Thoughts on the symbol I use for contemplation – describing the act and traits of contemplation

Over the years an image kept appearing in my head.  It revolved around contemplation and the awareness of the world.  It developed over a long period of time (about 20 years).  Why it began to appear in my mind I cannot say.  But, it has stuck and has developed quite a lot of meaning to me.  Its not uncommon for me to use it as a ‘guide’ to help me as it became a representation of the ‘act’ of contemplation and the general stance of contemplation.

Interestingly, I have always had difficulty defining contemplation.  It seems to continually change and never remains constant.  Not only that, I’m always saying new things about it.  This has made it so that I, oddly enough, am always having to redefine and rethink what contemplation is.  As a result, contemplation is a varied and changing quality.  I would say that, in general, contemplation has qualities such as these:

  • It is an ordered state of mind, a ‘controlled consciousness’, so to speak.  It is something ‘practiced’ and performed by someone.  In many ways, it is an exercising of certain qualities of the mind to create a different perception of the world and self awareness.  As such, contemplation can be compared to an exercise.
  • Contemplation has become a particular stance in life, a way of looking at the world.   This tendency, I think, is natural if one practices contemplation.
  • I tend to feel that certain people are inclined to practice a contemplative attitude and way.  In other words, contemplation is often a reflection of a specific type of character.  This makes it very person-specific.  People who are not inclined to it do not do it and generally can’t understand it.   

“Contemplation” is actually a form of prayer in Christianity.  I learned it when I wanted to become a monk.  I wanted to join the Camaldolese Benedictine or Carthusian Order (both are hermit orders). I was particularly fond of contemplation as taught by Pseud0-Dionysius, “The Cloud of Unknowing”, St. John of the Cross, Brother Lawrence, and Miguel Molinos, among others.  These generally taught a mysticism, of an ‘unknowingness’ of god, a dominant theme of being aware of god as the base of everything, as well as a wordless expression of love.  This is something that I seemed to take to quite easily, almost instinctively.

After I decided not to join a monastery I still continued to practice it, but in an altered form.  This shows, I think, that contemplation somehow ‘spoke’ to me as a person . . . it was something I was compelled to do, not because of religion or belief but because “I” needed it for some reason.  Over the years it continually changed and has now gone in a whole other direction than the original Christian contemplation becoming, in some way, something totally different.  Despite this, I still continue to call it “contemplation”, which it, in actuality, really is one the whole . . . its just changed abit.

Contemplation led me onto things such as shamanism (where the symbol first appeared – see below) which even made it go further from Christian mystical prayer and is something totally different.  I’ve written about shamanism in other articles in this blog (for example, see “A time when shamanistic ‘journeying’ scared me . . . I thought I was going mad: questioning shamanism – the ‘belief show’” and “Thoughts on defining shamanism: an ‘active belief system’“).


The act of contemplation can be described by Pseudo-Dionysius in his book ‘Mystical Theology’:

“. . . dear Timothy, in the diligent exercise of mystical contemplation, leave behind the senses and the operations of the intellect, and all things sensible and intellectual, and all things in the world of being and nonbeing, that you may arise by unknowing towards the union, as far as is attainable, with it that transcends all being and all knowledge. For by the unceasing and absolute renunciation of yourself and of all things you may be borne on high, through pure and entire self-abnegation, into the super-essential Radiance of the Divine Darkness.”

I found myself doing this, almost as if by nature, by an event that took place in about 1990 (I’ve written about this event in various other articles in this blog).  I took a walk, by myself, into the woods.  While there I felt what I called the ‘presence’.  It was a sense of a ‘something’ about me that seemed ‘alive’.  I found myself yearning for this ‘presence’.  Almost, as if by nature, I would do what Pseudo-Dionysius describes.  I would focus my mind on the ‘presence’ and as if ‘forget’ about everything and myself.  The ‘presence’ became the focal point of my attention and being.  I found myself “lost” in this ‘presence’.  This act is basically contemplation.


The symbol which has developed, is this:

Contemplation symbol

The slow development of this symbol is quite revealing in what contemplation means and why specific things represent what they do.  I think it also shows the natural tendency, when dealing with mystery, of assigning ’emblems’ or ‘symbols’ for things of a mysterious nature.  This tendency seems innate as people have been doing it since the beginning of time all over the world.

The first image that appeared to me was, I believe, in the mid-90’s or thereabouts.  It appeared during my “very” shamanistic days, where I’d sit for long periods of time in the woods and ‘shamanize’ (or, at least, try to).  During these times, it often seemed that I bordered on madness.  Because of this ‘shamanizing’ something like a mythology appeared about the world and how it worked, as often seems to happen with shamans.  Since this mythology is personal in origin I speak of this as ‘personal mythology’.  In many ways, this symbol is an offshoot of that personal mythology.

