We adopt an interdisciplinary approach to research and education, drawing on the contemplative traditions, science, technology, the arts and humanities. Our approach to cultivating wellbeing through these activities incorporates ethical principles and scientific empiricism of universal relevance and benefit to people of diverse beliefs.
We want to create a world in which individuals, families and communities thrive, a world transfigured by the contemplative cultivation of kindness, mindful balance and wisdom.
The Ethics of Contemplation
At The Contemplary, our work is guided by a commitment to the belief that attention, in its purest form, is an act of love. That is, the more clearly we attend to the reality of another human being, the more we are motivated to tend to them. This is the deep ethical potential in cultivating attention. A clear vision of ourselves, others and the world around us fosters compassion for those who are suffering, generosity towards those in need, and a fuller awareness of our moral responsibilities.
Ultimately, we suggest that contemplative practice is richer, more profound, and more conducive to one’s own wellbeing when it is treated as an ethical discipline. We think this holds true of all the meditative practices we offer, whether they are aimed at investigating and seeking insight into the true nature of reality, or stabilising and cultivating attention, or fostering virtuous states of mind such as compassion and loving-kindness.
Contemplation, as we see it, is not opposed to action; it is about acting well. It is not a retreat from our involvement in the world, but a preparation for our deeper immersion in it.
At the heart of our mission is the wish to foster a community of people from all walks of life who want to gather and support each other in bringing a contemplative ethos into their lives. This means providing a space where people can practise together, form relationships, and spark conversations. It’s also about the work of moral formation, about recognising that private wellbeing and collective flourishing are not separate pursuits.
We want to put forward the idea that genuine happiness follows from trying to lead a virtuous life, and that cultivating virtue happens in the context of our relationships with others. So we’re interested in creating a community to be a source of meaning and nourishment for those who participate in it. And in this way, we hope that The Contemplary may become a vehicle for grassroots change. If this can be a space where people can be kind, compassionate, and generous towards each other, and then bring that kindness and generosity back into their own homes and into their lives at large, then that would be a very good thing.
Engagement and Outreach
We want to reintroduce the voice of the contemplative into the public sphere. We are inspired by the notion of a ‘contemplative renaissance’, a reassertion of the psychological, ethical and political importance of contemplative perspectives for our times. To that end, we run a program of talks aimed at exploring, questioning and articulating the relevance of contemplation for contemporary life. In particular, we host speakers and panels addressing the root causes of affliction and division in our society. We are interested in contemplative responses to issues such as refugee rights, the waning away of civic trust and the meanness that characterises much of Australian political discourse (to pick just a few).
We are also interested in the applications of the courses in contemplation that we offer to sectors such as education, health and governance. For example, we would love to one day see ethical and emotional intelligence training in schools based on the contemplative cultivation of virtue and pro-social behaviour. Likewise, we see enormous potential for good in offering training in compassion cultivation as a remedy for empathic burnout for workers in the caring professions who encounter suffering on a daily basis.
The Contemplary is a secular organisation. The programs and practices we offer are for people of all religious persuasions and none. But the world’s great contemplative traditions have historically had their roots in religious settings, and many of the teachers we source will have religious affiliations (many will not, too). We do not ask of teachers that they deny or forego their own religious beliefs or philosophical positions, only that they be willing to engage with and teach to an audience maintaining a plurality of secular and non-secular perspectives.
Often the word ‘secular’ is coupled with a tacit denigration of religion. That is not something we endorse. Rather, we want to resist the dichotomies of secular versus religious, science versus superstition. The matter demands more nuance. So we are striving for a kind of middle way. We want to say: ‘if you are disaffected by religion, whether in its institutional forms or in the guise of new-age spirituality, we are speaking to you’. And at the same time, we also want to say: ‘if you are religiously committed, in whatever way, we welcome and embrace you.’ We do not think these are incompatible appeals.
In this vein, we are struck by the etymology of the word ‘secularisation’ itself. According to its Latin root, saecularisatio, the term denotes the return of the religious man into the public world. At the risk of provocation, there is a case to be made for reviving this sense. For in a way it captures the issue at stake: how do we translate contemplative practices and perspectives that may be deeply informed by religion into terms that are palatable and relevant to a secular audience? How is this done without denying the richness of those religious legacies, while maintaining a critical stance towards them? These are live, fragile questions for us that we intend to ask continuously, with frankness and sensitivity.