The labyrinth at Mariandale Retreat and Conference Center

Dutch-born theologian Henri Nouwen said that we are all called to be mystics. But, in a busy world with long to-do lists and lots of good HBO shows to fill our spare time, what is the value in zipping our lips and just being? Our in-house Spiritual Director and Dominican Associate Janet Corso shares her thoughts.

“My life is out of control.” “I’ve tried to be more spiritual and it’s not working.” “My calendar’s not going to change.”

These are just a few of the qualms that Ms. Corso hears frequently from people of all ages. As Ms. Corso and her team at Mariandale Retreat Center in Ossining coordinate retreats and serve as spiritual guides, they increasingly perceive a strong need for a contemplative element in people’s lives.

“People’s lives are extremely busy,” Ms. Corso said. “They’re overwhelmed; they feel they don’t have time for their spirituality. They don’t know how to live busy lives yet incorporate being a spiritual person.”

The answer might be simpler than we think: contemplation.

Taking some time each day to just be silent and mindful has a slew of benefits that range from spiritual to physical. Indeed, setting aside time to be contemplative can make us better participants in the other areas of our lives, not least by making us more in tune with ourselves and with others.

Janet Corso, Associate of the Dominican Sisters of Hope and Spiritual Director at Mariandale

Contemplation might seem like a daunting task to undertake, but, according to Ms. Corso, the first step to becoming more contemplative is befriending silence and solitude.

While silence is useful for slowing down and calming down, it’s also imperative in learning to listen both to yourself, to God, and to others. And, when people do commit to quiet, they usually take to it exceptionally well.

Ms. Corso said that, although they are initially intimidated by silence, people on her retreats often admit to being surprised by how much they unconsciously longed for it.

“I think the more contemplative you are, the more you’re willing to listen to the movements of God,” she said. “To be contemplative means you have to befriend stillness and silence. It’s a path to a deeper relationship to God, to be able to listen.”

Once you’ve got the quiet down, a next step is being mindful of the world around you. Luckily, this can be practiced while life is lived.

“Contemplation is not something extra to have to do, but a way of approaching life,” Ms. Corso said. “It’s possible to still go to the crazy meetings back to back to back, but to do it in a contemplative way.”

Where specific techniques are concerned, the path to contemplation knows no boundaries. Everything from Christian prayer to mindful tai chi can help to foster contemplation; it’s really about what is most comfortable for the individual.

As Ms. Corso reiterated, contemplation isn’t about learning techniques; it’s about changing a mindset.

“There are a lot of different contemplative practices, and we encourage people to go with the practices that suit their needs and personality,” she said. “There isn’t one particular path, but silence and solitude have to come with it.”