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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 Third Form Of Contemplation

The hard separation which some mystical writers insist upon
making between "natural" and "supernatural" contemplation, has
been on the whole productive of confusion rather than clearness:
for the word "supernatural" has many unfortunate associations for
the mind of the plain man. It at once suggests to him visions and
ecstasies, superstitious beliefs, ghosts, and other disagreeable
interferences with the order which he calls "natural"; and inclines
him to his old attitude of suspicion in respect of all mystical
things. But some word we must have, to indicate the real
cleavage which exists between the second and third stages in the
development of the contemplative consciousness: the real change
which, if you would go further on these interior paths, must now
take place in the manner of your apprehension of Reality.
Hitherto, all that you have attained has been--or at least has
seemed to you--the direct result of your own hard work. A
difficult self-discipline, the slowly achieved control of your
vagrant thoughts and desires, the steady daily practice of
recollection, a diligent pushing out of your consciousness from
the superficial to the fundamental, an unselfish loving attention;
all this has been rewarded by the gradual broadening and
deepening of your perceptions, by an initiation into the
movements of a larger life, You have been a knocker, a seeker,
an asker: have beat upon the Cloud of Unknowing "with a sharp
dart of longing love." A perpetual effort of the will has
characterised your inner development. Your contemplation, in
fact, as the specialists would say, has been "active," not

But now, having achieved an awareness--obscure and indescribable
indeed, yet actual--of the enfolding presence of Reality,
under those two forms which the theologians call the "immanence"
and the "transcendence" of the Divine, a change is to take
place in the relation between your finite human spirit and
the Infinite Life in which at last it knows itself to dwell. All that
will now come to you--and much perhaps will come--will happen
as it seems without effort on your own part: though really it will
be the direct result of that long stress and discipline which has
gone before, and has made it possible for you to feel the subtle
contact of deeper realities. It will depend also on the steady
continuance--often perhaps through long periods of darkness and
boredom--of that poise to which you have been trained: the
stretching-out of the loving and surrendered will into the dimness
and silence, the continued trustful habitation of the soul in the
atmosphere of the Essential World. You are like a traveller
arrived in a new country. The journey has been a long one; and
the hardships and obstacles involved in it, the effort, the perpetual
conscious pressing forward, have at last come to seem the chief
features of your inner life. Now, with their cessation, you feel
curiously lost; as if the chief object of your existence had been
taken away. No need to push on any further: yet, though there is
no more that you can do of yourself, there is much that may and
must be done to you. The place that you have come to seems
strange and bewildering, for it lies far beyond the horizons of
human thought. There are no familiar landmarks, nothing on
which you can lay hold. You "wander to and fro," as the mystics
say, "in this fathomless ground"; surrounded by silence and
darkness, struggling to breathe this rarefied air. Like those who
go to live in new latitudes, you must become acclimatised. Your
state, then, should now be wisely passive; in order that the great
influences which surround you may take and adjust your spirit,
that the unaccustomed light, which now seems to you a darkness,
may clarify your eyes, and that you may be transformed from a
visitor into an inhabitant of that supernal Country which St.
Augustine described as "no mere vision, but a home."

You are therefore to let yourself go; to cease all conscious,
anxious striving and pushing. Finding yourself in this place of
darkness and quietude, this "Night of the Spirit," as St. John of
the Cross has called it, you are to dwell there meekly; asking
nothing, seeking nothing, but with your doors flung wide open
towards God. And as you do thus, there will come to you an ever
clearer certitude that this darkness enveils the goal for which you
have been seeking from the first; the final Reality with which you
are destined to unite, the perfect satisfaction of your most ardent
and most sacred desires. It is there, but you cannot by your efforts
reach it. This realisation of your own complete impotence, of the
resistance which the Transcendent--long sought and faithfully
served--now seems to offer to your busy outgoing will and love,
your ardour, your deliberate self-donation, is at once the most
painful and most essential phase in the training of the human
soul. It brings you into that state of passive suffering which is to
complete the decentralisation of your character, test the purity of
your love, and perfect your education in humility.

