More than once, I have been queried regarding the name of this blog, Contemplations, and the name’s association with my work as a counselor. To that end, I wanted, in this article, to offer some reflections on the nature of the contemplative life, and the relation of contemplation to action. We live in a harried life today where, in our culture, action is valued over contemplation. Yet all of us are probably aware of those times we acted with little reflection and then had to experience the consequences of doing so. Contemplation and action go hand-in-hand. Although the contemplative life tends to draw on images of cenobites and anchorites, such an extreme caricature misses the importance of the need for reflection when we make important decisions for our paths in life, as well as minor decisions. Contemplation is not about turning into a recluse and pondering the meaning of life, but never acting on or toward what life brings at us. However, it is about finding a way to calm the storm that can seemingly come at us in this fast-paced and high-tech life of which we are all a part.
My vision for Contemplations is that it will become a place that provides time and space for people to slow down the pace of life, step on the brakes, so to say, and take time to reflect on how they truly want to live and shape their lives. Some people may be seeking only small changes in their lives while others are going through major transitions. Perhaps some people need a venue to recoup after a day’s work, or they may need just a few meetings to get away from the daily routines of life. Others may need some extended time to process major changes that are presently occurring or will occur in their lives in the near future. I envision my practice as providing people the place and time to support them while they seek to navigate the sinuous paths their lives may take.
As a counselor, I draw on several modalities for working with people. Although I use no one particular theoretical approach in counseling, I work primarily within an existential framework. On a practical level, such an approach means that I work with individuals to explore the many themes that emerge in their lives. Counseling will be tailored to the particular concerns or questions with which individuals are dealing. My work with individuals may entail such foci as career counseling and guidance, values clarification, spirituality, and navigating other transitions in life.
The contemplative life is largely associated with the practice of mindfulness. However, mindfulness can mean many things. For centuries, people have drawn on what are called the spiritual disciplines as a guide in their navigation to life’s challenges and pleasures. Meditation is one particular discipline, but mindfulness entails much more that meditation. Personally, I like to describe being mindful as becoming aware of things in our lives that might be affecting us that heretofore we have remained unaware. Such things may entail the way we make decisions, deeply held values of which we’re unaware, the way in which our emotions impact us, certain beliefs we hold of which we’re unaware, and the manner in which our interpersonal relationships can influence us. Most importantly, such an approach, while it can draw on spirituality if people so wish to do so, is not necessarily associated with any one spiritual belief system. [For example, although meditation for many people is associated with Eastern Religions, I’m not a Buddhist.] This approach allows people to bring to this work whatever spiritual values they hold, if they choose to draw on those. Or spirituality may not be important to them at all. People can discover how to become aware of things in all areas of their lives. Such awareness provides them with a new angle on life by which to make decisions and shape their lives.
The Harried Life
Mindfulness is just one point under an umbrella of the contemplative life. Contemplation is itself a way of living. From my perspective, our society has lost the richness that comes from slowing down so as to reflect on life. We are a busy society, and while that is not necessarily a bad thing, a thoroughly hyperactive life can rob us of the enrichment that comes with taking time to reflect on how we would prefer to live. Purposely drawing on time to take stock of our lives feels risky. In our society, we are taught to value action. Acting on life is indeed important. But action without reflection can lead us to be tossed here and there by waves of expediency leaving us to feel as if our lives do not rest on a solid footing. The contemplative life does not demand of us to become a troglodyte, but simply asks us to reflect before we act.
Conclusion: Reflection on What?
I want to conclude this article here, leaving readers with an idea of what the contemplative life is and what it is not. Those things that people might reflect on and desire to work through will be the subject of the second part of this essay on contemplation. In Part II of the Contemplative Life, I will focus on those areas that people might explore, completing the vision I have for my work. Such areas include: 1) major transitions in life; 2) values clarification; 3) the influence of certain relationships in which one in engaged; and 4) career counseling and guidance. Part II will explore these areas in more detail. In the meantime, it is important to realize that contemplation and action are not antithetical. They are reciprocal, and involve processes that can aid all of us in our navigation toward the kind of life we desire to live.
John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D., LPC-S/January 14, 2015