Home Leisure & Lifestyle Homo Contemplativus: Exploring the ‘Sacred’ Within

Homo Contemplativus: Exploring the ‘Sacred’ Within

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When I was a kid, my mum used to tell me not to play with my food during meals because it was a “sacred” time. I still remember her saying this because I used to sit at the table and use my cutlery to make little drawings with my food. I’d turn a tomato into a nose, a carrot into cheeks, and a piece of meat into a mouth. I just wanted to make mealtime more fun and less stressful, without having to sit in silence or worry about leaving food on my plate.

Whenever my mum used the word “sacred,” it reminded me of the catechism classes I used to go to when I was eight. Those classes were held in the church, and it was always cold and super quiet. So for a long time, I was afraid of anything that had to do with being sacred. It wasn’t until I left the church that I finally understood what it really meant.

If you look up the word “sacred” in the dictionary, you’ll find that it means something is holy and deserves respect, often because of its connection to God. I have to admit that the phrase “connection with God” caught my attention because my experience with some religions that I’ve been a part of didn’t really reconnect me to God. In my opinion, their excessive dogmatism took away from the true meaning of what is sacred. Instead of helping us connect with God, religare – which is supposed to be the primary purpose of religion –seems to connect us more to the power dynamics and roles that each person plays within the congregation.

The importance of being present in the moment

One day, I became concerned about following all the dogmas of the religion I used to belong to. I realised that I didn’t really know why I was there; I had just become used to it. It wasn’t until I stopped being a passive spectator and started to contemplate things that I began to see the sacredness that had always been inside of me.

To help you understand what I mean, try to imagine the world without one of your senses – like sight, hearing, taste, smell, or touch – for a few seconds. For instance, many people have experienced a loss of taste and smell during the recent pandemic. If that’s happened to you, do you remember how it felt when you finally regained your ability to taste and smell your favourite foods again? It was probably a mix of relief and satisfaction, like being a kid and getting chocolate ice cream all over your face. Or maybe you’ve had ear infections in the past and felt your hearing slowly returning, along with your desire to go outside and play with your friends again.

Don’t worry, you don’t have to get sick to start contemplating life. What I mean is that being full of sacredness is about feeling a transcendent connection – whether it’s with God, people, places, or objects. It’s about the relationships and connections we form throughout our lives that hold value and significance. So, a glass of water can be just a simple glass of water, or it can be a vital substance that nourishes, strengthens, and hydrates our bodies. And what about the sunrise every morning? Have you ever stopped to think that one day, our eyes will close and we won’t be able to appreciate it anymore?

Without being present in the moment, it’s hard to find contentment: that feeling of joy or satisfaction from the small things in everyday life. Unfortunately, the fast pace of daily life has made it difficult for us to be contemplative and connect with the transcendent.

Have you ever considered the fact that you may not truly feel pleasure, because you’re always so busy? It’s something to think about, but with your hectic schedule, I doubt you’ve had the chance to ponder it.

In the grand scheme of things, we’re all just spectators in the ‘Netflix of life’

We often have so many options that we end up choosing none at all. One reason for this may be that we’re relating to the world in a purely rational way, without attaching any meaning to our actions. We simply go through the motions on autopilot, and the pleasure we used to derive from experiences becomes just another item on our to-do list. Whether it’s eating, watching movies, or visiting relatives, we end up consuming pleasure instead of truly experiencing it.

The problem, then, is not pleasure itself, but how we approach it. When life becomes a series of tasks, even enjoyable activities lose their meaning and become mere routines. We go through the motions without realising our true purpose. This lack of sacredness or transcendent meaning can leave us feeling empty inside. We crave something more, something that connects us to the divine.

Some people may say, “I feel empty because I feel alone.” However, the Brazilian Jungian analyst, Dr Waldemar Magaldi, has an explanation for this. He suggests that if we break down the word alone, we get “all-in-one,” which means the totality in one person. This totality refers to the divinity of the sacred that exists within each of us. It’s as if we are a universe full of the presence of God. From this perspective, an individual who is full of sacredness will never feel alone.

What brings you closer to God or the transcendent?

I had a turning point in my life when I was introduced to Mindfulness and its contemplative practices. I came across it during my treatment for Borderline Personality Disorder, where Dialectical Behaviour Therapy was recommended. The practice of Mindfulness in DBT helped me manage my emotional dysregulation.

Mindfulness practices urge us to connect with our senses, which are unique and valuable in their own way. Our senses connect us with everything around us and within us. Mindfulness invites us to observe instead of just seeing, to listen instead of just hearing, to taste instead of just eating, to exhale instead of just smelling, and to experience instead of just touching.

Mindfulness offers practical techniques for various everyday situations, such as concentration and meditation practices designed for the workplace. Personally, loving-kindness, self-compassion, resilience, and stress management techniques have helped me a lot. Currently, I practice cultivating sounds of nature and guided breathing exercises.

Mindfulness skills remind us that it is not enough to merely exist; we must also experience life. We should savour every moment, and approach it with curiosity and openness, just like a child would.

From reflection to contemplation: it’s time to practice

Starting a contemplative practice doesn’t require a specific place, but rather a specific state of mind. This state of mind involves opening your senses to everything around you.

For example, when you wake up in the morning, instead of going through your routine on autopilot, try paying attention to each action:

  • Notice the sound of your breathing when you wake up. Is it a deep breath, a yawn, or just a small inhale? Each breath counts since you’re waking up to a new day.
  • As you get out of bed, feel the temperature and texture of the ground beneath your bare feet. Is it a cold, carpeted floor, creaky wooden planks, or warm porcelain tile? Take each step like a baby taking their first steps.
  • Time for a morning bath! What’s the water temperature and pressure like? Experiment with changing the temperature to feel the different sensations on your skin. Wet each body part separately to feel how it reacts to water pressure. With soap in hand, notice the scent and coloured bubbles in the water. Try different fragrances for unique sensory experiences.
  • What’s for breakfast? Eating mindfully is a time to connect with your food. Put away your phone and pay attention to what you’re eating. Observe the food with curiosity, and notice the smell, temperature, and texture of each bite. Eat slowly, one food at a time, and close your eyes between bites for an even more intense experience. Pay attention to your body’s signals of fullness and stop eating when you’re satisfied.
  • When leaving home for work, try a different route and pay attention to the details. Listen to the sounds of the street, and notice the architecture of the buildings and houses. Take in the nature surrounding your path – are there any animals, insects, plants, or fruits?

How changing your inner self can lead to a new direction in life

Mindfulness is all about approaching life with kindness and curiosity, and constantly opening ourselves up to new experiences. When we view life as a process of self-discovery, everything around us becomes more meaningful and colourful. It’s like going to a store and choosing a new piece of clothing: you’re drawn in by something in the window, and as you run your hands over the fabric and take note of its color, size, shape, and texture, you feel more connected to the clothing before even trying it on. And when you finally put it on, you notice every little detail and it becomes a part of your identity. You feel like it matches who you are.

When we focus on one activity at a time and understand why we are doing it, the action gains more meaning and purpose. It’s not just about doing something for the sake of doing it; it’s about connecting with it on a deeper level. When we do something that truly makes sense to us, it becomes sacred. This is because we feel a transcendent connection to what we’re doing, and when we’re filled with that sense of sacredness, we never feel empty.

Daniela Silva is a freelance writer who specialises in creating educational and mental health content for books, websites, magazines, and teaching materials.

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