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“Let that meek (quiet) darkness be your whole mind and like a mirror to you. For I want your thought of self to be as naked and simple as your thought of God, so that you may be with God in spirit without fragmentation and scattering of your mind.”

THE BOOK OF PRIVY COUNCIL , Author Unknown (same as THE CLOUD OF UNKNOWING)

“Do not imagine that when I call it a darkness or a cloud that it is a cloud amassed with vapours that float in the air, or a darkness such as you have in your house at night, when your candle is out, for such a darkness. With little imagination you could picture the summer skies breaking through the clouds or a clear light brightening the dark winter. This is false, it isn’t what I mean for when I say “darkness” I mean a lack of knowing, just as whatever you do know or have forgotten is dark to you, because you do not see it in your spiritual eyes. For this reason, that which is between you and your God is termed, not a cloud of the air, but a cloud of unknowing.”

THE CLOUD OF UNKNOWING, Author Unknown

Cloud of Unknowing is an ancient text and may be, some say, the origin of contemplative practice and dialogue within the Christian faith–we know meditation, contemplation, and philosophy around it is an ancient practice worldwide.

The Sufis did it, the Kabbalists did it, the Buddhists did it, the Mystics were everywhere, all over the globe and in every faith practice doing it. But what is it? Ah, the hard part. Deep inner silence, spiritual and corporeal centeredness, listening and hearing, and as always dealing with the “unknowing” of it all.

Whether we are deep in addiction, eating disorders, PTSD, or any disordered plane of existence we are plagued by the known demons and enemies in our minds, hearts, and souls. Part of addiction rhetoric says, “Let go and let God.” Mantras become mantras because they are so simple, succinct, and right on. This is no exception. Whether you believe in God, a universal force, or just human morality there is a part of us all that want to hold on to what we KNOW in life, about life, about ourselves. Knowing is comforting, even when, and it often is, it’s misleading.

When we KNOW we have no room to GROW. Unknowing however, as uncomfortable as it may be, leaves us ripe and ready for growth, change, and expansion beyond anything the known could ever provide. I say this with all humility as I struggling with my own battle of unknowing in my life right now. How I hate it!  And how I love it!  Maddening tis’nt’ it!

Can you spend a minute, an hour, a day intentionally “unknowing”?  Undoing all the dogmas, preconceptions, all the stuck-ness, ruts, predispositions….and just LET GO!  Give it a shot–it is scary like falling but also freeing like flying.

I am paragliding my way through the present, coasting across the sky to an unknown landing zone.  We will see where it leads.  Follow you own wind, paraglide into your own unknowns….and I hope everyone has a lovely weekend!

Where then, you say shall I be?
Nowhere by this tale!
Exactly you say this well,
for there would I have you.
For nowhere physically is everywhere spiritually.

THE CLOUD OF UNKNOWING, Author Unknown

Firey Sunset

“Each of us has a soul, but we forget to value it…We don’t understand the great secrets hidden inside of us.”

St. Teresa of Avila

 

 

One thing I am enjoying as I delve into reading Stephen Cope’s memoir is his reference to mystics of all religions and philosophies as there are so many corollaries between their practices–all meditative, contemplative, and instilled with devoted faithfulness to their chosen practice and spirituality. 

 

He has referenced, also, some of my favorite Christian mystics (although I have favorite mystics from every tradition and honor all of their intense dedication to their life paths)  including the anonymous monk author of  The Cloud of Unknowing and Teresa of Avila

 

Saint Teresa has always had a little place in my heart and soul–and a huge place in my name and naming.  I was named twice.  Once by nuns in the orphanage in Bogota and once by my parents in New Jersey, but both with the same name and for the same reason.  I was born on Teresa of Avila’s Saint’s Day, October 15th, and congrats to us both having celebrated our co-anniversary–mine of life and hers of recognition of great works as a contemplative and mystic within her faith tradition of Christianity. 

