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Contemplative Practice for Spiritual Insight

You know there is something that you would like to give more subtle and focused attention to, but you are not quite sure how to go about it. If it is a spiritual topic*, you know that just intellectual pursuit is not enough.  Contemplative practice may conjure up images of writing poetry or sitting in nature and spacing out.  In actuality it can be a structured and clear way of focusing your attention.


A structured and clear contemplative practice contains at least three key elements:


  1. Knowing what you know

  2. Body awareness

  3. Consistent sustained attention.  


Ideally you would begin a session of contemplative practice with at least twenty minutes of calming body, heart, and mind.  Next begin clarifying what you already know (knowing what you know).  Through journaling, speaking aloud to yourself, or speaking to a very calm attentive listener; express everything you know and understand about your chosen topic.  Push your expression to its very edge.  If you haven't run into fragment sentences and incomplete thoughts, you are not yet at the very edge of knowing.  Questions that may be helpful to ask yourself at this stage include:  What else do I know or understand about this?  What information, context, or conditions are relevant to remember?  What insights have I already had about this?


Once you have reached your edge of knowing, set down anything in your hands, take a meditation posture and place your attention in your body.  At this point your mind will likely return to an iteration of what you know or generate random thoughts.  Each time a thought arises gently return your attention to your body.  If you have significant pain in your body, try another posture; perhaps lying down.


For contemplative practice with a spiritual topic, consistent sustained attention on your breath or some other aspect of body experience is key. This is a gentle form of concentration practice, not a bearing down on your object of attention with all your effort.


Ideally your mind could remain quiet for at least three or four minutes at a time before a thought arises and you need to refocus.  If this is something you can sustain for an hour or so, it's likely that little or big insights will pop into your awareness.


An insight is an experience that becomes known to you in body, heart, and mind - an understood experience.  Celebrate even the smallest insight, such as a little opening of perspective or a greater felt sense of something.  Write down or somehow record all your insights.  These insights will be incorporated into the practice of knowing what you know for your next contemplative practice session.


Spiritual insight is useful to the extent that it changes your habits of body, heart, and mind.  After a session of contemplative practice, set your intention to notice how knowing what you know and any new insights that came up change your experience and interactions in everyday life.


Next week we will take a look at how to apply contemplative practice to healing.


Practice

Take a few moments now and ask yourself what's alive for you that you would like to engage with in a contemplative practice?


*Some spiritual topics might include:  Who or what am I?  What is the nature of love?  What does it mean to be of service to life?  What does it mean to see and know that everything changes, nothing lasts?  What is equanimity?  What does it mean to have compassion for all living beings?

 

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Contemplative Practice for Healing
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Allowing and Repair


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