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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 Second Form Of Contemplation

"And here," says Ruysbroeck of the self which has reached this
point, "there begins a hunger and a thirst which shall never more
be stilled."

In the First Form of Contemplation that self has been striving to
know better its own natural plane of existence. It has stretched
out the feelers of its intuitive love into the general stream of
duration of which it is a part. Breaking down the fences of
personality, merging itself in a larger consciousness, it
has learned to know the World of Becoming from within--as a
citizen, a member of the great society of life, not merely as a
spectator. But the more deeply and completely you become
immersed in and aware of this life, the greater the extension of
your consciousness; the more insistently will rumours and
intimations of a higher plane of experience, a closer unity and
more complete synthesis, begin to besiege you. You feel that
hitherto you nave received the messages of life in a series of
disconnected words and notes, from which your mind constructed
as best it could certain coherent sentences and tunes--laws,
classifications, relations, and the rest. But now you reach
out towards the ultimate sentence and melody, which exist
independently of your own constructive efforts; and realise that
the words and notes which so often puzzled you by displaying an
intensity that exceeded the demands of your little world, only
have beauty and meaning just because and in so far as you
discern them to be the partial expressions of a greater whole
which is still beyond your reach.

You have long been like a child tearing up the petals of flowers
in order to make a mosaic on the garden path; and the results of
this murderous diligence you mistook for a knowledge of the
world. When the bits fitted with unusual exactitude, you called it
science. Now at last you have perceived the greater truth and
loveliness of the living plant from which you broke them: have,
in fact, entered into direct communion with it, "united" with its
reality. But this very recognition of the living growing plant does
and must entail for you a consciousness of deeper realities,
which, as yet, you have not touched: of the intangible things and
forces which feed and support it; of the whole universe that
touches you through its life. A mere cataloguing of all the plants--
though this were far better than your old game of indexing your
own poor photographs of them--will never give you access to the
Unity, the Fact, whatever it may be, which manifests itself
through them. To suppose that it can do so is the cardinal error of
the "nature mystic": an error parallel with that of the psychologist
who looks for the soul in "psychic states."

The deeper your realisation of the plant in its wonder, the more
perfect your union with the world of growth and change, the
quicker, the more subtle your response to its countless
suggestions; so much the more acute will become your craving
for Something More. You will now find and feel the Infinite and
Eternal, making as it were veiled and sacramental contacts with
you under these accidents--through these its ceaseless creative
activities--and you will want to press through and beyond them,
to a fuller realisation of, a more perfect and unmediated union
with, the Substance of all That Is. With the great widening and
deepening of your life that has ensued from the abolition of a
narrow selfhood, your entrance into the larger consciousness of
living things, there has necessarily come to you an instinctive
knowledge of a final and absolute group-relation, transcending
and including all lesser unions in its sweep. To this, the second
stage of contemplation, in which human consciousness enters
into its peculiar heritage, something within you now seems to
urge you on.

If you obey this inward push, pressing forward with the "sharp
dart of your longing love," forcing the point of your wilful
attention further and further into the web of things, such an
ever-deepening realisation, such an extension of your conscious
life, will indeed become possible to you. Nothing but your own
apathy, your feeble and limited desire, limits this realisation.
Here there is a strict relation between demand and supply--your
achievement shall be in proportion to the greatness of your
desire. The fact, and the in-pressing energy, of the Reality
without does not vary. Only the extent to which you are able to
receive it depends upon your courage and generosity, the measure
in which you give yourself to its embrace. Those minds which set
a limit to their self-donation must feel as they attain it, not a sense
of satisfaction but a sense of constriction. It is useless to offer
your spirit a garden--even a garden inhabited by saints and
angels--and pretend that it has been made free of the universe.
You will not have peace until you do away with all banks and
hedges, and exchange the garden for the wilderness that is
unwalled; that wild strange place of silence where "lovers lose