It was during one period of ‘shamanizing’ that this image flashed through my mind:

Contemplation symbol_tree

I knew almost automatically what it meant.  It is based on the mythology that had appeared during that time.  The two half circles represents the image of the ‘great tree’, as I called it (the top being the leaves, the bottom the roots, the center is the trunk).  To me, the ‘great tree’ held the world together.  It holds two opposites together (represented by leaves and roots) and kept them in their place.  I first saw it in a shaministic journey dream and was surprised that this same image was common in shamanism.  The two circles represented who I call the ‘great parentage’, namely the mother and father in nature.   It also has representation of opposites as well, as the tree reflects opposites as do the mother and father.  As I reflect on it now, it almost has a yin-yan quality though I didn’t see it that way then.  I often was struck how this image resembled a face (two eyes and a nose) and felt that was part of its symbology (the “face of existence”, of god).

Often, when I went in the woods to sit down I often got a stick and made this symbol in the ground.  In that way, it was almost like a ‘symbol of what I was there for’.  Often, I’d sit and look at it reflecting on its meaning.  As a result, I began to see more meaning and representation in it.  No doubt, it led on to the greater elaboration of it and the ongoing symbols that would develop, as described below.

Over time, the representation of the ‘tree’ also became a representation of the self, as my growing mythology compared the self to a ‘tree’.  Just like the ‘great tree’, the self had to keep opposites together and maintain an integrity.  In this way, we are “kin” to the ‘great tree’, performing a similar function.  This made the symbol a representation of something about the self.  In other words, instead of seeing the world in it I also saw my self.  The more I saw the self in it the more it began to represent my self’s association with the world and, with this, the symbols began to grow and the symbol grew more complex.  In this way, the symbol began to represent contemplation.  This reveals some meaning in the nature of contemplation, that contemplation is, in actuality, a form of relationship between ones ‘personal self’ with the  ‘self of the world’ (meaning ‘existence’ or god).  This, in fact, may be the best definition of contemplation.  With this we can see three phases in the symbols development:

  1. The symbol as the world (the ‘great tree’ and ‘great parentage’).
  2. The symbol as self.
  3. The symbol as self’s association with world . . . contemplation.

With this, we can see that the symbol has developed a great depth and meaning through time.

At first, I thought the initial image just ‘appeared’ but, one day, I happened to look at one of my hats.  On it was a patch of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers (SNAME).  I bought this hat from SNAME in the mid-1980’s when I wanted to be a Naval Architect.  I always had a great fondness for this patch (and still do).  Here is the emblem of SNAME:

Very prominently, in the middle, is the ‘midships’ symbol:

This symbol is used on ship plans to represent the center of the ship.  I knew that this symbol had a bearing on the symbol I developed as the similarity is more than obvious . . . the similarity is too striking.

Not only that, I have always felt my interest in ships has a relation to contemplation.  This is because contemplation, in some respects, is like being in a ship passing through existence and the mystery of life in ways such as this:

  • A ship on the sea can be compared to the self in existence.
  • Both the self and a ship travel in a far greater element (the sea and existence).  That is to say, they are as if specks in the element that they travel.
  • In both, a person is ‘enclosed’ and separated from the element that it is in.
  • In a ship one is aware of ones ship very prominently and in contemplation one is aware of ones self in existence.

In this way, even the origin of the symbol shows a ‘hidden meaning’ behind it that is quite revealing.

Interestingly, this symbol would reappear again when I became interested in Heraldry.  I, for fun, created my own coat of arms.  This is what I came up with (click to see):

Coat of Arms – Mike Michelsen

In this symbol I have shown a stylized symbol of a tree of which half is in the earth (below) and the other half in the air (above).  The tree, of course, represents the great parentage and the self.  This shows that this symbol had great meaning to me.  I also like to compare it to a keyhole, as if it is opening into a ‘new world’.  The motto (“Character first”) refers to the idea of maintaining ones self as a person in the world (character = self-in-the-world).


Each part of the symbol has a meaning and represents something.  These are shown below:Contemplation symbol_notation

Each part describes a specific function that is important in contemplation.  These are:

  1. The ‘Firmament’/Mystery.
  2. The “Presence”. 
  3. The “Passion”. 
  4. The “Emptiness”.
  5. The “Duality”. 
  6. The “Self”. 
  7. The “Ember”/Beingness.

All these elements, together, make up contemplation.


 Contemplation symbol_firmament

The “firmament” represents the unknown, that which we cannot nor will ever know.  It is, in effect, mystery and represents the unknowingness of life.  It, therefore, represents that which is ‘beyond us’, and ‘beyond human’.

Because the “firmament” is ‘beyond us’ we tend to disregard it.  There’s often a tendency  to completely neglect it.  But a big part of contemplation is being aware of it.  In other words, “I must know that I cannot know”.   This entails an ‘acknowledgement’ and ‘awareness’, which much be done regularly, that there is the unknown and that one will never know.


Contemplation symbol_presence

This is a ‘sense’ of ‘something’ about us.  It is, really, the presence of god.  But, more importantly, it is a presence of something ‘living’ about us (which I call ‘living existence’), not that something is ‘just there’ (which I call ‘dead existence’).  This may sound trivial but it is very significant and critical.  Because of this, the ‘presence’ is often perceived as a person or a being.  Often, it has a quality of a parent, of something watching over us and protecting us.

