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Practical Mysticism: A Little Book for Normal People by Evelyn Underhill

by davesandel on February 17th, 2012

Practical Mysticism: A Little Book for Normal People by Evelyn Underhill, 1914

162 pages, Kindle edition

Thoughts on Practical Mysticism:

Regarding this book, an Anglican bishop wrote, “I had been prepared for its message by many years of searching without finding, and it spoke straight to the heart of my condition.  It is the book to which I owe more than to any other theological book I have ever read.”

An Amazon reviewer captures the breadth of this book this way: “Ms. Underhill’s book is saturated with an experiential understanding of the great mystics which are referenced and quoted throughout.  Names such as Plotinus, Augustine, St. Teresa, St. John of the Cross, Kabir, Bonaventura, Ruysbroeck (her favorite mystic), Richard of St. Victor, Julian of Norwich, Pseudo-Dionysius, Thomas a Kempis, and anonymous works such as the Cloud of Unknowing and the Theologica Germanica all find their place alongside poets such as Keats, Whitman and Blake.  Before tackling Mrs. Underhill’s much thicker masterpiece Mysticism, this slender volume is a fine place to start.”

Practical Mysticism introduces the “normal” person to a practice guaranteed by Ms. Underhill to improve her personal and public life.  It’s more inspirational than a workbook, but the skeleton of contemplative practice is described eloquently.  She puts the work into a workable order.  When I’m finished with the book, I want to do what she wants me to do.

I also found myself relaxing as I read the book, often lying in bed before sleep, reading in the dark on a Xoom tablet – black screen with white letters as big as I wanted to make them.  Her sentences are long and very British.  She writes for her early twentieth-century audience, which, fortunately for them, was more educated than the early twenty-first century audience.  But in spites of her erudition, this is not difficult reading, and I could sit back and feel her words dropping like stars into my mind, quieting what was there already.  “Listen.  Stop.  Look.  And listen.  These are good words.”

Her words ring with truth that bridges whatever gap there might be between Eastern and Western contemplative practices.  What she describes and enthusiastically calls us into is a virtuous activity available to all of us, able to make us all more whole, able to quiet our minds and allow us to listen more closely for God.


These quotations are from the Kindle edition of this book.  There is no charge on the Amazon website for this book, and it can be read on a free Kindle App on either a PC or Mac, on an Android tablet/phone or an Ipad/Iphone.

PREFACE (complete).

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 un-technical 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 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


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.

(p. 3).

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.

(p. 4).

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.

(pp. 4-5).

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.

(p. 6).

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.

(pp. 6-7).

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.”

(p. 7).

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—the contemplative consciousness binds them all … 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.

(p. 9).

None 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.

(pp. 12-13).


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.

(pp. 13-14).

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.

(pp. 14-15).

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.

(pp. 15-16).

Theological diagrams and scientific “laws” are (carelessly) 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!”

(pp. 16-17).

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.

(pp. 18-19).

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.

(p. 21).

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 … This 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:

(p. 22-23).

The life of the soul is taken direct from the altar, with an awe that admits not of
analysis. (Neither the poet nor the mystic) must subject it to the cooking, filtering process of the brain.

(p. 24).

At this point the critical reader might say, “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.

(pp. 24-25).

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.

(pp. 25-26).

(We are seeking) that virginal outlook upon things, 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.

(pp. 26-27).


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
up 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,
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.

(pp. 29-30).

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.

(p. 31-32).

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.

(p. 33).

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.

(pp. 33-34).

We must crush our deep-seated passion for classification and correspondences; ignore the instinctive, selfish question, “What does it mean to me?” and learn to dip ourselves in the universe at our gates.
(p. 34).

As to the masters of the spiritual life, 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.

(p. 35).

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.

(p. 36-37).

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.

(p. 38).

Those whose consciousness is extended to full span 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.

(p. 39).

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.

(p. 40).

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;

(pp. 40-41).

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.

(pp. 41-42).

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.

(p. 42).

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.

(pp. 42-43).

The 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.

  (p. 43).

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.

  (pp. 43-44).



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.

(p. 44).

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.

(p. 44).

The secret of a voluntary concentration of the mind …  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.

(p. 45).

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.

(p. 45).

We will go straight to St. Teresa (of Avila), 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.

(p. 46).

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.

(p. 46).

Meditation is a half-way house between thinking and contemplating: and as a discipline, it derives its chief value from this transitional character.

(p. 46).

“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.”

(p. 47).

You are asked 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. There is no need yet to advance to the seeing of fresh landscapes, but only to re-examine the furniture of your home, and obtain from this exercise a skill, and a control of the attention, which shall afterwards be applied to greater purposes.

(pp. 47-48).

Who has not watched the intent meditations of a comfortable cat brooding upon the Absolute Mouse?

(p. 48).

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.

(p. 49).

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.

(p. 50).

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.

(p. 50).

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.

(pp. 50-51).

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.

(p. 51).

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.

(pp. 51-52).

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.

(p. 52).

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.

(p. 52).

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.

(pp. 52-54).


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.

(pp. 56-57).

Recollection brought home to us that the human self is transitional, neither angel nor animal, capable of living towards either Eternity or Time.

(p. 59).

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.

(p. 60).

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,

(p. 60).

It is to correspondences with the 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,

(pp. 60-61).

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.

(p. 62).

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 himself.

(pp. 62-63).

With 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.

(p. 63).

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.

(p. 63).

The ascetic foundation – 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, is the only enduring foundation of a sane contemplative life.

(p. 64).

That “love of life” of which we sometimes speak is mostly cupboard-love. And 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.”

(pp. 65-66).

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.

(p. 66).

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.

