1. What is contemplative?
Contemplation is primarily awareness of the present and to the stirrings of the Divine within and around us. It is the process of awakening, of developing habits of noticing, of experiencing ourselves as part of a larger whole, and of penetrating the illusions beneath what we identify as “self” and “reality”. While contemplation includes silence and solitude, it is not opposed to action in any way.
Thomas Merton describes contemplation as “the highest expression of [human] intellectual and spiritual life. It is that life itself, fully awake, fully active, fully aware that it is alive. It is spiritual wonder. It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of being. It is gratitude for life, for awareness, and for being. It is a vivid realization of the fact that life and being in us proceed from an invisible, transcendent, and infinitely abundant Source. Contemplation is, above all, an awareness of the reality of that Source.”
2.What is contemplative leadership?
Contemplative leadership attends to the inner life of leadership. It provides a critical, and often missing dimension to leadership development. Among other things, contemplative leadership illuminates blind spots, and enlarges one’s capacity for leading into the unknowns of change, while staying grounded in one’s values and purpose. The highest form of leadership arises from the experience of inner stillness and purpose, and an openness of mind, heart and will. Awareness is the essence of a leader’s ‘lead’.
3. How do “contemplative” and “leadership” go together when they seem like opposites?
It is important to acknowledge that contemplative leadership brings together worldviews, perspectives and experiences that seem initially incompatible and incongruent. Yet the very contradictions that are created by contemplative leadership hold a potential to address the leadership crisis found throughout the guiding institutions of our society today. Instead of trying to resolve the questions or resistance in favor of one side or the other, contemplative leadership invites us to move beyond dualistic thinking and to engage the tensions created. Successful leadership today requires a willingness to develop a level of inner growth and awareness capable of meeting the complexity of today‘s world. The promise and opportunity of contemplative leadership evolves as a new consciousness transforms our presence and intentional action in the world.
4. Contemplative leadership has been described as a “socially engaged” contemplative practice. What do you mean?
Again while contemplation often includes silence and solitude, it is not opposed to action in any way. Contemplative practice typically begins with Self (even if practiced within a community) and becoming more aware. With time, we typically become open to transformation of the egocentric self or emotional programs expressed as fear, anger, control, etc. Engaging inner contemplative practice while in the midst of social interactions with others requires practice. Yet the ability to step back in the moment and give sustained attention to one’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors while in the midst of an external experience is a key to activating higher levels of leadership presence and behavior.