Contemplation as an Art
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Contemplation as an Art
What is contemplation? Hopefully, by the time you have come to the end of this book, you will have a clear answer to this question. The answer however will not come through knowledge or reading alone. You might surmise that contemplation is a kind of deep thinking, which tends to be a more Western understanding of the word. However, the true nature of contemplation is a mystery. The very purpose of the contemplative way is to turn your energies inwards and make your life a centrifugal experiment in order to first discover and then embrace your true higher purpose in life.
The modern scientific mind doesn’t always sit comfortably with the notion of a mystery. The purpose of science is to unlock life’s many mysteries and attempt to understand the way things work. But there are subjects that may always be impenetrable to science. Consciousness itself is such a mystery. While we may one day understand how it works, its true depth lies beyond the domain of objective understanding. To know what we really are, we will have to go beyond the mind itself. This is the purpose of the art of contemplation.
Contemplation is an art, and because it is an art, it is something that we can learn. However, sometimes a sharp and powerful intellect can be a hindrance in learning this simple art. Paradoxically, for many of us contemplation begins as a form of unlearning, as we let go of reliance on our intellect and open up new pathways of awareness inside ourselves.
In this book, you will be shown three simple techniques that will encourage the spirit of contemplation to grow in your life. It must be said however that these techniques are simply touchstones to help you get started. Once we find our true inner rhythm in life, we naturally become a contemplative person. We breathe more deeply, we take our time with things and we tap into a universal wisdom that can help us make sense of anything that comes our way.
One of the dilemmas in writing a book about contemplation is that you cannot access a mystery directly through techniques, and the modern world is somewhat obsessed with techniques. However, the good news is that contemplation can begin in our life as a simple practice, which we can over time turn into a habit. At the deepest level contemplation becomes a part of us, and when that happens, the techniques will naturally drop away and our whole life will be transformed.
The Difference between Contemplation, Meditation and Mindfulness
Many of us have heard about the practice of mindfulness, and we have all heard of meditation. You may even have practised either or both of these techniques. If you already have a practice such as meditation, it will not in any way conflict with the art of contemplation. In fact, you could see contemplation as a very broad term that can contain other practices such as mindfulness. Thus, as you learn to contemplate, you will simultaneously deepen any other practices you are doing. If you happen to do yoga, for example, then contemplation will give you more inward focus and will help you integrate it even more into your daily life. If you do not do any other inward-focused practices, or have little or no experience of such things, this is also perfectly fine. Contemplation is very generous and can pick up and put down anything it needs in order to achieve its primary aim, which is to bring you into a state of profound equilibrium.
The main difference between contemplation and either mindfulness or meditation is that contemplation also uses the mind in a proactive way. We make use of mindfulness by inwardly watching our mind, our emotions and body, but with contemplation we are also doing something active. Contemplation engages the power of mind, emotion and body. It fuses and uses their energy to bring about an increased state of self-awareness, freedom and general prosperity. Thus, the real power of contemplation is that it naturally turns into decisive action, and that action brings about fundamental changes in our life.
The other great advantage of contemplation is that it is a synthesising art. It brings together both left brain techniques and right brain leaps in awareness. For example, it makes use of the practice of mindfulness in the background while using the power of imaginative thinking in the foreground. In this sense, contemplation has many avenues of approach to suit different personality types. Whether you favour an intellectual, emotional or kinaesthetic approach, this is an art that can easily adapt itself to your needs.
A Breath of Freedom – Spiro Ergo Prospero
The art of contemplation leads us naturally into a state of prosperity. To be alive is to prosper. Spiro ergo prospero – I breathe therefore I prosper. This is not just a nice saying. It is the foundation stone of the contemplative way. As we grow from children into adults we gradually develop unconscious stress patterns in the body and mind that prevent us from breathing deeply. As you imbibe the secrets in this book, you will learn once again to breathe deeply. Breath is equivalent to freedom. The deeper we breathe, the freer we feel.
At some level we all seek the feeling of freedom. Whether we are trying to find freedom through having more money, or through new experiences or even through spiritual or health practices, we are unconsciously trying to return to the feeling we had as young children. The young child swims in the current of freedom. But this feeling we all seek cannot be brought about through any external set of ‘perfect’ conditions. It is directly linked to our breath patterns, so it can only be created from the inside. The main purpose of contemplation is therefore to unpick the false tapestry we have woven that promises us freedom while never delivering it.
