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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 Preparation Of The Mystic

Here the practical man will naturally say: And pray how am I
going to do this? How shall I detach myself from the artificial
world to which I am accustomed? Where is the brake that shall
stop the wheel of my image-making mind?

I answer: You are going to do it by an educative process; a drill,
of which the first stages will, indeed, be hard enough. You have
already acknowledged the need of such mental drill, such
deliberate selective acts, in respect to the smaller matters of life.
You willingly spend time and money over that narrowing and
sharpening of attention which you call a "business training," a
"legal education," the "acquirement of a scientific method." But
this new undertaking will involve the development and the
training of a layer of your consciousness which has lain fallow in
the past; the acquirement of a method you have never used
before. It is reasonable, even reassuring, that hard work and
discipline should be needed for this: that it should demand of
you, if not the renunciation of the cloister, at least the virtues of
the golf course.

The education of the mystical sense begins in self-simplification.
The feeling, willing, seeing self is to move from the various and
the analytic to the simple and the synthetic: a sentence which
may cause hard breathing and mopping of the brows on the part
of the practical man. Yet it is to you, practical man, reading these
pages as you rush through the tube to the practical work of
rearranging unimportant fragments of your universe, that this
message so needed by your time--or rather, by your want of time--
is addressed. To you, unconscious analyst, so busy reading the
advertisements upon the carriage wall, that you hardly observe
the stages of your unceasing flight: so anxiously acquisitive of
the crumbs that you never lift your eyes to the loaf. The essence
of mystical contemplation is summed in these two experiences--
union with the flux of life, and union with the Whole in which all
lesser realities are resumed--and these experiences are well
within your reach. Though it is likely that the accusation will
annoy you, you are already in fact a potential contemplative: for
this act, as St. Thomas Aquinas taught, is proper to all men--is,
indeed, the characteristic human activity.

More, it is probable that you are, or have been, an actual
contemplative too. Has it never happened to you to lose yourself
for a moment in a swift and satisfying experience for which you
found no name? When the world took on a strangeness, and you
rushed out to meet it, in a mood at once exultant and ashamed?
Was there not an instant when you took the lady who now orders
your dinner into your arms, and she suddenly interpreted to you
the whole of the universe? a universe so great, charged with so
terrible an intensity, that you have hardly dared to think of it
since. Do you remember that horrid moment at the concert, when
you became wholly unaware of your comfortable seven-and-sixpenny
seat? Those were onsets of involuntary contemplation; sudden
partings of the conceptual veil. Dare you call them the least
significant, moments of your life? Did you not then, like the
African saint, "thrill with love and dread," though you were not
provided with a label for that which you adored?

It will not help you to speak of these experiences as "mere
emotion." Mere emotion then inducted you into a world which
you recognised as more valid--in the highest sense, more rational--
than that in which you usually dwell: a world which had a
wholeness, a meaning, which exceeded the sum of its parts. Mere
emotion then brought you to your knees, made you at once proud
and humble, showed you your place. It simplified and unified
existence: it stripped off the little accidents and ornaments which
perpetually deflect our vagrant attention, and gathered up the
whole being of you into one state, which felt and knew a Reality
that your intelligence could not comprehend. Such an emotion is
the driving power of spirit, and august and ultimate thing: and
this your innermost inhabitant felt it to be, whilst your eyes were
open to the light.

Now that simplifying act, which is the preliminary of all mystical
experience, that gathering of the scattered bits of personality into
the one which is really you--into the "unity of your spirit," as
the mystics say--the great forces of love, beauty, wonder, grief,
may do for you now and again. These lift you perforce from the
consideration of the details to the contemplation of the All: turn
you from the tidy world of image to the ineffable world of fact.
But they are fleeting and ungovernable experiences, descending
with dreadful violence on the soul. Are you willing that your
participation in Reality shall depend wholly on these incalculable
visitations: on the sudden wind and rain that wash your windows,
and let in the vision of the landscape at your gates? You can, if
you like, keep those windows clear. You can, if you choose to
turn your attention that way, learn to look out of them. These are
the two great phases in the education of every contemplative: and
they are called in the language of the mystics the purification of
the senses and the purification of the will.

Those who are so fortunate as to experience in one of its many
forms the crisis which is called "conversion" are seized, as it
seems to them, by some power stronger than themselves and
turned perforce in the right direction. They find that this
irresistible power has cleansed the windows of their homely coat
of grime; and they look out, literally, upon a new heaven and new
earth. The long quiet work of adjustment which others must
undertake before any certitude rewards them is for these
concentrated into one violent shattering and rearranging of the
self, which can now begin its true career of correspondence with
the Reality it has perceived. To persons of this type I do not
address myself: but rather to the ordinary plodding scholar of life,
who must reach the same goal by a more gradual road.

