Mindfulness and Contemplation

Mindfulness: Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “non-judgmental, moment-to-moment awareness,” and Inward Bound Mindfulness Education describes it as “Paying attention to what’s naturally arising in the present moment with kindness and curiosity.”  It is a capacity to remain present to each unfolding moment of existence through the miracle that is human consciousness.

Contemplation:  Tobin Hart describes contemplation as “a third way of knowing that complements both the rational and the sensory.”  It is essentially intuitive and often non-linear, and is a form of participatory-exerperiential knowledge.  All contemplative practices are “designed to quiet and shift the habitual chatter of the mind to cultivate a capacity for deepened awareness, concentration, and insight.”

Contemplation can be further divided into Active and Passive Contemplation. 

Active Contemplation includes all forms of intentional human activity and effort intended to quiet the mind and the nervous system in order to be open to a more intuitive kind of contemplative knowledge.  Many spiritual, religious, and humanistic traditions have been developed in order to teach and transmit active forms of contemplation that lead to greater wisdom and compassion.

Passive Contemplation is harder to define because it is an essentially open-ended, uncontrolled process that transcends our everyday use of language and rational conceptual thought.  In general, it refers to the kind of insight or wisdom that often arises as a result of cultivating mindfulness and active forms of contemplation.  In theological terms, passive contemplation is a freely given, unearned gift of God to the human person.  It is sometimes referred to as “infused contemplation” because it is a grace or gift infused into the person and may only be received in a spirit of humility and gratitude.

It may also be understood as an expression of the creative human spirit, an essential experience of depth and insight accompanied by a sense of belonging to the universe.  Whether understood as a divine gift, as a mysterious expression of the human spirit, or as an experience of living in the flow of life in the cosmos, passive contemplation is an experience in which one appreciates and is involved in creative forces that are beyond our human capacity to create or to control.  They are often accompanied by an experience of awe, mystery, and deep gratitude.  Ultimately, such experiences transcend words, even as they have a profound and lasting affect upon language and behavior.

Mindfulness and Contemplation guides Dr. Bushlack’s vision of transformation of persons, institutions, and societies.  While there are time-honored practices that can facilitate contemplation, the experience and outcomes that are associated with it are beyond the capacity for any person to control.  Therefore, his work is focused more around creating “spaces” – both literal, physical spaces and metaphorical spaces within experience – in which mindfulness and contemplation may be studied, fostered, and practiced.  While the final results are often unpredictable, they are always oriented toward transformation in the service of virtue, well-being, a greater sense of purpose and meaning in life, and a greater capacity for service to others and to the common good.

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  1. Mark Tompkins February 1, 2015 at 1:37 am

    What wonderful verbiage and insight I just read. I am at a Contemplative/Mindfulness Retreat/Seninar as I type this.
    The works and readings of Fr Thomas Merton, whose 100th birthday was yesterday, inspired the rebirth of Christain/Catholic Contemplative practices to the Wedtern World many years ago.
    Along w incredibly gifted and Spiritual leaders such as Fr Thomas Keating and Fr Richard Rohr, the growth of the Contemplative movement is nothing less than a miracle. I have listened to, and personall met, both of these individuals, and been practicing Centering Prayer for approximately 12 years. The impact it has had on my life is incalculable!
    Fr Rorh’s work at The Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC), is revolutionary, serves as a conduit for the growth and expansion of the MINDFULNESS movement in the US.
    I have come to find out that a CP Group will be meeting at St Thomas weekly, and I look forward to attending and becoming more involved with w the Contemplative/Mindfulness activities at the school, having just relocated to St Paul.
    Blessings and Peace…Mark H. Tompkins

  2. tjbushlack February 2, 2015 at 3:12 pm

    Mark, Thank you for your kind words! I’m glad you found these helpful in the midst of your retreat. Much of my language above is in fact drawn from Thomas Merton. What a wonderful way to celebrate his gifts and insights to the world.

  3. Improvements to the Centering Wisdom Assessment | Thomas J. Bushlack, Ph.D. August 31, 2016 at 2:27 pm

    […] virtue of prudence, or practical wisdom. I wanted a practical exercise to help students to leverage contemplative practices – ranging from general mindfulness meditation to distinctively theological forms of […]

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