 

 Something about the fortuitous and coincidental nature of my naming–twice with the same name no less– has led me to believe that I was in some way meant to be a mystic heart.  That and the fact that I was always drawn to her writing both for its poetic force and for the meditative content found within.

 

Contemplatives and mystics the world round talk at some point (and through different linguistics) about the concept of “unknowing”.  The book The Cloud of Unknowing perhaps the greatest, at least one of the greatest, literary tomes to this concept was also one of the first, written by a monk in anonymity during the 14th century.  It’s focus and much of mystic exploration before and since is on the concept of getting beyond the known, the certainty, the ego, the pride– all of the inherent humanness we learn to cultivate through years of schooling and indoctrination of how we must be certain

 

Especially in the modern world we must, above all else, KNOW.  Not knowing is weak, not respected, and considered a sign of idiocy.  You will be trampled by the powerful and the charismatic if you don’t know.  But what if you intentional unknow?  What an unfathomable concept.  We must know who we are, put our stamp on the world, preach, and shout, and tout what we believe with irrevocable certainty otherwise who will want to listen?

 

Some of my favorite authors, teachers, philosophers, intellectuals, and spiritual persons in recent years are the ones who have the capacity to be passionate leaders, mentors, and advocates for a cause without touting certainty.  They, in fact, vocalize uncertainty–which often makes “the certains” of the world very nervous.  But what I have learned as I try (and I emphasize try) to cultivate a more contemplative and meditative mindset is that admitting to and embracing unknowing is one of the most spiritually mature and brave things a person can do. 

 

Unknowing is something we should all work to cultivate.  Sure, we have spent a lifetime cultivating knowing, but to be able to let that go, let our hold loosen on what must be certain and leave room for the uncertain would be a brave thing indeed.  It would also leave room for all sorts of mystical  and meditative surprises that we might have been closed to before. 

 

I know with myself, as well as my trauma clients as a whole, control is one of the hardest things to let go of in trauma healing.  After you have endured the worst life and the world has to offer all you have is your personal control–of yourself, of situations, of other people.  But, what is essential in learning in attempting to heal from trauma is that, that control is an illusion.  We have very little control over things in our lives, and with trauma often the things in ourselves are so out of control we can only maintain them to some small extent.  Control is an illusion as is, in many things, knowing.

 

I will admit it.  Giving into unknowing in life is one of the hardest tasks.  I study those that have a better grasp on it intently to try to master it piece by piece.  I know I have trouble–as I sit latching on, with whitened and braced knuckles, to the little control I like to believe I have over my life–letting that control illusion go. 

 

I know I have trouble, through pride, ego, and learning, to say it is ok not to know and to let go of that mental dynamic I have imprinted in my mind that we must know to be better or more wise.  I have a lot to unlearn to become one who can effectively “unknow”. 

 

Unknowing is, perhaps, the hardest part of cultivating a contemplative life and a more yogic sensibility. 

 

I find comfort in exploring other’s journeys on these paths–from the ancient mystics to a fellow psychotherapist and eloquent author like Cope who quotes the same mystics I have quoted, and whom I can watch, through his writing, take his own contemplative journey into self. 

 

Another contemplative for whom I have the greatest admiration is Thomas Keating (a modern Christian contemplative) is perhaps one of the most centered people I have ever encountered personally.  His presence is one which evokes calm.  Meditating in his presence somehow induces a feeling of being closer to something warm, radiating, and sublime.  My experience in meeting him was one of the most spiritually profound I have ever had.  He is someone from whom I constantly garner, through his writing and his speaking, more and more insight into myself. 

 

Father Keating once said, “Just by the very nature of our birth, we are on a spiritual journey.”  I would add to that, from my personal experience, saying that, “Just by the nature of my naming, I am on a mystic journey.”

 

 

“And so I urge you, go after experience rather than knowledge. On account of pride, knowledge may often deceive you, but this gentle, loving affection will not deceive you. Knowledge tends to breed conceit, but love builds. Knowledge is full of labor, but love, full of rest.”

From The Cloud of Unknowing

Vibrant Skies at Water's Edge

June 2020
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