What is it that smears the windows of the senses? Thought,
convention, self-interest. We throw a mist of thought between
ourselves and the external world: and through this we discern, as
in a glass darkly, that which we have arranged to see. We see it in
the way in which our neighbours see it; sometimes through a
pink veil, sometimes through a grey. Religion, indigestion,
priggishness, or discontent may drape the panes. The prismatic
colours of a fashionable school of art may stain them. Inevitably,
too, we see the narrow world our windows show us, not "in
itself," but in relation to our own needs, moods, and preferences;
which exercise a selective control upon those few aspects of the
whole which penetrate to the field of consciousness and dictate
the order in which we arrange them, for the universe of the
natural man is strictly egocentric. We continue to name the living
creatures with all the placid assurance of Adam: and whatsoever
we call them, that is the name thereof. Unless we happen to be
artists--and then but rarely--we never know the "thing seen" in its
purity; never, from birth to death, look at it with disinterested
eyes. Our vision and understanding of it are governed by all that
we bring with us, and mix with it, to form an amalgam with
which the mind can deal. To "purify" the senses is to release
them, so far as human beings may, from the tyranny of egocentric
judgments; to make of them the organs of direct perception.
This means that we must crush our deep-seated passion for
classification and correspondences; ignore the instinctive, selfish
question, "What does it mean to me?" learn to dip ourselves in
the universe at our gates, and know it, not from without by
comprehension, but from within by self-mergence.

Richard of St. Victor has said, that the essence of all purification
is self-simplification; the doing away of the unnecessary and
unreal, the tangles and complications of consciousness: and we
must remember that when these masters of the spiritual life speak
of purity, they have in their minds no thin, abstract notion of a
rule of conduct stripped of all colour and compounded chiefly of
refusals, such as a more modern, more arid asceticism set up.
Their purity is an affirmative state; something strong, clean, and
crystalline, capable of a wholeness of adjustment to the
wholeness of a God-inhabited world. The pure soul is like a lens
from which all irrelevancies and excrescences, all the beams and
motes of egotism and prejudice, have been removed; so that it
may reflect a clear image of the one Transcendent Fact within
which all others facts are held.

"All which I took from thee I did but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might'st seek it in My arms."

All the details of existence, all satisfactions of the heart and
mind, are resumed within that Transcendent Fact, as all the
colours of the spectrum are included in white light: and we
possess them best by passing beyond them, by following back the
many to the One.

The "Simple Eye" of Contemplation, about which the mystic
writers say so much, is then a synthetic sense; which sees that
white light in which all colour is, without discrete analysis of its
properties. The Simple Ear which discerns the celestial melody,
hears that Tone in which all music is resumed; thus achieving
that ecstatic life of "sensation without thought" which Keats
perceived to be the substance of true happiness.

But you, practical man, have lived all your days amongst the
illusions of multiplicity. Though you are using at every instant
your innate tendency to synthesis and simplification, since this
alone creates the semblance of order in your universe--though
what you call seeing and hearing are themselves great unifying
acts--yet your attention to life has been deliberately adjusted to a
world of frittered values and prismatic refracted lights: full of
incompatible interests, of people, principles, things. Ambitions
and affections, tastes and prejudices, are fighting for your
attention. Your poor, worried consciousness flies to and fro
amongst them; it has become a restless and a complicated thing.
At this very moment your thoughts are buzzing like a swarm of
bees. The reduction of this fevered complex to a unity appears to
be a task beyond all human power. Yet the situation is not as
hopeless for you as it seems. All this is only happening upon the
periphery of the mind, where it touches and reacts to the world of
appearance. At the centre there is a stillness which even you are
not able to break. There, the rhythm of your duration is one with
the rhythm of the Universal Life. There, your essential self exists:
the permanent being which persists through and behind the flow
and change of your conscious states. You have been snatched to
that centre once or twice. Turn your consciousness inward to it
deliberately. Retreat to that point whence all the various lines of
your activities flow, and to which at last they must return. Since
this alone of all that you call your "selfhood" is possessed of
eternal reality, it is surely a counsel of prudence to acquaint
yourself with its peculiarities and its powers. "Take your seat
within the heart of the thousand-petaled lotus," cries the Eastern
visionary. "Hold thou to thy Centre," says his Christian brother,
"and all things shall be thine." This is a practical recipe, not a
pious exhortation. The thing may sound absurd to you, but you
can do it if you will: standing back, as it were, from the vague
and purposeless reactions in which most men fritter their vital
energies. Then you can survey with a certain calm, a certain
detachment, your universe and the possibilities of life within it:
can discern too, if you be at all inclined to mystical adventure, the
stages of the road along which you must pass on your way
towards harmony with the Real.

This universe, these possibilities, are far richer, yet far simpler
than you have supposed. Seen from the true centre of personality,
instead of the usual angle of self-interest, their scattered parts
arrange themselves in order: you begin to perceive those
graduated levels of Reality with which a purified and intensified
consciousness can unite. So, too, the road is more logically
planned, falls into more comprehensible stages, than those who
dwell in a world of single vision are willing to believe.

