The Tree of Contemplative Practices

Saturday, February 28, 2015 - 8:38am

The Tree of Contemplative Practices

Mirabai Bush, a meditation and mindfulness teacher who leads Google's mindfulness training, "Search Inside Yourself," pointed us to an illustration of contemplative practices, which shows the breadth of meditation and mindfulness within traditions. Although this list isn't comprehensive, it does open up one's imagination about how these disciplines take root and manifest themselves in our lives.

The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society goes on to explain:

"On the Tree of Contemplative Practices, the roots symbolize the two intentions that are the foundation of all contemplative practices. The roots of the tree encompass and transcend differences in the religious traditions from which many of the practices originated, and allow room for the inclusion of new practices that are being created in secular contexts.

The branches represent different groupings of practices. For example, Stillness Practices focus on quieting the mind and body in order to develop calmness and focus. Generative Practices may come in many different forms but share the common intent of generating thoughts and feelings, such as thoughts of devotion and compassion, rather than calming and quieting the mind. (Please note that such classifications are not definitive, and many practices could be included in more than one category.)

Because this illustration cannot possibly include all contemplative practices, we offer a free download of a blank Tree that you can customize to include your own practices. Activities not included on the tree (including those which may seem mundane, such as gardening or eating) may be understood to be contemplative practices when done with the intent of cultivating awareness and wisdom."

Seeing these classifications, I'm left wondering what else in our experiences might be part of this tree. Here's a blank tree for your own practices. Fill it in and, if you're willing, share it with us and others.

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Trent Gilliss

is the cofounder of On Being / KTPP and currently serves as chief content officer and executive editor. He received a Peabody Award in 2007 for his work on "The Ecstatic Faith of Rumi" and garnered two Webby Awards (in 2005, and again in 2008). The Online News Association nominated his journalistic work multiple times in the general excellence and outstanding specialty journalism categories. Trent's reported and produced stories from Turkey to rural Alabama, from Israel and the West Bank to Cambridge, England.

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Reflections

I am a very visual person and this visual makes many disparate practices come together for me and make it clear how they are all held together in one place.
It feels like another expression for "I am the vine and you are the branches"

Dear Carol,
Your comment suggests to me that, possibly and hopefully, you are The Carol Parowski, PA., who taught a little-known Jesuit-inspired course in the evenings at Church in Annandale, VA., for all of us in need of healing? Could it be the same Carol Parowski? If so, please, I would be honored to connect with you, and would love to hear from you. Maria.

This is outstanding, and nicely captures that contemplative practice is often more than awareness and stillness. The second root, or perhaps stream, of communion and connection (with self, others, the surrounding world, god) is of equal importance and often excluded from the conversation. I think it is in and through cultivating our awareness that we are able to make the most of the generative practices. Among the practices I might add are the Buddhist practice of Tonglen, the Jewish practice of Kabbalah, and the Catholic Rosary.

Wonderful additions to the Tree, Scott. It was always meant to be a living document (no pun intended, but hey, it works well!) so I am happy when people add to it and make it their own.

Kabbalah is not a contemplative practice, it contains contemplative practices as I mention in my other reply. Hitbodenut is the general term of the Jewish contemplative practice. There are others: Mussar practice, kavanot, Limud Torah.

Such a beautiful mindmap

As I viewed this I immediately felt the peace and calm of my practices. As I studied it quiet thoughts bubbled up and I knew I had to look at it longer. So I printed it out!

Prayer. Establishing an emotional and intellectual relationship with the Divine. Bringing the light of the Divine into the world. Doing, speaking, intending in accordance with the Divine.

I think it would be wonderful for other religions to do this kind of tree, too - this one is Buddhist in context, so no mention of the Divine or prayer, but it could easily be adapted for a Christian point of view

I think it's interesting that you perceived this version of the tree as Buddhist. I also perceived it as being Buddhist in character. I think that the authors intended it - and made a good-faith effort for it - to apply across all religions. So perhaps they didn't succeed as well as they wanted.

