Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Flee From the Tree of Contemplative Practices: Run From its Toxic Fruits!

Flee From the Tree of Contemplative Practices: Run From its Toxic Fruits!

The attractive Tree of Contemplative Practices is laden with enticing fruits for contemplative meditators to partake of.  But, beware!  For this is not a tree with fruits one should be snared into sampling, but rather this is a tree that is full of toxic fruits. To find out why please read on!

The Tree of Contemplative Practices: Designed

The TCP was designed by Maia Deurr, an ardent Buddhist, for the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society.  "The center's mission, " writes Deurr, "is to integrate contemplative awareness into contemporary life in order to create a more just, compassionate, and reflective society."

Now, in order to understand the recent explosion of the exploration in society of all things contemplative the center initiated a "Contemplative Net Project" to research why this was happening.  And in the course of this project Maia had the inspiration to use the image of a tree to convey the breath of practices that were being described by research participants.  Maia describes this tree in detail in her paper: "A Powerful Silence" in the section entitled: "The Tree of Contemplative Practices." (pp. 37-42)

*  Click on "A Powerful Silence" to go to paper.

To learn even more about the TCP explore the web site of "The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society" clicking on "Contemplative Practices."  Further click on the TCP where below the tree you will learn about the various branches with their practices listed below each grouping.  Click on an individual practice to find a full description of that practice as well as other links.
http://www.contemplativemind.org/practices/tree  (Updated tree)
(Original tree)

The Tree of Contemplative Practices: Defined

The TCP can be defined as an overview of contemplative practices that one can explore and experi-ence.  And as Maia Deurr, writes in "A Powerful Silence," these practices are intended "to quiet the mind and to cultivate a personal capacity for deep concentration, presence, and awareness."  Deurr continues, "Ideally, the insights that arise from the mind, body, and heart in this contemplative state can be applied to one's every day life."

The question may be asked exactly how these contemplative practices were selected?  Maia gives us insight in her article by stating that eighty-four Contemplative Net interviewees from many faiths were queried about contemplative practices that had proved transformative to them.  From these interviews an ABC list of contemplative practices from Aa as in "Altar building" to Yy as in "Yoga" (hatha, kundalini, siddha) was put together. (p.41)  A second list of contemplative terms to describe qualities cultivated through the use of contemplative practice was also made including such words as awareness, calm, compassion, equanimity, focus, less judgment, mindfulness, presence, and self-knowledge. (p.44)

The Tree of Contemplative Practices: Refined

It is important to note that originally ("A Powerful Silence," p. 38) the TCP lacked foliage, and its main branches as well as its practices were often different from the later more colorful leafy tree.

When comparing the original tree to the updated tree note that several practices from the first tree were eliminated, while others were added.  For example, I noted, that any mention of prayer was eliminated.  On the first tree's Silence Practices Branch "centering prayer" was changed to just
"centering" on the second tree; and on its Generative Practice Branch "the Jesus prayer" was taken out altogether on the updated tree.  On the first tree "sitting and insight meditation" were listed, whereas on the second three this is now simply "meditation."  Another obvious omission on the updated Ritual/Cyclical Branch was "building an altar."  "Mantra meditation" was gone too.

New to the updated tree on the Generative Branch was "beholding; " and on the Ritual/Cyclical
Branch we see "retreats."  Note the latter branch also eliminated specific rituals as "Shabbat," "Vision Quest," and "The Sweatlodge" which were all found on the original tree.

Overall, it's apparent that from the refined tree some overtly religious wording was removed.  This would have made the tree, it would seem, more user friendly to secular schools and settings.  But be warned, whichever tree one uses each is dangerously deceptive from its fruits to its roots. 

Speaking of making practices more palatable for all, Maia shares how changing the wording about a particular practice helped people feel more comfortable, or placated resistors.  For example, one teacher used "strategies for learning readiness," rather than "contemplative practices."  Another used "writing exercises," instead of "journaling."  Still another said "stretching" instead of "yoga." ("P. of Silence," p.116)

The Tree of Contemplative Practices: Just for Me Tree!

