Young Adults and Contemplative Spirituality

by Andrea Noel

Today, millennials are investigating themes in spirituality more willingly than formal religion. Across many religious traditions absentee young adults are no longer an exception. They have become the norm. I suppose this shift exists because young adults express disappointment in relationships with families and institutions. More than ever, young adults are alive to the inconsistencies that occur between what they are told to do and what they are shown to do by example. Furthermore, with millennials, dissociative behaviors are customary. This new way of being could have several influences: parenting styles, non-traditional familial structures, technology, social pressures, and or mental health issues.

Additionally, post-modern, global situations have millennials searching for deeper meaning, beliefs, values, and relationships that can offer greater support for self-integration in this convoluted world. Young adults do not only want to cope with the realities of post-modernity, but seek opportunities to thrive in it.

Contemplative spirituality can help enhance the spiritual lives of young adults. Practices in the contemplative tradition offer young adults a path toward prayer, depth, and awareness of the presence of God. When young adults regularly engage practices within the contemplative tradition they can:

  1. Discover and understand their distinct relationship with the divine.
  2. Empower themselves, draw out and build up their overlooked innate strengths and spiritual resources.
  3. Help themselves notice what encumbers and sustains their awareness and reaction to the divine.
  4. Cultivate their spiritual lives through these practices and communal worship.
  5. Interpret or simply be present to their lived experiences of the divine.
  6. Be a witness to the transformation of their perceptions, responsiveness, and overall ways of being in the world.

Since 2009, I have engaged young adults with practices from the contemplative tradition. While I prayed, listened, and responded to the presence of God among young adults, I witnessed how contemplative practices breathed energy into their spiritual lives. Some practices included: meditation, lectio divina, labyrinths, examen, journaling, chanting, collaging, body prayer, group and individual spiritual guidance.

My hope is that exposing young adults to these practices invites them to a deeper encounter of God. I want to empower them with the ability to see their intrinsic value, strength, and connection to God. Contemplative spirituality allows young adults to express their own lived experiences of the divine without judgment, qualification, and with genuine freedom. I believe these practices help to cultivate a regular prayer life, encourages self-discovery, and knowing self in relation to God.

Dear Me, Be!

by Andrea Noel

Four years ago, I began writing these “Dear ME” messages on post-it notes, sticking them up around my house and cubicle at work. This practice was more than writing simple affirmations or wishes; it was my approach to manifesting a new way of being. After working as a chemical engineer for almost seven years, buying my first home, car, and travelling around and outside the United States, I recognized that I spent a lot of time doing things, but not much time being. I considered how I lived. I had accumulated material possessions, and even more digital photos, but could not feel those tangible emotions that give life deeper meaning. I felt empty inside.

I began reflecting on what does it mean to be? According to my iPhone’s mobile application, some synonyms for the word doing are action, performance, and execution; and synonyms for the word being are living, conscious, and substance. Doing and being are clearly two different states: I was definitely great at doing, but needed to work on my being. I also recognized that both doing and being are necessary parts of life. However, striking a healthy balance between the two is the trick to living a fulfilling existence.

So, I made the intention to find small ways to punctuate my doing with being, using the “Dear ME” messages as simple reminders. I began being more patient with myself and others. I learned how to be silent; listening for God and to those around me. I started to be more accepting of events and people; learning to let go and seeking less control.

After a few months I noticed that I smiled more, I rushed less; I even drove the speed limit more often! Then I explored bigger ways to be. I intentionally attended a retreat every three months. I began spending more time with family and friends. I also explored several contemplative spiritual practices to further cultivate my capacity to be.

Those around me began seeing the difference that the intention to be made in my life. My co-workers shared in my pleasant mood and enjoyed seeking my help with things outside of our job responsibilities. My relationships seemed to deepen in ways I had never experienced before. I also perceived that life in general began to respond toward me more compassionately.

The intention to be, more than to do, continues to transform my experience of life; I have more clarity in my life, a deeper sense of peace, better relationships with others, a well-integrated spiritual life, and I find it easier to compassionately share myself with the world. Every day I make the intention to be. Be love. Be joy. Be radiant. Be ME.

So, how have you been lately?