In some respects, the ‘presence’ is a sense of the ‘firmament’ as ‘living’.  The ‘firmament’, by itself, is just a sense of mystery.  The ‘presence’ is much more than that but there are times when they blend together and become the same.

Interestingly, it is the feeling of the “presence”, in about 1990, that actually changed my life and turned me into a contemplative.  This little “sense” made one of the greatest impacts on my life.  This shows the power of the ‘presence’ and its importance.  In actuality, the ‘presence’ is the beginning and end of contemplation.  One could say that there are three stages in contemplation:

  1. One begins contemplation by becoming aware of the presence. 
  2. In becoming aware of the presence one goes through the ‘battle of contemplation’ which consists of the transformation and growth of the self (which are reflected in the symbols below) and the establishing of a relationship between ones ‘personal self’ and the ‘self of the world’ (meaning ‘existence’ or god).
  3. As a result of the ‘battle of contemplation’, and the growing relationship, one begins to become closer to the ‘presence’. 

In this way, one as if makes a great circle going ending where one began.  Of course, this circle never ends and continues on.


Contemplation symbol_passion

I often describe this as the ‘force’ or ‘energy’ that moves things.  It is what I call the ‘livingness’ in life.  This sense is very important as contemplation is not just an awareness but an ‘absorbing of passion’ as well.  In many ways, this ‘absorbing of passion’ is what causes a transformation of self.

Notice how the passion flows from outside the presence to outside again.  This shows that it is a “mysterious force” which seems to have no beginning or end.  It is just there.

There are really two forms of ‘passion’:

  1. The ‘passion of existence’.  This is the ‘passion’ that moves the world and is perceived as removed from us and separate.   
  2. The ‘passion of the self’.  This is the ‘passion’ within us, that has origin in us, and moves through us.
  3. The ‘passion of unity’.  This is the ‘passion’ of ‘existence’ and ‘self’ unified and as if one.  This shows, in effect, that the two former ‘passions’ are related and there’s a point where they are the same.

All these must be sought and ‘absorbed’.  That is to say, they must become a part of ones self and who one is.

‘Passion’ becomes more apparent as one becomes more aware of the ‘presence’.  Basically, the ‘presence’ begins to grow ‘dead’ and inanimate.  This can become one of the great struggles of contemplation.  In actuality, one is finding that the ‘presence’ is only a ‘doorway’, a signpost, to something else . . . it leads to ‘passion’.  This requires one to seek, and find, ‘passion’.

‘Passion’ can be experienced as a feeling or emotion at first.  Its often described as ‘love’ in Christian contemplation.  There is truth in this and one can often begin by feelings of love.  But to restrict ones self to a specific emotion or feeling restricts ones contemplation.  One must look beyond emotion or feeling.  This is because ‘passion’ is not a feeling or emotion, though it can cause these.  ‘Passion’, to me, is deeper, coming from the depths of the self.

Interestingly, ‘passion’ describes a ‘hunger’ or ‘need’ or ‘want’ or ‘poverty’.  As living things we are always in want of something, be it air, food, experience, meaning or what not.  In other words, ‘passion’ reflects want.  We are always in some form of need or want AND we always need to have it satisfied.  In other words, we always feel ‘lacking’ in some way.  This sense of ‘lacking’ causes a “want” to end the ‘lacking’.  This “want” is essentially ‘passion’.  Because of this ‘passion’ can be described as having these qualities:

  1. A lacking.  This is a feeling that we are need of something.  This feeling is so strong that we feel it at least part of the time.
  2. A want.  This is the desire to satisfy what is lacking or, in other words, the desire to not be lacking any more.
  3. An object.  This is the “something” that will satisfy the want and, as a result, end the lacking.

So we see that ‘passion’ is a desire to get rid of a feeling we always have (the ‘want’) which originates in a feeling that something is missing in us (the ‘lacking’).  To put it another way, ‘passion’ is the continual seeking or questing to try to become “whole”.  Since we never do become “whole” it is an ongoing never-ending questing.  No “one thing” can satisfy this quest.  As a result, we are always bouncing around between these two extremes:

  1. Feeling lacking.
  2. Feeling satisfied.

This shows that we do feel satisfied or “whole” at times.  But its only temporary.  ‘Passion’ is much like being hungry.  When we need food we feel hunger.  When we eat it is satisfied and hunger disappears.  But soon hunger reappears.  It is no different with ‘passion’ (in fact, hunger for food is a form of ‘passion’ but more specific).  This same thing happens with contemplation . . . we bounce around between lacking and satisfied.

In fact, in contemplation one feels these three qualities:

  1. The sense of lacking. 
  2. The seeking.
  3. The satisfaction. 

In many ways, these three qualities create something like a circle which goes around and around . . . lacking, seeking, satisfaction, lacking, seeking, satisfaction, etc.  In this way, one could compare contemplation to the hunger for food, something that never ends and continually alternates between feeling hungry and being satisfied.

