One of my favorite jokes regarding contemplation is this lineage of consciousness:
Confucius said “Do”
Lao Tzu said “Be”
Sinatra said, “Do, be, do, be do…”
While this always makes me smile, it’s also a reminder for me not to take myself or this work too seriously. In fact, work is probably a poor choice of words to use in referencing the nature of contemplation. There is effort involved; ironically, it’s the effort toward the effortless. In the Perennial Wisdom Traditions, mystics of all ages and cultures have agree, we need a practice, but the peace and calm is ultimately given, not earned through effort. One of my favorite authors, Richard Rohr, says, “You can’t get there.” He adds, as many have before him, we’re already there. It’s a process and practice of tapping into a consciousness in the only place and time we can; here and now.
I think one of the reasons the practice is hard is because it’s so easy. I’d rather warm my coffee, check my email, or write a blog, than sit in silence for 10-15-20 minutes or more. We are a culture of fast food, instant oil changes, drive-thrus, and immediate gratification. To slow down, we go against culture and our own surface brain patterns. It feels odd. Our ego is embarrassed. Our mind-talk says, “Surely we have better, more important things to do.” But, when we do slow down and rest in a different, unknowing intelligence, there it is: a place and space beyond what words can describe. Call it what you want: the ineffable; a peace; a calm; emptiness. Incredibly, somehow, it is an inner sanctum that is always there. As Russ Hudson says, “Try sneaking up on consciousness. You can’t! …if we show up, it’s there.“
And here’s another cool thing, it changes us. It literally changes our physical makeup. In about 20 minutes a day for about 20 days, the brain chemistry is different. Stress chemicals are lowered and we are noticeably calmer, more focused. Dr. Herbert Benson calls it the Relaxation Response (http://www.relaxationresponse.org/steps/). Call it what you will, contemplation or meditation, my coffee is getting cold again. This time, instead of wandering into fleets of fancy, or interacting with my mexican jumping bean mind, maybe I’ll sing a little Sinatra while I sit down and try to elicit the relaxation response. But then again… I could check my email. 😉