Here, you must oppose more thoroughly than ever before the
instincts and suggestions of your separate, clever, energetic self;
which, hating silence and dimness, is always trying to take
the methods of Martha into the domain of Mary, and seldom
discriminates between passivity and sloth. Perhaps you will find,
when you try to achieve this perfect self-abandonment, that a
further, more drastic self-exploration, a deeper, more searching
purification than that which was forced upon you by your first
experience of the recollective state is needed. The last fragments
of selfhood, the very desire for spiritual satisfaction--the
fundamental human tendency to drag down the Simple Fact and
make it ours, instead of offering ourselves to it--must be sought
out and killed. In this deep contemplation, this profound Quiet,
your soul gradually becomes conscious of a constriction, a
dreadful narrowness of personality; something still existing in
itself, still tending to draw inwards to its own centre, and keeping
it from that absolute surrender which is the only way to peace.
An attitude of perfect generosity, complete submission, willing
acquiescence in anything that may happen--even in failure and
death--is here your only hope: for union with Reality can only be
a union of love, a glad and humble self-mergence in the universal
life. You must, so far as you are able, give yourself up to, "die
into," melt into the Whole; abandon all efforts to lay hold of It.
More, you must be willing that it should lay hold of you. "A pure
bare going forth," says Tauler, trying to describe the sensations of
the self at this moment. "None," says Ruysbroeck, putting this
same experience, this meek outstreaming of the bewildered spirit,
into other language, "is sure of Eternal Life, unless he has died
with his own attributes wholly into God."

It is unlikely that agreeable emotions will accompany this utter
self-surrender; for everything will now seem to be taken from
you, nothing given in exchange. But if you are able to make it, a
mighty transformation will result. From the transitional plane of
darkness, you will be reborn into another "world," another stage
of realisation: and find yourself, literally, to be other than you
were before. Ascetic writers tell us that the essence of the change
now effected consists in the fact that "God's action takes the
place of man's activity"--that the surrendered self "does not act,
but receives." By this they mean to describe, as well as our
concrete language will permit, the new and vivid consciousness
which now invades the contemplative; the sense which he has of
being as it were helpless in the grasp of another Power, so utterly
part of him, so completely different from him--so rich and
various, so transfused with life and feeling, so urgent and so
all-transcending--that he can only think of it as God. It is for
this that the dimness and steadily increasing passivity of the
stage of Quiet has been preparing him; and it is out of this
willing quietude and ever-deepening obscurity that the new
experiences come.

"O night that didst lead thus,
O night more lovely than the dawn of light,
O night that broughtest us
Lover to lover's sight--
Lover with loved in marriage of delight,"

says St. John of the Cross in the most wonderful of all mystical
poems. "He who has had experience of this," says St. Teresa of
the same stage of apprehension, "will understand it in some
measure: but it cannot be more clearly described because what
then takes place is so obscure. All I am able to say is, that the
soul is represented as being close to God; and that there abide a
conviction thereof so certain and strong, that it cannot possibly
help believing so."

This sense, this conviction, which may be translated by the
imagination into many different forms, is the substance of the
greatest experiences and highest joys of the mystical saints. The
intensity with which it is realised will depend upon the ardour,
purity, and humility of the experiencing soul: but even those who
feel it faintly are convinced by it for evermore. In some great and
generous spirits, able to endure the terrific onslaught of Reality,
it may even reach a vividness by which all other things are
obliterated; and the self, utterly helpless under the inundations of
this transcendent life-force, passes into that simple state of
consciousness which is called Ecstasy.

