A New Revolution
Humankind and Contemplation
by Jeff Genung
From the moment a frustrated Neanderthal said to herself, “How am I supposed to cut this meat without a knife?” to the day Gutenberg’s boss blurted “I need thirty copies of this document by noon,” our species has been creating tools that transform life as we know it.
The timeline of human history is marked by stunning evolutionary sprints each time a group of forward-thinking individuals decided to use their XL-sized brains to solve a problem. You probably learned about the boring ones in elementary school: the agrarian, industrial, and technological revolutions. The digital revolution we’re currently experiencing may be a bit sexier than Eli Whitney’s cotton gin and Henry Ford’s assembly line, but it’s nowhere near as amazing and significant as the simultaneous spiritual revolution that’s happening. Just as Mark Zuckerberg and friends initiated a social revolution riding on the back of the digital revolution, Contemplative Life stands at the intersection of technology and spirituality with a vision to help millions of people connect more deeply with one another and their truest selves.
Contemplativelife.org is a non-profit organization founded on the principle that deep and sustained practice transforms people. The mission is simple and clear: connecting people and communities with transformative practices. The platform serves as a bridge which helps users find practices that cultivate the inner life, reduce stress, improve health, foster community, transform the heart and mind, and invite compassionate action.
Before individuals can experience any of these benefits they must first find and adopt practices that are right for them. This is not as easy as it sounds. When it comes to practice, there is no “one size fits all.” What’s right for one may not be right for another. The right practice depends on questions such as: Are you in crisis or are you in flow? Are you a head, heart, or hands person; an introvert or an extrovert? What is your cultural or religious background? These questions and more impact what practices are appropriate.
Contemplative Life features many different practices and communities. The centerpiece of the web platform is the Practices page which is organized into a “Body of Practices,” consisting of Heart, Mind, Body, Spirit, and Relational centered practices. These practices are also divided into 34 different themes to help users easily navigate the growing body of content available on the site.
Each week we feature different partners and new practices. We also offer our practitioners the opportunity to lead discussions on particular topics. Recently, we created a 9-minute film entitled A Practice for Everyone that profiles nine people of different ages and backgrounds. Each person shares their unique approach to practice and talks about how Contemplative Life benefits them individually. We could have easily included 90 or 900 individuals with just as many unique stories to share.
For people who are primarily interested in religious and interspiritual practices, Contemplative Life offers a separate network that is exclusively focused on practices associated with the Great Spiritual Traditions. In this part of the site users have the opportunity to choose practices based on a religious tradition rather than a theme.
As a child, I was deeply interested in the inner life. My curiosity about the similarities and differences associated with various contemplative experiences drew me into monasteries, ashrams, temples, and working with a Native American elder and a variety of different teachers. I wanted to understand these practices, not just as an academic observer, but as a practitioner who engages long and deep enough to receive the gift they offer.
As an adult, contemplative practice continues to be the foundation of my life. I’ve worked with children and teens on contemplative practice, and on end-of-life issues as a hospice volunteer. I’ve also served as a board member for the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, which works to foster contemplative pedagogy and practices in higher education.
The vision of Contemplative Life incubated for many years. When my co-founder and I incorporated as a non-profit in 2015, I noticed I had acquired the website http://contemplativelife.org twelve years earlier. Some entrepreneurs might be frustrated by that realization, but for me it confirmed that Contemplative Life is part of a larger movement. As Thomas Merton describes in New Seeds of Contemplation, “When you are traveling in a plane close to the ground you realize that you are going somewhere: but in the stratosphere, although you may be going seven times as fast, you lose all sense of speed.” This has been my experience in bearing witness to the ways “contemplation lifts us beyond the sphere of our natural powers.”
One teacher who greatly influenced the vision is Brother Wayne Teasdale. This great modern-day mystic coined the term “interspiritual” in his seminal book, The Mystic Heart: Discovering a Universal Spirituality in the World’s Religions. Teasdale writes, “Contemplation is a way that grasps the common ground between the inner and outer in the depth of mystical consciousness.” He went on to say that “The real religion of humankind can be said to be spirituality itself…” Brother Wayne’s vision is a harbinger of the vision unfolding in Contemplative Life. Though he didn’t see it come to fruition, his spirit is certainly present in everything we do.
A Contemplative World
Everyone is contemplative, however not everyone knows it. We’ve all had mystical experiences although we may have failed to recognize them. The frequency and intensity of experiences may vary, but everyone has tasted life’s great mystery. The main difference between those who tap into the contemplative dimension continuously and those who witness it only periodically tends to be the presence of deep and sustained daily practice.
All of the world’s religions include spiritual practices such as prayer, meditation, music, song, movement, art, and other rituals. The moment of silence – perhaps the greatest modern example of universal practice – transcends language and culture, evoking a common sense of unity and humility. Some practices come from antiquity, others are contemporary. Some are religiously oriented and others are more secular.
We are now seeing people engaging practice in virtually every aspect of society. Contemplative lawyers are experimenting with meditation. Research hospitals are studying the effects of contemplative practices on health and medicine. Universities are studying Tibetan Lamas and master meditators to better understand brain activity and the scientific benefits of meditation.
In recent years the benefits of meditation and mindfulness have been all over the media. Even as the mainstream media covers the subject with great interest, specialized news, television, radio, and digital media outlets are emerging to meet the needs of the growing population engaged in contemplative practices.
Mindfulness has also recently become a focus in Silicon Valley, with corporate giants such as Google, Facebook, and Aetna leading the way. Google has launched a hugely successful corporate program called “Search Inside Yourself” while Facebook and Aetna both have company-sponsored meditation rooms in the workplace. We’re also seeing higher education embracing contemplative practice with initiatives such as University of Virginia’s Contemplative Sciences Center and Brown University’s Contemplative Studies Initiative.
There is a growing body of scientific research documenting the benefits of practices such as meditation and mindfulness. The list of benefits is impressive and includes:
- Treating ADHD, addiction, high blood pressure, eating disorders, fibromyalgia, and heart conditions
- Increasing creativity, memory and empathy, healing from anxiety, depression, and chronic pain
People are beginning recognize that developing a daily practice is as important as regular exercise and a healthy diet. Yet very few people actually make the leap from grasping this idea to actually committing to a daily practice. It takes time, discipline, and support to begin.
An Integrative Future
Contemplative Life’s goal is to foster a global community of like-minded people who are interested in living a more contemplative life. Perhaps it could serve in some small way as a catalyst for the larger collective unfolding.
An important opportunity now exists like nothing before in human history. Imagine a future where spirituality, science, technology, and medicine are traveling down parallel paths. Imagine the possibilities from converging platforms (such as cloud, social, mobile, 3D, AR, VR, and AI) and integrating them with the knowledge gained from mapping the human genome and the mind. Imagine synchronizing insights arising from the study of quantum fields and the ancient wisdom of the mystics. Imagine the potential synergy that will arise by bringing together generations young and old with open hearts, minds, and souls to work collaboratively as instruments of the great mystery to bring about a quantum leap in both consciousness and love.
Such a vision may be difficult to conceive in the world we see portrayed on the evening news. However history witnesses to the remarkable resiliency of the human spirit and soul. For some mysterious reason, we are often at our best when things are at their worst. It is time for a new innovative revolution. A contemplative revolution.