Practice in Daily Life
If you would like to try a contemplative practice, but you're not sure how to begin, we suggest you check out the Tree of Contemplative Practices. The Tree shows many examples of contemplative practices, and you may feel drawn to one or more. Follow your instincts and explore one or two practices that you find intellectually interesting and spiritually comfortable. Each practice listed on the Tree links to a page full of links and resources for learning more.
Cultivating a Regular Practice
Try to commit to regular (perhaps daily, but it can differ depending on your form of practice) sessions. If you cannot stick to a regular schedule, just persevere as best you can. As with most activities that have not yet become familiar and routine, it's common to postpone engagement with contemplative practice because circumstances are not to your liking. It's easy to make excuses about lacking materials, supplies, or adequate time and space ("If only I had a nice meditation cushion; if only I had a dedicated yoga room, and a full hour free after work--then I could really do this..."). If you notice yourself doing this, try to use the situation as an opportunity to face your discomfort. Begin your practice anyway, acknowledging that it may not be under your ideal circumstances, but that's fine: you probably already have everything you need!
You can make things easier for yourself by committing to brief but regular sessions. For example, if you decide to take up a journal writing practice, it is perfectly fine to begin by just squeezing it into a spare moment during your day. After you've become accustomed to the short sessions, honestly and gently assess how that amount of time is serving you, and increase your practice time if it feels right to do so.
It's also common to feel twinges of guilt or self-indulgence when you're beginning a practice. For many of us, our open time is so rare and precious, and we face many demands from family, friends, work, and other responsibilities. In the moments when you question your priorities, remember that contemplative practices are not distractions, but opportunities to get in touch with what is deeply meaningful to us so that we can engage our lives with more strength, clarity, and purpose.
Here are some suggestions from the Contemplative Mind staff for supporting a regular practice:
- Keep a "practice journal" of your thoughts, experiences, and questions. If you attend webinars, workshops or retreats, take notes; if you read a good book, write down what about it moves you. Then, when you feel bored or discouraged, re-reading your journal can help reconnect you to your practice and your intentions for undertaking it in the first place.
- Join a community of practitioners online, or at a local studio, center, house of worship, etc. Regular meetings with others help keep your practice more consistent in your daily life.
- Take your practice into a new setting: try spending more time outdoors, if you can. Slowing down to observe the natural world can help re-engage your senses.
- If you are able to set aside a longer period of time (either online or in-person), a retreat can invigorate your practice or deepen an already strong one. Retreats can last just a few hours or much longer (3, 5, or 10 days, for example).
- Remember that intentionally disengaging with the desire to have exciting and interesting experiences can be an important contemplative practice in and of itself. Let go of your goals and desires for certain outcomes, and simply practice.
Challenges, Difficulties, and Additional Support and Guidance
While apps, books, videos, websites, etc. can provide a lot of information and step-by-step instructions, it can be especially helpful to have someone to talk to—a teacher, elder, spiritual director, counselor, clergy member—for individualized instruction and advice. Local or online groups, congregations, and meetings can also be rich sources of support.
Contemplative practices are not always peaceful and stress-free. While some may initially seem gentle and others more rigorous, all practices can be somewhat challenging; for some, that is part of the whole point--to challenge you as you learn and grow! Learning often happens through coping with difficulties, and the contemplative path can be intense, radically transforming your sense of self and identity.
Transformation can be a peaceful, insightful, and pleasant process sometimes, but it is common to experience periodic ups and downs. Most contemplative traditions recognize that difficult periods may need to be "worked through," but of course, all of our situations are unique, and it's imperative that we look after our health and well-being, including our mental and emotional well-being. The guidance of a teacher or therapist can be invaluable during challenging times, so it is very important to consider how you might receive such support before the need arises.