Wednesday, October 15, 2008

What Is Contemplation?

In my part of the world it is finally starting to look like autumn. This past weekend was very hot but this coming weekend promises to feel like autumn. The greenness and abundance of summer is giving way to harvest time and the seeming death of nature. It is not really a death. It is a transition to the new life we will see in the spring. Before that time, however, we will experience great beauty that will lead us into the cold and barrenness of winter. As the trees and bushes and flowers turn inward, in a manner of speaking, it is also a good time for us to turn inward. It is a great time to reflect on our own abundance and the beauty of so many things in life. In a few months, when the winter arrives, the seeds of next spring will be germinating within nature and within ourselves.

What is contemplation? There is mystical theology that speaks of "infused" contemplation. This refers to a direct experience of God that can best be compared to looking into the sun. It's a bright flash that can burn you. It's an experience that can be sweet and painful at the same time. As scripture says, "No man can look at God and live". This type of experience is very rare and I do not think it has ever happened to me. I am certainly not conscious of any such experience. I am a simple person and my understanding of contemplation is a little less mystical. Contemplative moments for me are experiences of gratitude, appreciation, and wonder. I have had many of these experiences. They can happen anywhere and anytime. You don't have to be in a church or the monastery. They can be part of ordinary life. They have happened to me in all areas of my life, i.e. being at the monastery, playing with Chloe, listening to music, staring out the window while at work, doing the family laundry, or being with a friend. You don't have to be sitting in a cave on a mountain in Tibet although I would like to do that, too. Living with a grateful heart opens you to the possibility of such moments throughout your day. The potential for them is always just a breath or a heartbeat away. They come upon you unannounced and sometimes take your breath away as the joy of the moment wells up inside of you. These moments don't always feel spiritual and you may or may not associate them with God. However, any person of faith would most likely see God's hand in such moments. Perhaps I have been so lucky because I generally have an optimistic and positive attitude about life. I tend to always see the good in everything. I can be critical of things I think are stupid but I'm usually not negative. I think people with my attitude are more likely to be grateful than those who always see what's missing in life or who are continually pessimistic about life's potential.

Not thinking about anything is Zen. Once you know this, walking, standing, sitting, or lying down, everything you do is Zen. To know that the mind is empty is to see the Buddha...Using the mind to look for reality is delusion. Not using the mind to look for reality is awareness. Freeing oneself from words is liberation.

No comments: