Contemplation is the practice of thinking deeply about something. Contemplation requires a willingness to open our minds. It requires a curiosity about the nature of things. Contemplation asks us to look at the something (i.e- an issue, an idea, a pattern, etc.) and see beyond the surface, into the very depths. Often what you find there is some form of understanding which enriches your mind, heart & life.
I have always been a deep thinker, a questioner, the person having some deep conversation – no matter the environment. As I began to consciously engage with the spiritual journey of my life, this natural tendency turned into a kind of super power – one, I believe we all have access to.
Through study & exploration, I realized there were forms created & practiced by the deep thinkers who have come before us to help us perceive with clarity. I realized that I could create practices of my own, based on my own sensibilities & experiences. I realized they could be super simple, yet profound. Honestly, contemplative practices have completely transformed my inner experience – that is, the way I think & feel all the time. Which of course, impacts my quality of life – beyond measure.
The work we do here in Wild Woman Project Circles around the world, in our annual WILD WOMAN FEST, in Circle Leader Training, Your New Moon Companion & WILD WOMAN SCHOOL is built upon a combination of contemplative practices (with a wild woman flavor). So, because we are in the first week of the Contemplative Moon Cycle (May 25 – June 22nd), I have invited Amanda Petrocelly our Director of Communications & Creative Development (plus long time Circle Leader) to join me in sharing our personal favorite FREE contemplative practices – which have changed our lives.
1. Build an Altar/ a Personal Sacred Space
Amanda: Those that are close to me are probably tired of hearing me talk about this, but it is so powerful for me! Creating a Personal Altar can help bridge the gap between inner intention and outer life. The process of: reflecting on intentions and prayers, identifying an object that represents that, and seeing that object on a daily basis can help deepen those intentions and prayers. It’s easy to push something to the side in our mind, but it’s a little harder to push aside an object we are seeing daily. “Out of sight, out of mind” can easily happen without us realizing, and altar can be an expression of “IN sight, IN mind”. The practice of building the altar can be extremely artistic, expressive, meditative, and therapeutic.
Building my altars give me a place to be creative just for the sake of it. My altar is a physical representation of my “mind space” and my prayers. Sometimes I intentionally leave my altar almost empty if I feel like what I need is internal space. I keep a box of things that are special to me: rocks, crystals, dried flowers, pictures, little glass animals, ceramics made by those I love, and when I am building my altar (I try to change it each Moon Cycle) I say a prayer for what I am trying to cultivate, open the box, and intuitively build a new altar, saying a different intention as I set each object down. Your altar can be elaborate or the tiniest tiny spot in your home, make this practice your own, but TRY IT!
Chris: When I say heart, what I am referring to is the Heart of the Energetic Body. In the Chakra System of the Tantric Yogis, the heart center is a vortex of energy which lives at the center of the chest. This energetic vortex, the Anahata Chakra, is not only on the front of the body, but also radiates in the back body in the space between our shoulder blades. It corresponds with our anatomical heart & our lungs and connects us to our sense of compassion & universal love.
The simple practice of closing my eyes, breathing well & of centering my awareness into my heart (vs. my head) allows me to drop into a place of compassion and truth – a really useful place to come from. This can be done, in bed first thing in the morning, before a conversation, or simply anytime during the day when you find yourself in need of a inner anchor. The heart is always there as our body constantly reminds us through the the steadiness of breath & heart beat.
To learn more about the Heart Chakra, read: Lucid Body by Fay Simpson (WILD WOMAN FEST Facilitator) & Wheels of Life by Anodea Judith both can be found anywhere books are sold & your public library.
3. Wonder & Wander
Amanda: Traveling and going on retreats is such a privilege, and a costly privilege that is often not accessible. However, I would like to share what makes wandering in new places a spiritual practice of contemplation for me, which can be done anywhere (even your own home city). When I am “intentionally traveling” (or sometimes even just walking down a street I have never seen) I like to let my imagination wander while I contemplate the atmosphere. I ask myself questions like: How would my life be different if I lived RIGHT HERE? What’s it like for the people who do live here? Would the weather/plants/animals/smell/energy be good for me or would it bother me? If it bothers me, why? If I lived in the apartments above my favorite coffee shop, what would it be like to walk downstairs to have coffee every morning? If that cute puppy was mine, what would it be like to care for her? If I was rich enough to live in that mansion would I ACTUALLY be different, or would I just SEEM different? If I worked in that office next to those people, and was a business woman who wore a suit everyday, how would that feel?
Some may say this is romanticizing or idealizing, but I don’t approach it that way. I’m not aiming to judge if things are better or worse, I am just holding space to imagine. I find this practice to be expansive. I feel that being inquisitive about hypothetical circumstances reveals to me the circumstances that make my heart sing! And also reveals the ones that don’t. It also makes me feel a deeper relation to those around me. Of course, I don’t ACTUALLY know what their lives are like, but I like taking the time to try and see the world from a different point of view.
4. See Nature (for real)
Chris: So this one is at the very top of my list, a truly mysteriously powerful practice. It’s actually quite simple, yet takes practice and patience to “get it”. Go for a walk in nature (even if the wildest terrain you can find is a city park), slow down your pace & your breath. Tune into the plant life, then the animals and insects too. Aim to immerse your mind in the energy of the place you are standing. Allow the natural world to capture your attention. You may begin to notice a butterfly taking flight or a squirrel climbing, maybe there is a tree that beckons you.
Eventually, find a spot to sit and gaze into something. As an example, yesterday, that something for me was a waterfall. Breathe and focus your attention. Allow yourself to be in a relationship with this wild thing. Feel your emotions & even the physical and energetic sensations. Look deeply. That natural world is a portal to…well, try this practice (a few times at least) and you will begin to see 🙂
5. Deep Listening with Strangers
Amanda: Deeply listening for me is making eye contact, asking questions, and allowing myself to feel what the speaker is saying. Obviously, I try my best to practice this with my loved ones, but practicing this with strangers can be especially powerful. Working in a busy service industry, it is not unusual for me to ask 100 or more people per day “how are you?”. It’s a question most of us have become totally immune to, and right after we ask, most of us stop listening. When I was in college studying Theatre, the practice of deep listening became one of the things expected of me, daily. Since then, I have tried my best (when I have the emotional bandwidth) to be a deep listener to strangers.
Since consciously beginning this practice nine years ago, I have had some incredible experiences. Once, I asked a woman at Disneyland how her day was going and she told me her and her husband of 10 years had decided to divorce and I was the first person she was telling. I’ve gotten countless pieces of advice about life from women much older then I, which I typically carefully write down in my journal. I’ve made friends in unexpected places. I’ve learned DEEEEP things about strangers in bars. I’ve often heard “you’re the only person I’ve told that to”. What I’ve learned is, people want to share, and it feels good to allow people share with me. Committing to deep listening has enriched my life in a way I never expected, and has gifted me with a lot of interesting experiences. So, next time you ask “how are you?” try and mean it, and see what happens.
Your turn, please! Please share in the comments: your #1 favorite contemplative practice & why you love it so much. We learn so much from one another ~ what is your experience.
ON THE HORIZON
Summer is approaching and WILD WOMAN FEST ’17 is on the horizon.
If you are feeling the call, I look forward to sharing in this deeply beautiful experience with you.
How to Create Meaningful Personal Rituals (for everyday life)
Join us from anywhere on the Summer Solstice, June 21st, for the 5th Session of WILD WOMAN SCHOOL