“The ultimate value of life depends upon awareness and the power of contemplation rather than upon mere survival.” -Aristotle
So much of our lives are active, both physically and mentally. We strive, we exert and we push, sending out our energy into the world. We continually direct our efforts outwards, being active participants in the drama of our lives. There is a great deal of power in this activity. It can help us to create change and bring about shifts in our external environment. It helps us to survive.
But to experience shifts in our internal landscape, as Aristotle put it, to move beyond survival, a different kind of approach is needed. Contemplation is a potent, introspective activity. To contemplate is to view or consider an idea, object or concept with continued attention. When we contemplate, we allow our minds to settle and focus, directing our mental energy toward a particular place. In contemplation, we turn inward. We have a greater understanding about what is happening in and around us.
The following are ways you can practice contemplation and three benefits in doing so.
Types of Contemplative Practices
There are many different types of contemplative practices. Meditation, asana, prayer, writing and deep reflective thought are all contemplative activities because through them we find a calm centered-ness, and tap into the still depths of ourselves. While most of our activities are superficial and varied, contemplative activities are deep and precise.
Benefits of Contemplation
Connects You to You
On a simple level, contemplation can help us to connect with why we are doing what we are doing. Often in the midst of the flurry of doing, we lose sight of our purpose and inner motives. Taking time to contemplate helps us regain focus. It gives us renewed interest, enthusiasm and gratitude for our lives.
(More on the practice of gratitude in Give Thanks, Get Gratitude: 3 Reasons We're Thankful for This Mindfulness Practice.)
This can be particularly helpful when we feel we have lost our sense of direction in life and may need to take a step back to change course. When we contemplate, we tune into our inner wisdom and intuition, allowing these higher aspects of ourselves to be our guides.
Sharpens Your Focus
Contemplation improves our focus, concentration and mental discipline. Harnessing the power of our minds by flexing our mental muscles in this way pays dividends in all that we do. It’s not easy, as our minds enjoy constant, varied stimulation and naturally seek distraction. Through practice, however, we can train our minds to be more still. When we are able to remain focused, we are calmer, clearer-headed and better able to direct our attention to that which we want to do. It makes it easier to see the path ahead more clearly and problem solve. Contemplation helps with knowing where you need to go and how to get there.
Frees You From Ego
In a similar way, contemplation helps us to understand the nature of our minds. This means that rather than being permanently entangled in the web of our thoughts, we learn how to master it. We begin to appreciate the fact that we are not our thoughts and, over time, these thoughts lose their power over us. When we do this, we recognize that our ego is a mere construct of our thoughts, not the epitome of who we are on the deepest level. Understanding this brings real freedom.
(More on achieving such freedom in Be Brave, Be Free: 2 Yogis' Philosophy on Achieving Inner Freedom.)
Without contemplative activities, it is too easy to become locked in a prison of thought, mindlessly carrying out actions without any real awareness of the purpose, meaning or value of our lives. As Aristotle observed, this is survival. It is stressful, ungrounding and potentially demoralizing. Contemplation frees you from this automated existence. It helps you to find an awareness and expansiveness that permeates through and beyond all that you think and do.
It's the Truth
When you contemplate, you connect with the part of yourself that is deeper than the active mind, deeper than thought and deeper than ego. In doing so, you experience the truth of your connected-ness with the universe, those around you and everything in existence. This realization of truth is experienced rather than learned about. It is the ultimate value of contemplation. It is why it matters little what type of contemplative activity you engage in: Ultimately, the realization of your true Self will be the same, whatever path you take to get there. Experiencing this gives you access to inner peace, contentedness and freedom.
(Read on in Forget Happy, 'Be Content' Instead.)