awake, asleep, honest, dishonest, kind, selfish, etc. This is a discipline in the service of awareness and honesty. Be gentle (benevolent) with yourself in what you find, here.
These eight practices undertaken in the context of Christian belief will enable an ongoing and deepening realization of the spiritual meaning of Christianity. They will help you travel the broad spiritual highway you are moving along more authentically, and will bring greater selflessness and charity to your service. When the times comes for communal worship, you will be more attentive to the spiritual meanings communicated through the liturgy.
All in all, only good comes from contemplative practice. It should be mentioned early on, however, that there are parts of ourselves that oppose this practice for various reasons. Contemplative practice allows the Spirit to become the guiding influence in your life, which might sound like a good thing, except for the fact that there are aspects of every ones conditioning which resist giving up control. There are also defenses we have all erected which serve to protect repressed emotions and experiences--probably for good reasons! Contemplative practice slowly dismantles these in the interest of healing and deeper integration, but defenses naturally resist such dismantling. Well discuss this later as well when we come to the thread on the Dark Nights.
Basics of Spirituality
Coming into the Present Moment
Reflect and Discuss
1. What do you think about these eight practices in general? Don't get too involved in discussing any in particular since well be treating them individually in other threads.
2. Obviously, one could practice all these disciplines except prayer outside a religious context, and even on that point, there are non-religious meditation practices that could be used instead.. What (to you), then, is the religious value of these practices?
3. What happens to ones religious commitment and growth in faith if these disciplines are not practiced? Personal sharing on this point is welcomed.