Underhill: Practical Mysticism




Author of ”Mysticism,” ”The Mystic Way,” ”Immanence: A Book of Verses.”

”If the doors of perception were cleansed,
everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.
For man has closed himself up,
till he sees all things through the narrow chinks of his cavern.”


Copyright 1915 by
E.P. Dutton & Company



Preface <#1> vii
I. What is Mysticism <#2> 1
II. The World of Reality <#3> 13
III. The Preparation of the Mystic <#4> 21
IV. Meditation and Recollection <#5> 56
V. Self-Adjustment <#6> 29
VI. Love and Will <#7> 74
VII. The First Form of Contemplation <#8> 87
VIII. The Second Form of Contemplation <#9> 105
XI. The Third Form of Contemplation <#10> 126
X. The Mystical Life <#11> 148


This little book, written during the last months of peace, goes to press
in the first weeks of the great war. Many will feel that in such a time
of conflict and horror, when only the most ignorant, disloyal, or
apathetic can hope for quietness of mind, a book which deals with that
which is called the ”contemplative” attitude to existence is wholly out
of place. So obvious, indeed, is this point of view, that I had at first
thought of postponing its publication. On the one hand, it seems as
though the dreams of a spiritual renaissance, which promised so fairly
but a little time ago, had perished in the sudden explosion of brute
force. On the other hand, the thoughts of the English race are now
turned, and rightly, towards the most concrete forms of action–struggle
and endurance, practical sacrifices, difficult and long-continued
effort–rather than towards the passive attitude of self-surrender which
is all that the practice of mysticism seems, at first sight, to demand.
Moreover, that deep conviction of the dependence of all human worth upon
eternal values, the immanence of the Divine Spirit within the human
soul, which lies at the root of a mystical concept of life, is hard
indeed to reconcile with much of the human history now being poured
red-hot from the cauldron of war. For all these reasons, we are likely
during the present crisis to witness a revolt from those superficially
mystical notions which threatened to become too popular during the
immediate past.

Yet, the title deliberately chosen for this book–that of ”Practical”
Mysticism–means nothing if the attitude and the discipline which it
recommends be adapted to fair weather alone: if the principles for which
it stands break down when subjected to the pressure of events, and
cannot be reconciled with the sterner duties of the national life. To
accept this position is to reduce mysticism to the status of a spiritual
plaything. On the contrary, if the experiences on which it is based have
indeed the transcendent value for humanity which the mystics claim for
them–if they reveal to us a world of higher truth and greater reality
than the world of concrete happenings in which we seem to be
immersed–then that value is increased rather than lessened when
confronted by the overwhelming disharmonies and sufferings of the
present time. It is significant that many of these experiences are
reported to us from periods of war and distress: that the stronger the
forces of destruction appeared, the more intense grew the spiritual
vision which opposed them. We learn from these records that the mystical
consciousness has the power of lifting those who possess it to a plane
of reality which no struggle, no cruelty, can disturb: of conferring a
certitude which no catastrophe can wreck. Yet it does not wrap its
initiates in a selfish and otherworldly calm, isolate them from the pain
and effort of the common life. Rather, it gives them renewed vitality;
administering to the human spirit not–as some suppose–a soothing
draught, but the most powerful of stimulants. Stayed upon eternal
realities, that spirit will be far better able to endure and profit by
the stern discipline which the race is now called to undergo, than those
who are wholly at the mercy of events; better able to discern the real
from the illusory issues, and to pronounce judgment on the new problems,
new difficulties, new fields of activity now disclosed. Perhaps it is
worth while to remind ourselves that the two women who have left the
deepest mark upon the military history of France and England–Joan of
Arc and Florence Nightingale–both acted under mystical compulsion. So,
too, did one of the noblest of modern soldiers, General Gordon. Their
national value was directly connected with their deep spiritual
consciousness: their intensely practical energies were the flowers of a
contemplative life.

We are often told, that in the critical periods of history it is the
national soul which counts: that ”where there is no vision, the people
perish.” No nation is truly defeated which retains its spiritual
self-possession. No nation is truly victorious which does not emerge
with soul unstained. If this be so, it becomes a part of true patriotism
to keep the spiritual life, both of the individual citizen and of the
social group, active and vigorous; its vision of realities unsullied by
the entangled interests and passions of the time. This is a task in
which all may do their part. The spiritual life is not a special career,
involving abstraction from the world of things. It is a part of every
man’s life; and until he has realised it he is not a complete human
being, has not entered into possession of all his powers. It is
therefore the function of a practical mysticism to increase, not
diminish, the total efficiency, the wisdom and steadfastness, of those
who try to practise it. It will help them to enter, more completely than
ever before, into the life of the group to which they belong. It will
teach them to see the world in a truer proportion, discerning eternal
beauty beyond and beneath apparent ruthlessness. It will educate them in
a charity free from all taint of sentimentalism; it will confer on them
an unconquerable hope; and assure them that still, even in the hour of
greatest desolation, ”There lives the dearest freshness deep down
things.” As a contribution, then, to these purposes, this little book is
now published. It is addressed neither to the learned nor to the devout,
who are already in possession of a wide literature dealing from many
points of view with the experiences and philosophy of the mystics. Such
readers are warned that they will find here nothing but the re-statement
of elementary and familiar propositions, and invitations to a discipline
immemorially old. Far from presuming to instruct those to whom
first-hand information is both accessible and palatable, I write only
for the larger class which, repelled by the formidable appearance of
more elaborate works on the subject, would yet like to know what is
meant by mysticism, and what it has to offer to the average man: how it
helps to solve his problems, how it harmonises with the duties and
ideals of his active life. For this reason, I presuppose in my readers
no knowledge whatever of the subject, either upon the philosophic,
religious, or historical side. Nor, since I wish my appeal to be
general, do I urge the special claim of any one theological system, any
one metaphysical school. I have merely attempted to put the view of the
universe and man’s place in it which is common to all mystics in plain
and untechnical language: and to suggest the practical conditions under
which ordinary persons may participate in their experience. Therefore
the abnormal states of consciousness which sometimes appear in
connection with mystical genius are not discussed: my business being
confined to the description of a faculty which all men possess in a
greater or less degree.

The reality and importance of this faculty are considered in the first
three chapters. In the fourth and fifth is described the preliminary
training of attention necessary for its use; in the sixth, the general
self-discipline and attitude toward life which it involves. The seventh,
eighth, and ninth chapters treat in an elementary way of the three great
forms of contemplation; and in the tenth, the practical value of the
life in which they have been actualised is examined. Those kind enough
to attempt the perusal of the book are begged to read the first sections
with some attention before passing to the latter part.

E. U.

/September/ 12, 1914.



Those who are interested in that special attitude towards the universe
which is now loosely called ”mystical,” find themselves beset by a
multitude of persons who are constantly asking–some with real fervour,
some with curiosity, and some with disdain–”What /is/ mysticism?” When
referred to the writings of the mystics themselves, and to other works
in which this question appears to be answered, these people reply that
such books are wholly incomprehensible to them.

On the other hand, the genuine inquirer will find before long a number
of self-appointed apostles who are eager to answer his question in many
strange and inconsistent ways, calculated to increase rather than
resolve the obscurity of his mind. He will learn that mysticism is a
philosophy, an illusion, a kind of religion, a disease; that it means
having visions, performing conjuring tricks, leading an idle, dreamy,
and selfish life, neglecting one’s business, wallowing in vague
spiritual emotions, and being ”in tune with the infinite.” He will
discover that it emancipates him from all dogmas–sometimes from all
morality–and at the same time that it is very superstitious. One expert
tells him that it is simply ”Catholic piety,” another that Walt Whitman
was a typical mystic; a third assures him that all mysticism comes from
the East, and supports his statement by an appeal to the mango trick. At
the end of a prolonged course of lectures, sermons, tea-parties, and
talks with earnest persons, the inquirer is still heard saying–too
often in tones of exasperation–”What /is/ mysticism?”

I dare not pretend to solve a problem which has provided so much good
hunting in the past. It is indeed the object of this little essay to
persuade the practical man to the one satisfactory course: that of
discovering the answer for himself. Yet perhaps it will give confidence
if I confess pears to cover all the ground; or at least, all that part
of the ground which is worth covering. It will hardly stretch to the
mango trick; but it finds room at once for the visionaries and the
philosophers, for Walt Whitman and the saints.

Here is the definition:–

/Mysticism is the art of union with Reality. The mystic is a person who
has attained that union in greater or less degree; or who aims at and
believes in such attainment./

It is not expected that the inquirer will find great comfort in this
sentence when first it meets his eye. The ultimate question, ”What is
Reality?”–a question, perhaps, which never occurred to him before–is
already forming in his mind; and he knows that it will cause him
infinite-distress. Only a mystic can answer it: and he, in terms which
other mystics alone will understand. Therefore, for the time being, the
practical man may put it on one side. All that he is asked to consider
now is this: that the word ”union” represents not so much a rare and
unimaginable operation, as something which he is doing, in a vague,
imperfect fashion, at every moment of his conscious life; and doing with
intensity and thoroughness in all the more valid moments of that life.
We know a thing only by uniting with it; by assimilating it; by an
interpenetration of it and ourselves. It gives itself to us, just in so
far as we give ourselves to it; and it is because our outflow towards
things is usually so perfunctory and so languid, that our comprehension
of things is so perfunctory and languid too. The great Sufi who said
that ”Pilgrimage to the place of the wise, is to escape the flame of
separation” spoke the literal truth. Wisdom is the fruit of communion;
ignorance the inevitable portion of those who ”keep themselves to
themselves,” and stand apart, judging, analysing the things which they
have never truly known.

Because he has surrendered himself to it, ”united” with it, the patriot
knows his country, the artist knows the subject of his art, the lover
his beloved, the saint his God, in a manner which is inconceivable as
well as unattainable by the looker-on. Real knowledge, since it always
implies an intuitive sympathy more or less intense, is far more
accurately suggested by the symbols of touch and taste than by those of
hearing and sight. True, analytic thought follows swiftly upon the
contact, the apprehension, the union: and we, in our muddle-headed way,
have persuaded ourselves that this is the essential part of
knowledge–that it is, in fact, more important to cook the hare than to
catch it. But when we get rid of this illusion and go back to the more
primitive activities through which our mental kitchen gets its supplies,
we see that the distinction between mystic and non-mystic is not merely
that between the rationalist and the dreamer, between intellect and
intuition. The question which divides them is really this: What, out of
the mass of material offered to it, shall consciousness seize upon–with
what aspects of the universe shall it ”unite”?

