The Story Of Contemplative Practices:
Today the word ‘contemplation’ is mostly used in the context of thinking about something. To differentiate ‘to contemplate’ and ‘to think’ we often, in today’s life, use the word ‘contemplation’ when and if we are thinking deeper about something.
But tracing the roots of ‘to contemplate’ we find the Latin version ‘contemplatio’ and the Greek version ‘theoria’. Both of these two words, which lays as a foundation for ‘contemplation’, reference to a total devotion to reveal and clarify nature of reality and to gain direct perception through mental perception where our ordinary tool for perception, the five senses and thinking, are not present (Wallace, Alan. 2009. p8-13).
Today ‘contemplation’ and ‘thinking’ seems to be almost interchangeable synonyms but with the Greek and the Latin notion of ‘to contemplate’ we come to understand that ‘to contemplate’ and ‘to think’ are actually far apart. This is why we see, that in almost all spiritual traditions, religious traditions and philosophical traditions a path of contemplative practice. The contemplative practice becomes the means for understanding nature, as the scientific approach does through weighing and measuring. The practices are gradually training the mind and leads of to a state of contemplation, wherefrom we are able to gather knowledge about the world and nature of reality.
Today the East have placed itself on the map as the hub of spirituality and contemplative practices. Many travel to places like India, to learn contemplative practices. Magazines covers a plastered full of people in acrobatic-looking yoga poses yoga. We are incorporating vocabulary from various Eastern traditions such as ‘guru’ and ‘karma.
Meditation and Contemplation:
But meditation is not enough to achieve growth. A picture that most of us are familiar with is that of a person sitting in lotus pose (a crossed-legged position) on the floor, palms gently resting on the knees and with the eyes closed and we all know that this is the practice of meditation. The practice of meditation is linked to contemplative practices, and is often what many people think of when talking about contemplation. Contemplation is therefore often portrayed as an internal and silence practice that is done alone.
An Element Is Missing From Meditation
But the so often referred to, or understood, contemplative practice as an introverted and silent practice practiced in solitude is missing a key element. At the same time extroverted community-based practices are lacking an important feature to offer mental and physical benefits.
LET’S TAKE A CLOSER LOOK AT WHY
A Research Project
In 2002 A. Nweberg conducted a research. The participants were of two kinds, (1) Franciscan nuns and (2) Tibetan Buddhists. They were each asked to practice a meditation practice, respectively focusing on a passage from the Bible and on the nature of pure awareness while their brains were scanned.
WHAT DID THE BRAIN SCANS SHOW:
The scans of all participants showed what parts of the brain that are active and what parts are passive during their practice. The discovery was remarkable: whether you are a Franciscan nun, Buddhist, Hindu, atheists, or engaging in gentle contemplative practice, the same neurological “finger prints”, meaning the same brain activity were present in all of the different people.
This means that whether religious or non religious, when engaging in contemplative practices you are able to impact your brain in a positive way.
NOW IT GET’S INTERESTING - Here Is WHY Meditation is not enough to achieve growth
Their studies also showed that passively listening to a priest or a teacher has very little effect on the brain. Rituals incorporating seated meditation, movement or signing that are done on a routine basis shows no positive effect on the brain.
THOUGH this is also true: Further Newberg and Waldman also documented that very intense extroverted movement or sound-based practices has the opposite effect on the brain compared to introverted loving and compassion type of meditation.
Introverted Meditative Practices and The Brain
What they discovered was that when doing an introverted reflective practice the emotional centres of the brain, particularly that of the negative emotions, turn off. This means that the ability to become more conscious, presence and focused increases leading to an optimal functioning of the brain. The salience network (the brain’s network in charge of creating a balance between all other networks as well as empathy, compassion, social awareness, forgiveness and intuitive awareness) is active during these introverted practices.
However engaging in extroverted and intense practices, the opposite happens: the areas of consciousness turns off, the part of the brain that gives you a sense of self is not active. Meaning that you are no longer you, you are entering a reality that is outside of everyday awareness and consciousness and almost like a psychedelic experience or a trance state.
SO! Now Do We Need Both Introverted and Extroverted Practices?
Staying for a set amount of time with these intense extroverted practices are only beneficial when afterwards taking the time to engage in contemplative practice, where the brain centre of the negative emotion switch off and the salient network is again active. This means that in that self-reflective, introverted practice the most important part of the brain is activated.
Engaging in extroverted practices are only beneficial when coming back to those gentle contemplative practices. Does this means you can skip the extroverted practices and focus on only the introverted practices as the tendency is in any monastic lifestyle? Newberg and Waldman’s research also lead to the discovery that the extroverted and intense practices actually interrupt all of previous set-belief systems, giving opportunities to see nature, humanity, life and love in a different light.
And so I would like to end this short essay with the conclusion that both the extroverted practices and the introverted practices are important aspects of a contemplative life. A contemplative life becomes a lifestyle of integration where the practised soon becomes the lifestyle.
Contemplation becomes our altered trait where, as the Latin and the Greek words suggest, that our ordinary tools for perception, those of the five senses and thinking, are turned of for a moment and where we learn from a much deeper and intuitive place.
Want to know more?
Join us on one of our retreats where we incorporate both introverted self-reflective practices as well as group orientated extroverted practices to get YOU THRIVING!
You Can Also Read These Books:
- Wallace, Alan. 2009. “The origins of contemplation.” Pp. 8-13 in Mind in the Balance: Meditation in Science, Buddhism, and Christianity. New York: Columbia University Press.
- Newberg, Andrew B. and Waldman, Mark Robert. 2009.”How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist”. Ballantine Books.
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