Yet you must begin this great adventure humbly; and take, as
Julian of Norwich did, the first stage of your new outward-going
journey along the road that lies nearest at hand. When Julian
looked with the eye of contemplation upon that "little thing"
which revealed to her the oneness of the created universe, her
deep and loving sight perceived in it successively three
properties, which she expressed as well as she might under the
symbols of her own theology: "The first is that God made it; the
second is that God loveth it; the third is that God keepeth it."
Here are three phases in the ever-widening contemplative
apprehension of Reality. Not three opinions, but three facts, for
which she struggles to find words. The first is that each separate
living thing, budding "like an hazel nut" upon the tree of life, and
there destined to mature, age, and die, is the outbirth of another
power, of a creative push: that the World of Becoming in all its
richness and variety is not ultimate, but formed by Something
other than, and utterly transcendent to, itself. This, of course, the
religious mind invariably takes for granted: but we are concerned
with immediate experience rather than faith. To feel and know
those two aspects of Reality which we call "created" and
"uncreated," nature and spirit--to be as sharply aware of them, as
sure of them, as we are of land and sea--is to be made free of the
supersensual world. It is to stand for an instant at the Poet's side,
and see that Poem of which you have deciphered separate phrases
in the earlier form of contemplation. Then you were learning to
read: and found in the words, the lines, the stanzas, an
astonishing meaning and loveliness. But how much greater the
significance of every detail would appear to you, how much more
truly you would possess its life, were you acquainted with the
Poem: not as a mere succession of such lines and stanzas, but as a
non-successional whole.

From this Julian passes to that deeper knowledge of the heart
which comes from a humble and disinterested acceptance of life;
that this Creation, this whole changeful natural order, with all its
apparent collisions, cruelties, and waste, yet springs from an
ardour, an immeasurable love, a perpetual donation, which
generates it, upholds it, drives it; for "all-thing hath the being
by the love of God." Blake's anguished question here receives its
answer: the Mind that conceived the lamb conceived the tiger
too. Everything, says Julian in effect, whether gracious, terrible,
or malignant, is enwrapped in love: and is part of a world
produced, not by mechanical necessity, but by passionate desire.

Therefore nothing can really be mean, nothing despicable;
nothing, however perverted, irredeemable. The blasphemous
other-worldliness of the false mystic who conceives of matter as
an evil thing and flies from its "deceits," is corrected by this
loving sight. Hence, the more beautiful and noble a thing appears
to us, the more we love it--so much the more truly do we see it:
for then we perceive within it the Divine ardour surging up
towards expression, and share that simplicity and purity of vision
in which most saints and some poets see all things "as they are in

Lastly, this love-driven world of duration--this work within
which the Divine Artist passionately and patiently expresses His
infinite dream under finite forms--is held in another, mightier
embrace. It is "kept," says Julian. Paradoxically, the perpetual
changeful energies of love and creation which inspire it are
gathered up and made complete within the unchanging fact of
Being: the Eternal and Absolute, within which the world of
things is set as the tree is set in the supporting earth, the enfolding
air. There, finally, is the rock and refuge of the seeking
consciousness wearied by the ceaseless process of the flux. There
that flux exists in its wholeness, "all at once"; in a manner which
we can never comprehend, but which in hours of withdrawal we
may sometimes taste and feel. It is in man's moments of contact
with this, when he penetrates beyond all images, however lovely,
however significant, to that ineffable awareness which the
mystics call "Naked Contemplation"--since it is stripped of all the
clothing with which reason and imagination drape and disguise
both our devils and our gods--that the hunger and thirst of the
heart is satisfied, and we receive indeed an assurance of ultimate
Reality. This assurance is not the cool conclusion of a successful
argument. It is rather the seizing at last of Something which we
have ever felt near us and enticing us: the unspeakably simple
because completely inclusive solution of all the puzzles of life.

As, then, you gave yourself to the broken-up yet actual reality of
the natural world, in order that it might give itself to you, and
your possession of its secret was achieved, first by surrender of
selfhood, next by a diligent thrusting out of your attention, last by
a union of love; so now by a repetition upon fresh levels of that
same process, you are to mount up to higher unions still. Held
tight as it seems to you in the finite, committed to the perpetual
rhythmic changes, the unceasing flux of "natural" life--compelled
to pass on from state to state, to grow, to age, to die--there is yet,
as you discovered in the first exercise of recollection, something
in you which endures through and therefore transcends this world
of change. This inhabitant, this mobile spirit, can spread and
merge in the general consciousness, and gather itself again to one
intense point of personality. It has too an innate knowledge of--an
instinct for--another, greater rhythm, another order of Reality, as
yet outside its conscious field; or as we say, a capacity for the
Infinite. This capacity, this unfulfilled craving, which the cunning
mind of the practical man suppresses and disguises as best it can,
is the source of all your unrest. More, it is the true origin of all
your best loves and enthusiasms, the inspiring cause of your
heroisms and achievements; which are but oblique and tentative
efforts to still that strange hunger for some final object of
devotion, some completing and elucidating vision, some total
self-donation, some great and perfect Act within which your little
activity can be merged.

