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Love And Will
Meditation And Recollection
The First Form Of Contemplation
The Mystical Life
The Preparation Of The Mystic
The Second Form Of Contemplation
The Third Form Of Contemplation
The World Of Reality
What Is Mysticism?
Anaximenes And The Air
Animism, Ancient And Modern
Brooks And Streams
Development And Discipline Of Intuition
Earth, Mountains, And Plains
Fire And The Sun
Heracleitus And The Cosmic Fire
Light And Darkness
Man And Nature
Mystic Intuition And Reason
Mystic Receptivity
Nature Mysticism And The Race
Nature Not Symbolic
Nature, And The Absolute
Poetry And Nature Mysticism
Rivers And Death
Rivers And Life
Seasons, Vegetation, Animals
Springs And Wells
Still Waters
The Beautiful And The Ugly
The Charge Of Anthropomorphism
The Expanse Of Heaven--colour
The Immanent Idea
The Moon--a Special Problem
The Ocean
The Waters Under The Earth
Will And Consciousness In Nature
Winds And Clouds

Meditation And Recollection

Recollection, the art which the practical man is now invited to
learn, is in essence no more and no less than the subjection of the
attention to the control of the will. It is not, therefore, a purely
mystical activity. In one form or another it is demanded of all
who would get control of their own mental processes; and does or
should represent the first great step in the education of the human
consciousness. So slothful, however, is man in all that concerns
his higher faculties, that few deliberately undertake this education
at all. They are content to make their contacts with things by a
vague, unregulated power, ever apt to play truant, ever apt to fail
them. Unless they be spurred to it by that passion for ultimate
things which expresses itself in religion, philosophy, or art, they
seldom learn the secret of a voluntary concentration of the mind.

Since the philosopher's interests are mainly objective, and the
artist seldom cogitates on his own processes, it is, in the end, to
the initiate of religion that we are forced to go, if we would learn
how to undertake this training for ourselves. The religious
contemplative has this further attraction for us: that he is by
nature a missionary as well. The vision which he has achieved is
the vision of an intensely loving heart; and love, which cannot
keep itself to itself, urges him to tell the news as widely and as
clearly as he may. In his works, he is ever trying to reveal the
secret of his own deeper life and wider vision, and to help his
fellow men to share it: hence he provides the clearest, most
orderly, most practical teachings on the art of contemplation that
we are likely to find. True, our purpose in attempting this art may
seem to us very different from his: though if we carry out the
principles involved to their last term, we shall probably find that
they have brought us to the place at which he aimed from the
first. But the method, in its earlier stages, must be the same;
whether we call the Reality which is the object of our quest
aesthetic, cosmic, or divine. The athlete must develop much the
same muscles, endure much the same discipline, whatever be the
game he means to play.

So we will go straight to St. Teresa, and inquire of her what
was the method by which she taught her daughters to gather
themselves together, to capture and hold the attitude most
favourable to communion with the spiritual world. She tells us--
and here she accords with the great tradition of the Christian
contemplatives, a tradition which was evolved under the pressure
of long experience--that the process is a gradual one. The method
to be employed is a slow, patient training of material which the
licence of years has made intractable; not the sudden easy turning
of the mind in a new direction, that it may minister to a new
fancy for "the mystical view of things." Recollection begins, she
says, in the deliberate and regular practice of meditation; a
perfectly natural form of mental exercise, though at first a hard

Now meditation is a half-way house between thinking and
contemplating: and as a discipline, it derives its chief value from
this transitional character. The real mystical life, which is the
truly practical life, begins at the beginning; not with supernatural
acts and ecstatic apprehensions, but with the normal faculties of
the normal man. "I do not require of you," says Teresa to her
pupils in meditation, "to form great and curious considerations in
your understanding: I require of you no more than to look."

It might be thought that such looking at the spiritual world,
simply, intensely, without cleverness--such an opening of the Eye
of Eternity--was the essence of contemplation itself: and indeed
one of the best definitions has described that art as a "loving
sight," a "peering into heaven with the ghostly eye." But the self
who is yet at this early stage of the pathway to Reality is not
asked to look at anything new, to peer into the deeps of things:
only to gaze with a new and cleansed vision on the ordinary
intellectual images, the labels and the formula, the "objects" and
ideas--even the external symbols--amongst which it has always
dwelt. It is not yet advanced to the seeing of fresh landscapes: it
is only able to re-examine the furniture of its home, and obtain
from this exercise a skill, and a control of the attention, which
shall afterwards be applied to greater purposes. Its task is here to
consider that furniture, as the Victorines called this preliminary
training: to take, that is, a more starry view of it: standing back
from the whirl of the earth, and observing the process of things.

