A Little Contemplation

November 24, 2009 Leave a comment

I am just returning from a weeklong spiritual retreat for which the central focus was selfless service.  I literally spent the week gardening!  (And yes, those of you who know me are right to find that funny!)  I did chant and meditate every morning, noon and evening, but in this very special place selfless service is considered a spiritual practice on the same level as meditation.

I bring this up because it felt like as soon as I got there I had all sort of “stuff” come up.  It was like the minute my life became a bit more silent all of the things that lie below the surface came bursting up in an overwhelming rush.  I had real moments of emotional upheaval very early in my stay.

But I’m not trying to make this post about me and my process.  What became evident to me is that we all share in this human condition, that we all have all sort of “stuff” lying below the surface and that it seems we all collude to create lives and environments to try and keep them out of site.

I am wondering about this shared pattern.  I am wondering how much of the interpersonal “stuff” that we have to deal with at work, how many of the little or big fights, the dislikes and frustrations that keep like minded people from working together, how many of these are just escape valves for all the “stuff” that lies below our shared surface?

For a long time I’ve been musing about what it takes to build a contemplative organization.  How do we design spaces and processes that allow us to more boldly look at the “stuff” that we don’t want to look at?  The goal is not to turn our workspace into our therapists couch, but to find healthier ways to come together and build a world that works for all – to practice ways of living in the world we are trying to build.

All the upheaval, all the “stuff” I had to face as I was simply raking leaves with great intention, all of it became very small in light of the sense of freedom that I found beneath it all.  The self-effort and contemplation inevitably paid off night after night as I went to bed exhausted but with the deep understanding that I am part of something greater than all the small stuff in the way.

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  • Cynthia says:

    Reminds me of one of my mantras. Don’t sweat the small stuff. p.s. It’s all small stuff!

    And to quote Kristen Hughes, we all come in the room with our steamer trunks full–lots and lots of baggage–that we can’t see, but which certainly takes up space!

  • Meghan says:

    Thanks for the sentiments, Gibran. I feel like every day I struggle with the act of, as Thomas Merton put it, “Contemplation in a World of Action.” The greatest conflicts anyone generally encounters in an organizational setting seem to stem from a lack of self-reflection. How much easier it would be to prevent and resolve conflicts with one another if we could first resolve the conflicts within ourselves! We can only be better to each other, and more effective at our social change work, if we are first better to ourselves.

    Merton of course puts it better than I ever could. In his book of the same title, he writes, “Our first task is to be fully human…When I speak of the contemplative life I do not mean the institutional, cloistered life . . . I am talking about a special dimension of inner discipline and experience, a certain integrity and fullness of personal development.”

  • Curtis says:


    I’m right there with you! It took only a day in the Vermont wilderness to open me up to some feelings of immense gratitude and wonder as well as feelings of unsettledness (that “stuff” you mentioned). I think I’m coming to the understanding that a big trigger for me (in both positive and not so positive ways) is feeling deeply connected to a place, and by this I mean not just a community of people but a landscape as well. When I feel this connection I am aware of both how important it is and how I am largely not rooted in a sense of place. Absent this, I think much of my self-reflection lacks a critical larger picture in which I can situate and ground myself. The “stuff” is gradually settling among the leaves and surrounding mountains and I am finding a greater sense of peace underlying it all. And it takes time and intention and a willingness to stand in it. Good stuff!

  • Linda says:

    I thought you might also enjoy this – from Elephant Journal: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2008/09/dr-reggie-ray-busy-ness-is-laziness/

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