It is notorious that the operations of the average human consciousness
unite the self, not with things as they really are, but with images,
notions, aspects of things. The verb ”to be,” which he uses so lightly,
does not truly apply to any of the objects amongst which the practical
man supposes himself to dwell. For him the hare of Reality is always
ready-jugged: he conceives not the living lovely, wild, swift-moving
creature which has been sacrificed in order that he may be fed on the
deplorable dish which he calls ”things as they really are.” So complete,
indeed, is the separation of his consciousness from the facts of being,
that he feels no sense of loss. He is happy enough ”understanding,”
garnishing, assimilating the carcass from which the principle of life
and growth has been ejected, and whereof only the most digestible
portions have been retained. He is not ”mystical.”

But sometimes it is suggested to him that his knowledge is not quite so
thorough as he supposed. Philosophers in particular have a way of
pointing out its clumsy and superficial character; of demonstrating the
fact that he habitually mistakes his own private sensations for
qualities inherent in the mysterious objects of the external world. From
those few qualities of colour, size, texture, and the rest, which his
mind has been able to register and classify, he makes a label which
registers the sum of his own experiences. This he knows, with this he
”unites”; for it is his own creature. It is neat, flat, unchanging, with
edges well defined: a thing one can trust. He forgets the existence of
other conscious creatures, provided with their own standards of reality.
Yet the sea as the fish feels it, the borage as the bee sees it, the
intricate sounds of the hedgerow as heard by the rabbit, the impact of
light on the eager face of the primrose, the landscape as known in its
vastness to the wood-louse and ant–all these experiences, denied to him
for ever, have just as much claim to the attribute of Being as his own
partial and subjective interpretations of things.

Because mystery is horrible to us, we have agreed for the most part to
live in a world of labels; to make of them the current coin of
experience, and ignore their merely symbolic character, the infinite
gradation of values which they misrepresent. We simply do not attempt to
unite with Reality. But now and then that symbolic character is suddenly
brought home to us. Some great emotion, some devastating visitation of
beauty, love, or pain, lifts us to another level of consciousness; and
we are aware for a moment of the difference between the neat collection
of discrete objects and experiences which we call the world, and the
height, the depth, the breadth of that living, growing, changing Fact,
of which thought, life, and energy are parts, and in which we ”live and
move and have our being.” Then we realise that our whole life is
enmeshed in great and living forces; terrible because unknown. Even the
power which lurks in every coal-scuttle, shines in the electric lamp,
pants in the motor-omnibus, declares itself in the ineffable wonders of
reproduction and growth, is supersensual. We do but perceive its
results. The more sacred plane of life and energy which seems to be
manifested in the forces we call ”spiritual” and ”emotional”–in love,
anguish, ecstasy, adoration–is hidden from us too. Symptoms,
appearances, are all that our intellects can discern: sudden
irresistible inroads from it, all that our hearts can apprehend. The
material for an intenser life, a wider, sharper consciousness, a more
profound understanding of our own existence, lies at our gates. But we
are separated from it, we cannot assimilate it; except in abnormal
moments, we hardly know that it is. We now begin to attach at least a
fragmentary meaning to the statement that ”mysticism is the art of union
with Reality.” We see that the claim of such a poet as Whitman to be a
mystic lies in the fact that he has achieved a passionate communion with
deeper levels of life than those with which we usually deal–has thrust
past the current notion to the Fact: that the claim of such a saint as
Teresa is bound up with her declaration that she has achieved union with
the Divine Essence itself. The visionary is a mystic when his vision
mediates to him an actuality beyond the reach of the senses. The
philosopher is a mystic when he passes beyond thought to the pure
apprehension of truth. The active man is a mystic when he knows his
actions to be a part of a greater activity. Blake, Plotinus, Joan of
Arc, and John of the Cross–there is a link which binds all these
together: but if he is to make use of it, the inquirer must find that
link for himself. All four exhibit different forms of the working of the
contemplative consciousness; a faculty which is proper to all men,
though few take the trouble to develop it. Their attention to life has
changed its character, sharpened its focus: and as a result they see,
some a wider landscape, some a more brilliant, more significant, more
detailed world than that which is apparent to the less educated, less
observant vision of common sense. The old story of Eyes and No-Eyes is
really the story of the mystical and unmystical types. ”No-Eyes” has
fixed his attention on the fact that he is obliged to take a walk. For
him the chief factor of existence is his own movement along the road; a
movement which he intends to accomplish as efficiently and comfortably
as he can. He asks not to know what may be on either side of the hedges.
He ignores the caress of the wind until it threatens to remove his hat.
He trudges along, steadily, diligently; avoiding the muddy pools, but
oblivious of the light which they reflect. ”Eyes” takes the walk too:
and for him it is a perpetual revelation of beauty and wonder. The
sunlight inebriates him, the winds delight him, the very effort of the
journey is a joy. Magic presences throng the roadside, or cry
salutations to him from the hidden fields. The rich world through which
he moves lies in the fore-ground of his consciousness; and it gives up
new secrets to him at every step. ”No-Eyes,” when told of his
adventures, usually refuses to believe that both have gone by the same
road. He fancies that his companion has been floating about in the air,
or beset by agreeable hallucinations. We shall never persuade him to the
contrary unless we persuade him to look for himself.

Therefore it is to a practical mysticism that the practical man is here
invited: to a training of his latent faculties, a bracing and
brightening of his languid consciousness, an emancipation from the
fetters of appearance, a turning of his attention to new levels of the
world. Thus he may become aware of the universe which the spiritual
artist is always trying to disclose to the race. This amount of mystical
perception–this ”ordinary contemplation,” as the specialists call
it–is possible to all men: without it, they are not wholly conscious,
nor wholly alive. It is a natural human activity, no more involving the
great powers and sublime experiences of the mystical saints and
philosophers than the ordinary enjoyment of music involves the special
creative powers of the great musician.

As the beautiful does not exist for the artist and poet alone–though
these can find in it more poignant depths of meaning than other men–so
the world of Reality exists for all; and all may participate in it,
unite with it, according to their measure and to the strength and purity
of their desire. ”For heaven ghostly,” says /The Cloud of Unknowing/,
”is as nigh down as up, and up as down; behind as before, before as
behind, on one side as other. Inasmuch, that whoso had a true desire for
to be at heaven, then that same time he were in heaven ghostly. For the
high and the next way thither is run by desires, and not by paces of
feet.” None therefore is condemned, save by his own pride, sloth, or
perversity, to the horrors of that which Blake called ”single
vision”–perpetual and undivided attention to the continuous
cinematograph performance, which the mind has conspired with the senses
to interpose between ourselves and the living world.



The practical man may justly observe at this point that the world of
single vision is the only world he knows: that it appears to him to be
real, solid, and self-consistent: and that until the existence–at
least, the probability–of other planes of reality is made clear to him,
all talk of uniting with them is mere moonshine, which confirms his
opinion of mysticism as a game fit only for idle women and inferior
poets. Plainly, then, it is the first business of the missionary to
create, if he can, some feeling of dissatisfaction with the world within
which the practical man has always lived and acted; to suggest something
of its fragmentary and subjective character. We turn back therefore to a
further examination of the truism–so obvious to those who are
philosophers, so exasperating to those who are not–that man dwells,
under normal conditions, in a world of imagination rather than a world
of facts; that the universe in which he lives and at which he looks is
but a construction which the mind has made from some few amongst the
wealth of materials at its disposal.

The relation of this universe to the world of fact is not unlike the
relation between a tapestry picture and the scene which it imitates.
You, practical man, are obliged to weave your image of the outer world
upon the hard warp of your own mentality; which perpetually imposes its
own convention, and checks the free representation of life. As a
tapestry picture, however various and full of meaning, is ultimately
reducible to little squares; so the world of common sense is ultimately
reducible to a series of static elements conditioned by the machinery of
the brain. Subtle curves, swift movement, delicate gradation, that
machinery cannot represent. It leaves them out. From the countless
suggestions, the tangle of many-coloured wools which the real world
presents to you, you snatch one here and there. Of these you weave
together those which are the most useful, the most obvious, the most
often repeated: which make a tidy and coherent pattern when seen on the
right side. Shut up with this symbolic picture, you soon drop into the
habit of behaving to it as though it were not a representation but a
thing. On it you fix your attention; with it you ”unite.” Yet, did you
look at the wrong side, at the many short ends, the clumsy joins and
patches, this simple philosophy might be disturbed. You would be forced
to acknowledge the conventional character of the picture you have made
so cleverly, the wholesale waste of material involved in the weaving of
it: for only a few amongst the wealth of impressions we receive are
seized and incorporated into our picture of the world. Further, it might
occur to you that a slight alteration in the rhythm of the senses would
place at your disposal a complete new range of material; opening your
eyes and ears to sounds, colours, and movements now inaudible and
invisible, removing from your universe those which you now regard as
part of the established order of things. Even the strands which you have
made use of might have been combined in some other way; with disastrous
results to the ”world of common sense,” yet without any diminution of
their own reality.

Nor can you regard these strands themselves as ultimate. As the most
prudent of logicians might venture to deduce from a skein of wool the
probable existence of a sheep; so you, from the raw stuff of perception,
may venture to deduce a universe which transcends the reproductive
powers of your loom. Even the camera of the photographer, more apt at
contemplation than the mind of man, has shown us how limited are these
powers in some directions, and enlightened us as to a few of the cruder
errors of the person who accepts its products at face-value; or, as he
would say, believes his own eyes. It has shown us, for instance, that
the galloping race-horse, with legs stretched out as we are used to see
it, is a mythical animal, probably founded on the mental image or a
running dog. No horse has ever galloped thus: but its real action is too
quick for us, and we explain it to ourselves as something resembling the
more deliberate dog-action which we have caught and registered as it
passed. The plain man’s universe is full of race-horses which are really
running dogs: of conventional waves, first seen in pictures and then
imagined upon the sea: of psychological situations taken from books and
applied to human life: of racial peculiarities generalised from
insufficient data, and then ”discovered” in actuality: of theological
diagrams and scientific ”laws,” flung upon the background of eternity as
the magic lantern’s image is reflected on the screen.

The coloured scene at which you look so trustfully owes, in fact, much
of its character to the activities of the seer: to that process of
thought–concept–cogitation, from which Keats prayed with so great an
ardour to escape, when he exclaimed in words which will seem to you,
according to the temper of your mind, either an invitation to the higher
laziness or one of the most profound aspirations of the soul, ”O for a
life of sensations rather than thoughts!” He felt–as all the poets have
felt with him–that another, lovelier world, tinted with unimaginable
wonders, alive with ultimate music, awaited those who could free
themselves from the fetters of the mind, lay down the shuttle and the
weaver’s comb, and reach out beyond the conceptual image to intuitive
contact with the Thing.