St. Thomas Aquinas says, that a man is only withheld from this
desired vision of the Divine Essence, this discovery of the
Pure Act (which indeed is everywhere pressing in on him and
supporting him), by the apparent necessity which he is under of
turning to bodily images, of breaking up his continuous and
living intuition into Conceptual scraps; in other words, because
he cannot live the life of sensation without thought. But it is not
the man, it is merely his mental machinery which is under this
"necessity." This it is which translates, analyses, incorporates in
finite images the boundless perceptions of the spirit: passing
through its prism the White Light of Reality, and shattering it to a
succession of coloured rays. Therefore the man who would know
the Divine Secret must unshackle himself more thoroughly than
ever before from the tyranny of the image-making power. As it is
not by the methods of the laboratory that we learn to know life,
so it is not by the methods of the intellect that we learn to know

"For of all other creatures and their works," says the author of
The Cloud of Unknowing, "yea, and of the works of God's self,
may a man through grace have full-head of knowing, and well he
can think of them: but of God Himself can no man think. And
therefore I would leave all that thing that I can think, and choose
to my love that thing that I cannot think. For why; He may well
be loved, but not thought. By love may He be gotten and holden;
but by thought never."

"Gotten and holden": homely words, that suggest rather the
outstretching of the hand to take something lying at your very
gates, than the long outward journey or terrific ascent of the
contemplative soul. Reality indeed, the mystics say, is "near and
far"; far from our thoughts, but saturating and supporting our
lives. Nothing would be nearer, nothing dearer, nothing sweeter,
were the doors of our perception truly cleansed. You have then
but to focus attention upon your own deep reality, "realise your
own soul," in order to find it. "We dwell in Him and He in us":
you participate in the Eternal Order now. The vision of the
Divine Essence--the participation of its own small activity in the
Supernal Act--is for the spark of your soul a perpetual process.
On the apex of your personality, spirit ever gazes upon Spirit,
melts and merges in it: from and by this encounter its life arises
and is sustained. But you have been busy from your childhood
with other matters. All the urgent affairs of "life," as you absurdly
called it, have monopolised your field of consciousness. Thus all
the important events of your real life, physical and spiritual--the
mysterious perpetual growth of you, the knitting up of fresh bits
of the universe into the unstable body which you confuse with
yourself, the hum and whirr of the machine which preserves your
contacts with the material world, the more delicate movements
which condition your correspondences with, and growth within,
the spiritual order--all these have gone on unperceived by you.
All the time you have been kept and nourished, like the "Little
Thing," by an enfolding and creative love; yet of this you are less
conscious than you are of the air that you breathe.

Now, as in the first stage of contemplation you learned and
established, as a patent and experienced fact, your fraternal
relation with all the other children of God, entering into the
rhythm of their existence, participating in their stress and their
joy; will you not at least try to make patent this your filial
relation too? This actualisation of your true status, your place in
the Eternal World, is waiting for you. It represents the next phase
in your gradual achievement of Reality. The method by which
you will attain to it is strictly analogous to that by which you
obtained a more vivid awareness of the natural world in which
you grow and move. Here too it shall be direct intuitive contact,
sensation rather than thought, which shall bring you certitude--
"tasting food, not talking about it," as St. Bonaventura says.

Yet there is a marked difference between these two stages. In the
first, the deliberate inward retreat and gathering together of your
faculties which was effected by recollection, was the prelude to a
new coming forth, an outflow from the narrow limits of a merely
personal life to the better and truer apprehension of the created
world. Now, in the second stage, the disciplined and recollected
attention seems to take an opposite course. It is directed towards
a plane of existence with which your bodily senses have no
attachments: which is not merely misrepresented by your
ordinary concepts, but cannot be represented by them at all. It
must therefore sink inwards towards its own centre, "away from
all that can be thought or felt," as the mystics say, "away from
every image, every notion, every thing," towards that strange
condition of obscurity which St. John of the Cross calls the
"Night of Sense." Do this steadily, checking each vagrant
instinct, each insistent thought, however "spiritual" it may seem;
pressing ever more deeply inwards towards that ground, that
simple and undifferentiated Being from which your diverse
faculties emerge. Presently you will find yourself, emptied and
freed, in a place stripped bare of all the machinery of thought;
and achieve the condition of simplicity which those same
specialists call nakedness of spirit or "Wayless Love," and which
they declare to be above all human images and ideas--a state of
consciousness in which "all the workings of the reason fail."
Then you will observe that you have entered into an intense and
vivid silence: a silence which exists in itself, through and in spite
of the ceaseless noises of your normal world. Within this world
of silence you seem as it were to lose yourself, "to ebb and to
flow, to wander and be lost in the Imageless Ground," says
Ruysbroeck, struggling to describe the sensations of the self in
this, its first initiation into the "wayless world, beyond image,"
where "all is, yet in no wise."

