This I Believe

Frank - Jackson, Mississippi
Entered on August 23, 2006

This i Believe

for NPR

A Contemplative Life Engenders Sanity and Conscious Kinship

I believe a contemplative life engenders sanity and a sense of conscious kinship with all living things.

A contemplative life may come in many forms. The great poets throughout time, such as Mary Oliver, Walt Whitman, and Jelalludin Rumi, have all followed a contemplative life. Musicians, like Peter Gabriel, Steve Roach, Norah Jones, and artists, such as Andrew Wyeth, Alex Grey, Philip Rubinov-Jaccobson, and A. Andrew Gonzalez, all lead some expression of a contemplative life.

Though I was not conscious of it as a child, I grew up in a contemplative home. My parents—both ordained ministers in the United Methodist Church—were each contemplatives in their own way. They did not force-feed their religion to me; they encouraged spiritual exploration, all the while leading by example – living lives of joy, mistakes, discovery, loss, epiphanies, heartbreak, and impassioned service to others. In other words, they have lived fully human lives.

Somewhere along the way I internalized a deep understanding that a contemplative life is a helpful map for living. So, at a very early age, I began my journey of seeking to understand the contemplative life as it expresses itself cross-culturally. It has been a journey that led me into sweat lodges with Lakota Indians, into potent ceremonies with shamans from South America, up to Shinto shrines nestled in mountain valleys, onto misty hillside jaunts to Celtic ruins in my ancestral Ireland, as well as twenty years of Buddhist meditation practice.

I have found that a contemplative life is one that beckons me to work toward fearlessness (healthy power) and to transform those addictive and narcissistic qualities inherited from cultural conditioning and wounding. From a Buddhist view, the ego propagates a limiting scaffold of habitual patterns and spawns a quality of seeing and relating to life that often creates suffering, both within oneself and in actions (or words) that affect other people in negative ways. I know in my own life, at different times, these patterns of limited perception have been the source of lost friendships, of marriages gone by the wayside, and of becoming estranged—for a time—from a parent.

I believe a contemplative life is an antidote to such scenarios within individual, family, and organizational life, and that the gifts cultivated through mindfulness practice can be a healing salve that can serve us all. Internally, a contemplative life can be a way of promoting psychological liberation; externally, a contemplative life can promote a peaceful society through kinship-aware conflict resolution. I believe a contemplative life and the mindfulness practices associated with it (regardless of tradition or discipline) can offer us a non-threatening, non-violent path that kindles a sense of unity rather than divisiveness.

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