Building Contemplative Community Online: An Interview with Jeff Genung

Building Contemplative Community Online: An Interview with Jeff Genung March 27, 2017

A common complaint I hear from contemplatives — especially people new to contemplative practice — is a sense of isolation, of not having a contemplative community. “The leaders in my church just don’t seem to resonate with me,” one budding contemplative recently told me. “I feel like they are disinterested in following this journey that I am on.” Contemplatives, even when actively engaged in their neighborhood church or faith community, often find that they don’t know where to turn to meet others who share their interest in practices like silent prayer or the study of the mystics.

Enter Jeff Genung.

Jeff is the founder of Contemplative Life — a new, interfaith/interspiritual website designed to bring together contemplative practices — and practitioners — from around the world. It’s intended to help anyone interested in contemplative practice to find their “tribe” — teachers, mentors, guides, fellow practitioners, as well as a place where people interested in the contemplative life can learn about different approaches to contemplation from different faiths or traditions.

Contemplative Life Home Page, as of March 2017
Contemplative Life Home Page, as of March 2017

Recently Jeff participated in an email conversation with me to share his vision for Contemplative Life, and how he hopes this website could become a hub for contemplatives around the world to go deeper in their practice and connect with one another — and thereby change the world.

How did your contemplative journey begin?

My contemplative journey began in my youth. I was raised in a devout Roman Catholic family. About the age of 10 deep questions began to arise such as, why is there something instead of nothing, who or what is God, why are we here and what is my purpose in life. I began asking these questions to the important adults in my life.

The answers I got shocked me. I sensed that they were telling me what they believed, read, or heard but that it was not coming directly from their personal experience. It was my first real moment of liberation. I realized that surely these things can be known and decided to go on a personal journey and began asking the universe these questions directly.

Jeff-JeansI became deeply interested in the inner life and deep practice from different perspectives. This set me down a path of spending time in monasteries, ashrams, temples, and working with a variety of different teachers. I wanted to better understand these practices, not just as an academic observer from the outside looking in, but as a practitioner who puts on the practice long and deep enough to receive the gift that is being offered.

What is your daily practice like?

I rise at 5am and begin with a period of lectio divina, sacred readings and reflections from the great wisdom traditions. I then engage in some form of conscious physical exercise to enliven and engage the body. I then sink into 30 minutes of contemplative silence, sometimes preceded with chanting the psalms or reciting invocations. I end my morning practice with a brief period of petitionary prayer and visualizations for the benefit of others.

Periodically I set an aim to work on or observe during the day. I always include reminders throughout the day to help me remember that I am living a great and awesome mystery.

I end each day with a repetition of the prayer of the heart and another period of silence.

As a Christian, can you share how contemplation has blessed / supported your faith in Christ?

The essence of the Christian mystery is the embodiment of love. By living an intentional life that includes daily practice, community, service, sacramental experience, humility and good humor, I see and feel Christ’s love at work within me and around me.

It is said that a monk’s aim is to pray without ceasing. Likewise, as a contemplative householder, I also feel called to a life of prayer. When my life becomes my prayer, then my prayer becomes my life. The grace of contemplation has helped awaken me to the underlying spiritual rhythm that governs all of creation. It has cultivated an increased sensitivity and compassion for the well-being of others.

The sacramental grace of contemplation continues to increase my love for God and for others. Consequently, it moves me closer to fulfilling these two great commandments, the foundation of the faith.

What inspired you to create Contemplative Life?
I have always been interested in the similarities and differences of contemplative experience from diverse points of view. I’ve practiced as a family man, executive, and entrepreneur and worked with children and teens with practices. My work also includes serving as a hospice volunteer and on the board of the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, a pioneer in bringing contemplative pedagogy to higher education.

Through this work I came to realize that everyone is contemplative, but not everyone knows it.  Moreover, everyone has mystical experiences but may not have recognized it at the time.  The main difference of those that have an experience of mystery more continuously from those that have it periodically, is the presence of some kind of deep and sustained practice.

Contemplative Practices. Which one(s) do you practice?
Contemplative Practices. Which one(s) do you practice?

Contemplative practices exist for everyone.  Some of these come from antiquity and have emerged from the great religious traditions, others are more contemporary.  Some are spiritually oriented and others are more secular.  Finding the right practice can be a challenge especially for young people. Questions naturally arise, such as where do I go, what do I do, which practice is right for me personally.

I recognized the need for a central hub that people can go and easily explore practices of interest and connect with others of like mind. Contemplative Life was designed and built with youth in mind, those looking for something authentic, meaningful, and experiential.

How would you describe the site’s mission?

