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"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

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 themselves."

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 God."

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 God.

"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

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.

This chapter deals with contemplating the "world of Being" which Underhill in the previous chapter called "Metaphysical" which helps me not at all to understand what this chapter is about.  Why do we need this intermediate form of contemplation?  Well, Underhill was a mystic and i am not.  This is an experiential thing; until i have fully learned to contemplate nature, i won't have the experience required to understand why i cannot just skip to the "third form."

I am further troubled by her omission of Eastern (Taoist, Hindu, and Buddhist) examples of meditation and contemplation, which, paradoxically, might further simplify her teaching.

In the same vein, i have to be careful about my  understanding of her terms "desire" and "craving."  I immediately think of the Noble Truth that all suffering is caused by desire.  I have to understand better than i do the idea of "disinterested adoration." or detachment with love.  If i can clarify this i can perhaps understand how an impersonal and "ruthless" Tao can be the source of compassion and mercy in its human followers.

Evidently, because the world of Becoming and the word of Being are "opposites" they must be contemplated separately before they can be experienced as a unity  in the "third form of contemplation."  How Taoists. Buddhists, and agnostics can deal with this, i will have to wait to find out.

I much enjoyed the section on Julian's visions (pages 61-64) which seemed to me to give the clearer idea of what Underhill was trying to say here.  Buy why should "He maintaineth" creation seem to be supposed to be more important than "He loveth" it?

My damned mind keeps getting in the way of my heart's desire to achieve unity with the "One." 



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