But you are not to be frightened by these special manifestations;
or to suppose that here the road is barred against you. Though
these great spirits have as it were a genius for Reality, a
susceptibility to supernal impressions, so far beyond your own
small talent that there seems no link between you: yet you have,
since you are human, a capacity for the Infinite too. With less
intensity, less splendour, but with a certitude which no arguments
will ever shake, this sense of the Living Fact, and of its
mysterious contacts with and invasions of the human spirit, may
assuredly be realised by you. This realisation--sometimes felt
under the symbols of personality, sometimes under those of an
impersonal but life-giving Force, Light, Energy, or Heat--is the
ruling character of the third phase of contemplation; and the
reward of that meek passivity, that "busy idleness" as the mystics
sometimes call it, which you have been striving to attain. Sooner
or later, if you are patient, it will come to you through the
darkness: a mysterious contact, a clear certitude of intercourse
and of possession--perhaps so gradual in its approach that the
break, the change from the ever-deepening stillness and peace of
the second phase, is hardly felt by you; perhaps, if your nature be
ardent and unstable, with a sudden shattering violence, in a
"storm of love."

In either case, the advent of this experience is incalculable, and
completely outside your own control. So far, to use St. Teresa's
well-known image, you have been watering the garden of your
spirit by hand; a poor and laborious method, yet one in which
there is a definite relation between effort and result. But now the
watering-can is taken from you, and you must depend upon the
rain: more generous, more fruitful, than anything which your own
efforts could manage, but, in its incalculable visitations, utterly
beyond your control. Here all one can say is this: that if you
acquiesce in the heroic demands which the spiritual life now
makes upon you, if you let yourself go, eradicate the last traces of
self-interest even of the most spiritual kind--then, you have
established conditions under which the forces of the spiritual
world can work on you, heightening your susceptibilities,
deepening and purifying your attention, so that you are able to
taste and feel more and more of the inexhaustible riches of

Thus dying to your own will, waiting for what is given, infused,
you will presently find that a change in your apprehension has
indeed taken place: and that those who said self-loss was the only
way to realisation taught no pious fiction but the truth. The
highest contemplative experience to which you have yet attained
has seemed above all else a still awareness. The cessation of your
own striving, a resting upon and within the Absolute World--
these were its main characteristics for your consciousness. But
now, this Ocean of Being is no longer felt by you as an
emptiness, a solitude without bourne. Suddenly you know it to be
instinct with a movement and life too great for you to apprehend.
You are thrilled by a mighty energy, uncontrolled by you,
unsolicited by you: its higher vitality is poured into your soul.
You enter upon an experience for which all the terms of power,
thought, motion, even of love, are inadequate: yet which contains
within itself the only complete expression of all these things.
Your strength is now literally made perfect in weakness: because
of the completeness of your dependence, a fresh life is infused
into you, such as your old separate existence never knew.
Moreover, to that diffused and impersonal sense of the Infinite, in
which you have dipped yourself, and which swallows up and
completes all the ideas your mind has ever built up with the
help of the categories of time and space, is now added the
consciousness of a Living Fact which includes, transcends,
completes all that you mean by the categories of personality and
of life. Those ineffective, half-conscious attempts towards free
action, clear apprehension, true union, which we dignify by the
names of will, thought, and love are now seen matched by an
Absolute Will, Thought, and Love; instantly recognised by the
contemplating spirit as the highest reality it yet has known, and
evoking in it a passionate and a humble joy.

This unmistakable experience has been achieved by the mystics
of every religion; and when we read their statements, we know
that all are speaking of the same thing. None who have had it
have ever been able to doubt its validity. It has always become
for them the central fact, by which all other realities must
be tested and graduated. It has brought to them the deep
consciousness of sources of abundant life now made accessible to
man; of the impact of a mighty energy, gentle, passionate,
self-giving, creative, which they can only call Absolute Love.
Sometimes they feel this strange life moving and stirring within
them. Sometimes it seems to pursue, entice, and besiege them. In
every case, they are the passive objects upon which it works. It is
now another Power which seeks the separated spirit and demands
it; which knocks at the closed door of the narrow personality;
which penetrates the contemplative consciousness through and
through, speaking, stirring, compelling it; which sometimes, by
its secret irresistible pressure, wins even the most recalcitrant
in spite of themselves. Sometimes this Power is felt as an
impersonal force, the unifying cosmic energy, the indrawing love
which gathers all things into One; sometimes as a sudden access
of vitality, a light and heat, enfolding and penetrating the self and
making its languid life more vivid and more real; sometimes as a
personal and friendly Presence which counsels and entreats the

