What does it mean to be a contemplative in the modern world? Most often people associate contemplative living with the austerity and isolation of a monastery. At one time, that was true. Although there are still monastic communities around the globe, many of today’s contemplatives participate in the world but bring with them a deep sense of reverence for life, the Holy, into daily life. Like the mystics from all spiritual traditions, there exists an an awareness of the numinous presence that infuses every aspect of our lives. While Buddhist teachings and meditation guide me in deepening my awareness into the present moment, two teachers that also speak to me around contemplative living are Caroline Myss and the late Thomas Merton. In her book “Entering the Castle,” Myss offers a guidebook for answering the call of the soul and she coins the phrase “Mystics without Monasteries” to describe this new way of being in the world. Click here for an excerpt from her book.
And in “New Seeds of Contemplation,” Merton writes: “Contemplation is the highest expression of man’s intellectual and spiritual life. It is that life itself, fully awake, fully active, fully aware that it is alive. It is spiritual wonder. It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of being. It is gratitude for life, for awareness, and for being. It is a vivid realization of the fact that life and being in us proceed from an invisible, transcendent and infinitely abundant Source. Contemplation is, above all, an awareness of the reality of that Source.” Click here for more on Merton.
Living a contemplative life doesn’t require that we renounce the world but it does require choosing a new way of being in the world. Slowing down, unplugging from the technology (at least periodically), and learning to be with the silence in order to create space for encountering what Merton called the “spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life.” Why is this important to those of us who live in the 21st century? As we know, we live in a fast-paced and enormously stressful world. Carving out time in our personal lives for contemplation can open up new possibilities that nurture our spiritual life, our creativity, our relationships (to each other and to the Earth) and bring more calm into our daily lives. I’ve walked the stressed-out, workaholic lifestyle and know that world, too. For all the uncertainty that may come with following my soul’s calling, every day I wake feeling grateful…for life, for beauty, for this present moment…which is all we ever truly have.
I live much of my day in silence, except for the abundant birdsong coming in from the garden, but this may not be possible for those with the demands of family and workplace. So, where to begin if you are just starting out? I recently heard spiritual teacher August Gold interviewed and thought she had a great framework in starting a practice if you don’t have one. She suggests beginning every day with 15 minutes in this way:
· 5 minutes reading inspirational materials
· 5 minutes journaling what is most alive in your heart
· 5 minutes of silent sitting (no TV, radio, computers!)
I would also add, 5 minutes of sketching, doodling, or collaging to tap into your creative source!