There are many forms of want which makes something like a spectrum:

  • Need.  This is want-as-innate-need.  It is primarily interior and tends to lack ulterior and personal influence.  In this way, it reflects deep inner needs of the self.
  • Hunger.  This is want-as-a-necessity.  In other words, it refers to the want of things to keep us alive, such as food, water, warmth, meaning and such.
  • Desire.  This is want-as-luxury. This primarily consists of wants that are personal, that satisfy personal desire and whims.

In dealing with ‘passion’ one must learn to ‘refine’ and ‘delineate’ ones want and learn to want for the right reasons.  This can easily become a major hurdle in contemplation and take years, in fact, a lifetime.  It would not be far off to say that a significant part of contemplation is nothing but the continual quest to “want correctly”, which is a process that never ends.

Only by “wanting correctly” can ‘passion’ be fully embraced.  This is because want has great impact on ones self, such as:

  • “Correct want” hits to the depths of the self.  “Incorrect want” misleads one from the depths of the self.
  • “Correct want” makes one’s self directed and focused.  “Incorrect want” tends to cause confusion.

In other words, “correct want” leads to the self.

Why is this so important?

Because contemplation is an act of the self.  Through contemplation the ‘personal self’ and ‘self of the world’ is known and experienced.  This shows the importance of the self in contemplation and that, in many ways, contemplation rests upon the self.  As a result of this, the self must be sought and developed.

The “correct want”, that one seeks in contemplation, is need.  In other words, one seeks “innate want”, that inner deep hunger and longing.  In some respects, contemplation can be described as a “quest for innate want”.  This need is something that affect us and influences us.  In general, it does not control us.  We must seek it.  That is to say, we seek need.  In this way, we find that the seeking, itself, is the need.  But, we must remember, that the seeking implies a continual sense of ‘loss’ or ‘hunger’ or ‘want’.  In other words, seeking implies that something is ‘lacking’ in us . . . we are as if incomplete.  As a result of this, as part of the seeking we often feel what can be described as a ‘loss’, or unfulfilled, or unsatisfied, or incompetent.  This sense of ‘loss’ is often one of the first signs of ‘passion’.  But we must beware.  From the sense of ‘loss’ we can take several directions:

  • We can feel only the ‘loss’ – this is ‘passion-not-experienced’.  In this case, nothing ‘moves us’ and we grow stagnant.
  • We can feel the ‘loss’ as a desire to find what’s lost – this is ‘passion-experienced’.  In other words, we feel something that ‘moves us’ . . . ‘passion’.

We can see, then, that ‘passion’ is often experienced in the experience of ‘loss’.  The sense of ‘loss’ is only a sign that ‘passion’ is there.  I say this because there is something like a war that is often required to have ‘passion-experienced’.  In many cases, it is something that one must fight for.  It can often take great courage and inner penetration into ones self and soul.

It seems, to me, that ‘passion-experienced’ is not an emotion or feeling (though it can create those).  It seems like an ‘inner stirring’ of the soul that seems so deep that its wordless.  Perhaps one could even describe I as ‘beyond the self’?

The type of want called hunger is a want that needs to be respected.  Respecting hunger is one of the means, I believe, of respecting life and ones condition in life.  Knowing that we hunger in order to survive can, at times, be humbling as it reveals our weak dependent nature.  It also ‘implants’ us in the world, as worlds children who as if look to the world as a parent for its sustenance.  As a result, respecting hunger is very important for being aware of who “we” are in the world.

The type of want called desire is something that needs to be controlled.  This is to say, one should not completely shun it.  Desire is something that we do, in fact, need but only at certain times and in certain proportions.  In other words, desire is something that we don’t want to dominate us.  Fulfilling desire can cause great happiness and contentment in life, but not when its all the time and out-of-control.  Its power is such that it can easily overpower us.  Once it overpowers it we become its slave.  Because of this, one must be on guard against desire.

The object of want is a significant aspect of ‘passion’. Wanting the wrong object can bring ‘passion’ to a halt.  In this way, in contemplation we are always chasing the correct object.   One could very well say that this chasing of the correct object defines contemplation.

  1. An actual object.  This refers to something tangible and physical.
  2. A thought or conception.  This primarily refers to knowing something.
  3. A state of mind/awareness.  This refers to a particular condition of the mind and self.  Usually, this is without thought.

In contemplation we are primarily chasing the state of mind/awareness form of object.  In other words, we are chasing the state of mind/awareness that satisfies the want and ends the lacking.  Because it is a state of mind/awareness contemplation is very spiritual in nature.

(Also see my article “More thoughts on contemplation: aspects of the ‘yearning’, with remarks about the self and other things“).


Contemplation symbol_emptiness

‘Emptiness’ is a very important trait of contemplation.  Without ’emptiness’ contemplation cannot happen.  This shows the fact that things easily muddle our minds.  In other words, contemplation entails a very ‘touchy’ part of the mind that is easily distracted.  Because of this ‘touchiness’ contemplation often has a quality of extreme delicacy or sensitivity.  Any disruption brings it to a halt.

There are many forms of ’emptiness’ such as:

  • Worldly emptiness.  This means being devoid of worldly affairs and actions.
  • Sensation emptiness.  This refers to being in an area that does not cause great sensation, such as a noisy area or being in an area where there is much worldly things happening.
  • Thought emptiness.  This means being without thought.
  • Emotional emptiness.  This means being without emotions and feelings and not letting them influence us.
  • Self emptiness.  This means being devoid of ones sense of ‘outer’ self.

