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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

The First Form Of Contemplation

Concentration, recollection, a profound self-criticism, the stilling
of his busy surface-intellect, his restless emotions of enmity and
desire, the voluntary achievement of an attitude of disinterested
love--by these strange paths the practical man has now been led,
in order that he may know by communion something of the
greater Life in which he is immersed and which he has so long
and so successfully ignored. He has managed in his own small
way something equivalent to those drastic purifications, those
searching readjustments, which are undertaken by the heroic
seekers for Reality; the arts whereby they defeat the tyranny of
"the I, the Me, the Mine" and achieve the freedom of a wider life.
Now, perhaps, he may share to some extent in that illumination,
that extended and intensified perception of things, which they
declare to be the heritage of the liberated consciousness.

This illumination shall be gradual. The attainment of it depends
not so much upon a philosophy accepted, or a new gift of vision
suddenly received, as upon an uninterrupted changing and
widening of character; a progressive growth towards the Real, an
ever more profound harmonisation of the self's life with the
greater and inclusive rhythms of existence. It shall therefore
develop in width and depth as the sphere of that self's
intuitive love extends. As your own practical sympathy with and
understanding of other lives, your realisation of them, may be
narrowed and stiffened to include no more than the family group,
or spread over your fellow-workers, your class, your city, party,
country, or religion--even perhaps the whole race--till you feel
yourself utterly part of it, moving with it, suffering with it, and
partake of its whole conscious life; so here. Self-mergence is a
gradual process, dependent on a progressive unlimiting of
personality. The apprehension of Reality which rewards it is
gradual too. In essence, it is one continuous out-flowing
movement towards that boundless heavenly consciousness where
the "flaming ramparts" which shut you from true communion
with all other selves and things is done away; an unbroken
process of expansion and simplification, which is nothing more
or less than the growth of the spirit of love, the full flowering of
the patriotic sense. By this perpetually-renewed casting down of
the hard barriers of individuality, these willing submissions to the
compelling rhythm of a larger existence than that of the solitary
individual or even of the human group--by this perpetual
widening, deepening, and unselfing of your attentiveness--you
are to enlarge your boundaries and become the citizen of a
greater, more joyous, more poignant world, the partaker of a
more abundant life. The limits of this enlargement have not yet
been discovered. The greatest contemplatives, returning from
their highest ascents, can only tell us of a world that is

But this growth into higher realities, this blossoming of your
contemplative consciousness--though it be, like all else we know
in life, an unbroken process of movement and change--must be
broken up and reduced to the series of concrete forms which we
call "order" if our inelastic minds are to grasp it. So, we will
consider it as the successive achievement of those three levels or
manifestations of Reality, which we have agreed to call the
Natural World of Becoming, the Metaphysical World of Being,
and--last and highest--that Divine Reality within which these
opposites are found as one. Though these three worlds of
experience are so plaited together, that intimations from the
deeper layers of being constantly reach you through the natural
scene, it is in this order of realisation that you may best think of
them, and of your own gradual upgrowth to the full stature of
humanity. To elude nature, to refuse her friendship, and attempt
to leap the river of life in the hope of finding God on the other
side, is the common error of a perverted mysticality. It is as fatal
in result as the opposite error of deliberately arrested
development, which, being attuned to the wonderful rhythms of
natural life, is content with this increase of sensibility; and,
becoming a "nature-mystic," asks no more.

So you are to begin with that first form of contemplation which
the old mystics sometimes called the "discovery of God in His
creatures." Not with some ecstatic adventure in supersensuous
regions, but with the loving and patient exploration of the world
that lies at your gates; the "ebb and flow and ever-during power"
of which your own existence forms a part. You are to push back
the self's barriers bit by bit, till at last all duration is included in
the widening circles of its intuitive love: till you find in every
manifestation of life--even those which you have petulantly
classified as cruel or obscene--the ardent self-expression of that
Immanent Being whose spark burns deep in your own soul.

The Indian mystics speak perpetually of the visible universe as
the Lila or Sport of God: the Infinite deliberately expressing
Himself in finite form, the musical manifestation of His creative
joy. All gracious and all courteous souls, they think, will gladly
join His play; considering rather the wonder and achievement of
the whole--its vivid movement, its strange and terrible evocations
of beauty from torment, nobility from conflict and death, its
mingled splendour of sacrifice and triumph--than their personal
conquests, disappointments, and fatigues. In the first form of
contemplation you are to realise the movement of this game, in
which you have played so long a languid and involuntary part,
and find your own place in it. It is flowing, growing, changing,
making perpetual unexpected patterns within the evolving
melody of the Divine Thought. In all things it is incomplete,
unstable; and so are you. Your fellow-men, enduring on the
battlefield, living and breeding in the slum, adventurous and
studious, sensuous and pure--more, your great comrades, the
hills, the trees, the rivers, the darting birds, the scuttering insects,
the little soft populations of the grass--all these are playing with
you. They move one to another in delicate responsive measures,
now violent, now gentle, now in conflict, now in peace; yet ever
weaving the pattern of a ritual dance, and obedient to the music
of that invisible Choragus whom Boehme and Plotinus knew.
What is that great wind which blows without, in continuous and
ineffable harmonies? Part of you, practical man. There is but one
music in the world: and to it you contribute perpetually, whether
you will or no, your one little ditty of no tone.

