In this article, we’ll discuss how to practise contemplative meditation. 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.
- Contemplative meditation practices like Vipassana help develop deep thinking and self reflection.
When we practise contemplative meditation we explore the mind and uncover deep thoughts, and this leads to insight and self discovery.
The Meaning of Contemplation And Meditation
We can learn a lot by considering the definition of contemplation.
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.
And so, 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.
Let me show you how to do it.
The following are the forms of contemplative meditation that I teach in my private online meditation lessons.
5 Ways to Practice Contemplative Meditation
*For best results, book an online meditation lesson with me today.
1: Meditating on a spiritual text (like the Bible)
One of the oldest forms of contemplative meditation 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 on 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.
- Choose your favourite spiritual text and find a passage in it that truly resonates with you. You could also use an inspiring quote.
- 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 look 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.
You can also use a 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 reflecting on 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.
- Focus on a representation of divinity (a statue, sacred passage, religious image, etc.). Alternatively, focus on your own idea of divinity.
- 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 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 Contemplation 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.
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?”.
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.
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.
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.
If you would like to learn more about contemplative meditation techniques, book a meditation lesson with me today.
Paul Harrison is a passionate meditation teacher who believes in genuine, authentic meditation. He has more than 15 years experience in meditation and mindfulness. He studied meditation in beautiful Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University.
“My goal is to provide the most authentic meditation sessions so you can harness the power of your own mind for personal transformation” – Paul Harrison