The Tree of Contemplative Practices: Mindfulness Made Easy
By: Alexandra Daniels, M.S., LPC, LPCA
Before I became a Licensed Professional Counselor, the term “mindfulness” conjured up images of social media influencers journaling on a white sand beach at sunset, overlaid with a vintage filter. It felt altogether too vague and too specific a concept to bother figuring out, interchangeable with words like “meditation” or “yoga”, and inaccessible to the layman. In short, it felt like a passing wellness fad and decidedly not for me.
It wasn’t until I took a class on the subject in graduate school that my mind was changed and my horizons widened. I quickly learned you don’t have to be a white sand beach-going social media influencer to practice mindfulness. The mindfulness movement has been around for thousands of years and can be engaged with by anyone, anywhere, from a number of different access points.
Let’s Get Technical
From a therapist’s perspective, when we talk about mindfulness, what do we mean? We often turn to Mr. Mindfulness himself, expert Jon Kabat-Zinn, for the most succinct definition. Kabat-Zinn (1994) describes mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally”. Sounds simple enough, right? But how does one easily integrate this fancy new frame of mind into their daily routine? In an effort to make mindfulness practices as accessible and applicable as possible, The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society (also known as CMind) offers a helpful tool, for use by both the casual beginner and long-time practitioner. This mindfulness map is called The Tree of Contemplative Practices (henceforth referred to as “The Tree”) (CMind, 2021).
Branch by Branch
It can be hard to find the motivation to take proper care of our mental, emotional, and physical health; so many of us shift into autopilot without even thinking about it. The Tree makes staying on track a little bit easier by dividing itself up into 7 branches, each a different vehicle for mindfulness. The 7 branches of The Tree are stillness (ex. quieting the mind), generative (ex. loving kindness and compassion meditation), creative (ex. music and singing), active (ex. activism, work, and volunteering), relational (ex. deep listening), movement (ex. yoga and dance), and ritual/cyclical (ex. establishing a sacred space). There are also two tenets that ground the tree at its roots, uniting all mindfulness practices by a common goal: connection with something greater than yourself and awareness of yourself, others, and the world around you. My favorite parts of The Tree are the creative, movement, and stillness branches.
The Creative Branch
The Creative branch of The Tree offers up a variety of options for those of us who are more creatively-inclined. One of my go-to mindfulness practices is journaling, as it pairs well with my theoretical orientation of choice: narrative therapy. As a narrative therapist, I believe everybody has a story worth telling, that each unique individual is an expert on their life. Mindfulness through the medium of writing can help us better understand our own story and how we fit into the greater narrative of the world around us.
The Movement Branch
The Movement branch of The Tree offers more physically-engaging options for those of us who like to stay active. Walking meditations, for example, are a great way to explore your surroundings, be it a rural or urban setting. Whether you’re someone who lives on a farm or in the city, there are so many sights to stop and appreciate. Nature walks, a subcategory of walking meditations, can help diversify your mindfulness practice (especially as the seasons change).
The Stillness Branch
Finally, the Stillness branch of The Tree offers avenues of support for those of us wishing to cultivate an inner sense of calm. Over the course of the day, our minds can become noisy and cluttered. Setting aside time to sit with your thoughts, to sift through or simply quiet them, can prove as helpful as finding shelter in a storm. The Stillness branch also teaches us the power of silence, of being present and embracing the current moment.
Lead with Curiosity
Unsure where to begin? Start by leading with curiosity. Ask yourself where your interests lie and what branches most stand out to you. The beauty of The Tree lies in its variety, complexity, and the freedom afforded to the user, to pick and choose practices as they wish. (CMind even offers a blank version of The Tree for you to tailor to your specific wants and needs.) Maia Duerr, one of the creators of The Tree, tells us that, just like real trees, The Tree should be viewed as a “living organism” and a “work in process” (2019). As you make your way through each branch, your relationship with and understanding of mindfulness will deepen and grow. No matter how you engage with The Tree of Contemplative Practices, your mind will surely thank you.
CMind. (2021). The Tree of Contemplative Practices [Illustration]. The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society. https://www.contemplativemind.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994). Wherever you go, there you are: Mindfulness meditation in everyday life. Hyperion.
YouTube. (2019). Acmhe Webinar: The Tree of Contemplative Practices with Maia Duerr. YouTube. Retrieved August 15, 2022, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?