I really appreciate your thoughts, Len, and I would live to know if you could pinpoint what makes it read as Buddhist to you. My guess is that it's the inclusion of walking meditation, loving-kindness meditation, and several martial arts, (though I'm not sure those are necessarily Buddhist?). Or is there something about the overall structure, or more generally, that indicates a Buddhist-informed perspective? What would not be included on a more secular tree? Thank you!

Carrie: What's giving me that impression is how many of the entries on your tree were practices I've encountered in US Western Buddhist communities. These include the ones you mentioned (loving-kindness, walking, martial arts) plus others (retreats, council circles, bearing witness, Yoga, ceremonies & rituals based in spiritual/cultural traditions, contemplative arts, and the entire Stillness branch).

That's in contrast to the relative dearth of entries related to theistic contemplative paths (other than Lectio Divina for Christians), and for me, specifically the Jewish path.

(Trent didn't include here the part of the CMind web page about this tree being designed specifically for secular organizations and academic settings.)

In some ways, the Tree reminds me of Jon Kabat-Zinn/CFM's effort to secularize MBSR.

BTW, thanks for your fine work with CMind and ACMHE!

Gotcha! That is helpful to me. Thanks so much for your reply, Len, and for all that you do, too!

Ah, but the details. Lecto Divina traces back to Origen and is a contemplative Christian scripture practice. I would love to see more and more leaves on this tree, which I why I will print it myself. Thanks.

Funny- altho you say it has no mention of prayer or the Divine, my mind immediately inserted that to each branch. I grew up Catholic, and watched my mother practice "quiet time" each early morning- and I do that now- reading a little reflective prayer book, a yogi meditation book and time meditating and journaling-- all while dialoging with God. Seeing this tree and the named practices makes my heart sing with delight. Thank you!

Agree! Growing up Catholic, I witnessed contemplative practices in the forms of silent prayer, the rosary, the mass, stations of the cross, a mission of social justice, and many others. As I've grown, my spiritual practices have come to include yoga and mindfulness as well.
To me, this tree is an inclusive representation of the ways various religions and practices help ground and inspire us. It also is a reminder that we as humans are all working toward the same higher goal (self actualization according to Maslow), regardless of what methods we employ. How lucky we are to have so many options!

Len Moskowitz, I wholeheartedly agree!! After all, where does a tree come from in the first place??!!

I have often thought that handwork like crocheting or knitting could be considered a practice. It certainly calms and stills my mind, or perhaps it gives my eyes something to focus on so my mind can clear or focus.

I agree with you Lissy and add quilting too!

and doodling!

I have seen several people on different occasions knitting during Unitarian services. It is meant to help focus on the words of the speaker and encourage mindfulness.

I like it all except for the reference to "social justice"...there's nothing spiritual about envy and its rhetoric.

Hi Ali, could you please expand on your comment? I am interested to understand what you mean. Thank you.

How about reaching out to people who are hurting, oppressed, and need a helping hand? There are many scriptures that exhort us to help the poor and not one of them has a qualifier of "if they deserve it"

My flowering tree has the same high branches of social justice. The lower limbs are Stillness and Movement as the stoutest limbs opposite one another. Of course, as one who lives through the practice of tai chi chuan, stillness is in motion and visa versa. Flowering implies fruits meant for propagating yet another tree when fruit and soil are ripe.

Since envy has nothing to do with social justice,what is your point?

To me, working for peace and social & environmental justice are fruits of contemplation, as the life of Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, Oscar Romero and others have shown. I think the tree is a wonderful way of beginning to weave many strands of contemplative prayer and practice together.

Agreed.

Really? I find living at the top of the tree exhilarating.

I am so grateful to see that the Tree is being shared like this! The concept for the Tree was borne after sifting through hundreds of hours of interviews with people who were leading the way in bringing contemplative practices into secular settings (folks like Peter Senge, Jon Kabat-Zinn, many others). As I reviewed the data, I realize what diverse ways practice has of showing up, depending on the setting and what is most needed. My hope has always been that this Tree will serve as a tool to help people realize that contemplative practice is not a 'one size fits all' matter, but something that is deeply personal to each one of us.

