Imagine sitting on a river bank close to the water’s edge watching as objects float silently by across your field of vision. The objects seem vaguely related: parts of a house, pieces of luggage, swimmers, boats. All of the objects are distinct. They may not make sense, but they stand out – like symbols.
The place you are sitting, metaphorically speaking, is the border of your conscious, thinking mind and your subconscious, dreaming mind. In this metaphor, you are sitting – you are not moving about, which is to say that you are not cogitating. Your focus is oriented toward the moving water, quietly observing your thoughts as they float by.
Your backpack is sitting next to you. It is filled with the ideas and activities you have been carrying around your entire life. Rummaging through them, you take out an item and set it at your feet between you and the water. Soon, there is a change in the parade of images floating by. You begin to notice that the images that appear in the water are now starting to relate to the object at your feet.
This is what it is like to sit in contemplation. Just as mastering the art of concentration enables us to meditate,so does mastering the art of meditation enable us to contemplate. Contemplation is the province of a skilled meditator,but this does not mean that one cannot slip into contemplation from time to time and derive its benefits. The more you are able to quiet your thinking and still your emotions, the sooner you will be able to experience the contemplative state of mind. But you must first learn to observe without bias. Over-eagerness and fear only cloud the mind and keep you from seeing what is.
The word “contemplate” tells us a little about what it is: con – with + template. A template is a pattern. We place a pattern upon the flowing fabric of the subconscious mind and then let that mind reveal its secrets to us.
The process by which one enters into the contemplative state of mind is a natural one. It cannot be manufactured or forced. The thoughts or activities from your backpack are mere suggestions, not commands. Any amount of determinism on your part will only distort what you see in the water.
In order for this to work, your bias meter has to be set to zero, otherwise your attraction and/or repulsion will keep you from seeing the whole picture. Such equanimity of mind can only be achieved through a consistent practice of meditation, from which contemplation will emerge naturally and in its own time.