In some respects, in the act of contemplation ’emptiness’ can be described as entailing things such as:

  • Being in “empty” location and condition.  That is to say, being in an area away from the noise of the world.
  • The emptying and clearing of ones mind and self.  This is critical for contemplation as one cannot contemplate with a muddled mind.  This does not mean that the mind is ‘blank’.  What it means is that the mind must be ‘free from interference’.
  • The loss of ones ‘outer’ self.   In this way, ’emptiness’ tends to lead to ones inner self.

The purpose of ’emptiness’, really, is to loose ones ‘outer self’.  Since the ‘outer self’ is worldly everything associated with the world must be “emptied” (sensations, thoughts, emotions, etc.).  Only when the ‘outer self’ is lost do we find our ‘inner self’.  This shows that the purpose of contemplation is to put oneself in a condition to find ones ‘inner self’.

  1. The act of emptying.
  2. The finding of emptying.
  3. The finding of ones ‘inner self’.

Each phase creates its own challenges and difficulties.  The act of emptying is difficult in itself.  But its even harder to “find” the emptying.  One may be so busy doing the act of emptying that one may never realize that one is emptied.  It takes skill, I think, to find when one is empty.  It even takes greater skill to find ones ‘inner self’ in the emptied state.  In many ways, these describe the basic challenges of contemplation as everyone, I believe, will have problem on all three levels.


Contemplation symbol_duality

‘Duality’ refers to how things tend to be in opposite’s describing a natural duality in life.  This is reflected in the horizontal line showing that there is a top and a bottom or an up and a down . . . duality.  The theme of duality is continually seen in contemplation and, I feel, plays a major role.  As a result, one must learn to be aware of it and play along with it.  That is to say, to use it.

‘Duality’ seems to appear in two ways:

  1. Extremes – its either “one or the other”
  2. Spectrum – its the same as extremes but there are gradations

In contemplation one see’s both forms.

I’ve found that contemplation is not a ‘one-state act’ but one that entails many states AND the ability to alternate between them and even from one extreme to another.  As a result, contemplation requires that one be variable and able to change.

Some common duality themes found in contemplation are:

  • Life/death
  • Superficial/deep
  • Worldly/other-worldly
  • Thought/thoughtless

These themes are a reference to the many states of mind that are required in contemplation.  To be frank, one cannot contemplate if one cannot change their ‘state of mind’ in contemplation.  It shows that there must be a willingness to be a different person and to reflect a different self.  If one cannot do this then one cannot contemplate.

An importance of duality is also seen in the fact that both make a whole.  That is to say, duality does not just mean two opposites but it also refers to making opposites relate to each other.  In other words, it refers to the ability to make what appear as contrary things relate to one another.  This may sound easy but it is not as easy as it seems.  As a result, duality leads to ‘wholeness’.  Reconciling different and opposing things is one of the great challenges of contemplation and life in general.  In some respects, life is nothing but a reconciling of opposing qualities, in some way or another.  Just as duality requires a person to be variable it also requires a person to be constant.  This dilemma, itself, is reflective of duality.


Contemplation symbol_self

The self refers to the maintaining of oneself as a ‘unit’ or a ‘whole’.  Indeed, the self is a sense of self-as-opposed-to-the-world, as removed from the world.  It requires a sense of being a person in relation to everything else.  As a result, it is associated with an ‘inner sense of integrity’.  This sense, felt more deeply, turns into the ’ember’ (see below).  Because of this the self, and its development, is associated with a relationship and conflict with the world.  As a result, the “self” actually is made up of three elements:

  1. The self.
  2. The world
  3. The self-in-the-world.

So we see that “self” means more than the self but an awareness of the world and a relationship with the world.  As a result, world perception, and world association, is very influential in regard to the self.

Contemplation requires the self to change or grow.  As a result, contemplation can often ‘force’ the self to grow.  Often, great stress is laid upon the self as well as great demands.  This causes a great deal of conflict in contemplation.  One could even say that this ‘forcing the self to grow’ is one of the great benefits, and values, of contemplation.

Notice how, in the symbol, the passion passes through the self.  This is because it is the ‘passion’ that “moves” the self.  Because of this, it requires that the self be developed and grown.  The self, after all, is what guides ‘passion’ and directs it.  This shows that there is a great, and strong, association between ‘passion’ and the ‘self’, that they are intimately bound together.  There are even times when they cannot be distinguished apart, where they become one a ‘passion-self’.

There are also levels to the self.  The self is not just one ‘entity’.  Much of the self is hidden from us, and inaccessible.  In actuality, contemplation can be described as trying to regain or contact these other hidden aspects of our self.  In this way, contemplation has the quality of ‘making for a greater holistic self’.  It does this by more uniting varying aspects of the self, seen and unseen.  Keep in mind that the self is so deep that one can never know it all nor fully make it completely whole.  As a result, this continual quest for a ‘holistic self’ is an ongoing never-ending affair.