Thank you for drawing this beautiful tree Maia! I will share it with my clients at Feelpeacenow.
Peace be with you!

Yes, thank you, Maia!! What a beautiful, alive and lasting contribution you've made. With a deep bow to you, And in much gratitude for your living wisdom.

Thanks for this fascinating diagram Maia! Also thanks for sharing the files. It's shed light on my own practices. Interestingly, I was trying to figure out something on this topic a while back and drew this:
Very incomplete – a different slant nonetheless.

Lovely reminder of the breadth and space in meditstion

This is wonderful. I hadn't thought that some of these are contemplative practices.

It is so precious for me to find this on my facebook feed. I am on many limbs of this tree and just returned from Mass where the priest gave a great encouraging homily on the need for listening, contemplative prayer. I see more collaboration with you in my future.

I was very happy to see "dance" on your tree....when I dance my mind becomes completely clear of "to do" lists and daily stresses. My only thoughts are of my body interpreting the music. I suppose it is a duo-contemplation: creative and movement. Touch would be something I would add. When I want to find stillness quickly, I imagine resting on my husband's shoulder. I am awash with relaxation whether that touch is real or recalled.

I've had this map as a poster for a while. It helps me see how labyrinth walking, writing, contemplation and action are part of the curving paths of the spiritual journey where some are larger routes and some side paths, others may converge and diverge as different balances are needed in various stages.

I mentioned on the facebook posting that the tree seemed to lack a branch for wisdom or insight. From the Buddhist perspective there are specific practices distinct from calming the mind and developing lovingkindness and compassion, that are specifically engaged to develop wisdom, insight, or realization. I suspect there are contemplative practices in other traditions that might also fall into such a category, perhaps salvation, transcendence, etc.

I would add zen shiatsu to the movement and/or relational branch:Bodywork that allows a being to come into what the body/mind may be experiencing in this moment.
I like someone's suggestion of crochet also! I also like collaging as a way to contemplate my deeper self using images/colour/words.

I like to behold sometimes, and maybe even retreat now and again. But I mostly like walking through labyrinths. As sniff lilac flowers, to decompress my Qigong.

One of the most important steps toward spiritual awakening is to live a resilient life. Embracing empowering, resilient beliefs causes you to step away from those limiting beliefs that deprive you of joy, happiness and love.

Quietly sitting in nature...just breathe and listen to the sounds around you...Breeze, birds, flowing water or waves. Even in northern winter, be quiet and listen to falling snow.

yes....

This image is wonderfully helpful to me. It is so inclusive. To me some of the suggestions fall under the ritual/cyclical branch because they are practices of specific belief systems such as Tonglen, liturgical and spoken prayer and using beads or a rosary. I can make use of my own in this category. Perhaps under movement/body is included such practices as gardening, eating, knitting.. any physical practice which can be done mindfully.Running and walking are included here for many folks.

So glad that you find it helpful, Ellen. As I mentioned in an earlier comment, the Tree was always meant to be a 'living document' so I am happy when people add other practices to it or adjust the branches in ways that make more sense to them.

I like this

creatively incorporating dreams adds another dimension to the creative branch.

I would very much like to repost this on my own website as it is so very lovely. Visualizations are wondrous tools for learning and reminding. Thank you. If I do every repost I will cite the source of course.

Nice graphic. Might be interesting to relate the "movement" and "stillness" branches a little more directly on opposite sides of the tree trunk, to highlight their interdependent polar relationship. This understanding, for instance, is the key to higher levels of Tai Chi and Qigong development. Here's a poem on the relationship between stillness and movement by Ts'ai-ken T'an, from his classic, the Caigentan, or "Root Vegetable Discourses":

The stillness
in stillness
is not
the real stillness.

Only when
there is stillness
in movement
can the spiritual rhythm appear
which pervades
heaven and earth.

wonderful

Thank you so much for sharing this image with us! So wonderfully done and speaks to me in myriad ways! Peace.

this is wonderful. i am drawn to look at it more and more. it was interesting that unlike other "tree" diagrams i have used, my tendencies are not grouped on one branch or in a cluster. something on each branch resonates.

