Cover image for Contemplative living
Title:
Contemplative living
Author:
Oliver, Joan Duncan.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Dell Pub., 2000.
Physical Description:
232 pages ; 24 cm.
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780440508694
Format :
Book

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BL627 .O43 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
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Summary

Summary

The Omega Institute, the nation's largest holistic education and retreat center, has helped tens of thousands of people in their search for well-being, personal growth, and spiritual development through its world-renowned workshops and retreats. Now the experts at the Omega Institute share their wisdom with you in a unique series of books that provide the guidance, the inspiration, and the skills you need to bring increased meaning and vitality into your life. . . . More than ever before, Americans are seeking sanctuary, looking for ways to lead a more thoughtful, balanced, and meaningful life. Contemplative Living draws upon a wide range of spiritual traditions to help you both deepen your sacred connections and bring calm and clarity to your day-to-day existence. Drawing upon the collective wisdom of revered teachers, ancient practices, and the findings of modern research, one of the Omega Institute's foremost experts shows you: How to begin and deepen a spiritual practice in meditation, prayer, chanting, contemplation, or movement   Exercises to help you reap the rewards of silence and solitude, balance and focus your life, and approach problems more creatively How to let go of anger, practice forgiveness, and improve concentration Ways mindfulness can transform your everyday activities, your health, and your life