There are certain happy accidents which have the power of inducting man
for a moment into this richer and more vital world. These stop, as one
old mystic said, the ”wheel of his imagination,” the dreadful energy of
his image-making power weaving up and transmuting the incoming messages
of sense. They snatch him from the loom and place him, in the naked
simplicity of his spirit, face to face with that Other than himself
whence the materials of his industry have come. In these hours human
consciousness ascends from thought to contemplation; becomes at least
aware of the world in which the mystics dwell; and perceives for an
instant, as St. Augustine did, ”the light that never changes, above the
eye of the soul, above the intelligence.” This experience might be
called in essence ”absolute sensation.” It is a pure feeling-state; in
which the fragmentary contacts with Reality achieved through the senses
are merged in a wholeness of communion which feels and knows all at
once, yet in a way which the reason can never understand, that Totality
of which fragments are known by the lover, the musician, and the artist.
If the doors of perception were cleansed, said Blake, everything would
appear to man as it is–Infinite. But the doors of perception are hung
with the cobwebs of thought; prejudice, cowardice, sloth. Eternity is
with us, inviting our contemplation perpetually, but we are too
frightened, lazy, and suspicious to respond: too arrogant to still our
thought, and let divine sensation have its way. It needs industry and
goodwill if we would make that transition: for the process involves a
veritable spring-cleaning of the soul, a turning-out and rearrangement
of our mental furniture, a wide opening of closed windows, that the
notes of the wild birds beyond our garden may come to us fully charged
with wonder and freshness, and drown with their music the noise of the
gramaphone within. Those who do this, discover that they have lived in a
stuffy world, whilst their inheritance was a world of morning-glory;
where every tit-mouse is a celestial messenger, and every thrusting bud
is charged with the full significance of life.

There will be many who feel a certain scepticism as to the possibility
of the undertaking here suggested to them; a prudent unwillingness to
sacrifice their old comfortably upholstered universe, on the mere
promise that they will receive a new heaven and a new earth in exchange.
These careful ones may like to remind themselves that the vision of the
world presented to us by all the great artists and poets–those
creatures whose very existence would seem so strange to us, were we not
accustomed to them–perpetually demonstrates the many-graded character
of human consciousness; the new worlds which await it, once it frees
itself from the tyranny of those labour-saving contrivances with which
it usually works. Leaving on one side the more subtle apprehensions
which we call ”spiritual,” even the pictures of the old Chinese
draughtsmen and the modern impressionists, of Watteau and of Turner, of
Manet, Degas, and Cezanne; the poems of Blake, Wordsworth, Shelley,
Whitman–these, and countless others, assure you that their creators
have enjoyed direct communion, not with some vague world of fancy, but
with a visible natural order which you have never known. These have
seized and woven into their pictures strands which never presented
themselves to you; significant forms which elude you, tones and
relations to which you are blind, living facts for which your
conventional world provides no place. They prove by their works that
Blake was right when he said that ”a fool sees not the same tree that a
wise man sees”; and that psychologists, insisting on the selective
action of the mind, the fact that our preconceptions govern the
character of our universe, do but teach the most demonstrable of truths.
Did you take them seriously, as you should, their ardent reports might
well disgust you with the dull and narrow character of your own

What is it, then, which distinguishes the outlook of great poets and
artists from the arrogant subjectivism of common sense? Innocence and
humility distinguish it. These persons prejudge nothing, criticise
nothing. To some extent, their attitude to the universe is that of
children: and because this is so, they participate to that extent in the
Heaven of Reality. According to their measure, they have fulfilled
Keats’ aspiration, they do live a life in which the emphasis lies on
sensation rather than on thought: for the state which he then struggled
to describe was that ideal state of pure receptivity, of perfect
correspondence with the essence of things, of which all artists have a
share, and which a few great mystics appear to have possessed–not
indeed in its entirety, but to an extent which made them, as they say,
”one with the Reality of things.” The greater the artist is, the wider
and deeper is the range of this pure sensation: the more sharply he is
aware of the torrent of life and loveliness, the rich profusion of
possible beauties and shapes. He always wants to press deeper and
deeper, to let the span of his perception spread wider and wider; till
he unites with the whole of that Reality which he feels all about him,
and of which his own life is a part. He is always tending, in fact, to
pass over from the artistic to the mystical state. In artistic
experience, then, in the artist’s perennial effort to actualise the
ideal which Keats expressed, we may find a point of departure for our
exploration of the contemplative life.

What would it mean for a soul that truly captured it; this life in which
the emphasis should lie on the immediate percepts, the messages the
world pours in on us, instead of on the sophisticated universe into
which our clever brains transmute them? Plainly, it would mean the
achievement of a new universe, a new order of reality: escape from the
terrible museum-like world of daily life, where everything is classified
and labelled, and all the graded fluid facts which have no label are
ignored. It would mean an innocence of eye and innocence of ear
impossible for us to conceive; the impassioned contemplation of pure
form, freed from all the meanings with which the mind has draped and
disguised it; the recapturing of the lost mysteries of touch and
fragrance, most wonderful amongst the avenues of sense. It would mean
the exchanging of the neat conceptual world our thoughts build up,
fenced in by the solid ramparts of the possible, for the inconceivable
richness of that unwalled world from which we have subtracted it. It
would mean that we should receive from every flower, not merely a
beautiful image to which the label ”flower” has been affixed, but the
full impact of its unimaginable beauty and wonder, the direct sensation
of life having communion with life: that the scents of ceasing rain, the
voice of trees, the deep softness of the kitten’s fur, the acrid touch
of sorrel on the tongue, should be in themselves profound, complete, and
simple experiences, calling forth simplicity of response in our souls.

Thus understood, the life of pure sensation is the meat and drink of
poetry, and one of the most accessible avenues to that union with
Reality which the mystic declares to us as the very object of life. But
the poet must take that living stuff direct from the field and river,
without sophistication, without criticism, as the life of the soul is
taken direct from the altar; with an awe that admits not of analysis. He
must not subject it to the cooking, filtering process of the brain. It
is because he knows how to elude this dreadful sophistication of
Reality, because his attitude to the universe is governed by the supreme
artistic virtues of humility and love, that poetry is what it is: and I
include in the sweep of poetic art the coloured poetry of the painter,
and the wordless poetry of the musician and the dancer too.

At this point the critical reader will certainly offer an objection.
”You have been inviting me,” he will say, ”to do nothing more or less
than trust my senses: and this too on the authority of those
impracticable dreamers the poets. Now it is notorious that our senses
deceive us. Every one knows that; and even your own remarks have already
suggested it. How, then, can a wholesale and uncritical acceptance of my
sensations help me to unite with Reality? Many of these sensations we
share with the animals: in some, the animals obviously surpass us. Will
you suggest that my terrier, smelling his way through an uncoordinated
universe, is a better mystic than I?”

To this I reply, that the terrier’s contacts with the world are
doubtless crude and imperfect; yet he has indeed preserved a directness
of apprehension which you have lost. He gets, and responds to, the real
smell; not a notion or a name. Certainly the senses, when taken at
face-value, do deceive us: yet the deception resides not so much in
them, as in that conceptual world which we insist on building up from
their reports, and for which we make them responsible. They deceive us
less when we receive these reports uncooked and unclassified, as simple
and direct experiences. Then, behind the special and imperfect
stammerings which we call colour, sound, fragrance, and the rest, we
sometimes discern a /whole fact/–at once divinely simple and infinitely
various–from which these partial messages proceed; and which seeks as
it were to utter itself in them. And we feel, when this is so, that the
fact thus glimpsed is of an immense significance; imparting to that
aspect of the world which we are able to perceive all the significance,
all the character which it possesses. The more of the artist there is in
us, the more intense that significance, that character will seem: the
more complete, too, will be our conviction that our uneasiness, the
vagueness of our reactions to things, would be cured could we reach and
unite with the fact, instead of our notion of it. And it is just such an
act of union, reached through the clarified channels of sense and
unadulterated by the content of thought, which the great artist or poet

We seem in these words to have come far from the mystic, and that
contemplative consciousness wherewith he ascends to the contact of
Truth. As a matter of fact, we are merely considering that consciousness
in its most natural and accessible form: for contemplation is, on the
one hand, the essential activity of all artists; on the other, the art
through which those who choose to learn and practise it may share in
some fragmentary degree, according to their measure, the special
experience of the mystic and the poet. By it they may achieve that
virginal outlook upon things, that celestial power of communion with
veritable life, which comes when that which we call ”sensation” is freed
from the tyranny of that which we call ”thought.” The artist is no more
and no less than a contemplative who has learned to express himself, and
who tells his love in colour, speech, or sound: the mystic, upon one
side of his nature, is an artist of a special and exalted kind, who
tries to express something of the revelation he has received, mediates
between Reality and the race. In the game of give and take which goes on
between the human consciousness and the external world, both have
learned to put the emphasis upon the message from without, rather than
on their own reaction to and rearrangement of it. Both have exchanged
the false imagination which draws the sensations and intuitions of the
self into its own narrow circle, and there distorts and transforms them,
for the true imagination which pours itself out, eager, adventurous, and
self-giving, towards the greater universe.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Recollection, the art which the practical man is now invited to learn,
is in essence no more and no less than the subjection of the attention
to the control of the will. It is not, therefore, a purely mystical
activity. In one form or another it is demanded of all who would get
control of their own mental processes; and does or should represent the
first great step in the education of the human consciousness. So
slothful, however, is man in all that concerns his higher faculties,
that few deliberately undertake this education at all. They are content
to make their contacts with things by a vague, unregulated power, ever
apt to play truant, ever apt to fail them. Unless they be spurred to it
by that passion for ultimate things which expresses itself in religion,
philosophy, or art, they seldom learn the secret of a voluntary
concentration of the mind.

Since the philosopher’s interests are mainly objective, and the artist
seldom cogitates on his own processes, it is, in the end, to the
initiate of religion that we are forced to go, if we would learn how to
undertake this training for ourselves. The religious contemplative has
this further attraction for us: that he is by nature a missionary as
well. The vision which he has achieved is the vision of an intensely
loving heart; and love, which cannot keep itself to itself, urges him to
tell the news as widely and as clearly as he may. In his works, he is
ever trying to reveal the secret of his own deeper life and wider
vision, and to help his fellow men to share it: hence he provides the
clearest, most orderly, most practical teachings on the art of
contemplation that we are likely to find. True, our purpose in
attempting this art may seem to us very different from his: though if we
carry out the principles involved to their last term, we shall probably
find that they have brought us to the place at which he aimed from the
first. But the method, in its earlier stages, must be the same; whether
we call the Reality which is the object of our quest aesthetic, cosmic,
or divine. The athlete must develop much the same muscles, endure much
the same discipline, whatever be the game he means to play.

