As of tomorrow, I will be off to a week of unusual contemplative practice; I’m attending a workshop on Contact Improvisation, a dance form characterized by interaction, physical contact, and spontaneity. I’ve only had a brief introduction previously, but I very much enjoyed the combination of high energy and peacefulness in the process.
I call it contemplative practice partly because the center where I am going blends vipassana meditation, tai chi, and dance practice. The facilitator also acknowledges that, like vipassana: “On the rare occasions that I can maintain this awareness [of practice] while dancing, the dancing is most rewarding, soft, subtle, fast but gentle.”
For me, some form of contemplative practice is essential to personal maturity as well as cultural maturity. But contemplative practice is not easily understood in our modern fast-paced society. It is not a quick fix!
In one sense, contemplative practice is the practice and development of awareness, a term that is also not well understood, but a process that was the mainstay of my professional life. My original training as a therapist was in Gestalt Therapy, a therapy that emphasized awareness, contact, and personal responsibility. So, if I ask someone what he or she is aware of, I will often be told what that person is thinking; this is specifically not what I am seeking.
Awareness is attention to one’s spontaneously emerging perceptions — it is awareness of the details of the sensory world (both the outside world and that inside the body); it is the data underlying what the individual is thinking (wherein the individual blends this sensory data with past experience to create the current story they are thinking). Contact is the active meeting of the world at this sensory interface, and personal responsibility is both response-ability and account-ability, being available to this meeting.
Nowadays, contemplation goes by many names; it is called mindfulness, meditation, prayer, amongst other terms. Common to all religious systems, it often has (and historically had) overtones of prayer, but need not; in the past decade, it has very much entered mainstream psychology, and is a major skill for the individual so as to center him- or herself. Mindfulness is almost the latest buzzword of psychology.
My best way of describing all this is via a metaphor — that of a sailing ship. Imagine an old-fashioned sailing ship, with sails, helm and rudder, potentially managed by an effective Captain and a crew of well-organized Sailors. What would happen to such a ship if there were no helm or rudder? It would drift with the wind. Or such a ship without sails? It would go nowhere. No wind, and even with sails and rudder, it would flounder. Plus the ship needs a good Captain and a well-trained crew.
Now — considering yourself as this ship, what within you corresponds to the rudder and helm? the sails? the wind? a Captain? the sailors? My answers:
- the helmsman-helm-rudder system: the conscious mind, able to guide the ship once effective decisions are made (and mutiny is no longer an option).
- the sails: my other-than-conscious mind, that component of myself that actually does the work, the source of my life energy and my vitality.
- the wind: from whence comes the origin of my life energy. Depending on interpretation, this could be a deeper realm of the other-than-conscious, or it could be my interface with Spirit/Creator/… (your choice).
- the sailors: my inner chatter to myself, principally the means by which I are aware of my other-than-conscious mind. The transformation of the sailors from that of mutiny (this is a very common situation for many people) to that of an effective working crew is one of the major skills necessary to maturity).
- the captain: essentially my decision maker, ideally my wise one. This is who I am when I function in the way which really satisfies me, a person with authentic personal power.
Please note that in all this, the goal is that of integration of conscious and other-than-conscious (a life-long task). Also note that the main source of power comes from the other-than-conscious, be that simply the depth of one’s interiority and/or from a deeper source called God (for lack of a better term).
The importance of contemplative practice is that it accesses this other-than-conscious — in a secular sense, the depth of one’s interiority, in a spiritual sense, the deeper source called God. So, aside from the fact that the week will likely be great fun (important in itself), it is this that I seek in the coming week of contemplative practice as contact improvisation.