IN this article we’ll be looking at how to practice contemplative meditation for reflection, and the difference between contemplation and meditation.
There are many different meditation techniques in use today. Each has its strengths and weaknesses:
- Movement methods help to liberate the mind.
- Breathing techniques are good for relaxation.
- Taoist exercises restore the flow of chi.
- Zen will quickly improve your focus.
The benefit of using contemplative meditation practices for reflection is that they help us with deep thinking and self reflection. It can an excellent way to uncover deep thoughts buried in your mind, to find insight, and also to learn about yourself.
In the West, contemplation and meditation were considered the same thing for millennia. So you might wonder what the difference is between contemplation and meditation. Let’s take a look, and then we will look at how to practice contemplative meditation.
In a moment we’ll look at the best contemplative meditation techniques, but first you might like to know how meditation and contemplation are different.
The Difference Between Contemplation and Meditation
To look at contemplation VS meditation, you have to understand the meanings of both terms.
When we look at the definition of contemplative meditation we can learn much.
The word contemplation has Latin roots. It is the combination of the prefix “Con”, which means “With”, and the root “templum”, which refers to any kind of sacred space. Temples and shrines used to be high up, allowing the individual to look down at the land, which creates a sense of conteplation and reflection. Therefore, Con-templation means to observe from a sacred place. In modern English the word also refers to the act of deliberating, deep thinking, and reflection.
Meditate comes from Latin “meditor”, which means to reflect. Interestingly, this word doesn’t actually have any spiritual connections, although of course the actual traditional meditations (which are mostly non-contemplative meditation) mostly come from Buddhism. The term itself is similar to words like ponder, reflect, study, and consider.
Because of the popularity of mindfulness, many people think that meditation is entirely about simply observing, in other words, non-contemplative meditation. But there are indeed contemplative meditation practices for reflection, such as the use of Buddhist Koans (questions that aren’t meant to have an answer, such as, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”).
Many people naturally think of Christian contemplative prayer instead of meditation. Contemplative prayer has been famous since St. Benedict in the 5th century, and later became even more popular with the likes of Thomas Merton and James Finley. And there are similar practices in Judaism and Islamic traditions. These aren’t overtly different to Buddhist contemplation practices, as we will see in a moment.
Overall, when we look at contemplation VS meditation, contemplating means to observe in a spiritual way, and meditate means two things, firstly to ponder and secondly to actually meditate in the traditional sense.
When we combine the two words contemplation and meditation, we get the core definition of contemplative meditation, which is “to observe from a spiritual space while meditating”.
It is important to note that you can also have non-spiritual contemplation, which simply means to observe. And we can also have non-contemplative meditation, which simply means to focus on one thing at a time, like we do when practicing mindfulness.
5 Ways How To Practice Contemplative Meditation For Reflection
Now that we understand contemplation VS meditation and how the two relate, we can look at how to practice contemplative meditation techniques.
Note that you’ll get way more out of this if you meditate in a place that has contemplative architecture, such as a church or by the water.
You can learn all these techniques and more here.
1: Meditating on a spiritual text (like the Bible)
One of the oldest forms of contemplative meditation techniques is meditating on a spiritual text, for instance, meditating on the Bible.
Meditating on the Bible, the teachings of Buddha, the writings of Lao Tzu, the Pali Canon, or on any other spiritual text, is a powerful way of gaining a fresh perspective of spiritual life.
Books like the Bible and the Gita are perfect for contemplative meditation. Techniques like biblical mantras (reciting mantras from the Bible) are excellent for developing your faith.
Never meditated before? Then this meditation is perfect. It’s one of the best contemplation meditation techniques for beginners. And it is immensely enjoyable and rewarding.
Simply choose your favourite spiritual text and find a passage in it that truly resonates with you. Now sit somewhere peaceful and take five minutes to relax your mind (focusing on your breath helps).
Once you are focused and relaxed, read the spiritual text out loud and focus on the words. You can focus on the imagery of the words, the underlying meaning of the words, the sound of the words, or on the way the words make you feel. This turns contemplation into a contemplative meditation technique.
