December 8, 2020

A season for contemplation, a practice to see you through to brighter days

In the northern hemisphere, we are closing in on the shortest day of the year. The verdant growth of summer has largely withered, the air is chill, and night falls quickly like a curtain as the business day comes to an end.

Winter is upon us as this difficult year approaches its close.

And yet, something important and promising is happening.

On the horizon, especially after the bustle of the holidays there is stillness, openness and possibility. There is space to pull back, take stock, rebuild and prepare for what’s next.

There is time for contemplation.

Contemplation as a season

As I have written before, we all have times of wild growth and flourishing abundance. And we all also have quieter times, when we may feel we are making less clear progress. This is the seasonality of life, and also of our personal and professional growth. You cannot have spring without fall, any more than you can earn your dream job without the quiet skill building and painful lessons that prepared you for it. There are times when we simply must look inward.

I think of these moments as times for contemplation. When we give ourselves permission for this process, we enhance our well-being and fuel our next phase of growth – when springtime blooms again.

Contemplation as a self-care practice

Contemplative practices are universal, though they take different forms in different traditions. They can be physical (walking in the forest), mental (meditation), artistic (sculpting), or simply being still. The possibilities are many. Much like the notion that rest does not need to look like sleeping, contemplation does not need to look like pondering. It is simply a deep dive into something meaningful, and a departure from the day-to-day that enhances your ability to solve problems and your well-being.

This tree of contemplative practices provides an interesting window into what contemplation can look like. There are enough possibilities that you may easily find several or more that speak to you. Their common threads are twofold: They involve mindfulness, and they require you to bring intention and self-awareness to what you are doing. And it is this intention and self-awareness that will foster  the quiet recovery you need and the preparation for growth to come. Think of it as the deep breath between what you just accomplished and what you will do next.

Building a contemplative practice

Choose one thing
If this idea speaks to you, you might be thinking of all the ways you can begin a contemplative practice. Pick one of them rather than trying all five. And choose something that is relatively accessible in terms of time, investment of energy, cost and equipment. Building a habit is not easy and will require intention. You don’t need any barriers that will complicate the process.

Pair up with someone else
Your contemplative practice might be something you do in solitude, but a companion who can provide a source of support can be helpful and also a source of learning.

Embrace the learning
Are you starting something with a learning curve? Sign up for a class (after the holidays!) If you expect to be challenged by your new practice, choose your start date carefully and set a realistic goal for frequency for the first three weeks. Take care not to overcommit – that’s precisely why so many New Year’s resolutions fail. Try it on cautiously and see how it fits.

Make space for grace
What if you don’t hit your target? What if your new practice does not serve you the way you thought it might? Be at peace about that, and embrace what the Buddhists call “beginner’s mind.” Try viewing your goal with fresh eyes. Reset it or adjust it as needed, and then restart with an open mind and trust that you will do your best. Take the idea of failure completely out of the equation, by letting go of any idea that you need to be perfect.

The beauty of contemplative practice

I am writing this post at year’s end when so many look toward renewal and a fresh start. What’s interesting about contemplative practices is you can start, but you’re never done, and you won’t simply arrive at a destination. However, with time, your self-awareness, emotional intelligence and resilience will grow. It’s all about ongoing work and continued renewal – and they can truly help us find our way through the seasons of life, whether in relationships, at work or on a growth journey.

Your contemplative practice

I encourage you to try this idea as a different way of approaching New Year goal setting. And if you’re already engaged in contemplative practice, consider sharing how it’s worked for you!

Last updated December 8, 2020

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