The Communal Roots of Contemplaytion

Contemplate is from Latin contemplatus, past participle of contemplari “to gaze attentively, observe,” from the prefix com- “together” plus templum “temple.” The original meaning of Latin contemplari was “to mark out a space for observing auguries or omens,” and the temple was a holy space reserved for this purpose.

So, contemplation in the original sense entails gathering with kindred spirits in sacred space to discern, look deeply, seek insight that guides our path forward in a world filled with noise, fear, distraction and confusion. There is a craft to creating settings and occasions for contemplation.

As did the Greeks, we need gymnasiums for communal contemplation. An optimal temple for contemplation facilitates the discovery of a shared discernment and vision. We might think of movie theaters as modern temples for contemplation, though the stories projected upon those temple walls may not always be worthy of our heartfelt consideration and reflection. If we took movies seriously as a context for contemplation, each showing of a film would end with an opportunity for group reflection. Wouldn’t that be cool, to have a reflection room as well as a projection room?

Propagating and proliferating courageous contemplation is my calling. I feel so strongly that we need a contagion, an eruption of soulful contemplation to precipitate the paradigm shift that our times call for. There’s a lot to the art of sustaining a contemplative process that bears fruit in insight that leads to action.

In our world that runs on soundbites and summaries, there’s an opportunity in reversing the process, such that a bite of insight or provocation becomes a meal! Contemplation requires stepping into different life rhythms, practicing a radical rumination and reverie. As Thoreau wrote: “Associate reverently, as much as you can, with your loftiest thoughts.”

Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi observed,

Science could not survive without a community sharing scientific values. Moral systems do not continue unless individuals subscribe to a common set of ethics. Values are so ephemeral that they require the joint psychic input of a group to retain their hold on each person’s attention.

The art of contemplation also flourishes most vigorously in a nurturing context of communal inquiry.

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