A Contemplative Way of Life

“Learning to live a more contemplative way of life in the midst of today’s world – what could be more simple or more difficult? Simple because the contemplative way is the way of seeing what simply is… It is the way of being who we simply are in the rhythmic simplicity of our breathing, in the sovereign simplicity in which day gives way to night and night to day.

     Simple, too, is the manner of entering into this ever present Way. It consists of learning to sit and be, to slow down and settle into the precious givenness of who we are right now, just the way we are. It consists of…letting go of the tangled web of noise and concerns that seemingly hold us in its grasp.”

     Psychologist and former monk James Finley describes the simple but difficult task of living “a contemplative way of life.” Until I became more acquainted with the term ‘contemplative,’ I thought it referred only to the life style of monks and cloistered nuns. It was, in my mind, a stark existence comprised of chanting psalms, demanding manual labor, sustained silence, and long hours of private prayer, the sum of which struck me as anything but simple.

     I have now come to realize, as Finley indicates, that being contemplative is not primarily about a “monkish” lifestyle, but living with an awareness that there is a sacredness to the simple rhythm of our breathing, in the quiet way in which night and day give way to one another, and in our being the person we are, flaws and all. Because God is a word for the spiritual essence of all creation, there is a sacredness to the natural flow of life.

     What keeps us from sensing this sacred presence? What makes it so difficult to experience the nearness of the holiness with which everything and everyone is imbued? I believe our inability to connect with the sacred in our midst has to do in part with the fact that many of us learned that spirit and matter are separate from one another, and that the former is to be found apart from, rather than a part of our earthy existence. I also believe that the “tangled web of noise and concerns” that comes with the territory of our often hectic lives, makes it next to impossible to sense the sacredness of who we are and where we are.

     It is by living a simple life – “learning to sit and be, to slow down” – that we are most likely to sense the sacred. It is when we are mindfully present to the present that the divine depth that underlies all creation tends to emerge from hiding long enough to bless us with a glimpse of itself.

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