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LOVE AND WILL
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 life.
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.
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