Twin Towers of Strength!
By Michael Ketterhagen, PhD
I often write about the meditation process, especially focusing on the breath in our nostrils, and the benefits that come from that daily practice. But there is another yogic practice that stands as a strong tower, next to the tower of meditation. That practice is contemplation.
Contemplation is the practice of staying focused on an idea, thought, concept, question or image for a long period of time so that the body begins to relax and the breath becomes rhythmically diaphragmatic without even trying. We begin to still the roaming mind and aren’t saying anything to ourselves but watching what come to our thinking processes.
This relaxed concentration allows the conscious mind (manas) to wander through and with the discerning intellect (buddhi) and come to some important conclusion and/or decision. Our mind is moving into oneness with our Spirit (atman).
Often, while pulling weeds in the garden, my mind begins to focus on my experience of gardening and its implications for me and others. Just the other day, in my reflective contemplation, I realized that my life is changing from a planter of seeds to one concerned about maintaining and harvesting what I have planted. I never really worried about the plants and the growing weeds in my garden before this year. I even dreaded the idea of weeding. The harvesting of the tomatoes or lettuce or beans or zucchini were also not very appealing to me.
But just recently, I feel driven to weed the growing beds and harvesting, in a methodical way, the lettuce, kale, peas, asparagus and other vegetables. I realized, too, that that same desire to maintain and harvest is showing itself in the rest of my life. I am cleaning out old files and books from 30 years of teaching and preserving those that I will use later or will give to others. I am beginning to think of how I will “harvest” some of the ideas and work that I have done in the past. A memoir may be on the horizon.
My point, though, is not that my life is changing, but that because I was involved in a contemplative practice of reflecting on my gardening while gardening, I experienced some important self-knowledge. Just focusing on my breath alone through the meditative process would not have, I believe, reaped that important “self-knowledge-fruit”.
In light of all the challenging events that have happened in the past two or three months—the novel coronavirus and the death of George Floyd—maybe all of us need to not only meditate during this time, but also contemplate some of key questions, like—what has this little virus taught us? How has oppression been involved in our lives? How have I contributed to the pain of the day or to the oppression? How can we survive all these major changes?
Yoga has many concepts and ideas for contemplation as well. In the coming weeks, I would like to focus on them, especially as they relate to our current life situation.
Our spiritual journey could now focus on the other tall tower, contemplation, and not just meditation.