There are also “cycles of the self”.  That is to say, self’s are born, live, and die.  Because of this, one must “assist” in the “cycle of the self” and in the different phases of our self:

  1. The consummation of the self. 
  2. The birth of the self.
  3. The growth and development of the self.
  4. The dying of the self.
  5. The death of the self.
  6. The burying of the self.

Because we have many levels of the self we have, in actuality, many self’s, all in different phases of the “cycle of the self”.  This requires us to be very observant and watching of our “different self’s” and to “assist” as required.  In some respects, a great deal of contemplation is nothing but observing our “self’s” and reacting to its condition.

One of the great difficulties we have is that we tend to keep our older self’s (that is, we don’t let them die).  This keeping of our older self’s hinders us and our development.  As a result, contemplation generally causes a continual dying.  This means a continual abandoning of old ways and perceptions.  This is not an easy thing to do.  I often think it is one of the hardest things to do.

Closely associated with the death of an old self is the birth of a new self.  It seems, to me, that the death of an old self often spurns the birth of a new self, making them closely related.  Though it may “assist” in the birth of a new self by keeping the old self’s we hinder the growth and development of the new self.  In some respects, the keeping of old self’s created a very “crowded mind” that “suffocates” any new self.  In this way, part of the ’emptiness’ (as described above) is the emptying of our mind of old self’s.  Often, the birth of a new self is “assisted” by forgetting what one is or thinks they are.  In other words, by becoming “self-dumb”.    I, myself, will go around thinking to myself, “I don’t know who I am”.  This, in a way, creates an environment for a new self to appear (that is to say, it is not “suffocated” by other self’s).


Contemplation symbol_ember

The ’ember’ is a reference to what can be described as beingness, a sense of self-as-living.  In other words, its not just a sense of ones self as “there” but as “living there”.  This distinction may sound minor but is very critical.  When one is “living there” it is as if one is an ember glowing.

As mentioned above, it seems to derive from a deeper sense of the self, of that ‘inner integrity’, which turns into the ‘passion-self’.  In some respects, its the next step, showing three stages:

  1. The self.
  2. The ‘passion.  The self united with ‘passion’ . . . the ‘passion-self’.
  3. Existence.  The “ember”/beingness.  The ‘passion-self’ united with the existence.

In other words, the self unites with passion which unites with existence.  This creates beingness or the “ember”.  Everything as if becomes “one”, united.  In this way, one becomes ‘existence’ and ‘ones self’, bonded by ‘passion’ or a “livingness”, all at the same time.  This often creates a great sense of “God” or sacredness as well as a profoundness.

In many ways, beingness is an ‘existential integrity’, of feeling a part of existence.  Often, this sense gives contemplation a very profound, mystical, and sacred quality.  This makes it something like a ‘centering’, which is why I portrayed it as a small circle in the center.


Basically, the symbol as if says:

“In the presence and mystery of existence, a passion flows giving things life.  This passion flows through the self, which must use it and guide it.  This passion forces the self to change and develop, by being born and dying, continually becoming something new.  In so doing, the self becomes more united and a part of existence and, accordingly, becomes more a part of life and living.”

It describes a general stance.  This stance is made up of many parts and qualities.  In other words, it shows that contemplation is a conglomeration of:

  • Acts.  This is what one does.  It can be described as being active.
  • Awareness.  This is what one opens oneself to and allows to happen.  It can be described as being passive.
  • Conditions.  This is the reality that one is in.  This reality is ones physical state and mental state which set the stage for the two former qualities.  It can be described as being encompassing as this reality surrounds a person.

It shows that contemplation, as I use it, is not a single “act” but something made of small things that lead up to a whole.  In many ways, this is a main goal, to get the whole of it all (see below).


The importance of what I call ‘livingness’ cannot be underestimated.  Livingness is a sense created, and needed, by the contemplative attitude.  It seems to me that, sometimes, the lack of this sense brings contemplation to a halt.  Without this sense, contemplation goes nowhere.  Not only that, there are times when contemplation is nothing but the “fight” to gain a sense of ‘livingness’.  In fact, I’d be tempted to say that contemplation is nothing but the quest for, and embracing, of a sense of ‘livingness’.  Because of this, the sense of ‘livingness’ becomes critical and paramount in contemplation and nothing to look at lightly.

‘Livingness’ could appear in many ways such as:

  • A sense of being alive.
  • A feeling or sense of ‘livingness’ in things
  • A profoundness of god or a ‘livingness beyond’.
  • A sanctity or sacredness.
  • A sense of god.
  • A profoundness.

This ‘livingness’ is experienced on many levels no doubt as a result of the many levels of self’s we have (see above).  That is to say, there are different depths of ‘livingness’, from what can be described, on one extreme, as a superficial ‘sense of living’ to a deep inner ‘mysterious sense of livingness in the world’ on the other extreme (often perceived as a sense of god).  Really, one finds that the forms of ‘livingness’ is endless.   Not only that, one finds that ‘livingness’ has such a range that it can appear from a ‘life’ perspective to a ‘death’ perspective.  In other words, there is a ‘livingness’ even in the “dark” aspects of life . . . conflict, pain, despair, suffering, death, etc.  Its because of this that the “dark” aspects of life must be embraced and accepted as much as is possible.  To put it another way, contemplation requires the “dark” aspects of life to be whole and true.  To avoid this is to only ‘half contemplate’.  This makes it so that contemplation is often filled with conflict, pain, despair, suffering, death, etc. . . . one must learn to live with them.