Now it is a paradox of human life, often observed even by the
most concrete and unimaginative of philosophers, that man seems
to be poised between two contradictory orders of Reality. Two
planes of existence--or, perhaps, two ways of apprehending
existence--lie within the possible span of his consciousness. That
great pair of opposites which metaphysicians call Being and
Becoming, Eternity and Time, Unity and Multiplicity, and others
mean, when they speak of the Spiritual and the Natural Worlds,
represents the two extreme forms under which the universe can
be realised by him. The greatest men, those whose consciousness
is extended to full span, can grasp, be aware of, both. They
know themselves to live, both in the discrete, manifested,
ever-changeful parts and appearances, and also in the Whole Fact.
They react fully to both: for them there is no conflict between the
parochial and the patriotic sense. More than this, a deep instinct
sometimes assures them that the inner spring or secret of that
Whole Fact is also the inner spring and secret of their individual
lives: and that here, in this third factor, the disharmonies between
the part and the whole are resolved. As they know themselves to
dwell in the world of time and yet to be capable of transcending
it, so the Ultimate Reality, they think, inhabits yet inconceivably
exceeds all that they know to be--as the soul of the musician
controls and exceeds not merely each note of the flowing melody,
but also the whole of that symphony in which these cadences
must play their part. That invulnerable spark of vivid life, that
"inward light" which these men find at their own centres when
they seek for it, is for them an earnest of the Uncreated Light, the
ineffable splendour of God, dwelling at, and energising within
the heart of things: for this spark is at once one with, yet separate
from, the Universal Soul.

So then, man, in the person of his greatest and most living
representatives, feels himself to have implicit correspondences
with three levels of existence; which we may call the Natural, the
Spiritual, and the Divine. The road on which he is to travel
therefore, the mystical education which he is to undertake, shall
successively unite him with these three worlds; stretching his
consciousness to the point at which he finds them first as three,
and at last as One. Under normal circumstances even the first of
them, the natural world of Becoming, is only present to him--
unless he be an artist--in a vague and fragmentary way. He is, of
course, aware of the temporal order, a ceaseless change and
movement, birth, growth, and death, of which he is a part. But the
rapture and splendour of that everlasting flux which India calls
the Sport of God hardly reaches his understanding; he is too busy
with his own little movements to feel the full current of the

But under those abnormal circumstances on which we have
touched, a deeper level of his consciousness comes into focus; he
hears the music of surrounding things. Then he rises, through and
with his awareness of the great life of Nature, to the knowledge
that he is part of another greater life, transcending succession. In
this his durational spirit is immersed. Here all the highest values
of existence are stored for him: and it is because of his existence
within this Eternal Reality, his patriotic relationship to it, that the
efforts and experiences of the time-world have significance for
him. It is from the vantage point gained when he realises his
contacts with this higher order, that he can see with the clear eye
of the artist or the mystic the World of Becoming itself--
recognise its proportions--even reach out to some faint intuition
of its ultimate worth. So, if he would be a whole man, if he would
realise all that is implicit in his humanity, he must actualise his
relationship with this supernal plane of Being: and he shall do it,
as we have seen, by simplification, by a deliberate withdrawal of
attention from the bewildering multiplicity of things, a deliberate
humble surrender of his image-making consciousness. He already
possesses, at that gathering point of personality which the old
writers sometimes called the "apex" and sometimes the "ground"
of the soul, a medium of communication with Reality. But this
spiritual principle, this gathering point of his selfhood, is just that
aspect of him which is furthest removed from the active surface
consciousness. He treats it as the busy citizen treats his national
monuments. It is there, it is important, a possession which adds
dignity to his existence; but he never has time to go in. Yet as the
purified sense, cleansed of prejudice and self-interest, can give us
fleeting communications from the actual broken-up world of
duration at our gates: so the purified and educated will can
wholly withdraw the self's attention from its usual concentration
on small useful aspects of the time-world, refuse to react to its
perpetually incoming messages, retreat to the unity of its spirit,
and there make itself ready for messages from another plane.
This is the process which the mystics call Recollection: the first
stage in the training of the contemplative consciousness.

We begin, therefore, to see that the task of union with Reality
will involve certain stages of preparation as well as stages
of attainment; and these stages of preparation--for some
disinterested souls easy and rapid, for others long and full of
pain--may be grouped under two heads. First, the disciplining and
simplifying of the attention, which is the essence of Recollection.
Next, the disciplining and simplifying of the affections and will,
the orientation of the heart; which is sometimes called by the
formidable name of Purgation. So the practical mysticism of the
plain man will best be grasped by him as a five-fold scheme of
training and growth: in which the first two stages prepare the self
for union with Reality, and the last three unite it successively
with the World of Becoming, the World of Being, and finally
with that Ultimate Fact which the philosopher calls the Absolute
and the religious mystic calls God.

Next: Meditation And Recollection

Previous: The World Of Reality

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