Contemplation as a Force for Social Change

Featured in the Garrison Institute Newsletter Autumn 2008


The Garrison Institute explores the intersection between contemplation and engaged action in the world, applying contemplative wisdom to social and environmental change. Our program initiatives on education, environment and trauma care are complemented and enriched by the diverse teachers from around the world who lead retreats here, and whose teachings are conducive to personal and social transformation.

It’s a privilege to have them under our roof, and we took the opportunity recently to ask three of them— Adyashanti, Father Thomas Keating, and Rabbi Sheila Weinberg—about their views on contemplation and social change. Their answers, individually and collectively, offer insights into what one has to do with the other.

Rabbi Weinberg and Father Keating both draw profound connections between contemplative practices in their traditions and mindfulness meditation. The Desert Fathers, the Sermon on the Mount, kabbalah, Hassidism, even monotheism itself, hint at oneness and nonseparation as the ultimate goal and meaning of contemplative practice. Mind and heart, intellect and spirit, the personal and the transpersonal, Abrahamic and Asian traditions, may not be mutually exclusive but are ultimately on converging paths, parts of a larger unity.

Even given their coherent meaning or convergent goals, contemplative practices still don’t make much sense to the ego, because the rational mind finds it impossible to step outside the framework of the self. Contemplation seems to entail some self-annihilation—anatta, no-self, wandering in the desert, the destructive trident of Shiva, the Passion of Christ. Fr. Keating sees in the convergence of contemplative traditions intimations of a higher state of consciousness, beyond the rational one, present in all religions. Adyashanti emphasizes what he calls the transrationality of contemplative practice.

Yet from a transpersonal standpoint that recognizes our interconnectedness, it makes perfect sense. From beyond of the boundaries of self, it’s possible to perceive our interconnectedness, and this is the foundation of compassion, good works, the vow to save all sentient beings, or commitment to social justice.

Adyashanti, Fr. Keating and Rabbi Weinberg all hint that insight into the interconnected nature of reality, achieved through contemplation, is what animates social action, lending the spark of inspiration or flash of insight that can make it transformative. In this issue are excepts from our interviews with them.


Fr. Thomas Keating

An Interview with Father Thomas Keating

"Mindfulness also includes the cultivation of the heart, the need for the heart and mind to work together. Modern science now supports this view...Read more...



An Interview with Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg

 "We teach mindfulness in a Jewish context. We feel it is an authentic interpretation of the traditions of Judaism. Judaism is an evolving civilization, American and modern as well as ancient..."  Read more...




An Interview With Adyashanti

"As our realization deepens, we ultimately end up realizing that we are the whole of humanity. I mean, the whole universe is us..."  Read more...



Upcoming Events

  • Somatic Experiencing Advanced I Training
    Thursday, Feb 18 – Wednesday, Feb 24
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    Learn about the relationship of trauma to various clinical syndromes, further integrate SE theory and practice into the specialty area of the therapist, SE bodywork in working with the different categories of trauma, application of research in the psychophysiology of trauma, the ‘art’ of therapy.
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    Thursday, Mar 3 – Thursday, Mar 3
    Sharon Salzberg speaks with brothers Ali and Atman Smith and their friend and colleague, Andres Gonzalez about their work teaching meditation to inner-city youth