The Role of Contemplative Practice in World Transformation

The amazing thing about this color is that it is always there, we just can’t see it when the leaves are busy with their summer work.  As Psalm 46 says, “Be still and know that I am God.” 
We each have our true color: the unique tint of the Spirit of life as it flows through the lens of our particular heart and mind.  Human society would be as beautifully transformed as a fall Vermont landscape if more of us could let that brilliant color show through. 
The Golden Room is the location of our true self and the Spirit within us, and the stillness and self-emptying of contemplative practice is the ideal way to reach that inner room and release its light. Then the Spirit becomes the guiding and empowering source of all our greening work in the world. 
Recently the Heartfulness Contemplative Training Circle in our church talked about what role Centering Prayer and contemplative practice play in the urgent practical crises we face, like influencing an election that will determine the fate of our democracy and the earth, or like uniting a culture that is polarized so that we can solve problems of social, economic and environmental injustice.
We need our best, most inspired and powerful work in a crisis of such magnitude.  All the religious traditions I know teach that work done from a place of spiritual grounding and connection is far more effective and more likely to lead to an unforeseen creative path forward. 
More importantly, as I often quote Gus Speth saying, “the transitions required can be achieved only in the context of what I will call the rise of a new consciousness…. a spiritual awakening —a transformation of the human heart.”
Gus also said, “I used to think the top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that with 30 years of good science we could address these problems. But I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with those we need a spiritual and cultural transformation, and we scientists don’t know how to do that.”
The practical purpose of contemplative prayer is inherently God’s purpose, not ours, but we can observe what God’s purpose seems to be.  The arc of the spiritual universe bends toward the transformation of the human heart, leading to the transformation of the world into God’s realm of loving compassion, justice and peace on earth.  These transformations bring health, harmony and oneness.  They make possible the fulfillment of the Golden Rule and love of neighbor as our self as ethical laws governing every aspect of our lives, from small communities to the largest corporations.
Ken Wilber, Cynthia Bourgeault, Richard Rohr and countless others point out that contemplative practice is the path we need in order to make the transition as quickly as possible to a level of consciousness that sees from that place of oneness.
I have been rereading Hieromonk Damascene’s Christ the Eternal Tao, which is an Eastern Orthodox book about that path of transformation, and I have also been rereading Cynthia Bourgeault’s The Heart of Centering Prayer.
Here is a quote that comes at the end of Part I where Bourgeault has been giving a superb refresher course on Centering Prayer.  She is talking about “attention of the heart,” a phrase that comes from the Eastern Orthodox tradition and is also a major theme of Christ the Eternal Tao:
“Once you get the hang of it, attention of the heart allows you to be fully present to God, but at the same time fully present to the situation at hand, giving and taking from the spontaneity of your own authentic, surrendered presence.
“Again, this kind of presence is a capacity that has been developing in you as you gradually learn in Centering Prayer to withdraw your attention from its default subject/object positioning and rest in that diffuse, objectless awareness. As this capacity grows in you, it gradually takes shape as a felt center of gravity within you, the place where the pendulum of your being naturally comes to rest.  It’s not so much a place you pay attention to as a place you pay attention from….
“As I see it, the purpose of Centering Prayer is to deepen your relationship with God (and at the same time your own deepest self) in that bandwidth of formless, objectless awareness that is the foundation of nondual consciousness.  There you discover that you, God and the world ‘out there’ are not separate entities, but flow together seamlessly in an unbreakable dynamism of self-giving love, which is the true nature of reality and the ground of everything…. Centering Prayer [is] both a foundation and an access route to the stabilization of nondual consciousness.”
The change of consciousness that is the prerequisite to solve our most dire crises today is nondual, not as an intellectual and theoretical belief in oneness, but as Bourgeaut defines nonduality: “You see oneness because you see from oneness.”
We cannot know what creative solutions we will find from a new level of consciousness until we get there and see from its perspective.  Gandhi as a young barrister could never have imagined what Gandhi as a mature Mahatma would come to understand and do after years of both contemplative spiritual practice and fully engaged social action.  That barrister could never have overturned the most powerful empire the world had ever seen, as the Mahatma did.
This is the kind of Spirit-led creative action we need now.  It is our hope for survival.  Every minute that you spend in Centering Prayer or meditation or other contemplative practices is opening you to the possibility of just the guidance and power you need in order to use your gifts most effectively to transform the world.
OK…now forget all that, because the way to receive that spiritual help is to self-empty, to come to contemplative practice with no agenda other than to make yourself fully available to God’s loving presence and transforming action.  We need to let go of our will and our idea of what ideally will happen, and let the Spirit work in its own way in its own good time, which may be nothing like what we could imagine.  In fact, it may look like nothing is happening.  We need to trust and keep practicing in order to keep the connection to the Spirit flowing.
So sit yourself down and simply let go of one thought at a time, over and over and over for twenty minutes, the humble, seemingly insignificant path of self-emptying prayer that leads toward God’s transformation of your heart and the transformation of the world.
For an overview of some Christian contemplative practices including Centering Prayer click here:
and click here to find many wonderful videos from many of the leading teachers.

One thought on “The Role of Contemplative Practice in World Transformation

  1. Truly profound post, brother Tom – erudite and inspirational. Such a gift and a contribution in these urgent times.

    Would like more illustrations. Examples of how it’s happening for you, maybe, from your life, or the life of others, how they’ve made the personal transition to a more contemplative life, one more speck of light in the growing glow of the Light of the new era, the evolving species. Or examples from literature?

    Oh, and maybe shorter paragraphs and white space betw paragraphs? More readable, then.

    Keep moving us toward the Light, dear brother – Michael

    Like

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