So we will go straight to St. Teresa, and inquire of her what was the
method by which she taught her daughters to gather themselves together,
to capture and hold the attitude most favourable to communion with the
spiritual world. She tells us–and here she accords with the great
tradition of the Christian contemplatives, a tradition which was evolved
under the pressure of long experience–that the process is a gradual
one. The method to be employed is a slow, patient training of material
which the licence of years has made intractable; not the sudden easy
turning of the mind in a new direction, that it may minister to a new
fancy for ”the mystical view of things.” Recollection begins, she says,
in the deliberate and regular practice of meditation; a perfectly
natural form of mental exercise, though at first a hard one.

Now meditation is a half-way house between thinking and contemplating:
and as a discipline, it derives its chief value from this transitional
character. The real mystical life, which is the truly practical life,
begins at the beginning; not with supernatural acts and ecstatic
apprehensions, but with the normal faculties of the normal man. ”I do
not require of you,” says Teresa to her pupils in meditation, ”to form
great and curious considerations in your understanding: I require of you
no more than to /look/.”

It might be thought that such looking at the spiritual world, simply,
intensely, without cleverness–such an opening of the Eye of
Eternity–was the essence of contemplation itself: and indeed one of the
best definitions has described that art as a ”loving sight,” a ”peering
into heaven with the ghostly eye.” But the self who is yet at this early
stage of the pathway to Reality is not asked to look at anything new, to
peer into the deeps of things: only to gaze with a new and cleansed
vision on the ordinary intellectual images, the labels and the formula,
the ”objects” and ideas–even the external symbols–amongst which it has
always dwelt. It is not yet advanced to the seeing of fresh landscapes:
it is only able to re-examine the furniture of its home, and obtain from
this exercise a skill, and a control of the attention, which shall
afterwards be applied to greater purposes. Its task is here to
/consider/ that furniture, as the Victorines called this preliminary
training: to take, that is, a more starry view of it: standing back from
the whirl of the earth, and observing the process of things.

Take, then, an idea, an object, from amongst the common stock, and hold
it before your mind. The selection is large enough: all sentient beings
may find subjects of meditation to their taste, for there lies a
universal behind every particular of thought, however concrete it may
appear, and within the most rational propositions the meditative eye may
glimpse a dream.

”Reason has moons, but moons not hers!
Lie mirror’d on her sea,
Confounding her astronomers
But, O delighting me.”

Even those objects which minister to our sense-life may well be used to
nourish our spirits too. Who has not watched the intent meditations of a
comfortable cat brooding upon the Absolute Mouse? You, if you have a
philosophic twist, may transcend such relative views of Reality, and try
to meditate on Time, Succession, even Being itself: or again on human
intercourse, birth, growth, and death, on a flower, a river, the various
tapestries of the sky. Even your own emotional life will provide you
with the ideas of love, joy, peace, mercy, conflict, desire. You may
range, with Kant, from the stars to the moral law. If your turn be to
religion, the richest and most evocative of fields is open to your
choice: from the plaster image to the mysteries of Faith.

But, the choice made, it must be held and defended during the time of
meditation against all invasions from without, however insidious their
encroachments, however ”spiritual” their disguise. It must be brooded
upon, gazed at, seized again and again, as distractions seem to snatch
it from your grasp. A restless boredom, a dreary conviction of your own
incapacity, will presently attack you. This, too, must be resisted at
sword-point. The first quarter of an hour thus spent in attempted
meditation will be, indeed, a time of warfare; which should at least
convince you how unruly, how ill-educated is your attention, how
miserably ineffective your will, how far away you are from the captaincy
of your own soul. It should convince, too, the most common-sense of
philosophers of the distinction between real time, the true stream of
duration which is life, and the sequence of seconds so carefully
measured by the clock. Never before has the stream flowed so slowly, or
fifteen minutes taken so long to pass. Consciousness has been lifted to
a longer, slower rhythm, and is not yet adjusted to its solemn march.

But, striving for this new poise, intent on the achievement of it,
presently it will happen to you to find that you have indeed–though how
you know not–entered upon a fresh plane of perception, altered your
relation with things.

First, the subject of your meditation begins, as you surrender to its
influence, to exhibit unsuspected meaning, beauty, power. A perpetual
growth of significance keeps pace with the increase of attention which
you bring to bear on it; that attention which is the one agent of all
your apprehensions, physical and mental alike. It ceases to be thin and
abstract. You sink as it were into the deeps of it, rest in it, ”unite”
with it; and learn, in this still, intent communion, something of its
depth and breadth and height, as we learn by direct intercourse to know
our friends.

Moreover, as your meditation becomes deeper it will defend you from the
perpetual assaults of the outer world. You will hear the busy hum of
that world as a distant exterior melody, and know yourself to be in some
sort withdrawn from it. You have set a ring of silence between you and
it; and behold! within that silence you are free. You will look at the
coloured scene, and it will seem to you thin and papery: only one
amongst countless possible images of a deeper life as yet beyond your
reach. And gradually, you will come to be aware of an entity, a /You/,
who can thus hold at arm’s length, be aware of, look at, an idea–a
universe–other than itself. By this voluntary painful act of
concentration, this first step upon the ladder which goes–as the
mystics would say–from ”multiplicity to unity,” you have to some extent
withdrawn yourself from that union with unrealities, with notions and
concepts, which has hitherto contented you; and at once all the values
of existence are changed. ”The road to a Yea lies through a Nay.” You,
in this preliminary movement of recollection, are saying your first
deliberate No to the claim which the world of appearance makes to a
total possession of your consciousness: and are thus making possible
some contact between that consciousness and the World of Reality.

Now turn this new purified and universalised gaze back upon yourself.
Observe your own being in a fresh relation with things, and surrender
yourself willingly to the moods of astonishment, humility, joy–perhaps
of deep shame or sudden love–which invade your heart as you look. So
doing patiently, day after day, constantly recapturing the vagrant
attention, ever renewing the struggle for simplicity of sight, you will
at last discover that there is something within you–something behind
the fractious, conflicting life of desire–which you can recollect,
gather up, make effective for new life. You will, in fact, know your own
soul for the first time: and learn that there is a sense in which this
real /You/ is distinct from, an alien within, the world in which you
find yourself, as an actor has another life when he is not on the stage.
When you do not merely believe this but know it; when you have achieved
this power of withdrawing yourself, of making this first crude
distinction between appearance and reality, the initial stage of the
contemplative life has been won. It is not much more of an achievement
than that first proud effort in which the baby stands upright for a
moment and then relapses to the more natural and convenient crawl: but
it holds within it the same earnest of future development.



So, in a measure, you have found yourself: have retreated behind all
that flowing appearance, that busy, unstable consciousness with its
moods and obsessions, its feverish alternations of interest and apathy,
its conflicts and irrational impulses, which even the psychologists
mistake for You. Thanks to this recollective act, you have discovered in
your inmost sanctuary a being not wholly practical, who refuses to be
satisfied by your busy life of correspondences with the world of normal
men, and hungers for communion with a spiritual universe. And this thing
so foreign to your surface consciousness, yet familiar to it and
continuous with it, you recognise as the true Self whose existence you
always took for granted, but whom you have only known hitherto in its
scattered manifestations. ”That art thou.”

This climb up the mountain of self-knowledge, said the Victorine
mystics, is the necessary prelude to all illumination. Only at its
summit do we discover, as Dante did, the beginning of the pathway to
Reality. It is a lonely and an arduous excursion, a sufficient test of
courage and sincerity: for most men prefer to dwell in comfortable
ignorance upon the lower slopes, and there to make of their more obvious
characteristics a drapery which shall veil the naked truth. True and
complete self-knowledge, indeed, is the privilege of the strongest
alone. Few can bear to contemplate themselves face to face; for the
vision is strange and terrible, and brings awe and contrition in its
wake. The life of the seer is changed by it for ever. He is converted,
in the deepest and most drastic sense; is forced to take up a new
attitude towards himself and all other things. Likely enough, if you
really knew yourself–saw your own dim character, perpetually at the
mercy of its environment; your true motives, stripped for inspection and
measured against eternal values; your unacknowledged self-indulgences;
your irrational loves and hates–you would be compelled to remodel your
whole existence, and become for the first time a practical man.

But you have done what you can in this direction; have at last
discovered your own deeper being, your eternal spark, the agent of all
your contacts with Reality. You have often read about it. Now you have
met it; know for a fact that it is there. What next? What changes, what
readjustments will this self-revelation involve for you?

You will have noticed, as with practice your familiarity with the state
of Recollection has increased, that the kind of consciousness which it
brings with it, the sort of attitude which it demands of you, conflict
sharply with the consciousness and the attitude which you have found so
appropriate to your ordinary life in the past. They make this old
attitude appear childish, unworthy, at last absurd. By this first
deliberate effort to attend to Reality you are at once brought face to
face with that dreadful revelation of disharmony, unrealness, and
interior muddle which the blunt moralists call ”conviction of sin.”
Never again need those moralists point out to you the inherent silliness
of your earnest pursuit of impermanent things: your solemn concentration
upon the game of getting on. None the less, this attitude persists.
Again and again you swing back to it. Something more than realisation is
needed if you are to adjust yourself to your new vision of the world.
This game which you have played so long has formed and conditioned you,
developing certain qualities and perceptions, leaving the rest in
abeyance: so that now, suddenly asked to play another, which demands
fresh movements, alertness of a different sort, your mental muscles are
intractable, your attention refuses to respond. Nothing less will serve
you here than that drastic remodelling of character which the mystics
call ”Purgation,” the second stage in the training of the human
consciousness for participation in Reality.

It is not merely that your intellect has assimilated, united with a
superficial and unreal view of the world. Far worse: your will, your
desire, the sum total of your energy, has been turned the wrong way,
harnessed to the wrong machine. You have become accustomed to the idea
that you want, or ought to want, certain valueless things, certain
specific positions. For years your treasure has been in the Stock
Exchange, or the House of Commons, or the Salon, or the reviews that
”really count” (if they still exist), or the drawing-rooms of Mayfair;
and thither your heart perpetually tends to stray. Habit has you in its
chains. You are not free. The awakening, then, of your deeper self,
which knows not habit and desires nothing but free correspondence with
the Real, awakens you at once to the fact of a disharmony between the
simple but inexorable longings and instincts of the buried spirit, now
beginning to assert themselves in your hours of meditation–pushing out,
as it were, towards the light–and the various changeful, but insistent
longings and instincts of the surface-self. Between these two no peace
is possible: they conflict at every turn. It becomes apparent to you
that the declaration of Plotinus, accepted or repeated by all the
mystics, concerning a ”higher” and a ”lower” life, and the cleavage that
exists between them, has a certain justification even in the experience
of the ordinary man.