In each case, the mystics insist again that this is God; that here
under these diverse manners the soul has immediate intercourse
with Him. But we must remember that when they make this
declaration, they are speaking from a plane of consciousness far
above the ideas and images of popular religion; and from a place
which is beyond the judiciously adjusted horizon of philosophy.
They mean by this word, not a notion, however august; but an
experienced Fact so vivid, that against it the so-called facts of
daily life look shadowy and insecure. They say that this Fact is
"immanent"; dwelling in, transfusing, and discoverable through
every aspect of the universe, every movement of the game of
life--as you have found in the first stage of contemplation. There you
may hear its melody and discern its form. And further, that It is
"transcendent"; in essence exceeding and including the sum of
those glimpses and contacts which we obtain by self-mergence in
life, and in Its simplest manifestations above and beyond
anything to which reason can attain--"the Nameless Being, of
Whom nought can be said." This you discovered to be true in the
second stage. But in addition to this, they say also, that this
all-pervasive, all-changing, and yet changeless One, Whose melody
is heard in all movement, and within Whose Being "the worlds
are being told like beads," calls the human spirit to an immediate
intercourse, a unity, a fruition, a divine give-and-take, for
which the contradictory symbols of feeding, of touching, of
marriage, of immersion, are all too poor; and which evokes in the
fully conscious soul a passionate and a humble love. "He devours
us and He feeds us!" exclaims Ruysbroeck. "Here," says St.
Thomas Aquinas, "the soul in a wonderful and unspeakable
manner both seizes and is seized upon, devours and is herself
devoured, embraces and is violently embraced: and by the knot of
love she unites herself with God, and is with Him as the Alone
with the Alone."

The marvellous love-poetry of mysticism, the rhapsodies which
extol the spirit's Lover, Friend, Companion, Bridegroom; which
describe the "deliberate speed, majestic instancy" of the Hound of
Heaven chasing the separated soul, the onslaughts, demands, and
caresses of this "stormy, generous, and unfathomable love"--all
this is an attempt, often of course oblique and symbolic in
method, to express and impart this transcendent secret, to
describe that intense yet elusive state in which alone union with
the living heart of Reality is possible. "How delicately Thou
teachest love tome!" cries St. John of the Cross; and here indeed
we find all the ardours of all earthly lovers justified by an
imperishable Objective, which reveals Itself in all things that we
truly love, and beyond all these things both seeks us and compels
us, "giving more than we can take and asking more than we can

You do not, you never will know, what this Objective is: for as
Dionysius teaches, "if any one saw God and understood what he
saw, then it was not God that he saw, but something that belongs
to Him." But you do know now that it exists, with an intensity
which makes all other existences unreal; save in so far as they
participate in this one Fact. "Some contemplate the Formless, and
others meditate on Form: but the wise man knows that Brahma is
beyond both." As you yield yourself more and more completely
to the impulses of this intimate yet unseizable Presence, so much
the sweeter and stronger--so much the more constant and steady--
will your intercourse with it become. The imperfect music of
your adoration will be answered and reinforced by another music,
gentle, deep, and strange; your out-going movement, the
stretching forth of your desire from yourself to something other,
will be answered by a movement, a stirring, within you yet not
conditioned by you. The wonder and variety of this intercourse is
never-ending. It includes in its sweep every phase of human love
and self-devotion, all beauty and all power, all suffering and
effort, all gentleness and rapture: here found in synthesis. Going
forth into the bareness and darkness of this unwalled world of
high contemplation, you there find stored for you, and at last
made real, all the highest values, all the dearest and noblest
experiences of the world of growth and change.

