Should you consider becoming what used to be called a contemplative?
What is it? Might it be a worthwhile option for you?
What it’s not is a thinker. Our ability to think and solve problems is one of our greatest abilities. Learning how to think well is a valuable skill. Even though it’s natural to say that thinkers, when they are thinking, are contemplating, let’s avoid mixing the two notions.
A contemplative is not necessarily a thinker. Nobody these days is a thinker who does not spend a lot of time reading, writing, and, usually, discussing. Even solitary thinkers do a lot of reading and writing in addition to thinking.
By way of contrast, a contemplative need not even be literate! They can certainly be poor or unsophisticated thinkers. So what is it that they do?
Contemplatives focus on bringing Being into all their acts.
That’s it! That’s what distinguishes contemplatives.
They don’t necessarily do anything special or extraordinary. They may live alone or in groups. Judged by what they do, there is nothing out of the ordinary about them.
It’s how they do what they do that makes them very special. They bring a very high level of awareness into their actions.
They spend their lives attempting to open Becoming to Being. Since joy comes from Being, they focus on generating joy from the way they perform their daily activities.
Consider, for example, walking down a hall. When those of us who don’t usually pay attention walk down a hall, we almost always are lost in thought. If we aren’t thinking of what will happen when we get to our destination, we are thinking about something else we regard as more important than just our walking.
[I have discussed this in the post on mini-meditation and in the post on body-practice, which are also here in the spiritual well-being category.]
We may or may not achieve our goals. Often we do. As soon as we do, we are off in thought to the next goal.
All goals are thoughts. They are imaginings of a nonexistent future. They are important because, without them, we wouldn’t know what to do.
However, if we do whatever it is we are doing while focusing on the goal or purpose of what we are doing, we get the how wrong. Why?
Suffering comes from separation. If I am walking while I am focused on something other than walking, I am split. My thoughts are split from my actions. Such splits generate dissatisfaction (suffering, not being at ease).
On the other hand, if my thoughts and actions are unified, there’s no split and, so, no suffering. There’s no room for dissatisfaction or dissonance.
Normally, of course, walking down a hall does not generate much dissatisfaction. However, doing most of what I do mindlessly, without paying attention, generates a lot of dissatisfaction. It creates habits that create an enormous amount of suffering for myself and others.
Contemplatives get this.
They usually don’t generate dissatisfaction by their actions because they spend life trying to pay attention. Instead of frequently being elsewhere, lost in thought, they are typically fully aware of what is happening right here right now.
That awareness opens their actions to being (infuses their acts with Being), which is the source of abiding joy (bliss, beatitude).
As Eckhart Tolle writes in A New Earth: “Their purpose is to do everything in a sacred manner.”
Contemplatives are all about joy. They specialize in living joyfully. Living that way, getting the how right, brings benefits to others as well as to themselves.
Contemplatives spend their lives attempting to be right here right now.
Judged by what they do, they are usually thought failures. Judged by how they do what they do, they are successes.
You may initially find it strange to think that walking down a hallway, raking leaves, washing dishes, preparing a meal, or cleaning a room can be done in a sacred manner. The stranger you find it, the more likely it is that you are out of touch with how to act well.
It’s simple to find out for yourself whether or not contemplatives are onto something important. Simply test their way of life for yourself by focusing on whatever you do as you go through the day.
If you actually try it (as opposed to just thinking about it), you’ll quickly find that spiritual exercise very difficult! Your ego will keep pulling you back into compulsive thinking. You won’t be able to do it very well at all.
No matter: just keep trying even if you keep failing. If you do, eventually, little by little, you may begin to pay attention to life as it is right here right now.
You may think that’s too superficial, that it’s only the what of our acts that is valuable. Not so!
You may be able to force the what to achieve whatever you desire to achieve. That may be your pattern in life. You may automatically act on the false belief that joy comes from the content of the act itself.
If that is your pattern, you may already have discovered for yourself that what you are incessantly doing is creating more dissatisfaction for yourself and those around you.
As soon as you notice that, why not break the pattern by emulating contemplatives? Start paying much more attention to Being.
If you do, you will discover that it’s false that joy comes from the content of our acts; rather, joy comes from Being that flows through our acts.
It’s getting the how right, it’s emulating contemplatives, that makes all the difference.