That great thinker and ecstatic said, that all human personality was
thus two-fold: thus capable of correspondence with two orders of
existence. The ”higher life” was always tending toward? union with
Reality; towards the gathering of it self up into One. The ”lower life,”
framed for correspondence with the outward world of multiplicity, was
always tending to fall downwards, and fritter the powers of the self
among external things. This is but a restatement, in terms of practical
existence, of the fact which Recollection brought home to us: that the
human self is transitional, neither angel nor animal, capable of living
towards either Eternity or Time. But it is one thing to frame beautiful
theories on these subjects: another when the unresolved dualism of your
own personality (though you may not give it this high-sounding name)
becomes the main fact of consciousness, perpetually reasserts itself as
a vital problem, and refuses to take academic rank.

This state of things means the acute discomfort which ensues on being
pulled two ways at once. The uneasy swaying of attention between two
incompatible ideals, the alternating conviction that there is something
wrong, perverse, poisonous, about life as you have always lived it, and
something hopelessly ethereal about the life which your innermost
inhabitant wants to live–these disagreeable sensations grow stronger
and stronger. First one and then the other asserts itself. You fluctuate
miserably between their attractions and their claims; and will have no
peace until these claims have been met, and the apparent opposition
between them resolved. You are sure now that there is another, more
durable and more ”reasonable,” life possible to the human consciousness
than that on which it usually spends itself. But it is also clear to you
that you must yourself be something more, or other, than you are now, if
you are to achieve this life, dwell in it, and breathe its air. You have
had in your brief spells of recollection a first quick vision of that
plane of being which Augustine called ”the land of peace,” the ”beauty
old and new.” You know for evermore that it exists: that the real thing
within yourself belongs to it, might live in it, is being all the time
invited and enticed to it. You begin, in fact, to feel and know in every
fibre of your being the mystical need of ”union with Reality”; and to
realise that the natural scene which you have accepted so trustfully
cannot provide the correspondences toward which you are stretching out.

Nevertheless, it is to correspondences with this natural order that you
have given for many years your full attention, your desire, your will.
The surface-self, left for so long in undisputed possession of the
conscious field, has grown strong, and cemented itself like a limpet to
the rock of the obvious; gladly exchanging freedom for apparent
security, and building up, from a selection amongst the more concrete
elements offered it by the rich stream of life, a defensive shell of
”fixed ideas.” It is useless to speak kindly to the limpet. You must
detach it by main force. That old comfortable clinging life, protected
by its hard shell from the living waters of the sea, must now come to an
end. A conflict of some kind–a severance of old habits, old notions,
old prejudices–is here inevitable for you; and a decision as to the
form which the new adjustments must take.

Now although in a general way we may regard the practical man’s attitude
to existence as a limpet-like adherence to the unreal; yet, from another
point of view, fixity of purpose and desire is the last thing we can
attribute to him. His mind is full of little whirlpools, twists and
currents, conflicting systems, incompatible desires. One after another,
he centres himself on ambition, love, duty, friendship, social
convention, politics, religion, self-interest in one of its myriad
forms; making of each a core round which whole sections of his life are
arranged. One after another, these things either fail him or enslave
him. Sometimes they become obsessions, distorting his judgment,
narrowing his outlook, colouring his whole existence. Sometimes they
develop inconsistent characters which involve him in public
difficulties, private compromises and self-deceptions of every kind.
They split his attention, fritter his powers. This state of affairs,
which usually passes for an ”active life,” begins to take on a different
complexion when looked at with the simple eye of meditation. Then we
observe that the plain man’s world is in a muddle, just because he has
tried to arrange its major interests round himself as round a centre;
and he is neither strong enough nor clever enough for the job. He has
made a wretched little whirlpool in the mighty River of Becoming,
interrupting–as he imagines, in his own interest–its even flow: and
within that whirlpool are numerous petty complexes and counter-currents,
amongst which his will and attention fly to and fro in a continual state
of unrest. The man who makes a success of his life, in any department,
is he who has chosen one from amongst these claims and interests, and
devoted to it his energetic powers of heart and will; ”unifying” himself
about it, and from within it resisting all counter-claims. He has one
objective, one centre; has killed out the lesser ones, and simplified

Now the artist, the discoverer, the philosopher, the lover, the
patriot–the true enthusiast for any form of life–can only achieve the
full reality to which his special art or passion gives access by
innumerable renunciations. He must kill out the smaller centres of
interest, in order that his whole will, love, and attention may pour
itself out towards, seize upon, unite with, that special manifestation
of the beauty and significance of the universe to which he is drawn. So,
too, a deliberate self-simplification, a ”purgation” of the heart and
will, is demanded of those who would develop the form of consciousness
called ”mystical.” All your power, all your resolution, is needed if you
are to succeed in this adventure: there must be no frittering of energy,
no mixture of motives. We hear much of the mystical temperament, the
mystical vision. The mystical character is far more important: and its
chief ingredients are courage, singleness of heart, and self-control. It
is towards the perfecting of these military virtues, not to the
production of a pious softness, that the discipline of asceticism is
largely directed; and the ascetic foundation, in one form or another, is
the only enduring foundation of a sane contemplative life.

You cannot, until you have steadied yourself, found a poise, and begun
to resist some amongst the innumerable claims which the world of
appearance perpetually makes upon you: attention and your desire, make
much use of the new power which Recollection has disclosed to you; and
this Recollection itself, so long as it remains merely a matter of
attention and does not involve the heart, is no better than a psychic
trick. You are committed therefore, as the fruit of your first attempts
at self-knowledge, to a deliberate–probably a difficult–rearrangement
of your character; to the stern course of self-discipline, the voluntary
acts of choice on the one hand and of rejection on the other, which
ascetic writers describe under the formidable names of Detachment and
Mortification. By Detachment they mean the eviction of the limpet from
its crevice; the refusal to anchor yourself to material things, to
regard existence from the personal standpoint, or confuse custom with
necessity. By Mortification, they mean the resolving of the turbulent
whirlpools and currents of your own conflicting passions, interests,
desires; the killing out of all those tendencies which the peaceful
vision of Recollection would condemn, and which create the fundamental
opposition between your interior and exterior life.

What then, in the last resort, is the source of this opposition; the
true reason of your uneasiness, your unrest? The reason lies, not in any
real incompatibility between the interests of the temporal and the
eternal orders; which are but two aspects of one Fact, two expressions
of one Love. It lies solely in yourself; in your attitude towards the
world of things. You are enslaved by the verb ”to have”: all your
reactions to life consist in corporate or individual demands, appetites,
wants. That ”love of life” of which we sometimes speak is mostly
cupboard-love. We are quick to snap at her ankles when she locks the
larder door: a proceeding which we dignify by the name of pessimism. The
mystic knows not this attitude of demand. He tells us again and again,
that ”he is rid of all his asking”; that ”henceforth the heat of having
shall never scorch him more.” Compare this with your normal attitude to
the world, practical man: your quiet certitude that you are well within
your rights in pushing the claims of ”the I, the Me, the Mine”; your
habit, if you be religious, of asking for the weather and the government
that you want, of persuading the Supernal Powers to take a special
interest in your national or personal health and prosperity. How often
in each day do you deliberately revert to an attitude of disinterested
adoration? Yet this is the only attitude in which true communion with
the universe is possible. The very mainspring of your activity is a
demand, either for a continued possession of that which you have, or for
something which as yet you have not: wealth, honour, success, social
position, love, friendship, comfort, amusement. You feel that you have a
right to some of these things: to a certain recognition of your powers,
a certain immunity from failure or humiliation. You resent anything
which opposes you in these matters. You become restless when you see
other selves more skilful in the game of acquisition than yourself. You
hold tight against all comers your own share of the spoils. You are
rather inclined to shirk boring responsibilities and unattractive,
unremunerative toil; are greedy of pleasure and excitement, devoted to
the art of having a good time. If you possess a social sense, you demand
these things not only for yourself but for your tribe–the domestic or
racial group to which you belong. These dispositions, so ordinary that
they almost pass unnoticed, were named by our blunt forefathers the
Seven Deadly Sins of Pride, Anger, Envy, Avarice, Sloth, Gluttony, and
Lust. Perhaps you would rather call them–as indeed they are–the seven
common forms of egotism. They represent the natural reactions to life of
the self-centred human consciousness, enslaved by the ”world of
multiplicity”; and constitute absolute barriers to its attainment of
Reality. So long as these dispositions govern character we can never see
or feel things as they are; but only as they affect ourselves, our
family, our party, our business, our church, our empire–the I, the Me,
the Mine, in its narrower or wider manifestations. Only the detached and
purified heart can view all things–the irrational cruelty of
circumstance, the tortures of war, the apparent injustice of life, the
acts and beliefs of enemy and friend–in true proportion; and reckon
with calm mind the sum of evil and good. Therefore the mystics tell us
perpetually that ”selfhood must be killed” before Reality can be attained.

”Feel sin a lump, thou wottest never what, but none other thing than
/thyself/,” says /The Cloud of Unknowing/. ”When the I, the Me, and the
Mine are dead, the work of the Lord is done,” says Kabir. The substance
of that wrongness of act and relation which constitutes ”sin” is the
separation of the individual spirit from the whole; the ridiculous
megalomania which makes each man the centre of his universe. Hence comes
the turning inwards and condensation of his energies and desires, till
they do indeed form a ”lump”; a hard, tight core about which all the
currents of his existence swirl. This heavy weight within the heart
resists every outgoing impulse of the spirit; and tends to draw all
things inward and downward to itself, never to pour itself forth in
love, enthusiasm, sacrifice. ”So long,” says the /Theologia Germanica/,
”as a man seeketh his own will and his own highest good, because it is
his, and for his own sake, he will never find it: for so long as he
doeth this, he is not seeking his own highest good, and how then should
he find it? For so long as he doeth this, he seeketh himself, and
dreameth that he is himself the highest good. . . . But whosoever
seeketh, loveth, and pursueth goodness, as goodness and for the sake of
goodness, and maketh that his end–for nothing but the love of goodness,
not for love of the I, Me, Mine, Self, and the like–he will find the
highest good, for he seeketh it aright, and they who seek it otherwise
do err.”