Yet in spite of the darkness that enfolds you, the Cloud of
Unknowing into which you have plunged, you are sure that it is
well to be here. A peculiar certitude which you cannot analyse, a
strange satisfaction and peace, is distilled into you. You begin to
understand what the Psalmist meant, when he said, "Be still, and
know." You are lost in a wilderness, a solitude, a dim strange
state of which you can say nothing, since it offers no material to
your image-making mind.

But this wilderness, from one point of view so bare and desolate,
from another is yet strangely homely. In it, all your sorrowful
questionings are answered without utterance; it is the All, and
you are within it and part of it, and know that it is good. It calls
forth the utmost adoration of which you are capable; and,
mysteriously, gives love for love. You have ascended now, say
the mystics, into the Freedom of the Will of God; are become
part of a higher, slower duration, which carries you as it were
upon its bosom and--though never perhaps before has your soul
been so truly active--seems to you a stillness, a rest.

The doctrine of Plotinus concerning a higher life of unity, a lower
life of multiplicity, possible to every human spirit, will now
appear to you not a fantastic theory, but a plain statement of fact,
which you have verified in your own experience. You perceive
that these are the two complementary ways of apprehending and
uniting with Reality--the one as a dynamic process, the other as
an eternal whole. Thus understood, they do not conflict.
You know that the flow, the broken-up world of change and
multiplicity, is still going on; and that you, as a creature of the
time-world, are moving and growing with it. But, thanks to the
development of the higher side of your consciousness, you are
now lifted to a new poise; a direct participation in that simple,
transcendent life "broken, yet not divided," which gives to this
time-world all its meaning and validity. And you know, without
derogation from the realness of that life of flux within which you
first made good your attachments to the universe, that you are
also a true constituent of the greater whole; that since you are
man, you are also spirit, and are living Eternal Life now, in the
midst of time.

The effect of this form of contemplation, in the degree in which
the ordinary man may learn to practise it, is like the sudden
change of atmosphere, the shifting of values, which we experience
when we pass from the busy streets into a quiet church; where
a lamp burns, and a silence reigns, the same yesterday, to-day,
and for ever. Thence is poured forth a stillness which strikes
through the tumult without. Eluding the flicker of the arc-lamps,
thence through an upper window we may glimpse a perpetual star.

The walls of the church, limiting the range of our attention,
shutting out the torrent of life, with its insistent demands and
appeals, make possible our apprehension of this deep eternal
peace. The character of our consciousness, intermediate between
Eternity and Time, and ever ready to swing between them, makes
such a device, such a concrete aid to concentration, essential to
us. But the peace, the presence, is everywhere--for us, not for it,
is the altar and the sanctuary required--and your deliberate,
humble practice of contemplation will teach you at last to find it;
outside the sheltering walls of recollection as well as within. You
will realise then what Julian meant, when she declared the
ultimate property of all that was made to be that "God keepeth
it": will feel the violent consciousness of an enfolding
Presence, utterly transcending the fluid changeful nature-life, and
incomprehensible to the intelligence which that nature-life has
developed and trained. And as you knew the secret of that
nature-life best by surrendering yourself to it, by entering its
currents, and refusing to analyse or arrange: so here, by a
deliberate giving of yourself to the silence, the rich "nothingness,"
the "Cloud," you will draw nearest to the Reality it conceals
from the eye of sense. "Lovers put out the candle and draw the
curtains," says Patmore, "when they wish to see the God and the
Goddess: and in the higher communion, the night of thought is
the light of perception."

Such an experience of Eternity, the attainment of that intuitive
awareness, that meek and simple self-mergence, which the
mystics call sometimes, according to its degree and special
circumstances, the Quiet, the Desert of God, the Divine Dark,
represents the utmost that human consciousness can do of itself
towards the achievement of union with Reality. To some it brings
joy and peace, to others fear: to all a paradoxical sense of the
lowliness and greatness of the soul, which now at last can
measure itself by the august standards of the Infinite. Though the
trained and diligent will of the contemplative can, if control of
the attention be really established, recapture this state of
awareness, retreat into the Quiet again and again, yet it is of
necessity a fleeting experience; for man is immersed in duration,
subject to it. Its demands upon his attention can only cease with
the cessation of physical life--perhaps not then. Perpetual
absorption in the Transcendent is a human impossibility, and the
effort to achieve it is both unsocial and silly. But this experience,
this "ascent to the Nought," changes for ever the proportions of
the life that once has known it; gives to it depth and height, and
prepares the way for those further experiences, that great
transfiguration of existence which comes when the personal
activity of the finite will gives place to the great and compelling
action of another Power.

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Previous: The First Form Of Contemplation

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