What one finds is that there is ‘livingness’ in everything.  Because of this, its a continual quest trying to find it.  Each new situation, each new quality, has its unique form of ‘livingness’ that must be found.  This makes contemplation like a continual endless questing or seeking.  This means that ‘livingness’ is not just “one sense” that one discovers and then says, “that’s it . . . I’m done”.  In actuality, its only the beginning.


Each symbol described above has a ‘practice’ associated with it.  That is to say, a person does a ‘something’ pertaining to each quality and which manifests its quality:

  1. The practice of the ‘Firmament’/Mystery.
  2. The practice of the “Presence”. 
  3. The practice of the “Passion”. 
  4. The practice of “Emptiness”.
  5. The practice of “Duality”. 
  6. The practice of the “Self”. 
  7. The practice of the “Ember”/Beingness.

In many respects, the practice of all these different practices constitutes contemplation.  Contemplation isn’t just “one thing” but is made up of many things. many qualities, and many things that must be done.  Each of these things or qualities must be ‘practiced’ and developed.  This makes contemplation a very involved and complicated affair, far more than what it may seem initially.  In fact, I’d say that contemplation has gone in so many directions, and depths, that it has been mind-boggling to me.  It has gone from “just an act I did” (like a hobby) to a life-involving affair.  In other words, contemplation is ‘life-encompassing’.  In some respects, contemplation brought all the different aspects of life into one place.

As I said above, contemplation is a continual practicing of each quality.  But one practices each individual parts for something more:  the entirety of it all.  As it is said in this saying:

“Doing the parts, practicing the whole”

In other words, as one does the different qualities, or parts, one begins to establish a sense of the whole, of the entirety of it all.  Once one becomes proficient in the individual qualities, or different parts, and develops a more holistic way, one can be said to develop a ‘contemplative attitude’.  When this attitude is developed one can say that they are truly practicing contemplation in my opinion.  If a person only does this or that quality then they are doing ‘aspects of contemplation’.  My feelings is that it takes a special person to develop the ‘contemplative attitude’.  I feel that many monks don’t even develop it.

In addition, I tend to feel that nobody can develop a continuous ongoing ‘contemplative attitude’.  In other words, the ‘contemplative attitude’ comes and goes in a persons life.  To put it another way, it has its ups and downs.  There are times when its strong and there are times when its weak.  A person may even develop it for a short period of time only to lose it, perhaps for the rest of their life (I think this happens for many monks).  The reason for the continual up and down of the ‘contemplative attitude’ is because it is not a ‘real-world attitude’.  That is to say, though it is life-based, it is something akin to a spirituality which is removed from the ‘real-world’.  But, because we are human, we need to be in the ‘real-world’.  As a result, the contemplative, in actuality, must alternate between the ‘contemplative attitude’ and the ‘real-world attitude’.  This causes a continual ‘up and down’ of the ‘contemplative attitude’ in a persons life.  Sometimes, the change from one attitude to another can be quite dramatic, even to the point of being traumatic.  The ‘real-world attitude’, for example, can literally feel like having the carpet pulled from underneath ones feet.  From this condition, one may have to struggle and fight to regain the ‘contemplative attitude’.  It may even get to the point that one just “finally gives up”.  This conflict, I feel, is one of the reasons why people who become contemplatives have the ‘character trait’.  Its exactly this ‘character trait’ that allows them to weather these conflicts and persist.  In some respects, this shows the depth of conflict that can happen in contemplation.


The practice of contemplation tends to lead to many places.  In other words, it doesn’t just lead to “one state” (such as ‘enlightment’).  Typically, contemplation is viewed as purely having a religious sense and purpose.  Because of this any other way is shunned.  One could call this the ‘focused contemplation point of view’.  Its a result of viewing contemplation intending to direct the mind in a specific direction and to be in a specific state (such as, in creating a union with god).  As a result, in this orientation, this is where one focuses ones effort and concentration.

I tend to feel otherwise.  My experience is that contemplation leads to many wonderful, fruitful, and life-based phenomena and events, such as:

  • The “quiet”.  This refers to a complete calming of ones self.  It often leads to a strong sense of the ‘presence’ or the ‘self’.
  • A sense of being a part of existence or God.
  • A profoundness.
  • A strong sense of sacredness.
  • A different awareness.
  • A strong sense of self.
  • A different sense of self.
  • A separation of self.  This can even lead to things like shamanism, as it did with me (see my article “Thoughts on defining shamanism: an ‘active belief system’“)
  • Living images.  These are seeing ‘images in the world’, something like a ‘vision’.  See my article “Thoughts on observing the “nature-as-living” images – the ‘cross-self experience’ – the ‘pre-imagination’“. 
  • A humility.
  • A tendency to cry.
  • A ‘worshipfulness’.  That is to say, a desire to ‘worship’, honor, or respect nature, life, sacredness, etc.
  • Hummin’.  This is a term I use for a tendency to hum, sing, do poetry, and such.
  • A desire for expression.
  • Thinking about things.
  • Reflection.
  • Insight.
  • A seeking of inspiration.
  • Daydreaming. 
  • A desire to do some form of work.
  • Distractions.
  • An inability to control thoughts or feelings.
  • Conflict, pain, and suffering. 