So it is disinterestedness, the saint’s and poet’s love of things for
their own sakes, the vision of the charitable heart, which is the secret
of union with Reality and the condition of all real knowledge. This
brings with it the precious quality of suppleness, the power of
responding with ease and simplicity to the great rhythms of life; and
this will only come when the ungainly ”lump” of sin is broken, and the
verb ”to have,” which expresses its reaction to existence, is ejected
from the centre of your consciousness. Then your attitude to life will
cease to be commercial, and become artistic. Then the guardian at the
gate, scrutinising and sorting the incoming impressions, will no longer
ask, ”What use is this to /me/?”// before admitting the angel of beauty
or significance who demands your hospitality. Then things will cease to
have power over you. You will become free. ”Son,” says a Kempis, ”thou
oughtest diligently to attend to this; that in every place, every action
or outward occupation, thou be inwardly free and mighty in thyself, and
all things be under thee, and thou not under them; that thou be lord and
governor of thy deeds, not servant.” It is therefore by the withdrawal
of your will from its feverish attachment to things, till ”they are
under thee and thou not under them,” that you will gradually resolve the
opposition between the recollective and the active sides of your
personality. By diligent self-discipline, that mental attitude which the
mystics sometimes call poverty and sometimes perfect freedom–for these
are two aspects of one thing–will become possible to you. Ascending the
mountain of self-knowledge and throwing aside your superfluous luggage
as you go, you shall at last arrive at the point which they call the
summit of the spirit; where the various forces of your character–brute
energy, keen intellect, desirous heart–long dissipated amongst a
thousand little wants and preferences, are gathered into one, and become
a strong and disciplined instrument wherewith your true self can force a
path deeper and deeper into the heart of Reality.



This steady effort towards the simplifying of your tangled character,
its gradual emancipation from the fetters of the unreal, is not to
dispense you from that other special training of the attention which the
diligent practice of meditation and recollection effects. Your pursuit
of the one must never involve neglect of the other; for these are the
two sides–one moral, the other mental–of that unique process of
self-conquest which Ruysbroeck calls ”the gathering of the forces of the
soul into the unity of the spirit”: the welding together of all your
powers, the focussing of them upon one point. Hence they should never,
either in theory or practice, be separated. Only the act of
recollection, the constantly renewed retreat to the quiet centre of the
spirit, gives that assurance of a Reality, a calmer and more valid life
attainable by us, which supports the stress and pain of
self-simplification and permits us to hope on, even in the teeth of the
world’s cruelty, indifference, degeneracy; whilst diligent
character-building alone, with its perpetual untiring efforts at
self-adjustment, its bracing, purging discipline, checks the human
tendency to relapse into and react to the obvious, and makes possible
the further development of the contemplative power.

So it is through and by these two great changes in your attitude towards
things–first, the change of attention, which enables you to perceive a
truer universe; next, the deliberate rearrangement of your ideas,
energies, and desires in harmony with that which you have seen–that a
progressive uniformity of life and experience is secured to you, and you
are defended against the dangers of an indolent and useless mysticality.
Only the real, say the mystics, can know Reality, for ”we behold that
which we are,” the universe which we see is conditioned by the character
of the mind that sees it: and this realness–since that which you seek
is no mere glimpse of Eternal Life, but complete possession of it–must
apply to every aspect of your being, the rich totality of character, all
the ”forces of the soul,” not to some thin and isolated ”spiritual
sense” alone. This is why recollection and
self-simplification–perception of, and adaptation to, the Spiritual
World in which we dwell–are the essential preparations for the mystical
life, and neither can exist in a wholesome and well-balanced form
without the other. By them the mind, the will, the heart, which so long
had dissipated their energies over a thousand scattered notions, wants,
and loves, are gradually detached from their old exclusive preoccupation
with the ephemeral interests of the self, or of the group to which the
self belongs.

You, if you practise them, will find after a time–perhaps a long
time–that the hard work which they involve has indeed brought about a
profound and definite change in you. A new suppleness has taken the
place of that rigidity which you have been accustomed to mistake for
strength of character: an easier attitude towards the accidents of life.
Your whole scale of values has undergone a silent transformation, since
you have ceased to fight for your own hand and regard the
nearest-at-hand world as the only one that counts. You have become, as
the mystics would say, ”free from inordinate attachments,” the ”heat of
having” does not scorch you any more; and because of this you possess
great inward liberty, a sense of spaciousness and peace. Released from
the obsessions which so long had governed them, will, heart, and mind
are now all bent to the purposes of your deepest being: ”gathered in the
unity of the spirit,” they have fused to become an agent with which it
can act.

What form, then, shall this action take? It shall take a practical form,
shall express itself in terms of movement: the pressing outwards of the
whole personality, the eager and trustful stretching of it towards the
fresh universe which awaits you. As all scattered thinking was cut off
in recollection, as all vagrant and unworthy desires have been killed by
the exercises of detachment; so now all scattered willing, all
hesitations between the indrawing and outflowing instincts of the soul,
shall be checked and resolved. You are to /push/ with all your power:
not to absorb ideas, but to pour forth will and love. With this
”conative act,” as the psychologists would call it, the true
contemplative life begins. Contemplation, you see, has no very close
connection with dreaminess and idle musing: it is more like the intense
effort of vision, the passionate and self-forgetful act of communion,
presupposed in all creative art. It is, says one old English mystic, ”a
blind intent stretching . . . a privy love pressed” in the direction of
Ultimate Beauty, athwart all the checks, hindrances, and contradictions
of the restless world: a ”loving stretching out” towards Reality, says
the great Ruysbroeck, than whom none has gone further on this path.
Tension, ardour, are of its essence: it demands the perpetual exercise
of industry and courage.

We observe in such definitions as these a strange neglect of that glory
of man, the Pure Intellect, with which the spiritual prig enjoys to
believe that he can climb up to the Empyrean itself. It almost seems as
though the mystics shared Keats’ view of the supremacy of feeling over
thought; and reached out towards some new and higher range of sensation,
rather than towards new and more accurate ideas. They are ever eager to
assure us that man’s most sublime thoughts of the Transcendent are but a
little better than his worst: that loving intuition is the only certain
guide. ”By love may He be gotten and holden, but by thought never.”

Yet here you are not to fall into the clumsy error of supposing that the
things which are beyond the grasp of reason are necessarily unreasonable
things. Immediate feeling, so far as it is true, does not oppose but
transcends and completes the highest results of thought. It contains
within itself the sum of all the processes through which thought would
pass in the act of attaining the same goal: supposing thought to have
reached–as it has not–the high pitch at which it was capable of
thinking its way all along this road.

In the preliminary act of gathering yourself together, and in those
unremitting explorations through which you came to ”a knowing and a
feeling of yourself as you are,” thought assuredly had its place. There
the powers of analysis, criticism, and deduction found work that they
could do. But now it is the love and will–the feeling, the intent, the
passionate desire–of the self, which shall govern your activities and
make possible your success. Few would care to brave the horrors of a
courtship conducted upon strictly intellectual lines: and contemplation
is an act of love, the wooing, not the critical study, of Divine
Reality. It is an eager outpouring of ourselves towards a Somewhat Other
for which we feel a passion of desire; a seeking, touching, and tasting,
not a considering and analysing, of the beautiful and true wherever
found. It is, as it were, a responsive act of the organism to those
Supernal Powers without, which touch and stir it. Deep humility as
towards those Powers, a willing surrender to their control, is the first
condition of success. The mystics speak much of these elusive contacts;
felt more and more in the soul, as it becomes increasingly sensitive to
the subtle movements of its spiritual environment.

”Sense, feeling, taste, complacency, and sight,
These are the true and real joys,
The living, flowing, inward, melting, bright
And heavenly pleasures; all the rest are toys;
All which are founded in Desire
As light in flame and heat in fire.”

But this new method of correspondence with the universe is not to be
identified with ”mere feeling” in its lowest and least orderly forms.
Contemplation does not mean abject surrender to every ”mystical”
impression that comes in. It is no sentimental aestheticism or emotional
piety to which you are being invited: nor shall the transcending of
reason ever be achieved by way of spiritual silliness. All the powers of
the self, raised to their in tensest form, shall be used in it; though
used perhaps in a new way. These, the three great faculties of love,
thought, and will–with which you have been accustomed to make great
show on the periphery of consciousness–you have, as it were, drawn
inwards during the course of your inward retreat: and by your education
in detachment have cured them of their tendency to fritter their powers
amongst a multiplicity of objects. Now, at the very heart of
personality, you are alone with them; you hold with you in that
”Interior Castle,” and undistracted for the moment by the demands of
practical existence, the three great tools wherewith the soul deals with

As regards the life you have hitherto looked upon as ”normal,”
love–understood in its widest sense, as desire, emotional
inclination–has throughout directed your activities. You did things,
sought things, learned things, even suffered things, because at bottom
you wanted to. Will has done the work to which love spurred it: thought
has assimilated the results of their activities and made for them
pictures, analyses, ”explanations” of the world with which they had to
deal. But now your purified love discerns and desires, your will is set
towards, something which thought cannot really assimilate–still less
explain. ”Contemplation,” says Ruysbroeck, ”is a knowing that is in no
wise . . . therein all the workings of the reason fail.” That reason has
been trained to deal with the stuff of temporal existence. It will only
make mincemeat of your experience of Eternity if you give it a chance;
trimming, transforming, rationalising that ineffable vision, trying to
force it into a symbolic system with which the intellect can cope. This
is why the great contemplatives utter again and again their solemn
warning against the deceptiveness of thought when it ventures to deal
with the spiritual intuitions of man; crying with the author of /The
Cloud of Unknowing/, ”Look that / nothing/ live in thy working mind but
a naked intent stretching”–the voluntary tension of your ever-growing,
ever-moving personality pushing out towards the Real. ”Love, and /do/
what you like,” said the wise Augustine: so little does mere surface
activity count, against the deep motive that begets it.

The dynamic power of love and will, the fact that the heart’s desire–if
it be intense and industrious–is a better earnest of possible
fulfilment than the most elegant theories of the spiritual world; this
is the perpetual theme of all the Christian mystics. By such love, they
think, the worlds themselves were made. By an eager outstretching
towards Reality, they tell us, we tend to move towards Reality, to enter
into its rhythm: by a humble and unquestioning surrender to it we permit
its entrance into our souls. This twofold act, in which we find the
double character of all true love–which both gives and takes, yields
and demands–is assured, if we be patient and single-hearted, of
ultimate success. At last our ignorance shall be done away; and we shall
”apprehend” the real and the eternal, as we apprehend the sunshine when
the sky is free from cloud. Therefore ”Smite upon that thick cloud of
unknowing with a sharp dart of longing love”–and suddenly it shall
part, and disclose the blue.