"Mad with joy, life and death dance to the rhythm of this music:
The hills and the sea and the earth dance:
The world of man dances in laughter and tears."

It seems a pity to remain in ignorance of this, to keep as it were a
plate-glass window between yourself and your fellow-dancers--
all those other thoughts of God, perpetually becoming, changing
and growing beside you--and commit yourself to the unsocial
attitude of the "cat that walks by itself."

Begin therefore at once. Gather yourself up, as the exercises of
recollection have taught you to do. Then--with attention no
longer frittered amongst the petty accidents and interests of your
personal life, but poised, tense, ready for the work you shall
demand of it--stretch out by a distinct act of loving will towards
one of the myriad manifestations of life that surround you: and
which, in an ordinary way, you hardly notice unless you happen
to need them. Pour yourself out towards it, do not draw its image
towards you. Deliberate--more, impassioned--attentiveness, an
attentiveness which soon transcends all consciousness of
yourself, as separate from and attending to the thing seen; this is
the condition of success. As to the object of contemplation, it
matters little. From Alp to insect, anything will do, provided that
your attitude be right: for all things in this world towards which
you are stretching out are linked together, and one truly
apprehended will be the gateway to the rest.

Look with the eye of contemplation on the most dissipated tabby
of the streets, and you shall discern the celestial quality of life set
like an aureole about his tattered ears, and hear in his strident
mew an echo of

"The deep enthusiastic joy,
The rapture of the hallelujah sent
From all that breathes and is."

The sooty tree up which he scrambles to escape your earnest gaze
is holy too. It contains for you the whole divine cycle of the
seasons; upon the plane of quiet, its inward pulse is clearly to be
heard. But you must look at these things as you would look into
the eyes of a friend: ardently, selflessly, without considering his
reputation, his practical uses, his anatomical peculiarities, or the
vices which might emerge were he subjected to psycho-analysis.

Such a simple exercise, if entered upon with singleness of heart,
will soon repay you. By this quiet yet tense act of communion,
this loving gaze, you will presently discover a relationship--far
more intimate than anything you imagined--between yourself and
the surrounding "objects of sense"; and in those objects of sense a
profound significance, a personal quality, and actual power of
response, which you might in cooler moments think absurd.
Making good your correspondences with these fellow-travellers,
you will learn to say with Whitman:

"You air that serves me with breath to speak!
You objects that call from diffusion my meanings and give them
You light that wraps me and all things in delicate equable showers!
You paths worn in the irregular hollows by the roadside!
I believe you are latent with unseen existences, you are so dear
to me."

A subtle interpenetration of your spirit with the spirit of those
"unseen existences," now so deeply and thrillingly felt by you,
will take place. Old barriers will vanish: and you will become
aware that St. Francis was accurate as well as charming when he
spoke of Brother Wind and Sister Water; and that Stevenson was
obviously right when he said, that since:

"The world is so full of a number of things,
I'm sure we ought all to be happy as kings."

Those glad and vivid "things" will speak to you. They will offer you
news at least as definite and credible as that which the paper-boy
is hawking in the street: direct messages from that Beauty
which the artist reports at best at second hand. Because of your
new sensitiveness, anthems will be heard of you from every
gutter; poems of intolerable loveliness will bud for you on every
weed. Best and greatest, your fellowmen will shine for you with
new significance and light. Humility and awe will be evoked in
you by the beautiful and patient figures of the poor, their long
dumb heroisms, their willing acceptance of the burden of life. All
the various members of the human group, the little children and
the aged, those who stand for energy, those dedicated to skill, to
thought, to plainest service, or to prayer, will have for you fresh
vivid significance, be felt as part of your own wider being. All
adventurous endeavours, all splendour of pain and all beauty of
play--more, that grey unceasing effort of existence which makes
up the groundwork of the social web, and the ineffective hopes,
enthusiasms, and loves which transfuse it--all these will be seen
and felt by you at last as full of glory, full of meaning; for you
will see them with innocent, attentive, disinterested eyes, feel
them as infinitely significant and adorable parts of the
Transcendent Whole in which you also are immersed.

This discovery of your fraternal link with all living things, this
down-sinking of your arrogant personality into the great generous
stream of life, marks an important stage in your apprehension of
that Science of Love which contemplation is to teach. You are
not to confuse it with pretty fancies about nature, such as all
imaginative persons enjoy; still less, with a self-conscious and
deliberate humanitarianism. It is a veritable condition of
awareness; a direct perception, not an opinion or an idea. For
those who attain it, the span of the senses is extended. These live
in a world which is lit with an intenser light; has, as George Fox
insisted, "another smell than before." They hear all about them
the delicate music of growth, and see the "new colour" of which
the mystics speak.