When you do this, you may begin to think of the text in new ways. Let this happen. Let the text reveal its true meaning to you, similar to how magic eye images reveal their picture once you are looking at them the right way.
This is one of the best contemplative meditations for reflection. It will deliver valuable insight and transform your relationship with the text.
As an alternative to this, you might also like to try meditating on a sacred mantra.
American Catholic monk Thomas Keating recommends using a one-word mantra for contemplative meditation, such as “God” or “Jesus”.
2: Studying the divine
Most spiritualities have at least one contemplation meditation for reflection that is used to connect with the divine.
- In Hinduism, it is called Bhakti technique.
- In Christianity, it is biblical meditation.
- In Buddhism, it is the Dhyana method.
To be a spiritualist implies seeking the divine. And most spiritualists enjoy meditating and contemplating on the divine.
A way to go further in this contemplation technique is to find oneness with the divine. Focus on a representation of divinity (a statue, sacred passage, religious image, etc.) or your idea of divinity. This can become quite a deep contemplation technique.
Go further with this contemplation-meditation by bringing to mind your deity and observing how the mind conceives of that deity (whether it be by a mental image, a specific feeling or a mental sound). Finally, focus the mind on this conception, such that you are meditating on the way your mind conceives of divinity.
This is one of the most rewarding contemplative meditation techniques. It brings us into contact with the sacred in a way many people have never experienced.
- Go further in your contemplative meditations by practising Shambhavi mudra.
3: Object-based contemplation meditation for reflection
As well as using meditation to contemplate the divine, we can use it to contemplate physical objects.
There are very many physical objects on which to meditate. They range from the elements to meditation crystals to aspects of nature.
No matter which objects we focus on in contemplative meditation, we practice in the same way. We bring the object to mind (either by looking at the object or by visualising it) and we focus 100% on the object. When we do this, we do not judge the objec. We simply allow the object to rest in mind, focusing on it 100%.
This practice helps us to perceive the reality of physical objects. These types of contemplative meditation techniques can be powerful sources of insight.
4: Breath Based (Anapanasati)
Anapanasati meditation is a Buddhist technique used to calm the mind. Not only does it calm us, but it also shows us the inner workings of the mind. This is a fantastic contemplation practice for learning about yourself.
The technique has four stages. In the first stage, we focus on the breath. This creates joy. We then focus on that sense of joy. Next comes the third stage. Here, we observe how the mind moves towards pleasant thoughts and feelings and away from negative thoughts and feelings. Finally, in step four, we observe how all thoughts and feelings come and go.
This is a simple but powerful technique. It begins by showing us the reality of the breath moving through the body and how the breath changes based on mood, thoughts, and feelings. We then gain insight into the impermanence of the mind, and how the mind creates and erases thoughts and feelings.
Overall, Anapanasati is a potent way of accessing insight into the workings of the mind. Especially followed by Vipassana.
5: Kedrup Je’s Meditation For Reflection
This is a classic Buddhist contemplation practice.
1: With your eyes closed, scan the objects in your environment. Choose one object to focus on. Focus on it without analysis.
2: Observe your mind’s idea that his object is outside of you. Now observe how it is existing towards you. Be mindful of your feelings of the object.
3: Let go of all your thoughts and feelings for the object and simply let it exist. Meditate on this, as though the object were the only thing in the universe.
These contemplative meditation techniques offer new sources of insight. They are immensely rewarding and can bring fresh perspectives about ourselves, the mind, the divine, and life in general. They’re some of the best ways to go deeper in meditation.
One of my favourite things about these techniques is that they offer valuable personal insight. As a mindfulness teacher who has spent well over 1000 hours meditating, I’ve discovered some truly amazing things about my mind and life in general through these techniques. For instance, I’ve learned that I have a potent sense of empathy that I used to take for granted.
Finding your spiritual strengths like that can open up a new chapter in your life.
The moment I learned I had heightened levels of empathy, I set about healing other people.
That’s just one of the ways that the insight gained from contemplative meditation has helped me.