Part I of this series explored what it means to live a soulful life. I ended that post suggesting that Soul Reading can be viewed as a contemplative and active stance in the world and not just a way to approach reading books.
Contemplative action brings together two words that may seem incongruent at first. This is due to the mistaken notion that contemplation is something passive and easy. But it’s neither of those things. It’s a way of activating our hearts and setting our thoughts in order before we act.
The best definition I’ve heard for contemplation, I credit to Ignation spirituality which views contemplation as taking a long, loving, look at the real.
Long implies a commitment of time to our noticing. This is not a glance, glimmer, or pause. It is sustained and engaged in truly seeing and understanding.
Loving, I hope we all know, is hard work. It requires a suspension of judgement, letting go of our desired outcomes, and our ability to accept and offer grace.
Looking at the real is difficult as well. We have so many ways to defend our thoughts and our way of seeing the world that it can be impossible to see the truth sometimes. We fear what the truth may mean – it might mean accepting that some things are unfixable, that some of our actions might be to blame, or that we have to change in uncomfortable ways.
Reading as Contemplative Action
Reading books certainly gives us opportunities to build our contemplative muscles. Indeed, the authors/creators of books, films, plays, music, journalism, and scholarly writing are all begging for us to pay attention to something outside of our experience. Some may even be asking us to experience discomfort in the hopes of changing our hearts and minds, leading to change in the way we do things or take action.
Contemplative action, then, describes a way to exist in the world. It goes beyond just “thinking before acting” to an openness to being changed at all times in fundamental ways.
Contemplative action asks us to consider changing ourselves first, before asking others to change. Our society today is far too quick to turn on its outrage and to lay blame anywhere but at our own feet. Contemplative action can act as a salve to these knee-jerk reactions and put us more in control of our thoughts and, thus, our actions. I explored this a bit in a post-election post last fall titled, Reading and the Soulful Political Life, which lays out a reading strategy for taking a long, loving look at the real before diving into the blame game.
Contemplative action also offers us the grace to consider the right time and place for right actions. We always have time to be intentional with what we are learning and doing. In my post from earlier this year on Kairos I discussed the ancient practice of rule-making and how I adapt this to my life in order to be as intentional as I can with my own time.
And, last, contemplative action demands that we are intentional and mindful in the processes of learning and doing. My movement toward Oneness means that there are certain qualities in my life that I try to pursue and these guide not only my reading, but nearly everything else that I do. They guide the things I put in my rule, on my calendar, and on my reading list.
For all of these reasons and in all of these ways, I view Soul Reading as a contemplative active approach to reading and life. In Part III, I will share how Soul Reading can be practiced everywhere and not just with books.