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Center for Action and Contemplation
Just This
Just This

Recognizing and Appreciating 

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Richard describes contemplation as a practice by which we come to more accurate “seeing”:  

Contemplation is a kind of seeing that is much more than mere looking because it also includes recognizing and thus appreciating. The contemplative mind does not tell us what to see but teaches us how to see what we behold.  

But how do we learn this contemplative mind, this deep, mysterious, and life-giving way of seeing and of being with reality? Why does it not come naturally to us? Actually, it does come momentarily in states of great love and great suffering, but such wide-eyed seeing normally does not last. We return quickly to dualistic analysis and use our judgments to retake control. A prayer practice—contemplation—is simply a way of maintaining the fruits of great love and great suffering over the long haul and in different situations. And that takes a lot of practice—in fact, our whole life becomes one continual practice.  

To begin to see with new eyes, we must observe, and usually be humiliated by, the habitual way we encounter each and every moment. It is humiliating because we will see that we are well-practiced in just a few predictable responses. Few of our responses are original, fresh, or naturally respectful of what is right in front of us. The most common human responses to a new moment are mistrust, cynicism, fear, knee-jerk reactions, a spirit of dismissal, and overriding judgmentalism. It is so dis-couraging when we have the courage to finally see that these are the common ways the ego tries to be in control of the data—instead of allowing the moment to get some control over us and teach us something new! 

To let the moment teach us, we must allow ourselves to be at least slightly stunned by it until it draws us inward and upward toward a subtle experience of wonder. We normally need a single moment of gratuitous awe to get us started. [1] 

In her book on spirituality and parenting, Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg emphasizes the special awe that arises from paying attention to our ordinary lives:  

The twentieth-century rabbi and theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel [1907–1972] wrote a lot about “radical amazement,” [2] that sense of “wow” about the world, which he claimed is the root of spirituality. It’s the kind of thing that people often experience in nature—at the proverbial mountaintop, when walking in the woods, seeing a gorgeous view of the ocean. But it’s also, I think, about bringing that sense of awe into the little things we often take for granted, or consider part of the background of our lives. This includes the flowers on the side of the road; the taste of ice cream in our mouths; … or to find a really, really good stick on the ground. And it also includes things we generally don’t even think of as pleasures, like the warm soapy water on our hands as we wash dishes. [3] 


[1] Adapted from Richard Rohr, Just This (Albuquerque, NM: CAC Publishing, 2017), 7–9. 

[2] Abraham Joshua Heschel, God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism (New York: Macmillan, 1976), chap. 4. Cited by Ruttenberg, Nurture the W0w, 293. 

[3] Danya Ruttenberg, Nurture the Wow: Finding Spirituality in the Frustration, Boredom, Tears, Poop, Desperation, Wonder, and Radical Amazement of Parenting (New York: Flatiron Books, 2016), 56–57. 

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Izzy Spitz, Wings (detail), digital oil pastel. Izzy Spitz, Tuesday Chemistry (detail), digital oil pastel. Izzy Spitz, Field Study 1 (detail), oil pastel. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image

In the midst of color and movement we focus and are present to one point in a sacred sphere. 

Story from Our Community:  

When I walk in nature I do my best to appreciate the beauty that surrounds me. Just simply being present enough to see that my cadence is in rhythm with my breathing and that I am aware of how my feet are touching the ground.… I need to let go of the distractions of my busy brain and open my ears to hear the subtle sounds of the forest. The rustle of the leaves, the moans and hums from the trees, the songs of the birds and echoes from the calls of other wildlife. I make attempts to feel life in the moments that I walk. Wind on my face, sunlight on my skin, cold, warmth, moisture in the air, they all bring life in abundance. With that life is a certain smell. One that is unique to the day and the specific set of qualities that are making up the moments. It leaves a tangible taste in the air that can only be experienced by being present in the moment. —Terry L.  

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