Are you seeking a simple daily contemplative practice that can be easily integrated into your current lifestyle? Then Artful Contemplation may be just right for you.
Contemplative practices can be found throughout the world and can be defined as the cultivation of “a critical, first-person focus, sometimes with direct experience as the object, while at other times concentrating on complex ideas or situations.The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society
Contemplative practices can certainly have radical and transformative effects. In many instances they are associated with an activity that is performed outside of your current place of busy-ness. This could include going on a retreat, taking a walk in untamed nature or meditating in a sacred building. But contemplative practices can also be easily integrated closer to home. Emphasis is then placed on a personal, practical approach – rather than complicated or prescriptive ideas of where, when, how, with whom and for what duration. Artful Contemplation was developed with exactly this kind of simplicity and immediacy in mind.
Here are 5 suggestions to get you started on a personal and practical daily contemplation practice that can be easily integrated into your current lifestyle:
1. Begin where you are
This seems so obvious as to be unimportant. But very often when we are feeling out of sorts, distracted or imbalanced, it is because we have compared ourselves to others and found ourselves lacking. Or we have imagined ourselves being somewhere other than where we are. In seeking to remedy the out-of-sorts feeling with contemplative practices, we may well compound it, by thinking: ‘I will feel better if I could just meditate like so and so’ or ‘when I go on that retreat then I will be able to get it together’ or ‘the environment in that photo looks like a good place to reconnect – if only I was there‘ and so on.
Trying to organize the ideal time, place and conditions for a daily contemplation practice is not the same as discovering and honoring the gifted moment. Take a tiny first step, from wherever you currently find yourself. Don’t worry about whether your chosen practice is good, right, appropriate, viable, achievable, sustainable.
Gaze up at the clouds for a few minutes.
Observe the patterns of the crowds in a train station.
Pay attention to the rhythm of your breathing.
Tune in to the hubbub in a café.
Focus on the tingling sensation in your toes, or your fingers.
Linger longer on an inspirational image.
Soon you will notice that even the most insignificant action, when done purposefully, can bring meaning and realization. And there are trillions of so-called insignificants in our daily life that can become meaning-filled!
Begin where you are.
2. Be persistent
This statement can easily be misunderstood to imply pain, suffering and hard work. But persistence is not equivalent to perseverance. Perseverance implies pushing through, gritting your teeth, putting your nose to the grindstone, grinning and bearing it – simply put, going against your organic flow. Persistence is a more gentle approach. While it does suggest regular and consistent practice, this is measured over a longer span of time and so need not be enforced.
Like a perennial river, or fruit tree, persistent contemplation is everlasting but always in response to its environment. Persistent contemplation is based on an intrinsic discipline – wanting to practice for one’s own benefit – rather than an enforced discipline – feeling you have to practice for social validation or out of obligation. The latter is more closely aligned to our fear impulse. The former is an expression of an innate and intuitive desire to be the best that we can be – because this makes life valuable and meaning-filled! Our Daily Artful Contemplation is a mindfulness tool to assist with this gently persistent practice. One artwork is posted daily for you to beholden for just a few minutes. No goals, no curriculum, no measurables, no workbook, no outcomes. Just a regular space for personalised contemplation.
What art offers is space – a certain breathing room for the spirit.John Updike
Another way to look at persistent contemplation is as an infusion. An infusion is defined as the process of extracting chemical compounds or flavors from plant material in a solvent such as water, oil or alcohol, by allowing the material to remain suspended in the solvent over time (Wikipedia). Most of us infuse things on a daily basis – such as tea leaves and coffee granules – to extract flavor and nutrients. So why not infuse an image or an artwork? Not literally, of course, by suspending it in solvent. But metaphorically, by bonding with it over time. An infusion is also something that seeps within and joins with an existing element to improve or enrich it. The two key elements? Time and integration.
Images send subliminal messages, as advertisers well know. Why not make time to look contemplatively at images that matter, take them in, let them have their way with us, so to speak…? Art can also usher us into a spiritual realm…It is right here in our midst.Karen Sue Smith
Over time, small daily steps accumulate and manifest as profound transformation.
3. Discover nature
My husband and I live in a semi-urbanized and fairly unpopulated subtropical strip along the east coast of South Africa. The dense vegetation, meandering lagoons and dynamic tidal zones of this area provide an endless source of contemplation. But do you remember point 2) on persistence? Don’t let the fact that you live in an urban or built-up area deter you from this daily practice. Even a city park, an abandoned plot, or a pot-plant on the balcony of a high-rise can offer contemplative insight. Nature has an amazing way of reclaiming territory and untaming environments. Even the smallest, seemingly insignificant ecosystem can engage your senses and invite you to become attuned to the nuanced interactions and relationships of life.
Nature offers silence – not ‘no noise’ but rather a noise-less-ness that comes from stilling those parts of us that clamor for recognition, validation, achievement and expression. Those drives have their rightful place in making our lives meaning-filled. But they can easily become overwhelming and domineering. Their nature is forceful so countering them with force simply feeds the flame. These drives can only be countered with non-violence, non-intervention and non-doing.
And remember – look up and you will see the clouds, look down and you will see the ground, look within and you will see growth, vitality, nourishment. Nature is around and within, waiting to be discovered.
Nowadays there is an abundance of spaces – groups, followings, communities and cultures – both off- and online to which you can become affiliated. It is important for our sense of well-being to share our thoughts in a space where they will be listened to. Bear in mind that blurting out how you feel in the name of ‘freedom of expression’ won’t necessarily make you feel better.
Silence is a quality of mind, a way of being, and a powerful type of presence in the world.
Sometimes need to be silent and listen. Sometimes we need to speak up and be heard. Use a community space for both of these – to be with others, as a way of coming into contact with new and vital aspects of yourself. And to be alone, as a way of coming to respect and acknowledge the uniqueness of each living being.
Contemplative practices need not be associated with pure silence or inactivity…If we view silence not as ‘holding/biting our tongue’ but rather ‘withholding our judgement’, we may find we are able to appreciation the subtleties within the life-stories offered by others, as well as see the complementarities and intersections in our own life.The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society
Be willing to practice persistently, even if not consistently. In other words, be willing to try new approaches, entertain novel possibilities, and improvise. An inevitable aspect of improvisation is that you get things ‘wrong’ as much as you get things ‘right’. This need not be seen as failure or mistake. It is part of learning, expanding, refining our awareness of self.
When practicing Artful Contemplation, you may find that you do not respond to all images. Some may leave you feeling cold, while others draw you in immediately and engage your senses.
…connect with the image by simply looking, waiting patiently until links are established…Art can draw one…into a liminal state of openness and responsiveness…Karen Sue Smith
If there is a goal to any contemplative practice, it is simply to expand and deepen our awareness of what is already in existence…and we may find ourselves meandering and backtracking along quite a few different contemplative paths before finding the one that we really resonate with.