One of the signs that you are on the path of contemplation is that your breathing becomes deeper and more rhythmic. However, this takes some time. You may be surprised to hear that there are no breathing exercises given in this book. This is because each person has their own natural breath pattern, and it must emerge naturally from inside you like a butterfly from a pupa.
As you learn the art of contemplation you will begin to experience the field of true prosperity. Prosperity is a living, vibrating field that unifies all areas of your life into a healthy, harmonic whole. And because prosperity is directly linked to freedom, as your breath deepens and you relax more, your mind will become more lucid and your decisions more certain. You will begin to swing into harmony with the spheres, engaging the power of synchronicity. Things may improve for you across the breadth of your life – relationships will become softer and more open, new creative currents will flow through you and fortunate circumstances may ripple through your life. It may seem as though a miracle has happened to you.
The miracle is that you are finding your original breath. You are finding that elusive feeling of freedom, and this transmits a sense of flow and ease into all areas of your life. Instead of your life feeling as if it is made up of separate compartments that are at odds with each other, now your life becomes a seamless whole. You feel whole and you feel prosperous. Your new creed becomes:
Spiro ergo prospero – I breathe therefore I prosper.
Being the Purpose of Life
We would all like to know what our true purpose in life is. Despite all the modern conveniences gifted through our technological age, the one thing that often eludes us is a deep sense of purpose and fulfilment. Once again, we tend to believe that fulfilment may come from something that we create or do in our outer life. If we met the perfect partner, if we found the perfect home and if we had the perfect job, we believe that we might then know what it means to be fulfilled. This then becomes our mission in life – to try and create these perfect conditions.
The art of contemplation teaches us something different. It teaches us that the outer rests and relies upon the inner. We can have a perfect life on the outside but remain unhappy on the inside. And we can have very little on the outside but be joyous on the inside. The ultimate goal of contemplation is to bring both our inner and outer lives into balance. Then we can be inwardly fulfilled and outwardly content.
Contemplation achieves this aim through teaching us how to cultivate a sense of presence. We will learn that the true purpose of life is not something we are here to do, rather it is something we are here to be. It is a quality or inner virtue that we bring to everything we do in life. To find our purpose is to find a nobility of spirit that pervades our entire life. When we have found this, what we do is of less importance because the doing may change. However, our being is the one thing that will never change. It alone makes us unshakeable, stable and radiant – we become the purpose of our life.
Contemplation Throughout Time
The art of contemplation is as old as the hills. Many great and humble people have walked this path before you. The contemplative approach has long been the mainstay of all the great spiritual traditions from around the world. The first contemplators were the ancient shamans – those primal inner questers from pre-Neolithic times who sought to understand the connections between things. The shaman saw the link between the stars and the stones and was able for example to draw a clear, intuitive line connecting the patterns of birds in the sky with the events of our lives. This indeed is the purpose of contemplation – to find connections, to build bridges and to come to realise that everything in life is connected to everything else.
It has long been a strong and consistent intuition of humans that the things above are connected to the things below – that there is a deeper reason and purpose for everything that happens. Because this purpose is beyond the reach of our outer senses and our reasoning mind, we have developed other ways of attuning to it. Contemplation is our tuning fork. All the major religions – Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism and Islam – all have strong contemplative elements. Myriad mystical techniques have sprung from this tradition – prayer, meditation, worship, singing, chanting and fasting are a few examples of contemplative practices.
Contemplation can either be done in solitude, as in the traditions of the lonely hermits and mystics, or it can be done together, as in the great monastic traditions. Sometimes contemplation also demands movement, as the contemplative sets off on long quests or pilgrimages. Other times, the contemplative remains in a single place and position for the duration of their entire life. The important thing to understand about the art of contemplation is the breadth of its generosity. It encompasses many practices, teachings and cultures, shaping itself to each human epoch. Thus, contemplation is as relevant and essential today as it has ever been and in many ways, as we shall see, it is even more so.
Contemplation in Action
One of the keys to contemplation is to feel a sense of spaciousness. You can begin creating this spaciousness in your life from this moment forward.
Each day for the next few days, deliberately create some time where you can be alone in a place and begin to cultivate a sense of space. Whether this is only for a few minutes or more, use this gift just to enjoy the break from needing to DO. Maybe put on some music or go into nature for a walk and allow yourself to drift and simply breathe…
When you have done this quite a few times, and when you feel ready, you can Mark Complete and continue your journey…