(p. 67).

“When the I, the Me, and the Mine are dead, the work of the Lord is done,” says Kabir.

(p. 68).

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.

(p. 68).

“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.”

(p. 69).

The verb “to have,” which expresses its reaction to existence, is ejected from the centre of your consciousness.

(p. 69).

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.

(p. 70).

CHAPTER 6.             LOVE AND WILL

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 …

(p. 72).

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, and degeneracy.

(pp. 72-73).

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.

(p. 73).

“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.

(p. 73).

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.

(p. 75).

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.

(pp. 75-76).

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.”

(p. 76).

Immediate feeling, so far as it is true, does not oppose but transcends and completes the highest results of thought.

(p. 77).

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.

(p. 80).

“Love, and do what you like,” said the wise Augustine: so little does mere surface activity count, against the deep motive that begets it.

(p. 80).

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.

(pp. 80-81).

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.

(p. 81).

“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.

(p. 81).

Gradually you come to see that 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.

(p. 82).

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.

(pp. 82-83).

The fundamental unity that is in you reaches out to the unity that is in them.

(p. 83).

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.

(p. 83).

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.

(pp. 83-85).


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.

(p. 88).

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.

(p. 89).

The Indian mystics speak perpetually of the visible universe as the Līlā or Sport of God: the Infinite deliberately expressing Himself in finite form, the musical manifestation of His creative joy.

(p. 89).

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.

(p. 89).

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.

(p. 90).

Stretch yourself 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.

(p. 91).

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.

(pp. 91-92).

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.

(p. 92).

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.

(p. 95).

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.

(p. 95).

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.

(p. 96).

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:

(pp. 96-97).

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.”

(p. 97).

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.

(p. 98).

“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.

(p. 100).

“Your opening and His entering,” says Eckhart, “are but one moment.”

(p. 100).


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.

(p. 103).

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.

(p. 104).

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.

(p. 105).

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.”

(p. 106).

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.

(p. 108).

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.

(p. 108).

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.

(p. 108).

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.

(p. 109).

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.

(pp. 109-110).

the unspeakably simple because completely inclusive solution of all the puzzles of life.

(p. 110).

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.”

(pp. 111-112).

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.”

(p. 112).    (p. 112).

God Himself can no man think. And therefore I would leave all

(p. 112).

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.

(pp. 113-114).

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.

(p. 116).

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.

(p. 117).

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.

(p. 117).

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.

(p. 117).

Thence is poured forth a stillness which strikes through the tumult without.

(p. 119).

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.

(pp. 119-120).

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.

(p. 120).

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.

(p. 120).

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.

(pp. 120-121).

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.

(pp. 121-122).    (p. 121).


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,

(pp. 122-123).

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.”

(p. 123).

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.

(p. 124).

You “wander to and fro,” as the mystics say, “in this fathomless ground”; surrounded by silence and darkness,

(p. 125).

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.”

(p. 125).

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.

(p. 125).

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.

(p. 126).

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.

(p. 126).

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.

(p. 126).

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.

(pp. 126-127).

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.

(p. 127).

“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.

(pp. 127-128).

“God’s action takes the place of man’s activity”–that the surrendered self “does not act, but receives.”

(p. 128).

“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.

(p. 129).

“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.

(p. 129).

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.

(pp. 129-130).

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.

(p. 130).

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.”

(p. 131).

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.

(p. 131).

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.

(p. 133).

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.

(pp. 133-134).

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.

(p. 135).

“He devours us and He feeds us!” exclaims Ruysbroeck.

(p. 136).

“Here,” says St. Thomas Aquinas, “the soul in a wonderful and unspeakable manner both seizes and is seized upon, devours and is herself devoured, embraces and is violently embraced: and by the knot of love she unites herself with God, and is with Him as the Alone with the Alone.”

(p. 136).

(We discover) 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.”

(p. 137).

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.”

(p. 137).

“Some contemplate the Formless, and others meditate on Form: but the wise man knows that Brahma is beyond both.”

(pp. 137-138).

you have been surrendering progressively to larger and larger existences, more and more complete realities:

(p. 139).

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.

(p. 139).

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.

(p. 139).

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.

(p. 139).

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.

(p. 140).

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.”

(p. 140).

(But this) is 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.

(pp. 140-141).

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.

(p. 141).

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.

(p. 142).


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?”

(p. 143).

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,” re-labelling 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.

(pp. 143-144).

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.

(p. 144).

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.

(pp. 144-145).

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—you will perceive that you have become a “new man.”

(p. 145).

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.

(p. 145).

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.

(p. 146).

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.

These operations made up together that which you called Success.

(p. 147).

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.

(p. 147).

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.

(p. 148).

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.

(p. 148).

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.
(p. 148).

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, does man becomes fully human, capable of living the real life of Eternity in the midst of the world of time.

(p. 149).

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.”

(p. 150).

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.

(p. 152).

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.

(p. 152).

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.

(p. 153).

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,”

(p. 154).

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.

(p. 154).

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-things hath their being by the love of God.” Its oppositions are no part of its realness; and therefore they can be overcome.

(pp. 154-155).

Are there not here, as the French proverb has it, plenty of cats for you to comb?

(p. 155).

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.

(pp. 155-156).

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.

(pp. 156-157).

You shall work for mercy, order, beauty, significance: shall mend where you find things broken, make where you find the need.

(p. 157).

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.

(p. 158).

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?

(p. 158).

When the spiritual world is 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.

(p. 158).

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.

(p. 159).

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.

(p. 160).

Because the emphasis is now forever 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.”

(p. 160).

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.

(pp. 161-162).

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.

(p. 162).

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.

(pp. 162-163).


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