Is contemplation a lost art? While it seems to be the territory of Philosophers and spiritual Seekers, I think we all need more of this humble pastime.
To me, contemplation is a deeply necessary, and often missing, part of our daily lives. With the ever-present emphasis on productivity and action, we may not value this simple non-action as much as we should. We all need time to ponder, to allow our minds to drift, and to do nothing. While there are more stringent and ascetic definitions of contemplation, I prefer the casual contemplative walk or sauna session.
I see this state as different from rumination, but not quite meditation. We are not actively problem-solving, we are simply allowing the inevitable ripples of life’s events and tasks to slow and steady while thoughts drift to and away from us. While we may find a solution while we are there, we are not seeking or grasping. We are slowing the constant shower of worldly information, and letting stillness be enough.
While sleep is a great cleanser of the mind, sweeping out great chunks of useless information and even toxins while we are unconscious, I believe that contemplation in a wakeful state is just as important.
“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. It is a spiritual wonder. It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of being. It is gratitude for life, for awareness and for being.” -Thomas Merton
I’ve found that this state is best achieved with a secondary physical activity: a run in the woods, a sauna session, or sitting near a body of water. Ask something simple of the body and allow the mind an unstructured ramble around its own hills and valleys, with no particular goal.
Sauna is a unique place where we are both active and resting. The heart is working harder, the muscles start to relax, and the sweat glands are activated. As the body busies itself with these tasks, the mind is allowed to drift and wander. The sounds and activity around you can be observed without analysis. If the mind goes to undesirable places, it’s easy to bring it back again to the body and its sensations.
When we are overly-busy and under stress, this simple act of reflection, of doing nothing, is often the first to go, but this is when it is the most necessary. Take some time to contemplate.
Photo courtesy Visit Finland