What is Contemplative Meditation? A Full Explanation

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Contemplative meditation is a profound practice that involves focused reflection and purposeful engagement with one’s thoughts and experiences. Unlike some meditation forms that aim to rid the mind of all thoughts, contemplative meditation encourages actively exploring specific ideas or questions. Practitioners of contemplative meditation mention that they often experience profound insights into their own lives and a heightened sense of self-awareness.

Contemplation of the Body

One crucial aspect of contemplative meditation is the contemplation of the body. Rooted in mindfulness traditions such as Buddhism, this practice invites individuals to observe their movements, experiences, and bodily sensations. Contemplative meditation practitioners focus on their breath and any physical sensations they experience. The goal is to cultivate a deep connection with the present moment while exploring one’s mind-body relationship. 

Contemplation of Consciousness

Contemplative meditation also centers around the contemplation of consciousness. Practitioners look inward to observe their thoughts and emotions. Ultimately, the goal is to understand better the relationship between bodily sensations and consciousness and how the mind and body work together. By connecting our focus on the body with an awareness of our thoughts and feelings, we try to go beyond the idea that we are entirely separate from everything else. 

Contemplation of Feeling

Contemplation of feeling is also a critical element in contemplative meditation. This part of the practice is about paying close attention to how your body feels and the emotions that arise. Instead of getting too attached or trying to avoid these feelings, the idea is to observe them calmly. Contemplating feelings helps us understand and manage emotions better and realize that both physical sensations and feelings are temporary. It’s like learning to sail smoothly through your thoughts and emotions with a calm and steady mindset.

Contemporary Forms of Contemplative Meditation

Contemplative meditation practices continue to evolve. Today, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) draw on contemplative principles to alleviate stress and enhance well-being. Popular meditation apps, like Headspace and Calm, offer guided sessions, making these practices accessible to a broad audience. While blending old wisdom with modern psychology, these meditation practices focus on real-life benefits. They promote a down-to-earth and mindful way of exploring yourself and growing personally.

Contemplative Meditation and Religion

Contemplative meditation takes on unique forms in various religious traditions. 

Contemplative Meditation in Buddhism

In Buddhism, for example, contemplative practices like Vipassana meditation explore the impermanence of existence. In Theravada Buddhism, Vipassana meditation is about paying attention to how your body feels to understand life better. 

Zen Buddhism is similar to Zazen, a seated meditation focusing on directly and intuitively experiencing things. Tibetan Buddhism, on the other hand, uses analytical meditation to think deeply about specific ideas. Overall, in Buddhism, contemplative meditation is like a tool that helps you stay aware, gain insights, and break free from the cycle of suffering.

Contemplative Meditation in Christianity and Hinduism

Christian contemplative prayer involves silently resting in the presence of God, while Hindu meditation traditions like Jnana Yoga and Raja Yoga focus on knowledge, wisdom, and mental control. 

How to Practice Contemplative Meditation

Practicing contemplative meditation starts with finding a quiet space where you will be uninterrupted. While sitting comfortably in your undisturbed space, bring attention to your breath. Then, choosing a point of focus, such as a question, mantra, or personal experience, helps to focus the mind.

Begin by observing your thoughts without judgment. Each time you feel distracted or veering from the point of focus, redirect your focus back to the chosen point. 

Explore your thoughts, feelings, and the sensations that you experience. Better recognizing and understanding our thoughts and feelings will help create awareness of how your mind and body react in the present moment. The key is to aim for consistency in your practice and gradually increase each session’s length. 

Differences Between Contemplation and Meditation

Contemplation and meditation, though people often use these words interchangeably, have different ways of working. Thinking involves active reflection and engaging with specific ideas, while meditation often means letting go of active thinking to reach a calm or transcendent state. Understanding these differences helps clarify the various practices covered by the broader term “meditation.”

Similarities to Other Forms of Meditation

Contemplative meditation shares similarities with other meditation forms’ emphasis on mindfulness, focused attention, and self-awareness. Whether in Buddhist mindfulness or other mindfulness practices, the core principles of cultivating present-moment awareness and understanding the nature of the mind are essential.