The heart of Contemplative Life’s mission is “connecting people and communities with transformative practices.”

I have seen the impact of deep and sustained practice in my life and in the lives of countless others. It changes people in profoundly beneficial ways — mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It improves well-being and makes people more aware and sensitive to their environment and to the needs to others.

The benefits go well beyond the person practicing. It also positively impacts family, friends, co-workers. If we can help one million or ten million people find their practice and find it sooner, the corresponding impact on society could be absolutely staggering.

How will participating in the site benefit individual users?

Jeff-MeditateThere is a growing body of scientific research documenting the benefits of practices such as meditation and mindfulness.  The list of benefits is impressive and includes the following:

  • Treat ADHD, addiction, high blood pressure, eating disorders, fibromyalgia, and heart conditions
  • Increase creativity, memory and empathy, healing from anxiety, depression, and chronic pain

The right and perfect practice exists for everyone.  They include spiritual and secular practices, mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual practices.  There are practices for young and old, when you are in crisis or when you are in flow.  No matter where you are in your life and journey the right practice exists for you.

Developing a daily practice is as important as regular exercise and a healthy diet.  Similarly, it takes time and discipline to begin.  Understanding that developing a practice is a process, Contemplative Life engages users in three ways.

  1. Information – Contemplative Life offers information on myriads of practices so that you can explore and compare to find the ones that are right for you personally.
  2. Formation – Once you find the right practice you can continue to gain knowledge of that particular method offered by a qualified Practice Leader or mentor.
  3. Transformation – As you continue to sustain and deepen your practice you can also build community with others of like mind, both locally and virtually through the Contemplative Life Community.  You keep the practice and the practice will keep you.

Our vision is to foster a global community of likeminded people that are interested in living a more contemplative life.

How will the site benefit contemplative leaders, communities, or organizations?

Practice Leaders that have done work of deep and sustained practice tend to be older as this work takes years. They are the ones that have the experience and depth to help guide others in practice. However they are also less likely to keep up with digital technology and are often representing themselves in a web 1.0 way.

Contemplative Life curates its content from partners that specialize in transformative practices. They are the experts when it comes to practice. We help them by providing an elegant and interactive platform to share the essence of their practice which enables them to connect with a younger and more diverse audience of users.

How will this site differ from other spirituality websites?

Contemplative Life serves as a central hub for transformative practices, users, teachers, and communities. It brings the myriads of practices under one umbrella and helps users to easily explore and compare these different possibilities and find the ones that are right for them personally. This exclusive focus of utilizing elegant technology to connect people and communities with transformative practices make Contemplative Life truly unique.

Living a contemplative lifestyle is something that intersects all aspects of human life and activity.  This includes work and professional life, as well as our social and family life.  Consequently, the practices and activities associated with contemplative experience takes on a variety of forms that differs widely among people of different cultural and spiritual backgrounds.

We are now seeing people engaging in practices in virtually every aspect of society.  Contemplative lawyers, mindful youth, and seniors are experimenting with meditation.  Universities are studying the effects of contemplative practices on health and medicine as well as studying master meditators to better understand the changes in the brain activity and the scientific benefits of meditation. The right and perfect practice exists for everyone. Contemplative Life can help.

The Vision of Contemplative Life
The Vision of Contemplative Life

What is your vision for the future of the contemplative community (globally speaking)?

Our vision is to foster a global community of people like you that are interested in living a more contemplative life and connecting with others of like mind.

Can you imagine a future where spirituality, science, technology, and medicine are traveling down parallel paths?

Imagine the possibilities of integrating the power of cloud computing, social, mobile, cognitive computing, 3D, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality, genome and mind mapping all for the purposes of creating transformative solutions of mind, body, emotions, and spirit.

Imagine if we could bring wise elders that have depth and experience into the design and engineering process to work with young visionaries that have the design and engineering skills to create tomorrow’s transformative solutions.

We see a grand opportunity for Contemplative Life to create a bridge between older and younger generations, spirituality and science, ancient and contemporary practices; a convergence of people and platforms in the unfolding of interconnectedness of human consciousness.

Contemplative Life can be that meeting ground. Buckle your seatbelts. We’re just getting started.

How can people help? (Both financially and creatively)

Use the platform and share it with others. Recommend a practice, teacher or community (click here to see how you can participate).

Connect with us and share us on social media: Facebook and Twitter.

And like any nonprofit, Contemplative Life relies on the financial support of generous donors (click here to make a tax deductible donation)

Deep and sustained practice transforms people and has profound benefits in the lives that we touch. Contemplative Life belongs to everyone.   Our aim is to help others discover the wonders of practice.

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