You see now what it is that you have been doing in the course of
your mystical development. As your narrow heart stretched
to a wider sympathy with life, you have been surrendering
progressively to larger and larger existences, more and more
complete realities: have been learning to know them, to share
their very being, through the magic of disinterested love. First,
the manifested, flowing, evolving life of multiplicity: felt by you
in its wonder and wholeness, once you learned to yield yourself
to its rhythms, received in simplicity the undistorted messages of
sense. Then, the actual unchanging ground of life, the eternal and
unconditioned Whole, transcending all succession: a world
inaccessible alike to senses and intelligence, but felt--vaguely,
darkly, yet intensely--by the quiet and surrendered consciousness.
But now you are solicited, whether you will or no, by a greater
Reality, the final inclusive Fact, the Unmeasured Love, which "is
through all things everlastingly": and yielding yourself
to it, receiving and responding to its obscure yet ardent
communications, you pass beyond the cosmic experience to the
personal encounter, the simple yet utterly inexpressible union of
the soul with its God.

And this threefold union with Reality, as your attention is
focussed now on one aspect, now on another, of its rich
simplicity, will be actualised by you in many different ways: for
you are not to suppose that an unchanging barren ecstasy is now
to characterise your inner life. Though the sense of your own
dwelling within the Eternal transfuses and illuminates it, the
sense of your own necessary efforts, a perpetual renewal of
contact with the Spiritual World, a perpetual self-donation, shall
animate it too. When the greater love overwhelms the lesser, and
your small self-consciousness is lost in the consciousness of the
Whole, it will be felt as an intense stillness, a quiet fruition of
Reality. Then, your very selfhood seems to cease, as it does in all
your moments of great passion; and you are "satisfied and
overflowing, and with Him beyond yourself eternally fulfilled."
Again, when your own necessary activity comes into the foreground,
your small energetic love perpetually pressing to deeper
and deeper realisation--"tasting through and through, and
seeking through and through, the fathomless ground" of the
Infinite and Eternal--it seems rather a perpetually renewed
encounter than a final achievement. Since you are a child of Time
as well as of Eternity, such effort and satisfaction, active and
passive love are both needed by you, if your whole life is to be
brought into union with the inconceivably rich yet simple One in
Whom these apparent opposites are harmonised. Therefore
seeking and finding, work and rest, conflict and peace, feeding on
God and self-immersion in God, spiritual marriage and spiritual
death--these contradictory images are all wanted, if we are to
represent the changing moods of the living, growing human
spirit; the diverse aspects under which it realises the simple fact
of its intercourse with the Divine.

Each new stage achieved in the mystical development of the
spirit has meant, not the leaving behind of the previous
stages, but an adding on to them: an ever greater extension of
experience, and enrichment of personality. So that the total result
of this change, this steady growth of your transcendental self, is
not an impoverishment of the sense-life in the supposed interests
of the super-sensual, but the addition to it of another life--a huge
widening and deepening of the field over which your attention
can play. Sometimes the mature contemplative consciousness
narrows to an intense point of feeling, in which it seems
indeed "alone with the Alone": sometimes it spreads to a vast
apprehension of the Universal Life, or perceives the common
things of sense aflame with God. It moves easily and with no
sense of incongruity from hours of close personal communion
with its Friend and Lover to self-loss in the "deep yet dazzling
darkness" of the Divine Abyss: or, re-entering that living world
of change which the first form of contemplation disclosed to it,
passes beyond those discrete manifestations of Reality to realise
the Whole which dwells in and inspires every part. Thus
ascending to the mysterious fruition of that Reality which is
beyond image, and descending again to the loving contemplation
and service of all struggling growing things, it now finds and
adores everywhere--in the sky and the nest, the soul and the
void--one Energetic Love which "is measureless, since it is all
that exists," and of which the patient up-climb of the individual
soul, the passionate outpouring of the Divine Mind, form the
completing opposites.

Next: The Mystical Life

Previous: The Second Form Of Contemplation

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