What Are Contemplative Practices?

Meditation. Mindfulness. Awareness. Contemplation. There are so many terms getting thrown around (some loosely) that it can be difficult to know what people actually mean. For some, contemplation is a distinct activity with a clear goal. Other times, contemplation and meditation get tangled together.

What is contemplation?

Contemplation has no single, clear, and universal meaning. In Greek philosophy, Plato advocated contemplation as a path to unity with the Absolute. Christians use contemplation as a means of theoria, or gazing upon God and his Truth.

What does contemplation do?

Also not an easy question to answer. It depends on where the answer comes from.

Is contemplation mindfulness?

Pursuing the answer to this question may bear more fruit. The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society created a Tree of Contemplative Practices to show relationships between different activities they define as contemplative practices. The tree represents a possible way of arranging these practices, but not a definitive one. Without a robust metric for determining what activities are contemplative, and the degree to which they are contemplative, any activity could be pinned or removed from the tree.

What the tree does, however, is bring together a range of practices from across multiple traditions that could be used to cultivate mindfulness, awareness, and insight. Ok- so that last sentence may sound to some like the word “contemplation” just got swapped out with other obscure terms. Instead, maybe soon we can shift that phrasing to say that contemplative practices facilitate clearer, higher quality interactions with others, our surroundings, and within ourselves.