Over and over the TCP user is encouraged to run off a blank tree, and to design your own tree so as to open up yourself to even more experimentation and contemplation.  In other words, pick your own fruits, and do your own thing to reach fulfillment.  This reminds me of best-selling author Thomas Moore's latest scheme of crafting your own religion.  Judges 21:25b also comes to mind, "... every man did that which was right in his own eyes."

The TCP Roots: Behind the Design

Maia Deurr, the tree's designer, is a change agent as well as a Zen Zealot, who was the director of Upaya Zen Center Chaplaincy Training Program, and is now part of Upaya's "Engaged Buddhism Faculty."  She's also part of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, and was editor and director of Turning Point magazine.  Besides, she was the research director at the Center for the Contemplative Mind in Society when she created the TCP.  Presently, she writes a blog, "Liberated Life Projects" with such articles as "The Liberated Life Guide: How to Meditate."

For even more on Maia, and the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society see 2009 Lighthouse Trails article: "Efforts Underway to Train U.S. Military Chaplains and Personnel in Eastern Mysticism."    http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blog/?p=421

Just the title of Deurr's blog, "Liberated Life Projects," reminds me of verses that tell us where to find freedom, happiness, and liberty and it is not in contemplative meditative practices; but rather the Scriptures say, "... and you will know the truth, and the truth shall set you free."  (John 8:32)  It further says, "Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."  (John 8:36)  For as Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and life ...!"  (John 14:6)

The TCP Roots: Below the Tree

The TCP roots--communication/connection and awareness--symbolize the two intentions that are the foundation of all contemplative practices.  The goal, says the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, is to go beyond the individual practices so as to build new practices that are being created in secular contexts.

The TCP Fruits: On the Tree

Ripe for the picking these diverse practices tempt the user to experiment to try to find the perfect fit.  And many are experimenting with this tree from educators to spiritual directors, from doctors to lawyers, from business people to contemplative pray-ers, from compassionate society members to interfaith forum members, from those into oneness to those into matrix harmonics, and the list goes on.

What exactly are some of the "meditative fruits" we are invited to sample?  Let's unpack a few.

Bearing Witness: (Activist Branch): is a powerful form of activism which, it's claimed, helps other people understand and respect each other.  Root: Buddhism  Example I:  Retreat for Zen Peacemakers  Example II: From "The Buddha Blog" Maia Deurr's "An Introduction to Engaged Buddhism" (Turning Wheel, Summer/Fall 2008).  Deurr wrote, "Socially engaged Buddhism is a dharma practice that flows from the understanding of  .... the interdependence of all life.  It is the practice of bodhisattva (enlightenment being) vow to save all things. ..."

Beholding Mindfulness: (Generative Branch): is allowing the world to appear to us and to allow ourselves to experience embodied connectedness.  It's also allows us to have the freedom and space to explore our own thoughts without judgment.  Another definition is:  "the level of awareness that is one step deeper than seeing."  Roots:  Eastern Meditation, Buddhism  Example I: Joan Ziegler's
"Seeing: A Contemplative Pedagogy (For Contemplative Practices in Higher Education at Smith College).
Example II:  Book: Contemplative Practices in Higher Education (2013) by Daniel Barbezat and Mirabi Bush (Chapter 7: "Senses: Deep Listening and Beholding"). Example III:
"The Eye and Ear of Beholding" with "An Evening of Mindfulness Practice, Dialogue, and Exploration with Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD (UMass Medical School).

Centering:  (Stillness Branch):  is a meditation technique allowing you to focus on yourself and the present to become whole, and aware especially useful at times of upset/excitement.  Roots: All Meditative Traditions  Example I:  "Focus on Breathing Instructions" at eHow.com.  Example II:  Links on Contemplative Mind in Society to Using Yoga as a Centering Practice  by Kelly McGonigal (Open Mind, Open Body).