Take, then, an idea, an object, from amongst the common stock,
and hold it before your mind. The selection is large enough: all
sentient beings may find subjects of meditation to their taste, for
there lies a universal behind every particular of thought, however
concrete it may appear, and within the most rational propositions
the meditative eye may glimpse a dream.

"Reason has moons, but moons not hers!
Lie mirror'd on her sea,
Confounding her astronomers
But, O delighting me."

Even those objects which minister to our sense-life may well be
used to nourish our spirits too. Who has not watched the intent
meditations of a comfortable cat brooding upon the Absolute
Mouse? You, if you have a philosophic twist, may transcend such
relative views of Reality, and try to meditate on Time,
Succession, even Being itself: or again on human intercourse,
birth, growth, and death, on a flower, a river, the various
tapestries of the sky. Even your own emotional life will provide
you with the ideas of love, joy, peace, mercy, conflict, desire.
You may range, with Kant, from the stars to the moral law. If
your turn be to religion, the richest and most evocative of fields is
open to your choice: from the plaster image to the mysteries of


But, the choice made, it must be held and defended during the
time of meditation against all invasions from without, however
insidious their encroachments, however "spiritual" their disguise.
It must be brooded upon, gazed at, seized again and again, as
distractions seem to snatch it from your grasp. A restless
boredom, a dreary conviction of your own incapacity, will
presently attack you. This, too, must be resisted at sword-point.
The first quarter of an hour thus spent in attempted meditation
will be, indeed, a time of warfare; which should at least convince
you how unruly, how ill-educated is your attention, how
miserably ineffective your will, how far away you are from the
captaincy of your own soul. It should convince, too, the most
common-sense of philosophers of the distinction between real
time, the true stream of duration which is life, and the sequence
of seconds so carefully measured by the clock. Never before has
the stream flowed so slowly, or fifteen minutes taken so long to
pass. Consciousness has been lifted to a longer, slower rhythm,
and is not yet adjusted to its solemn march.

But, striving for this new poise, intent on the achievement
of it, presently it will happen to you to find that you have
indeed--though how you know not--entered upon a fresh plane of
perception, altered your relation with things.

First, the subject of your meditation begins, as you surrender to
its influence, to exhibit unsuspected meaning, beauty, power. A
perpetual growth of significance keeps pace with the increase of
attention which you bring to bear on it; that attention which is the
one agent of all your apprehensions, physical and mental alike. It
ceases to be thin and abstract. You sink as it were into the deeps
of it, rest in it, "unite" with it; and learn, in this still, intent
communion, something of its depth and breadth and height, as we
learn by direct intercourse to know our friends.

Moreover, as your meditation becomes deeper it will defend you
from the perpetual assaults of the outer world. You will hear the
busy hum of that world as a distant exterior melody, and know
yourself to be in some sort withdrawn from it. You have set a
ring of silence between you and it; and behold! within that
silence you are free. You will look at the coloured scene, and it
will seem to you thin and papery: only one amongst countless
possible images of a deeper life as yet beyond your reach. And
gradually, you will come to be aware of an entity, a You, who
can thus hold at arm's length, be aware of, look at, an idea--a
universe--other than itself. By this voluntary painful act of
concentration, this first step upon the ladder which goes--as the
mystics would say--from "multiplicity to unity," you have to
some extent withdrawn yourself from that union with unrealities,
with notions and concepts, which has hitherto contented you; and
at once all the values of existence are changed. "The road to a
Yea lies through a Nay." You, in this preliminary movement of
recollection, are saying your first deliberate No to the claim
which the world of appearance makes to a total possession of
your consciousness: and are thus making possible some contact
between that consciousness and the World of Reality.

Now turn this new purified and universalised gaze back upon
yourself. Observe your own being in a fresh relation with things,
and surrender yourself willingly to the moods of astonishment,
humility, joy--perhaps of deep shame or sudden love--which
invade your heart as you look. So doing patiently, day after day,
constantly recapturing the vagrant attention, ever renewing the
struggle for simplicity of sight, you will at last discover that there
is something within you--something behind the fractious,
conflicting life of desire--which you can recollect, gather up,
make effective for new life. You will, in fact, know your own
soul for the first time: and learn that there is a sense in which this
real You is distinct from, an alien within, the world in which
you find yourself, as an actor has another life when he is not on
the stage. When you do not merely believe this but know it; when
you have achieved this power of withdrawing yourself, of making
this first crude distinction between appearance and reality, the
initial stage of the contemplative life has been won. It is not
much more of an achievement than that first proud effort in
which the baby stands upright for a moment and then relapses to
the more natural and convenient crawl: but it holds within it the
same earnest of future development.

Next: Self-adjustment

Previous: The Preparation Of The Mystic

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