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Contemplation is at the heart of many spiritual practices. According to mystics, saints and wise elders from a wide range of traditions, the means to accomplishing transcendent joy is to separate one’s self from everyday life, quiet one’s thoughts and make one’s self receptive to the divine. This is not easy to accomplish in the midst of our busy lives. But the summer I turned 65, I made a sacred vow. I would sit by the river that runs behind my house in search of the contemplative moment for at least an hour every day until God answered my call. I chronicled my journey, and my progress towards a deeper understanding of both contemplation, and the true nature of joy, in River Diary: My Summer of Grace, Solitude and 35 Geese. In the beginning, what I wanted was no less than, as Aldoux Huxley described, “To be shaken out of the ruts of ordinary perception, to be shown for a few timeless hours the outer and inner worlds not as they appear to (one) obsessed with words and notions, but as they are apprehended directly and unconditionally by our souls.

”Audacious as this may sound, this aspiration is at the root of numerous religions and spiritual disciplines. As author John C. Robinson notes, the Eastern Orthodox Church refers to this experience of transcendence “theosis”-- union with God. Buddhists describe the state of becoming a bodhisattva: “an enlightened being who remains in the world of problems in order to serve the spiritual growth of others…The Kabbalah, Hindu and Islamic poetry and sacred text find their own metaphors and language to describe the expanded consciousness of unity, love, freedom and transcendence.”

The contemplative moment is the bridge to the divine. In their book Do Not Go Quietly: A Guide to Living Consciously and Aging Wisely for People Who Weren’t Born Yesterday, (Agape Media, 2013) George and Sedena Cappannelli put it like this. “The universe is constantly giving us opportunities to learn and grow in countless ways and sometimes the smallest expansion of focus between head and heart, between the object you are focused on and the magic that is happening between, around and within can be of inestimable value. It follows then that if you want to have a fuller, more remarkable and rewarding life, you may want to expand your focus beyond your thoughts. You may want to pay attention to all that is occurring simultaneously in each instant with and around you. In this way you can deepen your experience of life by a hundredfold, by a thousandfold, perhaps by a thousand thousand fold.”

You may not live on the bank of a river, but happily, you can create the contemplative moment wherever you find yourself, at any given time. Here are four contemplative exercises that can be practiced in nature, in your living room, or even in a hospital bed.

1. Let, Wait, See

This is perhaps the simplest practice, but sometimes the most difficult to do. Find a pleasant, comfortable place where you can sit for as long as you’d like undisturbed. Perhaps you can’t make it to a riverbank today. Ram Dass has a version of this spiritual practice based simply on witnessing whatever crosses your path. It may be watching clouds, or it may be witnessing the parade of orderlies rolling carts outside your room. Wherever you are, simply sit with an open heart. Keep your eyes open and breathe slowly and deeply. If concerns, fears or negative emotions enter your mind, note and release. Do this long enough, and you will eventually be freed from the projections of your own busy mind to become a candidate for merger with the Divine.

2. Comfort Your Pain

Imagine any emotional, spiritual or physical pain you are feeling to be a small child who is crying to you for help. Now take the child in your arms and comfort your pain. If you’d like, rock gently back and forth, or sing the child a soothing song.

3. Take Spiritual Inventory If you are seeking joy, greet each thought by taking spiritual inventory. Here’s how.

  • Each time you think of something pleasant, say a prayer of gratitude to God.
  • Each time you think of something in need of healing or forgiveness, ask God to show you the way to rectify the situation.  If there is nothing now to be done, let it go. 
  •  If there is something you can do, do it now.

4. Pray

John O’Donohue has written the perfect prayer for the contemplative moment. I conclude by sharing it with you here: “May my mind come alive today to the invisible geography that invites me to new frontiers, to break the dead shell of yesterdays, to risk being disturbed and changed. May I have the courage today to live the life that I would love, to postpone my dream no longer. But do at last what I came here for and waste my heart on fear no more.” Amen.

Carol Orsborn, Author of River Diary: My Summer of Grace, Solitude and 35 Geese and Founder of Fierce with Age, the Digest of Boomer Wisdom, Inspiration and Spirituality. River Diary is available free for a limited time to visitors to Beliefnet.com.

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