One of the challenges of writing about the contemplative path is to address people’s needs adequately – to meet them where they are.
Some are just learning about practices like Centering Prayer. Some are long-time practitioners and teachers of practices spanning a wide range of traditions.
Some are piecing together a kind of post-modern faith after a long drought from the broken forms of childhood faith they’ve outgrown.
What assumptions do we share? What terminology do we use with an interfaith community?
The word mystical might be too pie in the sky for some. The word contemplative might be too obscure for others. The word esoteric registers as foofie New Age-ism for others still. We all have our preferences. And some of us cling to those more tightly than others. Will the way in which we articulate some of this transcendent experience become an obstacle to facilitating that experience?
After a lengthy discussion, for example, our by-line of “Silence. Practice. Healing.” seemed to be simple, elegant, and straightforward enough. But as we dive deeper into the contemplative truths, the question eventually arises: who is the “I” that is supposed to be healed? Even the desire to be after “healing” comes into question, and healing seems a kind of by-product of the process, rather than a pursuit in and of itself.
The problem stems from the very nature of our means of communication in the forums available to us: language and concepts. As I write this on a computer program with the intention to post it to a web site or social media platform later on, I realize the very forms we use to communicate and that draw our attention can have a narrowing, limiting effect.
On the one hand, what an opportunity to connect to such a broad group of people all over the world without massive fundraising and travel.
On the other, it limits the range of what can be communicated and experienced through this mode of exchange to the conceptual, which is exactly what we’re trying to point beyond.
There’s a line in the movie Playing By Heart where Angelina Jolie’s character quotes someone else talking about love. She says, “talking about love is like dancing about architecture.”
That’s a lot like what we do at times, talking about this contemplative path of interior silence and relinquishment.
Interestingly, poet Li-Young Lee describes his understanding of poetry as “building an architecture for silence.” There’s a concentration of meaning in a poem, but ultimately, the best kind of poetry points beyond itself to the potential energies of a kind of divine silence that are more dynamic than language itself, because in the silence we can have even our inmost selves, the architecture of our consciousness, our assumptions, fears, pain, self-loathing, and self-doubt saturated in that subtle divinity we experience in the silence.
All traditions have their exoteric forms, the kataphatic way of communities, their rituals and doctrines. But we recognize at some point, these only carry us so far.
And ultimately, it doesn’t matter to us if people are using the term apophatic, or interior, or contemplative, as long as we are able to carry out the work of facilitating that experience of divine wholeness for others.
Of course, the dirty little inside secret is that the wholeness you find most deeply when the “you,” the ego structure, the sense of an “I” – even an “I” who wants to best for myself and others – is altogether annihilated, and what remains is the heart deep recognition that this kind of True Self is not what we’re after, but who we are. And who we’ve been all along.
Li-Young Lee – The Subject Is Silence
Fr. Thomas Keating and Llewellyn Vaughan Lee – Oneness of the Heart and World (22:15 mark)