Contemplative Practice, Meditation, & Mindfulness
Over the years of practice and study, my understanding of contemplative practice, meditation, and mindfulness have evolved. The ideas I am sharing here reflect readings, research, learning from my meditation teachers, conversations with numerous people about meditation (experts and regular folk), teaching meditation to others, and experience in my own contemplative and meditation practices. I have been drawn to contemplative practice since early childhood. Growing up as an only child, I spent a great deal of time alone and cultivated many practices which later I would understand to be contemplative. During summers, my family spent time at our cottage on Lake Erie in Canada (in an African American community of families from Detroit) where my connection to the natural world was nurtured. I have taught meditation in a wide range of settings, from elite youth athletes to women's groups to graduate students to psychotherapy clients and more. Most of my experience teaching mindfulness has been to groups that are predominantly Black and BIPOC. My sensibilities around meditation are tied closely to my own diasporic African and African American cultural influences.
I understand contemplative practice as a wide range of activities and strategies for deepening and expanding experiential awareness and critical consciousness by bearing witness to lived experience-- internally, relationally, and collectively. Contemplative practice invites connection with experiencing at multiple levels- somatically, emotionally, mentally, creatively, relationally, communally, and spiritually. I resonate strongly with The Tree of Contemplative Practices offered by The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society. The roots of all contemplative practices are awareness, communion, and connection. The branches show the diverse forms that contemplative practice can take.
Meditation can be conceptualized as a type of contemplative practice. It includes a diverse set of intentional practices and techniques for training, directing, regulating, deepening, opening, or enhancing attention, consciousness, and energy. Meditation can be understood as a broader process involved in all contemplative practices such that all of the "branches" are meditative in nature. Meditation includes numerous strategies for opening up some temporal-mental-emotional-spiritual space for experiential presence-- to connect with, and bear witness to, embodied, lived, and/or transcendent experience. It is important to emphasize that meditation is not owned by any one cultural or spiritual tradition. The human need for creating this space for deep experiential presence and connection has been expressed in many different ways throughout human history. There are ancient meditative practices found in indigenous cultures, wisdom, and spiritual traditions across the world. A practice can be considered meditation if it is intentional in its technique for working with attention or consciousness. There are many formal meditation practices that integrate breath, mantras, chanting, visualization, textual passages, concentration on an object of focus, movement, and more. Meditation is frequently associated with creating a time for “quietude”, for slowing down, for turning down the volume of the noise of the world and the stories of the mind. However, meditation does not have to be still or completely silent. Placing meditation in a spiritual context, a distinction often made between prayer and meditation is that prayer is when you are speaking to God and meditation is when you are listening to God. Meditation utilizes attention and consciousness to cultivate conditions for physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and societal healing, transformation, and liberation, and facilitates the highest expression of our personal-relational-collective potentialities. The powerful impact of meditation is supported by