Excerpts

Excerpts

What is Contemplative Living? The mystery of life is and always has been the central focus of the contemplative mind. --RABBI DAVID A. COOPER Life is complicated and the rate of change astounding. We see the evidence all around us. Computers allow us to calculate and communicate at speeds beyond imagining. The Internet is spreading like the mile-a-minute vine, so that we're all connected at the click of a mouse. Everything that happens at any time, anywhere, is accessible to almost everyone on the planet. But behind the sprawling technological edifice we now inhabit, many people sense that there must be, in the words of one best-seller, Something More . Bookstores are filled with antidotes to life in the fast lane, many of them with simple in the title: The Simple Living Guide , Simple Abundance , Plain and Simple , Living the Simple Life , to name a few. Even the business magazines that regularly offer advice on getting "the competitive edge" are now also touting ways to achieve a balanced life. How ironic that at a time of unprecedented prosperity many of us are longing for less. And in a world of unparalleled opportunity, we're wondering how to cut back on our activities and reduce stress. More than a century ago Henry Thoreau observed that "our life is frittered away by detail" and admonished, "Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity." We're finally taking his advice to heart. Today, more and more of us are looking for ways to slow down, step back from the daily hubbub, and find the underlying meaning of our lives. In a recent survey by Fast Company, a cutting-edge business magazine, over 90 percent of the respondents said the number one priority for achieving balance was "making personal life more of a priority." For some of us achieving balance may be a kind of distant hope--something to get to when our schedule clears. For others the task is urgent. As Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, head of the Sufi Order of the West, warns in Awakening , "It is important to ask yourself how you will feel if you continue living in the same way until the age of eighty--for by ignoring the needs of your soul, you run the grave risk of dying in despair." It may seem as if you can't get off the fast track without depriving your family or endangering your career. And, like most people, you may legitimately have overlapping demands on your time and energy. But the irony is that the more you push yourself, the more you threaten the happiness and well-being you're after. That's where the notion of contemplative living comes in. Contemplative Living What does it mean to lead a contemplative life? Fifty years ago the answer was simpler. A contemplative life was a cloistered life, in the shelter of a monastery or convent or hermitage or forest. It was a life devoted to spiritual practice, to meditation and prayer. Today, a contemplative life--a thoughtful or meditative life--doesn't require running off to a mountaintop or joining a religious order. We may make a brief retreat now and then, for rest and renewal but never has the call been louder to remain in the world, going about our business. Today, for most of us, contemplative living means finding joy and serenity in the midst of everyday existence and expressing that equanimity in our relations with others. "Harmonious and balanced living is not only the preparation for contemplation but also the practice of contemplation and its ultimate goal," the late Les Hixon tells us in Coming Home , his overview of enlightenment in the world's mystical traditions. In one sense contemplative living means being conscious. A definition of consciousness is "freedom from attachment." Your identity is no longer tied up in your car or your house or your job--or even in your talents or innovative ideas. On a broader level being conscious can be characterized in three words: Awake. Alive. Aware. There's a vibrancy to people who are truly, deeply conscious. We sense that they know something important, that they've "done the work"--the psychological and spiritual work of understanding themselves and recognizing their part in something larger. We all fall somewhere along the spectrum from "sound-asleep" to "enlightened," and at any given moment our behavior announces to the world how awake we are. In a now-famous lecture at the Menninger Foundation, Ram Dass, one of America's best loved spiritual teachers, said: The only thing you have to offer to another human being, ever, is your own state of being.... Everything you do, whether you're cooking food or doing therapy or being a student or being a lover, you are only doing your own being, you're only manifesting how evolved a consciousness you are. That's what you're doing with another human being. That's the only dance there is! How to reach and maintain a state of open awareness in the dance of life is what this book will explore. Heeding the Call Increasingly, scientists are looking in the structures and chemistry of the brain for physical evidence that we're spiritual beings. There's even talk of a "spiritual gene"-- something in our DNA that makes us thirst for meaning. Religious literature is full of stories about ordinary folk who've had sudden, life-transforming conversions. Even if you are not yet ready to commit to a spiritual practice, you can at least begin to open your mind to the mystery that lies at the core of our being. "Few people actually receive big calls, such as visions of flaming chariots and burning bushes," author and workshop leader Gregg Levoy points out in Callings . "Most of the calls we receive and ignore are the proverbial still, small voices that the biblical prophets heard, the daily calls to pay attention to our intuitions, to be authentic, to live by our own codes of honor." Let's be very clear: the contemplative life is not a goody-goody life, pious and hypocritical and unreal. Even the highest teachers imaginable, those of great spiritual attainment, are human and therefore have shortcomings. Most of us will be working on our shadows--our disowned feelings and capabilities relegated to the unconscious--throughout our lives. Contemplative life does not demand--or promise--perfection. What spiritual practice gives us is the means to weather the storm. We will constantly be thrown off balance by reality--by shifts in our emotional winds, disappointments, and ego blows. Prayer and meditation are rafts that can ferry us across rough water to safe harbor. "Our practice is all we have," points out author and counselor Heide Banks. "Whether our practice is meditation or service or studying with a spiritual teacher, practice keeps us remembering what's important." The Way Home Coming home is a universal metaphor for self-realization, or enlightenment--the feeling of oneness or union with the divine that is the fruit of the spiritual journey. Settling into a spiritual practice that suits you often feels like a "mini" homecoming. There is an intuitive rightness about it, as if your whole being--body, mind, heart, and soul--is in tune. That's not to suggest that the spiritual path is a straight way to heaven. It's more like the Yellow Brick Road. There are bound to be detours and doubts and hazards--not to mention times when the fog is so thick, you despair of even seeing your goal. Throughout this book there are suggestions for how to deal with resistance and to pick yourself up and begin again. The great life lesson of meditation, wise teachers say, is that it teaches us how to start over. There is a famous twelfth century Zen teaching, commonly known as the Ten Ox-Herding Pictures, that describes the steps toward enlightenment or realizing your true nature--what in Zen is called Original Mind. The ox represents our true nature, the heart of the spiritual quest. In the first picture the man is searching for the ox. Here we are, awakening to our spiritual longing. But the text asks the question: Why are we searching, when nothing has been lost? We are, in fact, never separate from our own true nature; the problem is, we don't realize that at first. In the next picture the man spies the ox's footprints--gets a glimpse of the truth. He still lacks deep awareness, but at least he knows what direction to head in. In the third picture the man spots the ox. Now he understands that truth isn't something "out there" but within himself. In the fourth picture the man catches the ox, but it lurches about wildly; it's all he can do to hang on. This teaches us that although we may grasp the essential unity underlying the apparent dually of the world, our old habits of thinking are hard to break. We still need to develop self-discipline and honest self-examination. The fifth picture shows the man taming the ox. He can now hold fast to his practice and maintain moment-to-moment awareness; he stops discriminating between ordinary life and spiritual life. In the sixth picture, the stage of enlightenment, the man mounts the ox and rides it home whistling, his worries over. But this is only the apparent end of the journey. In the seventh picture the ox has vanished; this is called "Ox Forgotten, Self Alone," or "Ox transcended." At this stage, the teachings and practices that carried him to enlightenment are no longer needed. The eighth picture is an empty circle--both man and ox have disappeared. At this advanced stage of mind training, we drop all identification with the idea of a separate self. Reality just is. The ninth frame shows the reemergence of form; we see that the everyday world is merely the infinite taking on different shapes. In the tenth and final frame the fully enlightened one reenters the marketplace--everyday life--radiating compassion and kindness in his dealings with others. Thus, the circle of transformation is completed. First, we perceive the world, through dualistic eyes, seeing ourselves as unique individuals, distinct from one another. Then, with continued meditation practice, we may have a momentary experience of unity, when the distinction between self and other drops away, and we feel our oneness with all being. Finally, with the "wisdom eye" opened, we can grasp the paradox of being at the same time individuals and inseparable from the whole. This wider perspective allows us to participate fully in life, accepting all its joys and sorrows. Excerpted from Contemplative Living by Joan Duncan Oliver All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.