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Strength in contemplation
Stanford is built on high-level thinking and productivity. How does quiet contemplation fit into our culture?
Quiet contemplation can be a core strength in the creative, dynamic, productive lives of Stanford faculty, staff, and students. Contemplative practices develop ways of knowing and doing that are essential for solving the world’s problems. By training the mind, inspiring the spirit, and sustaining and caring for the body, contemplative practices cultivate the mindful awareness, compassion, and wise discernment necessary for delivering solutions to challenges facing individuals and societies in our globalized world.
Contemplative practices enable you to be:
- Present — providing what is helpful in any given moment
- Competent — delivering expertise that addresses the challenge
- Creative — opening to possibilities for new solutions
- Compassionate — engaging with and alleviating suffering
- Resilient — relating with complex questions for sustained periods
- Well — caring skillfully for oneself and others while addressing the needs of humanity
A sustainable process for human progress
Contemplative practices offer the experience of what it is to be a human being — not just a human doing. By providing a sustainable process for human progress, with practical tools for daily life that promote professional fulfillment and personal well-being, contemplative practices can help prevent burnout — which is caused by emotional exhaustion, dehumanization, and lack of a sense of accomplishment.
Quiet contemplation reveals the interdependence at the heart of the mind-body-spirit. While the mind strives toward the greater good, time spent attending to the body and inspiring the spirit can renew and sustain the whole mind-body-spirit dynamic.
A model for thinking about mind-body-spirit interdependence is “Survive, Strive, Take Five to Thrive.”
- Survive (mediated by the amygdala and cortisol): feelings of hunger, mortality, threat, anxiety, fear, and anger
- Strive (mediated by the nucleus acumbens and dopamine): feelings of aspiring, wanting, pursuing, and achieving
- Take Five to Thrive (mediated by the prefrontal cortex and oxytocin): feelings of calm, contentment, safety, security, reflection, and connection
Contemplative practices offer tools for conscious, skillful stewardship of the mind-body-spirit that keep the mind present, competent and creative; the body resilient and well; and the spirit compassionate. Direct experience in effectively caring for the mind-body-spirit can illuminate and reveal factors essential for solving individual and societal problems.
Why is it important to quiet the mind?
What occurs during contemplation is an experiential restoration of mind-body-spirit — a return to one’s essential state of being human.
Being part of the shared human story
Being human on a regular basis through contemplative practices — feeling the calm, compassionate, essential nature of the mind-body-spirit — enables us to recognize our membership in the shared human story. In so doing, we can see the essential nature of others, speak heart to heart to them (however difficult that may be in some situations), place ourselves within the answers to questions we research, and embody the behaviors that help solve the problems we aspire to change.
In short, time given to contemplative practices rewards us with the ability to respond wisely and compassionately to the complex questions, crises, and challenges of life.
When the wisdom of the body and spirit partner with the mind, response-ability develops; it is possible to relate and not negatively react in situations that are intra-personally and interpersonally challenging, many of which can arise in the rigorous process of seeking answers to complex questions and solutions to the world’s problems.
How does this occur? When the busy mind quiets, greater partnership with the wisdom of the body and spirit become possible. Working together, the mind-body-spirit can find sustainable solutions to humanity’s problems. The intelligence of the body can ground the mind’s limitless imagination and aspirations. Contemplative practices include skills for developing and learning from the intelligence of the body: for example, the breathing and movement practices of yoga, tai chi, and qigong. Body-based practices offer ways to recognize parameters and possibilities.
By routinely quieting the mind, the calm equanimity and compassion of the spirit is sustained. Meditation trains the mind to step back and listen to the body and spirit. Meditation also develops discernment for how best to relate to a full range of situations.
Beginner’s mind and compassionate competence
Discovering solutions requires the ability to endure the distress of not knowing. While subject-area expertise is essential for solving humanity’s problems, the capacity to step into the unknown with an open, calm, and receptive mind — beginner’s mind — is also necessary. Contemplative practices for quieting the reactive mind offer the resilience needed for effectively managing the distress, confusion, and conflict inherent in pioneering work. Contemplation also cultivates the ability to speak and act with wise, compassionate competence in order to illuminate the unknown, dispel confusion, resolve conflict, and alleviate suffering.
What do you say to those who can’t find the time for quiet contemplation?
Stanford’s program, Contemplation By Design (CBD): The Power of the Pause, illuminates the ease with which contemplation can be part of daily life. Participants in this free annual summit, November 3-11, 2016, experience a wide range of contemplative practices and learn practical skills for P.E.A.C.E.: Pause, Exhale, Attend mindfully, Connect, and Express. CBD sessions also present scientific evidence showing the value of a regular, contemplative pause. Workshops, concerts, and campus walks offer opportunities to enjoy the wisdom, compassion, fulfillment, health, and well-being cultivated by contemplation. See also Thriving with resilience to learn more about daily contemplative practices, including:
- Deep breath: quiets and refreshes the mind between meetings
- Moment of self-compassion: restores resolve during a daunting negotiation
- Pause to reflect on our shared human experiences: enriches empathy during a time of loss for a colleague
- Compassion meditation: sustains equanimity and an open heart while helping to sort out a conflict
- Loving-kindness affirmation: cultivates the spirit and supports service
- Mindful moments in nature: nourishes, replenishes, and delights
Hoover Tower Carillon Concert and Contemplative Pause:
Nov. 4 at Noon
Jane Stanford, 125 years ago, celebrated the power of the contemplative pause as an essential component of university life by centering Stanford around Memorial Church, a sanctuary that welcomes all people into the beauty, quiet, and silence where wisdom can be experienced and compassion cultivated. What better way, then, to celebrate Stanford’s anniversary than by joining with thousands all over campus for its fourth campus–wide Hoover Tower Carillon Concert and Contemplative Pause.