”Smite,” ”press,” ”push,” ”strive”–these are strong words: yet they are
constantly upon the lips of the contemplatives when describing the
earlier stages of their art. Clearly, the abolition of discursive
thought is not to absolve you from the obligations of industry. You are
to ”energise enthusiastically” upon new planes, where you shall see more
intensely, hear more intensely, touch and taste more intensely than ever
before: for the modes of communion which these senses make possible to
you are now to operate as parts of the one single state of perfect
intuition, of loving knowledge by union, to which you are growing up.
And gradually you come to see that, if this be so, it is the ardent will
that shall be the prime agent of your undertaking: a will which has now
become the active expression of your deepest and purest desires. About
this the recollected and simplified self is to gather itself as a
centre; and thence to look out–steadily, deliberately–with eyes of
love towards the world.

To ”look with the eyes of love” seems a vague and sentimental
recommendation: yet the whole art of spiritual communion is summed in
it, and exact and important results flow from this exercise. The
attitude which it involves is an attitude of complete humility and of
receptiveness; without criticism, without clever analysis of the thing
seen. When you look thus, you surrender your I-hood; see things at last
as the artist does, for their sake, not for your own. The fundamental
unity that is in you reaches out to the unity that is in them: and you
achieve the ”Simple Vision” of the poet and the mystic–that synthetic
and undistorted apprehension of things which is the antithesis of the
single vision of practical men. The doors of perception are cleansed,
and everything appears as it is. The disfiguring results of hate,
rivalry, prejudice, vanish away. Into that silent place to which
recollection has brought you, new music, new colour, new light, are
poured from the outward world. The conscious love which achieves this
vision may, indeed must, fluctuate–”As long as thou livest thou art
subject to mutability; yea, though thou wilt not!” But the /will/ which
that love has enkindled can hold attention in the right direction. It
can refuse to relapse to unreal and egotistic correspondences; and
continue, even in darkness, and in the suffering which such darkness
brings to the awakened spirit, its appointed task, cutting a way into
new levels of Reality.

Therefore this transitional stage in the development of the
contemplative powers–in one sense the completion of their elementary
schooling, in another the beginning of their true activities–is
concerned with the toughening and further training of that will which
self-simplification has detached from its old concentration upon the
unreal wants and interests of the self. Merged with your intuitive love,
this is to become the true agent of your encounter with Reality; for
that Simple Eye of Intention, which is so supremely your own, and in the
last resort the maker of your universe and controller of your destiny,
is nothing else but a synthesis of such energetic will and such
uncorrupt desire, turned and held in the direction of the Best.



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 managed 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 ”unwalled.”

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
/L?l? /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 shape!
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 cats.”

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.”



”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 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 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.



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 ”infused.”

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 Reality.

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 soul.

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

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 pay.”

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.



And here the practical man, who has been strangely silent during the
last stages of our discourse, shakes himself like a terrier which has
achieved dry land again after a bath; and asks once more, with a certain
explosive violence, his dear old question, ”What is the /use/ of all this?”

”You have introduced me,” he says further, ”to some curious states of
consciousness, interesting enough in their way; and to a lot of peculiar
emotions, many of which are no doubt most valuable to poets and so on.
But it is all so remote from daily life. How is it going to fit in with
ordinary existence? How, above all, is it all going to help /me/?”

Well, put upon its lowest plane, this new way of attending to life–this
deepening and widening of outlook–may at least be as helpful to you as
many things to which you have unhesitatingly consecrated much time and
diligence in the past: your long journeys to new countries, for
instance, or long hours spent in acquiring new ”facts,” relabelling old
experiences, gaining skill in new arts and games. These, it is true,
were quite worth the effort expended on them: for they gave you, in
exchange for your labour and attention, a fresh view of certain
fragmentary things, a new point of contact with the rich world of
possibilities, a tiny enlargement of your universe in one direction or
another. Your love and patient study of nature, art, science, politics,
business–even of sport–repaid you thus. But I have offered you, in
exchange for a meek and industrious attention to another aspect of the
world, hitherto somewhat neglected by you, an enlargement which shall
include and transcend all these; and be conditioned only by the
perfection of your generosity, courage, and surrender.

Nor are you to suppose that this enlargement will be limited to certain
new spiritual perceptions, which the art of contemplation has made
possible for you: that it will merely draw the curtain from a window out
of which you have never looked. This new wide world is not to be for you
something seen, but something lived in: and you–since man is a creature
of responses–will insensibly change under its influence, growing up
into a more perfect conformity with it. Living in this atmosphere of
Reality, you will, in fact, yourself become more real. Hence, if you
accept in a spirit of trust the suggestions which have been made to
you–and I acknowledge that here at the beginning an attitude of faith
is essential–and if you practise with diligence the arts which I have
described: then, sooner or later, you will inevitably find yourself
deeply and permanently changed by them–will perceive that you have
become a ”new man.” Not merely have you acquired new powers of
perception and new ideas of Reality; but a quiet and complete
transformation, a strengthening and maturing of your personality has
taken place.

You are still, it is true, living the ordinary life of the body. You are
immersed in the stream of duration; a part of the human, the social, the
national group. The emotions, instincts, needs, of that group affect
you. Your changing scrap of vitality contributes to its corporate life;
and contributes the more effectively since a new, intuitive sympathy has
now made its interests your own. Because of that corporate life,
transfusing you, giving to you and taking from you–conditioning, you as
it does in countless oblique and unapparent ways–you are still
compelled to react to many suggestions which you are no longer able to
respect: controlled, to the last moment of your bodily existence and
perhaps afterwards, by habit, custom, the good old average way of
misunderstanding the world. To this extent, the crowd-spirit has you in
its grasp.

Yet in spite of all this, you are now released from that crowd’s
tyrannically overwhelming consciousness as you never were before. You
feel yourself now a separate vivid entity, a real, whole man: dependent
on the Whole, and gladly so dependent, yet within that Whole a free
self-governing thing. Perhaps you always fancied that your will was
free–that you were actually, as you sometimes said, the ”captain of
your soul.” If so, this was merely one amongst the many illusions which
supported your old, enslaved career. As a matter of fact, you were
driven along a road, unaware of anything that lay beyond the hedges,
pressed on every side by other members of the flock; getting perhaps a
certain satisfaction out of the deep warm stir of the collective life,
but ignorant of your destination, and with your personal initiative
limited to the snatching of grass as you went along, the pushing of your
way to the softer side of the track. These operation? made up together
that which you called Success. But now, because you have achieved a
certain power of gathering yourself together, perceiving yourself as a
person, a spirit, and observing your relation with these other
individual lives–because too, hearing now and again the mysterious
piping of the Shepherd, you realise your own perpetual forward movement
and that of the flock, in its relation to that living guide–you have a
far deeper, truer knowledge than ever before both of the general and the
individual existence; and so are able to handle life with a surer hand.

Do not suppose from this that your new career is to be perpetually
supported by agreeable spiritual contacts, or occupy itself in the mild
contemplation of the great world through which you move. True, it is
said of the Shepherd that he carries the lambs in his bosom: but the
sheep are expected to walk, and put up with the inequalities of the
road, the bunts and blunders of the flock. It is to vigour rather than
to comfort that you are called. Since the transcendental aspect of your
being has been brought into focus you are now raised out of the mere
push-forward, the blind passage through time of the flock, into a
position of creative responsibility. You are aware of personal
correspondences with the Shepherd. You correspond, too, with a larger,
deeper, broader world. The sky and the hedges, the wide lands through
which you are moving, the corporate character and meaning of the group
to which you belong–all these are now within the circle of your
consciousness; and each little event, each separate demand or invitation
which comes to you is now seen in a truer proportion, because you bring
to it your awareness of the Whole. Your journey ceases to be an
automatic progress, and takes on some of the characters of a free act:
for ”things” are now under you, you are no longer under them.

You will hardly deny that this is a practical gain: that this widening
and deepening of the range over which your powers of perception work
makes you more of a man than you were before, and thus adds to rather
than subtracts from your total practical efficiency. It is indeed only
when he reaches these levels, and feels within himself this creative
freedom–this full actualisation of himself–on the one hand: on the
other hand the sense of a world-order, a love and energy on which he
depends and with whose interests he is now at one, that man becomes
fully human, capable of living the real life of Eternity in the midst of
the world of time.

And what, when you have come to it, do you suppose to be your own
function in this vast twofold scheme? Is it for nothing, do you think,
that you are thus a meeting-place of two orders? Surely it is your
business, so far as you may, to express in action something of the real
character of that universe within which you now know yourself to live?
Artists, aware of a more vivid and more beautiful world than other men,
are always driven by their love and enthusiasm to try and express, bring
into direct manifestation, those deeper significances of form, sound,
rhythm, which they have been able to apprehend: and, doing this, they
taste deeper and deeper truths, make ever closer unions with the Real.
For them, the duty of creation is tightly bound up with the gift of
love. In their passionate outflowing to the universe which offers itself
under one of its many aspects to their adoration, that other-worldly
fruition of beauty is always followed, balanced, completed, by a
this-world impulse to creation: a desire to fix within the time-order,
and share with other men, the vision by which they were possessed. Each
one, thus bringing new aspects of beauty, new ways of seeing and hearing
within the reach of the race, does something to amend the sorry universe
of common sense, the more hideous universe of greed, and redeem his
fellows from their old, slack servitude to a lower range of
significances. It is in action, then, that these find their truest and
safest point of insertion into the living, active world of Reality: in
sharing and furthering its work of manifestation they know its secrets
best. For them contemplation and action are not opposites, but two
interdependent forms of a life that is /one/–a life that rushes out to
a passionate communion with the true and beautiful, only that it may
draw from this direct experience of Reality a new intensity wherewith to
handle the world of things; and remake it, or at least some little bit
of it, ”nearer to the heart’s desire.”

Again, the great mystics tell us that the ”vision of God in His own
light”–the direct contact of the soul’s substance with the Absolute–to
which awful experience you drew as near as the quality of your spirit
would permit in the third degree of contemplation, is the prelude, not
to a further revelation of the eternal order given to you, but to an
utter change, a vivid life springing up within you, which they sometimes
call the ”transforming union” or the ”birth of the Son in the soul.” By
this they mean that the spark of spiritual stuff, that high special
power or character of human nature, by which you first desired, then
tended to, then achieved contact with Reality, is as it were fertilised
by this profound communion with its origin; becomes strong and vigorous,
invades and transmutes the whole personality, and makes of it, not a
”dreamy mystic” but an active and impassioned servant of the Eternal Wisdom.

