Clinical psychologist Lorne Ladner, who wrote the excellent book, The Lost Art of Compassion, describes this practice as exercises that bring the conscious and unconscious aspects of the psyche “into alignment with our deepest values so that we can live them in a genuine and spontaneous way.”
Mindfulness is calm awareness of one’s thoughts, feelings, and body activity. Meditation and awareness exercises facilitate this ongoing consciousness, which is often called “practice”. While contemplation emerged out of Greek Philosophy and Christianity, and came to refer to a content-free awareness of God, many now refer to contemplative practices as encompassing mindfulness. In recent years, many educators and psychologists promote contemplative practices as tools for better learning and personal well-being.
The principal center promoting contemplative practices is the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society. One of their projects was to compile a list of contemplative practices and to depict them as the Tree of Contemplative Practices.
While the creators of this tree do not claim the list to be exhaustive, the tree depicts seven major types of contemplative practices:
- 1. stillness practices (e.g., sitting meditation and prayer)
- 2. movement practices (e.g., walking meditation and pilgrimage)
- 3. creation process practices (e.g., singing and chanting)
- 4. activist practices (e.g., volunteering and marches)
- 5. generative practices (e.g., visualization and kindness meditation)
- 6. ritual/cyclical practices (e.g., cultural ceremonies and rituals), and
- 7. relational practices (e.g., dialogue and storytelling)
Contemplative practices have the potential to develop personal compassion, and in groups to develop community and mutual caring. But the crucial point here is that they help to sustain compassion.
In the context of spiritual and political activism, contemplative practices may be the principal antidote to the stress and distraction that may result from activism.
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