Lectio Divina: (Generative Branch): is deep contemplative reading of any revered text with steps of reading, reflecting, expressing, and resting.  Root: Catholicism  Example I:  Barbezat and Bush's recent book (See "Beholding") contains secularized steps (or what I'd call "Secular Lectio") to use in reading various texts.  These steps include: literal, metaphorical, moral, and mystical.  Example II: You Tube Video on "Lectio Divina in Classroom Poetry" with Dr. David Scott Simpson, Educational Specialist in Technology and Innovation in Education, Rapid City, SD.  Simpson, at the video's conclusion, sums up a lectio poetry session by explaining that a poem is not to be dissected like some sort of a puzzle; but rather it can be experienced through adapted lectio steps which help the participant to avoid any dualistic, black/white, or either/or thinking but instead to promote both/and thinking sharing nonjudgmental thoughts with the group.

Loving-Kindness Meditation: (Generative Branch): is a practice taught by the Buddha to develop the mental habit of selfless or altruistic love.  Root: Buddhism  Example I:  "Ways of Arousing Feelings of Loving-Kindness" through visualization, reflection, and auditory means with a mantra.
(From  Buddanet.net)  Example II:  Jack Kornfield's "Meditation on Lovingkindness": Walt Whitman quote: "I am larger and better than I thought.  I did not know I had so much goodness."  Parts: Center
self.  Love yourself.  Watch breath; say a mantra.  Picture yourself as .... Do more mantra repetition; picture a benefactor.  Continue this cycle.  (From "Spirit Rock")

Tonglen: (Generative Branch)*: is Tibetan Buddhist meditation practice for giving and taking or sending and receiving.  This is done on the "in-breath by imagining taking on the sufferings of others, and on the out-breath giving happiness and success to all sentient beings."**  Root: Buddhism  Example I:  H. H. The Dalai Lama is said to practice Tonglen every day saying it gives him peace of mind helping him to be more effective.  Example II:  Pema Chodron teaches "How to do Tonglen" in various venues sharing with TV personalities as Bill Moyers and Oprah Winfrey.
*   Tonglen on "original" or "leafless" TCP.
** sentient:  one who has the faculty of perception; a sentient being

Walking Meditation: (Movement Branch): is a contemplative practice where close attention is paid to walking being mindful of the muscles of the body, the placement of the feet, balance, and motion.
Root: Buddhism  Example I: "Walking Meditation Practice" by Steven Smith.
Example II: Egreen-way.com articles "Walking Meditation: Bibliography, Quotes, Links, Information, Notes, Resources, Methods and More" by Michael P. Garofalo, M.S.

Yoga: (Movement Branch): is, according to yogajournal.com a word which means "to yoke or bind, and is often interpreted as 'union,' or a method of discipline." Roots: Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism  Example I:  From yogajournal.com in "Yoga" by Cyndi Lee author of Om Yoga :  Lee describes the Yoga Sutra  which lists 195 statements that serve as a guidebook as well as the eight limbs of yoga that's practiced today.  Most people today, Lee says, practice the third limb--asana or Hatha Yoga.  Hatha Yoga is designed to enable the practitioner to purify the body achieving physical strength and stamina needed for long periods of meditation.  Lee emphasizes that yoga is unlike stretching or fitness, for physical practice is but one part of yoga.

Example II: About.com in "What is Yoga?" Ann Pizer writes, "Yoga is said to be for the purpose of uniting the mind, body, and spirit."  She continues, "How can this be achieved?  Meditation is one way."  Pizer stresses that yoga is based on Patanjali's sutras most of which are more concerned with mental and spiritual well-being than with physical activity!

For More Yoga Info:  Read former New Ager Marcia Montenegro's excellent article: "Yoga Alliance Shows its Hindu Teeth." 

Two Trees to Flee: The Tree of Contemplative Practices and The Eight Limbs of Yoga Tree! 

Yoga: Example III:  "Eight Limbs of Yoga Poster Trees:"  A look at these Yoga tree posters  clearly illustrate exactly where yoga leads ...  for from the first "Yamas Limb" to the last "Samadhi Limb" yoga is designed to help you achieve Samadhi!! (bliss that defies description, absorption, union). 

The Tree of Contemplative Practices: Same Fruits in Churches 

One Lutheran Minnesota church has designed its very own "Spiritual Practice Tree" saying it is rooted in "God."  But, even though some of the fruits of this tree are acceptable, one can note that it has many of the very same fruits as the TCP. 

