A Meditation Practice. A Contemplative Practice.
How do we systematically cultivate our heart-minds?
In many Eastern cultures, the heart and mind are considered one. When you cultivate the mind, you are cultivating the heart, and vice-versa.
As a long-term practitioner of meditation and mindfulness, my experience is that these practices systematically cultivate the heart-mind. Regular meditation practice strengthens those parts of the brain that allow you to create space between your habits of mind and your experience of life. There is the capacity to see the thoughts without identification; to find just enough space to breathe and soften, even when the thoughts are like a huge, dark storm. Thoughts can be very bossy, very convincing, all-consuming. Having a practice that trains the brain to see these thoughts for what they are – just thoughts – can be a life-saver, and increase one’s peace.
So what is a ‘Contemplative Practice’?
Contemplative practices quiet the mind in order to cultivate a personal capacity for deep concentration and insight. Examples of contemplative practice include not only sitting in silence but also many forms of single-minded concentration including meditation, contemplative prayer, mindful walking, focused experiences in nature, yoga and other contemporary physical or artistic practices. Ritual and ceremony designed to create sacred space and increase insight and awareness are also forms of contemplative practice.
In meditation and mindfulness practice, one purposefully avoids following thoughts in order to develop mental discipline and peacefulness without distraction. This is one form of contemplative practice. Other contemplative practices are designed to investigate thoughts and ideas for the purpose of insight. I would name Nonviolent Communication as one such contemplative practice.
Contemplative practice has the potential to bring different aspects of one’s self into focus, to help develop compassion, and to awaken an awareness of the interconnectedness of all life. These practices help people to develop greater empathy and communication skills, improve focus and concentration, reduce stress, and enhance creativity. Over time, these practices cultivate insight, inspiration, and a loving and compassionate approach to life. They are practical, radical, and transformative.
The Contemplative Net Project was a qualitative research project conducted by the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society from 2001 through 2004. The Project researched the ways in which contemplative practices are being employed in mainstream American society. This interesting image captures the results:
Which practices are you using to systematically cultivate your heart-mind? Which practices are you using with your children to support them in systematically cultivating their heart-minds?