The Tree of Contemplative Practices

Too often, it seems to me, people limit their idea of contemplation and mindfulness to a single spiritual activity: meditation. Sitting meditation, to be precise.

This can be frustrating for people who don’t have the time or the patience to develop a regular practice of meditation. And let’s be honest—who does?

Now add to that differences in personality types and learning styles. Try to imagine a extraverted kinetic learner sitting silently for an extended period. Or anyone with ADHD.

And perhaps almost ironically, as an Myers Briggs intuitive introvert who spends a lot of time sitting alone and pondering “life’s persistent questions,” the idea of a regular spiritual practice of sitting silently in solitude seems a bit of a stretch to me.

After a day of reading and writing and answering emails alone—almost all done while sitting—I’m ready to get up and do something!

So while there are a lot of benefits to having a regular meditation practice—lower blood pressure, decreased stress, enlightenment—there are plenty of drawbacks to the perception of meditation as a one-size-fits-all approach to spiritual growth.

Which brings me to one of my favorite resources for expanding people’s notion of what constitutes a contemplative practice. The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society has, for the past two decades, “been dedicated to supporting transformation and engaged action for all through contemplative practices.”

And they have a beautiful visual metaphor for this engagement: the Tree of Contemplative Practices (concept & design by Maia Derr; illustration by Carrie Bergman).

Activist Practices

  • Pilgrimage to areas where social justice issues are highlighted
  • Work and Volunteering
  • Vigils and Marches
  • Bearing Witness2012-tree2-800x810v2

Creative Practices

  • Contemplative Arts
  • Improvisation
  • Music and Singing
  • Journaling

Generative Practices

  • Lectio Divina
  • Visualization
  • Beholding
  • Loving-Kindness Meditation

Movement Practices

  • Labyrinth Walking
  • Walking Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Dance
  • Qigong
  • Aikido
  • Tai Chi Chu’an

Relational Practices

  • Council Circle
  • Dialog
  • Deep Listening
  • Storytelling

Ritual/Cyclical Practices

  • Ceremonies and Rituals based in Spiritual or Cultural Traditions
  • Establishing a Sacred/Personal Space
  • Retreats

Stillness Practices

  • Meditation
  • Quieting the Mind
  • Silence
  • Centering

From a congregational perspective, this list is a goldmine for possible areas to expand the spiritual growth strand of adult faith formation. While not a check list per se, it’s a great starting point for planning.

What’s more, many of these practices spill out of the sphere of the personal and into the arena of the communal, which is one of the main gifts congregations can offer spiritual seekers. Vigils and marches, music and singing, dance, storytelling, ceremonies and rituals—all can be infused with spiritual oomph when seen as one of the branches on this tree.

I also like that the ceremonies and rituals are based in spiritual or cultural traditions. In addition to offering spiritual seekers a communal experience, religious traditions also offer just that—a tradition.

Exploring spiritual growth as part of a tradition just may be what many of the “spiritual but not religious” and “nones” in our culture need. They might not know it…yet.

Approaching contemplative practices and spiritual growth from this perspective almost guarantees a congregation will offer at least some options beyond the usual adult religious education classes.

3/27/2015: Post updated to reflect the contributions of Maia Duerr and Carrie Bergman.


6 thoughts on “The Tree of Contemplative Practices

  1. I have enjoyed this tool for years, too, long before I met Maia Duerr, who is credited with the concept and design. Would be nice (and fair) for her to receive a nod in your post. Thank you for helping spread the word about this lovely concept.

  2. Hi Phil (and Karin!),

    Thanks so much for reflecting on the Tree here on your blog, lovely to find it here! I’d love to hear how yours and other congregations make use of the Tree… it was always meant to be a living tool, adaptable to the needs of various groups.


    • You’re so welcome, Maia! I’m glad Karin reminded me that I should give credit where it’s due. The Tree is a great resource and I’ll keep you posted about how congregations use it.

  3. Pingback: The Tree of Contemplative Practices | Phillip Lund | West Fork Unitarian Universalists

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