“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.” 

~Thomas Merton


If an individual is operating from a balanced, healthy mind-body perspective, he/she will meet the world in similar relationship. The means of nurturing and exercising such a relationship is contemplative practice, also called prayer or meditation. There is precedent for meditative practices in all religious traditions. (1)

Contemplative inquiry cultivates wisdom. It allows the subjective experiences of creativity, imagination, meaning, and intrinsic value to integrate with objective intellect, yielding a holistic, often transformative understanding of concept or experience.

At work, in education, in prayer life, or throughout the daily routine, allowing time to contemplate circumstances fully helps us to realize there is more to what we see, hear, touch, smell, taste and think than the concepts that these senses perceive. Contemplation allows insight through intuition and empathy, illuminates a greater awareness of life experience, reduces impulsiveness, and facilitates skillful discernment.

Contemplation draws us completely into the present moment, that is, engaging all perceiving mechanisms to allow most subtle and expansive awareness.

Contemplation is Mindfulness. Labyrinth_Lucca

Mindfulness, or contemplative practice, can be conducted within a religious context or not. Christian contemplative practices are many and appeal to both active and receptive styles of awareness. In Christianity, a centering word, sacred reading, rosary or labyrinth are common contemplative tools. Buddhist meditation and Yogic spiritual practices often employ a focal point, the breath, the body, or a mantra in order to train the mind from wandering. The fundamental paradox of mindfulness practice is that by training our attention on one focal point we become more subtly aware, not only to that focal point, but of other aspects of our experience.

In the 1970s Jon Kabat-Zinn and others appropriated a secular mindfulness meditation practice from Buddhist meditation which is now widely used in medical and clinical psychology applications.

“To be mindful is to be intentional, nonjudgmental, and honestly attentive to the present moment; with balanced compassionate participation in the experience.”

~Peggy Beatty

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1.The Hindu Vedas, the oldest sacred texts in existence (1500-1000 BCE), the Buddhist and Taoist texts (500-400 BCE) speak of meditation as a practice to cultivate mental balance, enlightened consciousness, encourage wisdom, calmness and inner peace. In the Eastern traditions, meditation was referred to as a “salvation path,” leading to serenity, insight, and wisdom.[1][2] The Tibetan word for meditation is “gom,” meaning familiarity or habitual.[3] In Alexandria, Philo (20 BCE – 40 CE), the Jewish philosopher, is credited as the first to notate a contemplative prayer path leading to Godliness in the Western traditions.[4]

To pray, or meditate in Hebrew was called hāgâ, meaning to sigh or murmur, and also, to meditate.[5] The Greek translation of hāgâ was melete, which became the Latin, meditatio.[6] The use of the term meditatio as part of a formal, stepwise process of meditation goes back to the 12th-century Carthusian monk, Guigo II.[7] The Desert Fathers and Mothers of the 4th century practiced contemplative prayer, wishing to remove the onus of vice (ego) such that the true nature of self (Godliness) was revealed through continued experiences of God in silence and self reflection. John Climacus (7th c) (Ladder of Perfection) in the Eastern church and John Cassian (435) (Conferences) in the Western church wrote of the desert dwellers as deeply in love with God and fiercely committed to humility.[8] Cassian’s writings were incorporated into the Rule of St Benedict, the founding precepts of Western Monasticism, and further developed by an unknown writer in the 14th century in the classic, Cloud of Unknowing. A contemporary Christian contemplative practice that grew out of the “Cloud” is centering prayer, revived as such in the 1960s by Benedictines, Thomas Keating and Basil Pennington. Simultaneously, British Benedictine, John Main was originating what would become the World Community for Christian Meditation. Christian contemplative practices are numerous and varied, active and passive to suit many personalities and spiritual types.

[1]Heinrich Dumoulin, James W. Heisig, Paul F. Knitter, Zen Buddhism : a History: India and China (Bloomington, IN : World Wisdom 2005), 15.

[2] Bhikkhu Bodhi, In the Buddha’s Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon (Teachings of the Buddha) (Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications 2005), 267-70.

[3]Rudy Harderwijk, A View on Buddhism, What is Meditation, Online @ http://viewonbuddhism.org/meditation_theory.html, Accessed April 20, 2014.

[4] Urban T. Holmes III, A History of Christian Spirituality, an Analytical Introduction, (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 2002), 17.

[5] Terje Stordalen, “Ancient Hebrew Meditative Recitation”, in Halvor Eifring (ed.), Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam: Cultural Histories, (London, 2013), 17-31.

[6] Lawrence S. Cunningham, and Keith J. Egan. Christian Spirituality: Themes From the Tradition (New York : Paulist Press, 1996), 88.

[7] Ibid., 38.

[8] Carmody, Denise Lardner and John Tully. Mysticism Holiness East and West (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 198.