How To Practice Contemplative Meditation For Reflection

contemplative meditation

In this article, we’ll discuss how to practise contemplative meditation for reflection. We will also look at the difference between contemplation and meditation.

Contemplation meditation techniques are one of the most popular forms of Christian meditation. 

However, they are also used in other spiritualities and religions, and for good reason. 

All meditation techniques have their own 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 is that they help us with deep thinking and self-reflection. They are an excellent way to uncover deep thoughts buried in your mind, to find insight, and to learn about yourself.

The absolute best, and most famous, contemplative meditation technique is Vipassana Meditation (Insight). 

Methods like Vipassana are a powerful way of exploring the mind and contemplating the divine.

In the West, contemplation and meditation were considered the same thing for millennia. The difference between contemplation and meditation is a subtle one. Let’s look. And then, we will look at how to practice contemplative meditation.

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The Meaning of Contemplation And Meditation  

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 means “sacred space”.

Sacred spaces (“Templum”), used to be high up. People would look down from the temple onto the land. This produced a sense of contemplation and reflection. 

Contemplation means to observe from a sacred place, meaning a high up” 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, the word doesn’t have any spiritual connections. Rather, it is similar to words like ponder, reflect, study, and consider. 

When we combine “Con”, “Templum”, and “Meditor”, we get the definition “To ponder from a place high-up”. And from here we can see that “Contemplation Meditation” means “to reflect from above”. 

In other words, it is a reflection from a higher part of the mind. 

The Difference Between Contemplation and Meditation

You might wonder what the difference is between contemplation and meditation. 

While many people think that meditation is just mindfulness (e.g. non-contemplative meditation), there are actually many different contemplative meditation practices. 

For example, Buddhist Koans. These are questions that aren’t meant to have an answer. For instance, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”. 

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When most people think of spiritual contemplation, they think of Christian contemplative prayer instead of contemplative meditation.

Contemplative prayer is done by reciting a word or phrase, such as “God”.

St. Benedict made contemplative prayer famous way back in the 5th Century. And then Thomas Merton and James Finley made it even more popular.

You can find exercises like contemplative prayer in Judaism and Islamic traditions too. These are somewhat like Buddhist contemplation practices, as we will see in a moment.

However, contemplation is different to meditation. Because where contemplation implies effortful thinking, meditation is entirely about observation. 

And so, the difference between contemplation and meditation is this: Contemplation is a deliberate effort to gain insight. Meditation is the effortless observation that leads to insight by the pure quality of perception.

 

difference between meditation and contemplation
difference between meditation and contemplation

It is important to note that there is also non-spiritual contemplation. This simply means to observe. And there is non-contemplative meditation. This simply means focusing on one thing at a time as we do in mindfulness.

 

5 Ways to Practice Contemplative Meditation for Reflection

We now understand the relationship between contemplation and meditation. Now, let’s discuss how to practice contemplative meditation techniques.

As an aside: 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.

As well as the methods below, you can learn more contemplation meditation techniques 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 another spiritual text, is a powerful way of gaining a fresh perspective of spiritual life.

Books like the Bible and the Bhagavad Gita are perfect for contemplative meditation. And 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 aloud. 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, like 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.

  • Hinduism has Bhakti technique.
  • Christianity has biblical meditation.
  • Buddhism has the Dhyana method.

To be spiritual implies seeking the divine. And most spiritualists enjoy meditating and contemplating on the divine.

A way to go further in this contemplation meditation technique is to find oneness with the divine. Focus on a representation of divinity (a statue, sacred passage, religious image, etc.). Alternatively, focus on your own idea of divinity. This can become quite a deep contemplation technique.

Go further with this contemplation-meditation by bringing to mind your deity. Observe 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. In this way. 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. 


3: Object-based contemplation meditation for reflection

As well as using meditation to contemplate the divine, we can contemplate physical objects. There are 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). Then we focus 100% on the object. When we do this, we do not judge the object. We simply allow the object to rest in mind, focusing on it 100%.

With this practice, we perceive the reality of physical objects. These types of contemplative meditation techniques can be powerful sources of insight.

 


4: Contemplative Breathing (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 contemplative breathing exercise. 

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 contemplative breathing exercise. It begins by showing us the reality of the breath moving through the body. Then how the breath changes based on mood, thoughts, and feelings. We then gain insight into the impermanence of the mind And we perceive how the mind creates and erases thoughts and feelings.

Overall, Anapanasati is a potent way of accessing insight into the workings of the mind. It is the best contemplative breathing exercise.

 


5:  Kedrup Je’s Contemplstion Meditation For Reflection

This is a classic Buddhist contemplation meditation practice based on the teachings of Khedrup Gelek Pelzang [1st Panchen Lama].

Sit comfortably with good posture and a straight but relaxed spine. Lower your chin to elongate your neck. Place the tip of your tongue on your hard palette. Close your mouth and eyes.

With your eyes closed, scan the objects in your environment. Choose one object to focus on. Focus on it without analysis.

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 about the object.

Let go of all your thoughts and feelings for the object. Simply let it exist. Meditate on this, as though the object were the only thing in the universe.

woman lying down contemplation

 Conclusion

These contemplative meditation techniques offer new sources of insight. They are immensely rewarding and can bring fresh perspectives. We gain insight into 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 one thousand hours meditating, I’ve discovered some utterly amazing things about my mind and life.  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 a new chapter in your life. The moment I learned I had heightened levels of empathy, I set about healing other people. I do this mostly with my online meditation lessons. 

That’s just one of the ways that the insight gained from contemplative meditation has helped me.

If you would like to learn more about contemplative meditation techniques, book a meditation lesson with me today.

 

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By Paul Harrison

Paul Harrison is a qualified meditation teacher and writer with more than 15 years experience in meditation and mindfulness. He studied meditation in Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University. Paul has helped thousands of people to discover their true potential through mindfulness, yoga and meditation.

2 comments

  1. I have a question that involves contemplation meditation exercise. I have troubles of visualizing words in my minds eye to contemplate so I meditate on a single note violin sound which is A. But whenever I do this i have troubles of meditating the sound and sometimes i have moments of not being able to meditate while I’m in the meditation session. If i continue to meditate on the sound that I’m contemplating while I continue to exlude my thoughts gently does my sound slowly become more and more vivid and constitent for me to meditate in the future sessions?

    1. Hi Joseph. Thanks for your question. It takes time for the mind to focus. The more you practice the better you will get. If you struggle with that method, try an easier method like mindful breathing for a bit. Then, once you’re more practised, switch back to your contemplation method.

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