Where’s the Contemplative???

I wasn’t going to write about the fact that one high profile pagan has recently found himself drawn back to the church because I didn’t think I had anything useful to say and it feels wrong to comment on someone else’s personal spiritual path. However, there is an important issue he raised which I wanted to write a post about because it also coincides with a struggle I’ve been having recently in my own life – the issue is the lack of a contemplative side in modern paganism.

English: Seated Buddha Amitabha statue, west s...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When it comes to the outward life – living ethically and green, doing rituals, community e.t.c, Paganism is doing well. Through the influence of organisations like ADF, there is a renewed commitment among Pagans to searching for historical reality rather than what one wishes happened in the past. But where it falls down is the inner life. Where is the inner transformation aspect that is so key to the most successful world religions? Where is the call for discipline and practices that help to make us into better human beings? Yes meditation does play a part in paganism but it seems little more than an add on – a way to help improve magical ability rather than to truly transform us within. Christianity has a strong contemplative tradition, many eastern religions are centered around the contemplative and meditation and western philosophies like Stoicism and Epicureanism also emphasise the contemplative.

Last weekend I attended a Buddhist monastery for a couple of days. It wasn’t a life changing experience but I did learn a lot and I realised the gaping whole in my own life. Someone, somewhere, needs to work out how to integrate the contemplative into Paganism. And not just as an add on, but as a clearly obvious outgrowth from the underlying philosophies. Perhaps this is a significant contribution that the Naturalistic Pagan community can make to the Pagan world. I don’t know, I’m just thinking out loud, but I do know this…for paganism to grow and continue in the long term, it needs to have the power to change us both inside as well as outside…at a very deep level that is transforming. Most religions seem to either emphasise the outer – the world as something to be celebrated while ignoring the inside. While others seem to emphasise the importance of the inner and usually treat the outer world, and nature, as useless. Does this dichotomy have to be there? Why can’t we have a religion that integrates reverence for the natural world with inner transformation? I know the Spiritual Naturalist Society is doing some brilliant work engaging with the different contemplative philosophies but how does community, ritual and reverence for the natural world fit in as vitally necessary practices there? And for those pagans who do believe in the supernatural, there needs to be some deep philosophical thought on these issues too. We needs to find the answer to the question – Why should we meditate? Is it simply for to make us feel better and therefore its not a spiritual practice but a health practice….or is it for something deeper?

I don’t know the answers to these questions but I put it out there to hear your thoughts…


7 thoughts on “Where’s the Contemplative???

  1. I never thought the contemplative was missing from paganism, but I do understand the pull back to familiar forms. For years after I knew I could not be a Catholic anymore, in times of stress I would reach mentally for the “Hail Mary” or the “Blessed Be.”

    I only rarely do what others would call traditional meditation because I do NOT find a reason for it often. But I sink into a deep contemplative state walking in my beloved NW woods, or sitting on a sea stack watching the sun sink into the Pacific. This puts me back in tune with the nature I consider myself deeply a part of, rather than a being ‘above’ as some religions suggest. It finds my “place” for me and puts me in the flow of the world.

    When I do reach for something akin to what most others define as meditation it is because I am attempting to ‘move’ something/one….because I am committing an intentional magical act of Will to change something. When I do this sort of work, I am not trying to be in the flow of the world, I am trying to CHANGE that flow.

  2. I have to say I don’t find paganism to be lacking in contemplation either. Surely deep contemplation and internal change is the primary goal behind most neopagan rituals? I think the main problem here is that paganism is so diverse that practices and focuses range widely. Some people may need prescribed practices in order to feel satisfied with the contemplative aspects of their spirituality, but paganism is not lacking in these either, what with the many traditions that have developed over the years.

    At the end of the day, I feel that contemplation in religion is deeply personal, and we all find our own way there. I would tend to assume that anyone who feels the need to turn to or return to another religion for this, then paganism was not the best spiritual fit for them.

  3. Actually I would like to add to that that I also think that you can be drawn to two or more religions or spiritual paths at once, and I don’t necessarily think that means that one satisfies a need that another doesn’t. I am all for pluralism and diversity and following your gut when it comes to these things 🙂

  4. Very interesting point brought up . . . I consider myself pagan, however when it comes to the internal I steer more towards influences of Zen Buddhism. Simply because, as you say . . . nothing as sauch exists in the realm of Paganism. Thanks for bringing it to light, I would like to chat about it with a lcoal pagan group Iam invovled with . . .

  5. Reblogged this on Dispatches From Asgard and commented:
    So, apparently I’m not the only one thinking about the contemplative practice that’s sort of missing in any kind of formal capacity in paganism. I think people seem to come to it on their own, feeling the need for that quiet, inner thinking and feeling, that solitude and space that ritual, and even devotional work, just doesn’t fulfill.
    I am taking time and space to think about what changes I want to make in my life, how best to continue my devotional practices, how publicly I want to continue to record my experiences and thoughts.
    Of course I want to be of use, but how to balance that with this craving, this need, to crawl into Loki’s lap, as it were, and ponder the universe on my own for a while?

  6. I believe we do have a stream of mystics and contemplatives within paganism, but that we are all practicing quietly, privately, sharing our experiences only with close allies.
    I have consciously chosen to make a contemplative lifestyle the background of my life instead of the usual family life that most of us chose, and have lived this way for decades. Having modified my needs I can live simply enough on part time work and have been able to structure a life of prayer, devotional polytheism and contemplation, which feeds my work in the world.
    I have encounter others living this path over the years, the ‘hermits’ to use a tarot archetype, and I am sure there are many more out there. It is a path that claims you, an internal flowering of a relationship with Deities, Numina, Genii….secret but not absent 😉

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