So that when these full-grown, fully vital mystics try to tell us about
the life they have achieved, it is always an intensely active life that
they describe. They say, not that they ”dwell in restful fruition,”
though the deep and joyous knowledge of this, perhaps too the perpetual
longing for an utter self-loss in it, is always possessed by them–but
that they ”go up /and down/ the ladder of contemplation.” They stretch
up towards the Point, the unique Reality to which all the intricate and
many-coloured lines of life flow, and in which they are merged; and rush
out towards those various lives in a passion of active love and service.
This double activity, this swinging between rest and work–this alone,
they say, is truly the life of man; because this alone represents on
human levels something of that inexhaustibly rich yet simple life, ”ever
active yet ever at rest,” which they find in God. When he gets to this,
then man has indeed actualised his union with Reality; because then he
is a part of the perpetual creative act, the eternal generation of the
Divine thought and love. Therefore contemplation, even at its highest,
dearest, and most intimate, is not to be for you an end in itself. It
shall only be truly yours when it impels you to action: when the double
movement of Transcendent Love, drawing inwards to unity and fruition,
and rushing out again to creative acts, is realised in you. You are to
be a living, ardent tool with which the Supreme Artist works: one of the
instruments of His self-manifestation, the perpetual process by which
His Reality is brought into concrete expression.

Now the expression of vision, of reality, of beauty, at an artist’s
hands–the creation of new life in all forms–has two factors: the
living moulding creative spirit, and the material in which it works.
Between these two there is inevitably a difference of tension. The
material is at best inert, and merely patient of the informing idea; at
worst, directly recalcitrant to it. Hence, according to the balance of
these two factors, the amount of resistance offered by stuff to tool, a
greater or less energy must be expended, greater or less perfection of
result will be achieved. You, accepting the wide deep universe of the
mystic, and the responsibilities that go with it, have by this act taken
sides once for all with creative spirit: with the higher tension, the
unrelaxed effort, the passion for a better, intenser, and more
significant life. The adoration to which you are vowed is not an affair
of red hassocks and authorised hymn books; but a burning and consuming
fire. You will find, then, that the world, going its own gait, busily
occupied with its own system of correspondences–yielding to every gust
of passion, intent on the satisfaction of greed, the struggle for
comfort or for power–will oppose your new eagerness; perhaps with
violence, but more probably with the exasperating calmness of a heavy
animal which refuses to get up. If your new life is worth anything, it
will flame to sharper power when it strikes against this dogged
inertness of things: for you need resistances on which to act. ”The road
to a Yea lies through a Nay,” and righteous warfare is the only way to a
living and a lasting peace.

Further, you will observe more and more clearly, that the stuff of your
external world, the method and machinery of the common life, is not
merely passively but actively inconsistent with your sharp interior
vision of truth. The heavy animal is diseased as well as indolent. All
man’s perverse ways of seeing his universe, all the perverse and hideous
acts which have sprung from them–these have set up reactions, have
produced deep disorders in the world of things. Man is free, and holds
the keys of hell as well as the keys of heaven. Within the love-driven
universe which you have learned to see as a whole, you will therefore
find egotism, rebellion, meanness, brutality, squalor: the work of
separated selves whose energies are set athwart the stream. But every
aspect of life, however falsely imagined, can still be ”saved,” turned
to the purposes of Reality: for ”all-thing hath the being by the love of
God.” Its oppositions are no part of its realness; and therefore they
can be overcome. Is there not here, then, abundance of practical work
for you to do; work which is the direct outcome of your mystical
experience? Are there not here, as the French proverb has it, plenty of
cats for you to comb? And isn’t it just here, in the new foothold it
gives you, the new clear vision and certitude–in its noble, serious,
and invulnerable faith–that mysticism is ”useful”; even for the most
scientific of social reformers, the most belligerent of politicians, the
least sentimental of philanthropists?

To ”bring Eternity into Time,” the ”invisible into concrete expression”;
to ”be to the Eternal Goodness what his own hand is to a man”–these are
the plainly expressed desires of all the great mystics. One and all,
they demand earnest and deliberate action, the insertion of the purified
and ardent will into the world of things. The mystics are artists; and
the stuff in which they work is most often human life. They want to heal
the disharmony between the actual and the real: and since, in the
white-hot radiance of that faith, hope, and charity which burns in them,
they discern such a reconciliation to be possible, they are able to work
for it with a singleness of purpose and an invincible optimism denied to
other men. This was the instinct which drove St. Francis of Assist to
the practical experience of that poverty which he recognised as the
highest wisdom; St. Catherine of Siena from contemplation to politics;
Joan of Arc to the salvation of France; St. Teresa to the formation of
an ideal religious family; Fox to the proclaiming of a world-religion in
which all men should be guided by the Inner Light; Florence Nightingale
to battle with officials, vermin, dirt, and disease in the soldiers’
hospitals; Octavia Hill to make in London slums something a little
nearer ”the shadows of the angels’ houses” than that which the practical
landlord usually provides.

All these have felt sure that a great part in the drama of creation has
been given to the free spirit of man: that bit by bit, through and by
him, the scattered worlds of love and thought and action shall be
realised again as one. It is for those who have found the thread on
which those worlds are strung, to bring this knowledge out of the
hiddenness; to use it, as the old alchemists declared that they could
use their tincture, to transmute all baser; metals into gold.

So here is your vocation set out: a vocation so various in its
opportunities, that you can hardly fail to find something to do. It is
your business to actualise within the world of time and space–perhaps
by great endeavours in the field of heroic action, perhaps only by small
ones in field and market, tram and tube, office and drawing-room, in the
perpetual give-and-take of the common life–that more real life, that
holy creative energy, which this world manifests as a whole but
indifferently. You shall work for mercy, order, beauty, significance:
shall mend where you find things broken, make where you find the need.
”Adoro te devote, latens Deitas,” said St. Thomas in his great mystical
hymn: and the practical side of that adoration consists in the bringing
of the Real Presence from its hiddenness, and exhibiting it before the
eyes of other men. Hitherto you have not been very active in this
matter: yet it is the purpose for which you exist, and your
contemplative consciousness, if you educate it, will soon make this fact
clear to you. The teeming life of nature has yielded up to your loving
attention many sacramental images of Reality: seen in the light of
charity, it is far more sacred and significant than you supposed. What
about /your/ life? Is that a theophany too? ”Each oak doth cry I AM,”
says Vaughan. Do you proclaim by your existence the grandeur, the
beauty, the intensity, the living wonder of that Eternal Reality within
which, at this moment, you stand? Do your hours of contemplation and of
action harmonise?

If they did harmonise–if everybody’s did–then, by these individual
adjustments the complete group-consciousness of humanity would be
changed, brought back into conformity with the Transcendent; and the
spiritual world would be actualised within the temporal order at last.
Then, that world of false imagination, senseless conflicts, and sham
values, into which our children are now born, would be annihilated. The
whole race, not merely a few of its noblest, most clearsighted spirits,
would be ”in union with God”; and men, transfused by His light and heat,
direct and willing agents of His Pure Activity, would achieve that
completeness of life which the mystics dare to call ”deification.” This
is the substance of that redemption of the world, which all religions
proclaim or demand: the consummation which is crudely imagined in the
Apocalyptic dreams of the prophets and seers. It is the true incarnation
of the Divine Wisdom: and you must learn to see with Paul the pains and
disorders of creation–your own pains, efforts, and difficulties too–as
incidents in the travail of that royal birth. Patriots have sometimes
been asked to ”think imperially.” Mystics are asked to think
celestially; and this, not when considering the things usually called
spiritual, but when dealing with the concrete accidents, the evil and
sadness, the cruelty, failure, and degeneration of life.

So, what is being offered to you is not merely a choice amongst new
states of consciousness, new emotional experiences–though these are
indeed involved in it–but, above all else, a larger and intenser life,
a career, a total consecration to the interests of the Real. This life
shall not be abstract and dreamy, made up, as some imagine, of
negations. It shall be violently practical and affirmative; giving scope
for a limitless activity of will, heart, and mind working within the
rhythms of the Divine Idea. It shall cost much, making perpetual demands
on your loyalty, trust, and self-sacrifice: proving now the need and the
worth of that training in renunciation which was forced on you at the
beginning of your interior life. It shall be both deep and wide,
embracing in its span all those aspects of Reality which the gradual
extension of your contemplative powers has disclosed to you: making ”the
inner and outer worlds to be indivisibly One.” And because the emphasis
is now for ever shifted from the accidents to the substance of life, it
will matter little where and how this career is actualised–whether in
convent or factory, study or battlefield, multitude or solitude,
sickness or strength. These fluctuations of circumstance will no longer
dominate you; since ”it is Love that payeth for all.”

Yet by all this it is not meant that the opening up of the universe, the
vivid consciousness of a living Reality and your relation with it, which
came to you in contemplation, will necessarily be a constant or a
governable feature of your experience. Even under the most favourable
circumstances, you shall and must move easily and frequently between
that spiritual fruition and active work in the world of men. Often
enough it will slip from you utterly; often your most diligent effort
will fail to recapture it, and only its fragrance will remain. The more
intense those contacts have been, the more terrible will be your hunger
and desolation when they are thus withdrawn: for increase of
susceptibility means more pain as well as more pleasure, as every artist
knows. But you will find in all that happens to you, all that opposes
and grieves you–even in those inevitable hours of darkness when the
doors of true perception seem to close, and the cruel tangles of the
world are all that you can discern–an inward sense of security which
will never cease. All the waves that buffet you about, shaking sometimes
the strongest faith and hope, are yet parts and aspects of one Ocean.
Did they wreck you utterly, that Ocean would receive you; and there you
would find, overwhelming and transfusing you, the unfathomable Substance
of all life and joy. Whether you realise it in its personal or
impersonal manifestation, the universe is now friendly to you; and as he
is a suspicious and unworthy lover who asks every day for renewed
demonstrations of love, so you do not demand from it perpetual
reassurances. It is enough, that once it showed you its heart. A link of
love now binds you to it for evermore: in spite of derelictions, in
spite of darkness and suffering, your will is harmonised with the Will
that informs the Whole.

We said, at the beginning of this discussion, that mysticism was the art
of union with Reality: that it was, above all else, a Science of Love.
Hence, the condition to which it looks forward and towards which the
soul of the contemplative has been stretching out, is a condition of
/being/, not of / seeing/. As the bodily senses have been produced under
pressure of man’s physical environment, and their true aim is not the
enhancement of his pleasure or his knowledge, but a perfecting of his
adjustment to those aspects of the natural world which concern him–so
the use and meaning of the spiritual senses are strictly practical too.
These, when developed by a suitable training, reveal to man a certain
measure of Reality: not in order that he may gaze upon it, but in order
that he may react to it, learn to live in, with, and for it; growing and
stretching into more perfect harmony with the Eternal Order, until at
last, like the blessed ones of Dante’s vision, the clearness of his
flame responds to the unspeakable radiance of the Enkindling Light.