What is Contemplation? — Center for Action and Contemplation

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What is Contemplation?

Everything we do at the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC) is intended to support your growth as a loving, compassionate human being.

As you listen, watch, or read along, our hope is that you will open your heart, mind, and body to new ways of thinking and being. Sometimes you may feel as if you’re rediscovering something you already knew to be true. Sometimes you may feel uncomfortable or confused. Whatever your reaction, we invite you to be present to this feeling and let it teach you.

In this short video, the CAC’s founder Father Richard Rohr shares why this approach is so important and how it can help you understand and grow. He also explains some terms that he frequently uses, like mysticism and non-dual consciousness.

“Reading as Spiritual Practice: Uniting Heart, Mind, and Body” Unedited Transcript (PDF)

What is Contemplation?

Many equate it to prayer or meditation. You might be surprised, however, to discover that you can practice contemplation while mindfully washing dishes, singing, being with a friend, or walking in a park. Contemplation is simply being fully present—in heart, mind, and body—to what is in a way that allows you to creatively respond and work toward what could be.

Contemplation is both personal and communal, internal and external. It helps us let go of our usual, self-focused way of thinking and doing things so that our compassionate, connected, and creative self can emerge. Through contemplation we develop the capacity to witness our egoic motivations, bringing this awareness into our day-to-day actions and living with increased freedom and authenticity through deeper awareness of our self and God’s Self.

A Different Way of Knowing Prayer

The spiritual journey is a constant interplay between moments of awe followed by a process of surrender to that moment. We must first allow ourselves to be captured by the goodness, truth, or beauty of something beyond and outside ourselves. Then we universalize from that moment to the goodness, truth, and beauty of the rest of reality—including ourselves! This is the great inner dialogue we call prayer.

Contemplative prayer, remaining silently and openly in God’s presence, rewires our brains to think with compassion, kindness, and a lack of attachment to the ego’s preferences. We begin to move beyond language and experience God as Mystery. We let go of our need to judge, defend, or evaluate, plugging into the mind of Christ which welcomes paradox and knows its true identity in God. During contemplation we come to know that there is no separation between sacred and secular. All is one with Divine Reality.

“A Different Way of Knowing Prayer” Unedited Transcript (PDF)

Contemplative prayer is a practice for a lifetime, never perfected yet always enough. Each time we pray, we come with beginner’s mind—true humility, and an openness to not knowing. Even with our best intentions to remain present to Presence, our habitual patterns of thinking and feeling interrupt and distract. Yet it is our desire that matters. Through our repeated failings we encounter God’s grace.

Practice-based Spirituality

Many people practice forms of contemplation like Centering Prayer or focused breathing. Other expressions and cultures emphasize community experiences (like sharing meals or speaking in tongues), movement (dancing or yoga), and music (drumming, ecstatic singing, or chanting). You may resonate more with some practices than others—and that’s okay.

Feeling God’s presence is simply a matter of awareness. Of enjoying the now. Deepening one’s presence. There are moments when it happens. Then life makes sense. Contemplative practice helps us become habituated to this way of being, opening ourselves to presence in the ordinary and humdrum.

“Practice-Based Spirituality: Beyond Belief” Unedited Transcript (PDF)

The deepest truths can’t be grasped at the level of intellect. Christianity can’t just be based on beliefs. It only becomes authentic and transformative through experience and practice, when head, heart, and body are all open and receptive. From this open-hearted stance you learn to hold the tension of paradox, allow space for questions and unknowing, let go of unhelpful beliefs, and change the way you live in the world.

Whatever ever practice(s) you choose, we invite you to commit to it. Through contemplation and life itself, God works on us slowly and in secret. Contemplative practice gradually rewires our brains to perceive and respond to reality with love.

Some Examples of Contemplative Practices

Drumming: Practicing surrendering the mind and attuning the body through rhythm

Walking Meditation: Taking slow, mindful steps

Ecstatic Dance: Moving freely to music

Chanting: Singing with intention

Centering Prayer: Observing and letting go of all thoughts without judgment during a period of silence

Lectio Divina: Reading short passages of text in a contemplative way

Welcoming Prayer: Welcoming any feeling, sensation, or emotion that arises in the midst of your day

YHWH Prayer: Consciously saying God’s name through each breath

Pranayama: Breathing mindfully

Loving Kindness Meditation: Recognizing your inner source of loving kindness and sending love to others

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