But, so as not to single out this church, one can find denomination after denomination, church after church, pastor after pastor, and person after person who are indulging themselves in many of these contemplative fruits and calling them "Christian." And when you see an organization, church, or person reaching out for these fruits beware for these are unscriptural fruits of man's own making of which we aren't to taste or sample.  For as Proverbs 1:28-33 says, "... For they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD: they would have none of my counsel: ...  Therefore they will eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices ...  But whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from the fear of evil."  And Proverbs 2:6 tells us, "For the LORD giveth wisdom, out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding."  In short, it's not the wisdom of the centuries contained in meditative methods, nor the wisdom or goodness within ourselves, but it is the Lord from whom we can gain wisdom and understanding to achieve success in life.

To get to the root of real tree truth read this outstanding Herescope article "Two Trees" which contrasts "The Tree of Contemplative Practices" to "The Tree Planted by the Rivers of Water."

The Tree of Contemplative Practices: Same Fruits in Education 

The Center of Contemplative Mind in Society has been very busy suggesting that educators at every level check out the TCP to get them started on the contemplative path.  Just a quick look at the society's facebook page revealed a TCP almost immediately.

Additionally, the TCP is being praised, and pictured on college web sites from Buddhist Naropa University in Colorado to Cornell University in New York.  A very recent July 2014 article from Cornell shows the TCP picture posted on a Cornell Chronicle article by Carly Hodes entitled:
"Contemplative Practices Boost Creativity in Problem Solving.
A second article by Rodney R. Dietert: "Integrating Contemplative Tools into Biomedical Science Education and Research Training Programs" also features the TCP.  Beside the tree it states, "Practices illustrated in the branches help nurture increased self-awareness and access to information."

Washington State University also posts the original TCP on its "Spirituality" web page touting that this tree can help relieve stress and promote equanimity.  The blurb over the tree recommends that one find a fruitful practice, and then branch out to another practice within that grouping.

And a University of Massachusetts site features TCP image which says this tree had inspired an upcoming "Contemplative Practices Resource Fair" with such exhibitors as the Boston Maum Meditation Center, Center for Mindful Self-Compassion, Shambhala Boston, UMass Boston Zen, and YogaCaps Inc. among others.

These are but a few samples of where the TCP has been featured in collegiate settings to integrate contemplative practices into the classroom of future teachers of our children, and grandchildren.  And because contemplative pedagogy is making such great advances into our educational system now is the time to passionately warn others that a "Mindfulness Tsunami" or a "Meditation Tsunami" is poised to enter, or has entered a school or college near you!  And understand, now, as one mindfulness public school teacher said, "There is a quiet revolution going on!"

Yes, there's a quiet revolution that has crept into our churches and schools and workplaces under the guise of contemplative practices as exemplified in this tree.  Truly, "The Tree of Contemplative Practices" is designed to be a meditative portal into cultivating an awareness and development of one's inner wisdom, and/or divine/God.  Oh, that we'd all awaken to how ungodly, and idolatrous are these meditative fruits.  Once again, in conclusion, I'd warn--flee this tree for from its roots to its fruits it is toxic!

Learn to Discern Granny Verse:  II Corinthians 6:17



  1. Granny, please mail me saskatoonstephen@gmail.com. Want to ask a favour, please. Blessings!

  2. Thank you so much. Your works are fantastic and very useful for all of us. We are waiting for your next post. Thank you.
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  3. Wow, this is amazing. Had not come across this before. I don't think I've ever been called a "Zen Zealot." You are of course entitled to your opinion, which I'm not going to argue with. Contemplative practice has been a source of nourishment for me and many others, but if you find it toxic, so be it.

    I'll just note a few corrections that need to be made -- please spell my last name correctly, "Duerr," and the publication I once edited for the Buddhist Peace Fellowship was called "Turning Wheel," not "Turning Point."

    Speaking of peace, peace to you.

  4. I am currently reading an historical fiction entitled A Column of Fire taking place in England and France in the 1500's -- "protestants" were heretics to the catholic hierarchy and treated thusly...so, Maia, put on your ZZ cape.

    1. it's been on since I read this post ; )