Further, you will observe that this act, and the attitude which is
proper to it, differs in a very important way even from that
special attentiveness which characterised the stage of meditation,
and which seems at first sight to resemble it in many respects.
Then, it was an idea or image from amongst the common stock--
one of those conceptual labels with which the human paste-brush
has decorated the surface of the universe--which you were
encouraged to hold before your mind. Now, turning away from
the label, you shall surrender yourself to the direct message
poured out towards you by the thing. Then, you considered:
now, you are to absorb. This experience will be, in the very
highest sense, the experience of sensation without thought: the
essential sensation, the "savouring" to which some of the mystics
invite us, of which our fragmentary bodily senses offer us a
transient sacrament. So here at last, in this intimate communion,
this "simple seeing," this total surrender of you to the impress of
things, you are using to the full the sacred powers of sense: and
so using them, because you are concentrating upon them,
accepting their reports in simplicity. You have, in this
contemplative outlook, carried the peculiar methods of artistic
apprehension to their highest stage: with the result that the
sense-world has become for you, as Erigena said that all creatures
were, "a theophany, or appearance of God." Not, you observe, a
symbol, but a showing: a very different thing. You have begun
now the Plotinian ascent from multiplicity to unity, and therefore
begin to perceive in the Many the clear and actual presence of the
One: the changeless and absolute Life, manifesting itself in all
the myriad nascent, crescent, cadent lives. Poets, gazing thus at
the "flower in the crannied wall" or the "green thing that stands in
the way," have been led deep into the heart of its life; there to
discern the secret of the universe.

All the greater poems of Wordsworth and Walt Whitman represent
an attempt to translate direct contemplative experience of
this kind into words and rhythms which might convey its
secret to other men: all Blake's philosophy is but a desperate
effort to persuade us to exchange the false world of "Nature" on
which we usually look--and which is not really Nature at all--for
this, the true world, to which he gave the confusing name of
"Imagination." For these, the contemplation of the World of
Becoming assumes the intense form which we call genius: even
to read their poems is to feel the beating of a heart, the upleap of
a joy, greater than anything that we have known. Yet your own
little efforts towards the attainment of this level of consciousness
will at least give to you, together with a more vivid universe, a
wholly new comprehension of their works; and that of other poets
and artists who have drunk from the chalice of the Spirit of Life.
These works are now observed by you to be the only artistic
creations to which the name of Realism is appropriate; and it is
by the standard of reality that you shall now criticise them,
recognising in utterances which you once dismissed as rhetoric
the desperate efforts of the clear-sighted towards the exact
description of things veritably seen in that simplified state of
consciousness which Blake called "imagination uncorrupt." It
was from those purified and heightened levels of perception to
which the first form of contemplation inducts the soul, that Julian
of Norwich, gazing upon "a little thing, the quantity of an hazel
nut," found in it the epitome of all that was made; for therein she
perceived the royal character of life. So small and helpless in its
mightiest forms, so august even in its meanest, that life in its
wholeness was then realised by her as the direct outbirth of, and
the meek dependant upon, the Energy of Divine Love. She felt at
once the fugitive character of its apparent existence, the
perdurable Reality within which it was held. "I marvelled," she
said, "how it might last, for methought it might suddenly have
fallen to naught for littleness. And I was answered in my
understanding: It lasteth, and ever shall, for that God loveth it.
And so All-thing hath the being by the love of God." To this
same apprehension of Reality, this linking up of each finite
expression with its Origin, this search for the inner significance
of every fragment of life, one of the greatest and most balanced
contemplatives of the nineteenth century, Florence Nightingale,
reached out when she exclaimed in an hour of self-examination,
"I must strive to see only God in my friends, and God in my

Yet it is not the self-tormenting strife of introspective and
self-conscious aspiration, but rather an unrelaxed, diligent intention,
a steady acquiescence, a simple and loyal surrender to the great
currents of life, a holding on to results achieved in your best
moments, that shall do it for you: a surrender not limp but
deliberate, a trustful self-donation, a "living faith." "A pleasing
stirring of love," says The Cloud of Unknowing, not a
desperate anxious struggle for more light. True contemplation
can only thrive when defended from two opposite exaggerations:
quietism on the one hand, and spiritual fuss upon the other.
Neither from passivity nor from anxiety has it anything to
gain. Though the way may be long, the material of your mind
intractable, to the eager lover of Reality ultimate success is
assured. The strong tide of Transcendent Life will inevitably
invade, clarify, uplift the consciousness which is open to receive
it; a movement from without--subtle yet actual--answering each
willed movement from within. "Your opening and His entering,"
says Eckhart, "are but one moment." When, therefore, you put
aside your preconceived ideas, your self-centred scale of values,
and let intuition have its way with you, you open up by this act
new levels of the world. Such an opening-up is the most practical
of all activities; for then and then only will your diurnal
existence, and the natural scene in which that existence is set,
begin to give up to you its richness and meaning. Its paradoxes
and inequalities will be disclosed as true constituents of its
beauty, an inconceivable splendour will be shaken out from its
dingiest folds. Then, and only then, escaping the single vision of
the selfish, you will begin to guess all that your senses were
meant to be.

"I swear the earth shall surely be complete to him or her who
shall be complete,
The earth remains jagged and broken only to him or her who
remains jagged and broken."

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