What are Contemplative Practices, and how do they work? Contemplative Practices cultivate a critical, first-person focus, sometimes with direct experience as the object, while at other times concentrating on complex ideas or situations. Incorporated into daily life, they act as a reminder to connect to what we find most meaningful.
Contemplative practices are practical, radical, and transformative, developing capacities for deep concentration and quieting the mind in the midst of the action and distraction that fills everyday life. This state of calm-centeredness is an aid to the exploration of meaning, purpose, and values.
Contemplative practices can help develop greater empathy and communication skills, improve focus and attention, reduce stress, and enhance creativity, supporting a loving and compassionate approach to life.
The primordial ‘sounds of silence’ cannot be over-emphasized ~ whether it is in deep meditation; a retreat of silence; simple time alone; the space between one’s thoughts; allowing quiet after someone has spoken to allow their sharing to be really felt and heard; sensing the soft stillness of nature or the hum of the cosmos.
You can touch upon this profound and important element. It is where and when you feel, sense, and silently hear Source within yourself and outside of yourself ~ all reflected in the beauty and the mystery of nature, others, all of life, and the entire cosmos.
Contemplative practices are widely varied
for an illustration of just some of the many types of practices, please see the “Tree of Contemplative Practices” for more information. They come in many forms, from traditions all over the world. Examples of contemplative practices include various forms of meditation, focused thought, time in nature, writing, contemplative arts, and contemplative movement.
Contemplative Practices For Health
Examples of holistic approaches to health can be found in societies in which contemplative practices are normalized.
Deep contemplation of self, environment, and spirit can raise awareness of humans being connected to a greater whole. Common forms include meditation (e.g., transcendental meditation, contemplative meditation, breathing meditation), mindfulness, Tai Chi/Qigong, yoga, and prayer, often practiced twenty minutes or more, once or twice daily, but can extend into daily life as well.
Some patients may find some practices to be more or less culturally appropriate. Any contemplative practice that resonates for them should be encouraged. It is estimated that 8% of adults in the United States practice some form of meditation, and as many as 24% of patients with cardiovascular disease (CVD), for example, have used some form of mind-body therapy .
An increasing number of contemplative practices are being used as “health” interventions for individuals with select health conditions. Recent systematic reviews of meditation and mindfulness-based interventions have shown contemplative practices to be effective for multiple conditions including, but not limited to, cardiovascular disease, post-traumatic stress, vascular disease, fibromyalgia, and lower back pain [5,6,7,8,9]. Thus, contemplative practices may influence health at the individual as well as the population level.
“A human being is a part of a whole, called by us ‘universe’ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest… a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.
This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” (Albert Einstein) 
Spiritual awareness refers to a state of being, and it is accessible across contemplative practices. Spiritual customs, habits, or rituals including contemplative practices are often vehicles to heightened awareness and insight.
When individuals are in a state of increased awareness, they are conscious of their thoughts and emotions and move from the reactive mind to the responsive mind. They are able to perceive experiences with more clarity than when their thoughts are clouded by conditioning and/or intolerance.
Awareness frees individuals to experience people and circumstances as they are without judgment or the confines of preconceived ideas, which Albert Einstein noted in the quote above are “a kind of optical delusion”  which is a “prison for us”.
One of the goals of contemplative practices is to extend the periods of time during which we are in a state of increased awareness, recognizing our connectedness with ourselves and others, collectively present in space and time. Individual and collective awareness fosters tolerance through the mechanism of compassion.
Practices For Compassion
Compassion is often a product of enhanced spiritual awareness. Awareness and compassion work together to decrease both intolerance and stress.
Research shows that compassion may mediate some of the psychosocial health benefits of contemplative practices [11,12], including reducing stress . Figure 1 depicts a schema that shows a proposed process by which spiritual awareness may lead to lower psychosocial stress (belief or thought that demands and expectations being placed on one exceed their ability to cope [14,15,16,17,18,19], decreased neurohormonal activation, low allostatic load (the level of wear and tear on the body that accumulates as an individual is exposed to repeated or chronic stress ), and better health outcomes.
The process is mediated by decreased intolerance and increased compassion. Contemplative practices may play an important role in this process.
We encourage you to discover for yourself how contemplative practices, in whatever form is best for you, can enrich your life and work.