Mindfulness Tool: “The Tree of Contemplative Practices”

I absolutely love and am inspired by every interview I hear of Krista Tippett’s show On Being.  Her work to create a non-polarized dialogue in modern society through her Civil Conversations project was inspiring enough that I included it in my graduate school scholarship essay, and her gift for asking the right questions and being a presence with whom her guests can sink deeply into themselves and the world most important to them is aspirational for anyone who seeks to mindfully listen and understand others.

I just listened to her podcast with Mirabai Bush, a meditation teacher who helped create the training program used for Google employees called Search Inside Yourself.  In the interview, Bush states a fascination with Joan of Arc as a little girl, and how she thought it would be nice to know what one was expected to do in this “complicated world” as Joan of Arc did.  Later, when she found contemplative practice as an adult, this wish became more of her personal reality.

“Somehow that stayed with me [from childhood].  That sense of wanting to be able to hear clearly what it was I should be doing with my life.  And later, when I began to learn various contemplative spiritual practices…  I realized that what I loved about it was that they helped you get calm, clear, open, better able to hear…  I feel like I am better able to hear what it is I am supposed to be doing with my life, and then, you know, doing it.”

This echoes with my own mindfulness experience and experience with contemplative practice in general.  The more I have embraced silence in my life, the more I am able to find myself with ease and the less I am ashamed of what I have found when I do.

Also referenced in the podcast was ‘The Tree of Contemplative Practices” created through Bush’s study with many contemplative teachers from a variety of backgrounds, religious and secular.  It is explained on The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society website as follows:

“On the Tree of Contemplative Practices, the roots symbolize the two intentions that are the foundation of all contemplative practices. The roots of the tree encompass and transcend differences in the religious traditions from which many of the practices originated, and allow room for the inclusion of new practices that are being created in secular contexts.

The branches represent different groupings of practices. For example, Stillness Practices focus on quieting the mind and body in order to develop calmness and focus. Generative Practices may come in many different forms but share the common intent of generating thoughts and feelings, such as thoughts of devotion and compassion, rather than calming and quieting the mind.”

Concept & design by Maia Duerr; illustration by Carrie Bergman

On the Contemplative Mind website, you can click on a link for each of these practices to find out more about them.  I found the categories to be helpful ways to organize my thinking about the “types” of experiences I have had and why I am drawn to them.  I was able to find myself in each of the branch groupings, but some were richer than others.  In addition, there were a few practices I think I would like to experience, such as the “Council Circle” from the Native American faith tradition.  I like the idea of “speaking spontaneously”- basically not knowing what you are going to say when your turn comes to speak because you haven’t planned it beforehand. This is definitely still a skill I work on in conversations.

I certainly plan to explore more of these contemplative practices in the future and will post more about how they go.

If you have contemplative practices that are (or aren’t) on the tree that have been helpful, please comment/share on this post or send me your ideas/stories via the “Contact” tab via email.    

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