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 m
naged 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."