Last month’s blog article introduced the Contemplative Life and the notion that contemplation and action, rather than being antithetical, are two sides of the same coin. This month I will focus on those areas in people’s lives that might be the target for contemplation and reflection as they prepare to take action to pursue the kind of lives they desire. I will address four areas that are by no means exhaustive in how one might conceptualize contemplation and action. The four areas are: 1) career counseling and guidance; 2) interpersonal relationships; 3) values clarification and spirituality; and 4) life transitions.
Career Counseling & Guidance
The area of work and/or career forms an important value for most of us. Moreover, we are looking for many things from our work or career. I would guess that we most likely would agree with the idea that we want work that aligns with our basic or core values. We desire the kind of career that is satisfying, fulfilling, productive, and meaningful. Career plays a major role in the kind of life we want to carve our for ourselves. But explorations in this area will be unique to each individual who seeks to reflect on the place of work in his or her life. Career can mean a lot of things to different people, so concerns in this areas run the gamut of personal struggles. A person might be so dissatisfied with his work or career path that he is contemplating a major change along that path. Or an individual may like what she does, but would prefer to work in a different setting or environment. Or perhaps a person has run to the end of one career and simply seeks to go in a different direction because such a change will be life-fulfilling. But what direction does he or she want to take? What are the risks of such changes when one considers the importance of finances, maintaining an achieved standard of living, or planning for retirement? Other people may want to transition to the kind of work that allows them to follow their passions, or they may simply want work that provides them with the means to pursue other things more important to them. Exploration of what work means to a person and how work aligns with and allows the individual to tap into his or her values are areas ripe for contemplation and action.
Our lives are populated by other people, and being in relationship wit them helps us understand ourselves better. Such understanding can enrich or family lives, friendships, co-worker relationships, and even acquaintances. Reflecting on relationships can trigger a multitude of questions for anyone. Some people may desire to enrich particular relationships, or they may want to find ways to build relationships they do not presently have. And some people may want to reflect on how end certain relationships in which they find themselves and build new lives for themselves. Regardless of what people pursue and long for in their lives, their interpersonal relationships will play a major role in their decisions about the kind of life they want to carve out for themselves. Relationships come and go, start and end, or develop and fade away. How we related to others impacts, not only how we construct a fulfilling life for ourselves, but also it informs how we understand our personal identity.
Values Clarification & Spirituality
People seek to have meaningful lives. Living in alignment with what we claim to value is an important core of personal meaning. We claim to hold certain values, but life has a way of throwing curve balls at us that may force us to rethink what we say we value. Particularly in the areas of career, relationships, and the search for a fulfilling life, people may find their values challenged on many levels. Then questions arise: Do I really value what I claim to value? Have I simply inculcated values from others without truly reflecting whether or not they are my values? Can I hold to my values even when life circumstances pressure me to contradict them? I firmly believe that people cannot achieve a meaningful life without settling on what they truly value. That does not mean that values cannot or should not change. In fact, such value changes generate the need for contemplation followed by action that one needs to take in order to live by newly developed values.
For many people values and spirituality are intimately connected. People’s spiritual beliefs provide an avenue for them to find meaning in their day-to-day living. Spirituality may entail religious beliefs, or it may not. But either way, spirituality speaks to that transcendent endeavor that seems to captivate people who are seeking a deeper, richer, more fulfilling life. The contemplative life allows people to reflect on the relationship between their values and spiritual beliefs. Perhaps someone is struggling with what he truly believes religiously and spiritually. Or a person may feel for various reasons that her relationship to her spiritual or religious community is in some kind of jeopardy. Or someone may want to explore what spirituality means to him or her personally. The spiritual disciplines of meditation, prayer, solitude, and simplicity among others can aid in one’s exploration of spirituality and values.
Much of what has been discussed thus far can fall in the realm of life transitions that people experience. Facing day-to-day life decisions means that we face many transitions in our lives. Such transitions raise various questions. Am I beginning or ending a career path? Am I changing the road I’m on, desiring to head somewhere completely new in my life? Am I seeking to enter a new or exit an old relationship? How am I to deal with getting older, realizing that time doesn’t offer me the wiggle room it used to? How do I face and deal with changes in my life? How do I navigate life struggles and failed opportunities in my life so as to come out the other side stronger and wiser? Life transitions form the raw material for contemplation and necessary action. My deepest hope is that my practice, Contemplations, offers people the safe haven so that they can fully engage those difficult and challenging struggles that make up this journey we call living.
John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D., LPC-S/February 14, 2015