I have long felt that just playing , sitting , reading to or even observing my children and now my grand children has a spiritual quality. In them I can see God. Didn't Jesus say that the Kingdom of heaven is for people who become like little children.

Hitbodedut is missing

Hello and thank you for sharing such a beautiful tool. I work with women who are struggling with grief after infertility and baby loss and am looking forward to using this tree, both the 'filled in' and blank versions, in discussions with them. I love all of the notes and suggestions below - this is turning into a mighty tree!

The roots need an additional constituent. I think Awareness can be broken down into two categories: perception(as in image or sound awareness) and interpretation (as in language and conceptualization). I think the roots NEED to have at least three categorizations. Can you honestly say that all input into our thoughts and actions comes down to two fundamental participles? I do not agree. Look into Wisdom Sutra and work done by a Tibetan Buddhist named Tsong-kha-pa around 16th century CE who talks about these constituents. Otherwise, fantastic work. You have very accurately summarized a majority of human thought within the analogy of a tree. Trees are neurons. Good work, Krista, Carrie, and Maia. Ya'll make me think...

Hi Andrew,
The roots are less about "all input into our thoughts and actions" and more about the fundamental intentions that seemed to inform contemplative practices of diverse types, at least in how we heard the interviewees of the Contemplative Net Project voice them back in 2002 - 2003. But as I always tell people when I offer them the Tree in workshops, it's not meant to be a definitive taxonomy. Rather it's a living tool... adapt it in whatever way works best for you.

This tree reflects many of the core ideas of Jens Jensen's landscapes of the mind. He designed Chicago's west and south side parks as expressions of Democracy and a place for clearing the mind. His council rings are for Democratic communication and storytelling, his clearings are for the mind, his meandering paths to facilitate mindful walking, his championing of putting nature where it's needed made him a social realist who understood what it was like to live in a city and to truly need nature. "Jens Jensen The Living Green" follows his dramatic rise from street sweeper to dean of landscape architects to pioneering conservationist. He's an unsung hero of conservation and the value of nature within a city. Thanks for publishing this, I've shared it on our fb page.

A wonderful graphic to make our own and to remind us to use the tools. Mine will include movement, music, art appreciation, and gardening, as well as various tools from my Avatar Course training/teaching.

Death has been my Koan most of my life. I ask myself this question everyday, knowing I am going to die how then shall I live? This question provides me with understanding that life is ever changing, but more importantly, how my day will go for me, who shall I meet today, how will I treat the environment,can I put away or abolish Greed, hatred, and delusion in my life. Can I be kind to myself as well as to others, can I forgive, can I pardon. To keep on track with my spiritual practice just breathe, the other shore is insight.

Hi Trent. This tree! As I study it, I see that I access at least one aspect of each branch in my writing and art classes. This is fuel for me to deepen the way that I teach because I see my students making brave changes in their lives as they also write and write and create. Thank you for the blank.I will ponder this and see what else might be part of this tree. Many thanks, Suzi

Beautiful! I'm reminded of Rifat Soncino's wonderful book Six Jewish Spiritual Paths. So much of the tree model is found in his book: meditation, ritual, social action, sacred study, perception of the Divine in our surroundings, and prayer. His argument is that each of us may find meaning along one pathway, but we can be enriched by adding other paths as well. Thank you for this - I will print it out and post it.

Nothing comes unbidden. Google returns Frederic Douglas's use of this with his sense that everything is connected to everything else, not that ill consequences are asked for or deserved.
Contemplation and the rituals attending it, seem to me to be the creation of meaning by investing ourselves in a narrative or purpose. Its less the search for meaning but our preparation to receive it. The tree of contemplation may as well be understood as forms of prayer. How did prayer get such a bad name? It does not necessarily have anything to do with who or what we are praying to. It has everything to do with what we are hoping for and our agency in such pursuit.

