Journey through Darkness

Christian mysticism is born of a theological crisis. This theological crisis is precipitated by the very nature of faith. For faith, which is at the heart of contemplation, makes use of concepts and yet transcends them.
-Thomas Merton (The Ascent to Truth, p.107)

The mind can only be kept one- pointed in faith; and faith, without presuming to know the true nature of reality, is itself, darkness. Of course, it believes in certain concepts, but these only out of necessity. The contemplative aspirant seeks a veiled path, a journey through darkness sustained only by faith and illuminated only by reason. Essential to contemplation is meditation, and it is perilous to impose expectations on the experience of its practice. In doing so, the aspirant will strive to encounter his expectations (which are imaginary) rather than seek to be illumined by the truth (which is unknown). Expectations are biased and diminutive, but pure faith (composed of trust) allows for the most profound sort of transformation.

A man of faith will seek illumination by relegating the influence of his own biased intellect. We must remember, though intellect is the vehicle of reason, it is not reason itself; and the humble action that darkens the intellect with regard to spiritual reality is an act of reason. Reason recognizes the truncating limitations of the intellect and seeks a vital experience of reality beyond the intellect’s ability to comprehend. The more one can surrender the intellect (I do not mean abstain from its use), the more one- pointed the mind can be made. Pride of intellect always assumes it can structure knowledge into belief that is objective. Faith comprehends the folly of such thinking.

As one begins to understand the diminutive nature of his own mind and the sheer probability of error in personal reasoning, he cannot but have faith (unless he opts for madness). If he places ultimate truth within the reach of his own personal conceptions, his mind will never be one- pointed; for these conceptions about reality will shift day-by-day, being at the mercy of many forces (and reason isn’t one of them). Take note, I do not mean to say that the aspirant should in this regard substitute personal conceptions of ultimate truth with doctrinal ones (though sacred scripture and tradition is here for our benefit); rather, we must affirm that truth transcends the very realm of conceptions. The intellectual paradox here (and paradox for the intellect only) is that truth can still be gotten- at. Once the assumptions of the intellect are darkened through faith (and humility), the mind can be made one- pointed, directed at a destination neither perceived nor understood, but always groped for in darkness.

Cross the River

Be vigilant and go beyond death. If you lack vigilance, you cannot escape death. Those who strive earnestly will go beyond death; those who do not can never come to life
– Gautama Buddha (The Dhammapada, vs. 21)

It is easy to lose vigilance. Discipline forces the mind to focus, to pull oneself from the passive stream of self-gratification and stupid indolence. But vigilant action of mind and body requires an ardent will, and moments of weakness will begin to nurture apathetic behavior. As apathy accumulates with each indolent decision, the overall character of the spiritual aspirant will begin to ossify. At such a stage, he will have lost control over the forces of his mind and once again be subject to its devilish whims. Such a person is not sovereign over himself, but is ruled by the fluctuating disposition of his mental- field; and this field is invariably characterized by avarice and egoism. Spiritual discipline forces one to take account of himself, forces him to observe his own habits of mind. Through such vigilance, one begins to gain conscious control over these immanent forces, and he thereby mitigates the suffering and turmoil caused by them.

Our time should be characterized by the fulfillment of difficult decisions. At each crossroads in the mind, it should be the path less traveled that is chosen. The easy course should be resisted. A passive life is a life that remains blind to purpose and the remarkable potential of its own faculties. When passivity reigns unchallenged, these faculties lie in disuse and become derelict. The spiritual man recognizes ultimate purpose and mobilizes his faculties in the pursuit of that end. Knowing not the exact nature of this purpose, nevertheless, he strives to ascertain that knowledge.

Be vigilant! This is the remonstrance of the Christ and the Buddha. Keep your lamps burning and never cease to meditate, else death may sweep you away while you remain unaware, mired in the stupor of indolence. Wake up sleeper! Life is not a crude joke meant for the pursuit of pleasure or love of comfort. It is an opportunity to become aware, to raise one’s perception from the truncated confines of conditioned bias. The self- secluded consciousness creates its own illusions regarding the truth of life. It is so diminutive in focus, it cannot see past its own likes an dislikes. Truth has nothing to do with personal likes and dislikes. These are conditioned and prescribed by circumstance. The truth is not comfortable to one who is complacent in his own apathy; and the truth is this: We must strive with unyielding will to conquer our own weaknesses, biases, vices, illusions, and inordinate passions. When all these are stripped away, there remains nothing but pure awareness, pure consciousness, life without death.

The Invitation

A thicket sprouts
with bramble sharp
encroaching fast around the heart

It strangles there
my every joy
and weak I am to halt its ploy

There is no front
but calm within
to hack its thorns and rout the din

So

when striving ebbs
by Eloi’s grace
the mind grows dim and slows its pace

All murmurs gone
like unto smoke
his comfort stirs and dons the yoke

A burden light
is shouldered then
Some gentle load brings rest within

Come unto me
spake once the Lord
The deeps of pain, I’ll see you ford

Many Voices

Sitting in my solitude
Her voice came true and clear
A gentle, lilting laughter
Rose up to my ear

She’s the joyful water
Happy to be and flow
Upon her steady presence
The other voices sow

The second voice was solemn
His groans, deep and broad
He’s the mighty wind
Blowing oer the sod

The other voices chimed in turn
Sowing in their song

The trill of birds
Much like words
Cooing all along

I drew them forth, voice by voice
A tonic within my soul
The joyful water
The mighty Wind
Together, One and Whole