People often confuse contemplation and meditation. While closely related, they really are different practices involving different faculties of the mind.
Merriam-Webster defines each as follows:
- Contemplation: (1) the act of thinking about spiritual things; (2) the act of looking at or thinking about something for some time.
- Meditation: To engage in mental exercise (such as concentration on one’s breathing or repetition of a mantra) for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness.
Meditation involves resting the mind, and gently steering it back to a resting state when it does wander. Sometimes there are objects of meditation, such as the breath, but even then the notion is one of focusing awareness on the object – one might say meditation is a more passive exercise. On the other hand, contemplation involves actively holding something in mind for some time, allowing various truths or realizations to reveal themselves. It’s important to note that contemplation is not intellectualization or thinking things through. There is no personal bias or judgement applied – just focused probing into the nature of the object. Contemplation is focused attention on the object with an attitude of “I don’t know”, not applying logic, preconceived notions, or the application of mental tools. As the wise say, “I don’t know” is a tremendous possibility of discovery.
The other difference between meditation and contemplation is the environment of the practice. As widely known, meditation should be practiced in a peaceful setting, in a seated position and in a given posture – still and silent. However as it happens, contemplation can be practiced anytime, anywhere, even while carrying on with normal activities such as driving.
One might ask what the purpose of each of these practices are. Meditation is a self-development practice which brings mental, spiritual, and physical benefits to the practitioner. Contemplation is a mechanism by which a spiritual (or really any discipline) seeker begins to probe the ultimate truths within creation, or nature.
But here’s the interesting part – in order to truly contemplate effectively, the mind needs to be honed and the necessary mental space needs to exist. Only then will the contemplative focus be laser-like, and so allow the truths of the object to reveal themselves. And how do we train such a mind? By meditation! So as it happens, the two go hand-in-hand.
Living a contemplative life is really the secret behind life’s wisdom. And meditation sets the stage, bringing a balanced foundation for effective contemplation.
Check out this link on the difference.