This aside, thank you and Ms. Tippett for your most gracious and hearteningwork and sensibility.
Cheers

When Mirabai mentioned having the students just look at a leaf for five minutes and how infrequently most of us do that, I felt that I must add the practice of drawing from observation to your list of contemplative practices. I have taught Intro to drawing classes for about 15 years now and I do a lot of drawing of natural forms. Training others to look deeply enough at any object to be able to analyze it and reproduce it can be quite transforming. It's a kind of homage to really sit with an object or a figure and devote yourself to it in this way. Once you have the skills to see an ordinary object in its abstract components, nothing looks ordinary again.

This is so beautiful and the best visualization of contemplation and meditation I could ever imagine. I think a text of the same tree would not have the same impact. Thank you for sharing this beautiful illustration and inviting us to go inside ourselves and draw our own tree. God bless you.

Congratulations! I enjoy hugging trees and yours certainly gives me energy. At the ripening age of 73, poetry and philosophy are major hobbies. Last week I observed an old man walking an ugly dog. This prompted me to write a poem "trophy" relationships with wives, friends and dogs -- all facial stuff, like cheap make-up. Here is my poem:
OLD MAN WALKING UGLY DOG

Two close friends
Walking tall
Bonded in their
Shabbiness

A dirty, crotchety dog
Leading with authority
His ancient soulmate,
A stumbling old man

They both have real
Tails/tales to wag or tell
The grimy flea bitten dog
Rescued from a pound

And the old man
Pulled from his
Hospital bed
By a true friend

Both faithful to a fault
With canine and human hearts
Intertwined and melodic
In their street walking
DANCE OF LOVE AND SURVIVAL

Best wishes
Michael Pierce

Congratulations! I enjoy hugging trees and yours certainly gives me energy. At the ripening age of 73, poetry and philosophy are major hobbies. Last week I observed an old man walking an ugly dog. This prompted me to write a poem "trophy" relationships with wives, friends and dogs -- all facial stuff, like cheap make-up. Here is my poem:
OLD MAN WALKING UGLY DOG

Two close friends
Walking tall
Bonded in their
Shabbiness

A dirty, crotchety dog
Leading with authority
His ancient soulmate,
A stumbling old man

They both have real
Tails/tales to wag or tell
The grimy flea bitten dog
Rescued from a pound

And the old man
Pulled from his
Hospital bed
By a true friend

Both faithful to a fault
With canine and human hearts
Intertwined and melodic
In their street walking
DANCE OF LOVE AND SURVIVAL

Best wishes
Michael Pierce

To me this is a dazzling expression of how many forms of "prayer" or "conscious contact practices with The Sacred". I just love it.

This morning, after attending church, I heard my a favorite form of "church," the On Being program on NPR. This morning Ms. Bush was on speaking about the Mindfulness Training program she began at Google. The contemplative practices were mention so I did some research and found this tree. What a wonderful visual and the organization is very helpful. I will be expanding my contemplative experiences through the aid of this tree. On Being is part of my Sunday ritual most weeks. I am regularly enlightened to the deeper aspects of my life here on this planet. This insight enriches my days. I am abundantly blessed.

I love this tree of contemplative practices! Such a beautiful way to see them branching off from one another. I would add dream work, maybe to the "generative" limb. Dream work can be done, like lectio divina or icon mediation, in the form of gazing at the main image in one's dream to see what it opens up to one's awareness, or dream work can also be done in a sharing group, where it takes on stronger communal, and ritualistic, aspects. Either done individually, or in a group, dream work opens up access to one's center and deepest resources.

So lovely in my walks among trees my visual is always a reminder to breathe since a tree upside down is natures replica of the bronchial tree/lungs and it symbolizes the breath/life force all around me. A daily gentle reminder to breathe!

I would add
living our environmental beliefs - treading lightly on our overtaxed environment.

Feldenkrais is definitely on that tree . Even though it is in the movement branch, it also has many links to the other branches. The group classes are actually called Awareness Through Movement, very clear that awareness is an integral part of this mindful movement approach

apples