These are examples of the many different ‘directions of contemplation’.  They show that contemplation leads to many different qualities.  Some are good.  Some are even bad.  It also shows that contemplation does not necessarily lead to contemplative-like things.  This shows that contemplation can be a ‘platform’ for things that are not contemplative and have nothing to do with it.  In other words, what begins as contemplation may not end there.  This means that there are many directions of contemplation with a range like:

  • Contemplative
  • Partly contemplative
  • Not contemplative

Because there is a movement away from contemplation it can create quite a dilemma. Basically, one must determine if one should persist in contemplation or ‘follow along’ in another direction.  The ability to do this requires great inner inquiry, self-knowledge, and experience.  It also requires many failures and ‘wrong directions’.  In many cases, there are no ‘wrong directions’.  Only ones good judgment can determine that.

Because there are so many directions it as if ‘infuses’ these other things with the contemplative quality.  In other words, they become ‘contemplative’.  Because of this, one finds that one literally ‘bounces around’ between the many different ‘directions of contemplation’ in the actual “act” of contemplation.  That is to say, one does not maintain one constant direction.  This, I believe, is what normally happens, regardless of how focused one is or thinks they are. 


The ‘contemplative attitude’, over time, tends to create a certain state of mind.  This “certain state of mind” is almost impossible to define or, rather, put into words.  Many years ago I called this state of mind ‘poesy’ (of which I’ve written articles of in this blog).

One finds that this “certain state of mind” as if colors and influences life and everyday things.  Like a mist it permeates into all aspects of life.  In this way, the ‘livingness’ of contemplation becomes a part of everyday life and is seen in all things.  Since ‘livingness’ is associated with sacredness and god, it as if makes one see the ‘sacred’ or ‘holy’ in everything.  In fact, one becomes surrounded by  a ‘sacredness’ and ‘holiness’ to the point that one becomes ‘sacred-like’ and ‘holy-like’.   Life, then, is changed and altered as a result.  This is another example of the ‘life-encompassing’ quality of contemplation.

Because of the coming and going of the ‘contemplative attitude, as described above, one finds that one is either seeking or maintaining the “certain state of mind”.  This is because it tends to have a precious quality and grows to be something very dear to ones heart.  The loss of it can be like a death.

One also finds that life, really, is nothing but a state of mind and it is through this state of mind that life is lived, experienced, and embraced.  In some respects, the state of mind is the most precious thing there is in life.  In it is life.  In it is the means to live.  In it is the means to be.  Without the correct state of mind what use are things like money, objects, social status, and the like?  The state of mind makes everything.  It is the base of all experience and being.   As a result, the maintenance of a correct state of mind is critical.

In seeking and maintaining the “certain state of mind” one finds that many things are not as important as we thought.  We have to adjust our priorities and look at life in a different way.  Life becomes, I think, more simpler and less complex.  In effect, the whole world changes.  The world changes because we have changed showing that, in reality, the world we see is actually a reflection of us and who we are.  As my saying goes:

“When I look out at the world I see my self looking back at me.”


Copyright by Mike Michelsen

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1 Response to Thoughts on the symbol I use for contemplation – describing the act and traits of contemplation

  1. AAB says:

    A few thoughts:
    – The shape appears when you blow gently over the top of your cup of coffee- A stream of breath (which represents the breath of life) with two eddies either side of it (which represent dualty).

    – It is Odin-like inasmuch as the horizontal line is his Spear that penetrates his side. Or Christs side on the cross (between his 7 & 8th ribs IIRC) which Longinus’ spear was thrust.

    – The line in the middle is the circle with the infinite radius (eternity), while the circles either side of it represents finity (life and death – life leaving the eternal circle, death re-entering it).

    – The top of the line represents where we are going, the bottom of the line represents where we have come from.

    – It bares similarities to the Cadeus inasmuch as it is a straight line that is flanked by two curving objects – circles in your diagram, spirals in the Cadeus. (The spirals in the Cadeus are of course snakes which are highly symbolic).

    – Masculine is the central collumn representing straightness, single-mindedness/focus, sameness. Femininity is the circles either side representing duality, manic-depressive/Bi-polar, and variation.

    – The central path is the ‘golden path’ or the ‘middle way’ or the ‘right way’. The two arcs leading off of it are the left and right hand paths of the occult.

    – The central path is the path of righteousness. The two arcs/paths are ‘the fall from grace’ representing the fall of humanity into sin, and eventual death (which is symbolised by leaving the path and then re-entering it again).

    I’ll post more if anything comes to mind.

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