Active Contemplation: Meditation Class: A Mystic's Journal Entry: November 9, 2006 by Laurie Conrad.
Active Contemplation: Meditation Class: A Mysticís Journal Entry: November 9, 2006
Thursday, November 9
I had to cancel many weeks of classes because of my health. Last night in meditation class we again turned to The Ways of Mental Prayer (Lehodey; Tan Books and Publishers). Trudy turned to "Active Contemplation" and began to read: "Contemplation, in a wide sense, is a prayer consisting of a simple, loving look upon God or upon the things of God; it is not occupied in seeking for the truth, like meditation, it possesses it and rests in it with love ..."
This began a discussion on the value of thinking and study as an effort to show us the way to the goal vs. mystical experience, i.e. the goal itself. Chris said there came a point where the intellect must cease; intelligence could only take us so far and then Grace comes in, to bring us to mystical experience. M. added that thoughts belonged to the ego, and we cannot be standing in the ego for mystical experience; Trudy said the intellect was limited, in mystical experience Grace comes to our aid.
"and rests in it with love ..." When love is present we know we have achieved mystical union.
A few paragraphs later Trudy read: "The mind, possessing the truth, contemplates it by a direct act, and enjoys it without effort." (A paraphrase of St. Francis of Sales, Love of God.) Here truth does not mean intellectual truth, but rather the mystical truth of God and the soul. I asked what St. Francis meant by "direct act" and Chris said it was a knowledge not filtered through the ego. In other words, a direct knowing, a direct perception of the soul and the Divine. We could also say it is a communion with the soul and with God; M. said a standing in the higher part of the soul which is connected to the Divine. I added that first we must stand in the soul, connect with our own soul, for this to happen. From our point of view, it does not matter which part of the soul we are standing in: ultimately all is connected to the Divine.
Chris asked if during these high mystical experiences the mind continued to work, if we are aware of ourselves and our surroundings. In my experience, whether we are aware of our physical surroundings or not is a variable. Sometimes I am aware of them, sometimes I am not - depending on the sort of experience and the depth of it. But we always know who we are. In fact, we have a knowledge of who we are in a way that cannot be achieved in ordinary consciousness, an Awareness that cannot be otherwise achieved. That I know I am Laurie Conrad or not is not important in those times: instead I know who I truly Am - and that is a being of Light, a luminous and living Light that we cannot even imagine or describe. And this being of Light is in some Mysterious Way intertwined with the Divine Itself. Chris then asked if we have memory of these experiences and I said that we are conscious in these experiences, and we will have memory of them.
Later in the text came an interesting and valuable distinction: "Sometimes light dominates, and our contemplation is then cherubic; more frequently it is love that prevails, and then it is called seraphic. Certain authors give more prominence to the light, others to the love; in reality, both elements are indispensable." We decided that since the seraphim are the highest choir of angels, we can assume that love is the higher mystical experience. Yet, as Lehodey states: both elements are indispensable. I added that in my experience the love aspect cannot occur without the light, whereas we can experience the light without the love. I would say they were different facets of the same Diamond. In my view, which aspect we experience is dependent on both many personal soul factors and qualities - and Destiny, i.e. what God wishes us to experience. For what we experience mystically will then manifest in the world, through us to others. God will give us what our work for Him requires. To continue this analogy, we could say the saints were gems of different colours and qualities, each saint with his or her own particular light and graces.
Lehodey also gives us a quote from Saint Teresa of Avila who had heard that to contemplate on Our Lord in His Humanity, i.e. to picture Christ during contemplation, was an obstacle to perfect contemplation. She wrote: "Oh! What a bad road I was following, my good Lord! Or rather, I had lost every road ... A hundred and a hundred times have I learned this by experience, and heard it from the very mouth of Our Lord Himself." (From her Autobiography and The Interior Castle.) I include this for obvious reasons: often contemplation or meditation is misunderstood as an exercise in keeping the mind completely blank or empty. A blank or empty mind is not the Goal. If in infused contemplation the mind is completely emptied of thoughts, the Divine Itself empties the mind of thoughts for us. And in these experiences, we are shown something else, most usually the Divine Radiant Light of the soul. If we are very fortunate, we will also experience the Divine Itself as a separate Flame.
There are two sorts of contemplation: active and passive, or acquired and infused. Lehodey then defines active contemplation: "In our opinion, acquired contemplation is that to which a person may raise himself by his own industry with the help of the ordinary graces of prayer". He then calls infused, or passive contemplation "mystical contemplation". Lehodey writes: ... it suffices to say that it also is a prayer of simple, loving look; but in it the soul is manifestly more or less passive, she realizes beyond the possibility of doubt that the light and love come not from her own activity, that she receives them from God, who operates in her and makes her, generally speaking, feel His presence in an ineffable manner."
It is difficult to add to such a beautiful passage. However, although Lehodey does not state it here, in my experience infused contemplation, unlike active contemplation, can happen when we are least expecting it; i.e. while walking or while in conversation, during tasks, or even while watching television or during some other shared or unshared amusement. I believe this is to show us that the experience comes from God, and not from our own personal efforts or selves. Moreover, during such an experience, one must be struck by the Power of the Divine and the weakness of our own will and intellect: for even if we struggle to avoid the experience, from embarrassment or any other reason - we cannot.