Paraphrasing Richard Rohr[i] in Creative Interchange language
Contemplation helps us to actually experience our experiences so that they can become transformational. Contemplation exposes our created self so that we can be open to our Creative Self. In this column we will explore the contemplative mind and the necessity to rediscover our inherent Intrinsic Worth and grow into our Creative Self. Without contemplative consciousness, we live on the surface of our own experiences and thus our created self.
The Second Gaze
The world today tends to be cynical about most things. Why would it not be if we see only at the surface level? Everywhere we turn, every time we watch the news, we see suffering. We have become skeptical about human goodness, humanity’s possibilities, and our planet’s future. We can’t help seeing what is not and are often unable to recognize or appreciate what is. What we should do is to force ourselves for a second gaze, a deeper seeing. This should be our daily dialogue with us as observers, not as interpreters; being more pure aware than colored conscious.
In the very beginning, i.e. from the start of what Henry Nelson Wieman called the development of our ‘valuing consciousness”[ii], we see that nature is good, humans are good, and, later, some of us understand that God is good, while others say then that Creative Interchange is good, since they believe that God equals Creative Interchange. I have never met a loving human being who did not also believe in the foundational goodness of people and all of creation. Remember, all people objectively hold Intrinsic Worth, and each of us has to choose to grow toward our Original Self through our Creative Self. That is, to me, our primary task on this earth.
Indeed, all each of us can give back to Life is what Life has already given to us. We must choose it, respect it, and allow it to blossom. The most courageous thing we will ever do is to bear humbly the mystery of our own reality, to trust our Intrinsic Worth and evolve our created self toward our Original Self through our Creative Self (i.e. living Creative Interchange from within). It is simply a matter of becoming who we already are.
The Vicious Circle
Unfortunately, the Vicious Circle[iii] led us to rely on dualistic thinking, which is incapable of comprehending, much less experiencing, the mystical, nonviolent, or non-dual level. With the rational mind, we literally cannot imagine the Divine and humanity being one, or being one with our neighbor, because the dualistic mind always splits things apart and takes sides. The contemplative mind or non-dual thinking allows us to see things in wholes instead of in parts.
The lost tradition of Contemplation
An awesome and even presumptuous message of divinization is found in the Judeo-Christian story of Creation: we are “created in the image and likeness of God” (Genesis 1:27 and 5:2). Many tomes of theology have been written to clarify this claim, and this is theologians’ primary consensus: Image is our objective DNA that marks us as creatures of God from the very beginning; whilst likeness is our personal appropriation and gradual realization of this utterly free gift of the image into our Creative Self.
It’s all too easy to recognize our daily created self as being unlike our meant Creative Self, as well in ourselves as in others, so we have a hard time believing our Creative Self could be true in ourselves or others. But some form of contemplative practice will allow us to rest in and trust this deeper and truest Original Self.
Actually, our Creative Self is the only Original Self or real self that has ever existed. It’s the only self that exists right now. The trouble is, most people don’t know it. It’s not their fault; they’re just trapped in their own Vicious Circle and they’re not always given the necessary tools they need to connect with who they really are and those tools are the tools of the Creative Interchange Process. The dualistic and argumentative mind of the created self will never get you there. Thus we have an identity crisis on a massive scale!
Unfortunately, the contemplative mind has not been systematically taught in the West for the last five hundred years. The Spanish Carmelites Teresa of Ávila (1515-1582) and John of the Cross (1542-1591) were the last well-known teachers of contemplative awareness in European thought. With the so-called “Enlightenment” and the argumentative Reformation, Western Christianity almost abandoned contemplation in favor of dualistic thinking and its own strange form of “rational” thought, which actually produced fundamentalism in both its Catholic and Protestant forms. Thomas Merton (1915-1968) felt that even the monasteries no longer taught the contemplative mind in any systematic way, as monks just “said prayers” with their old dualistic minds.
You cannot know God the way you know anything else; you only know God or the soul of anything subject to subject, center to center, by a process of “mirroring” where like knows like and love knows love—“deep calling unto deep” (Psalm 42:7). The Divine Spirit planted deep inside each of us yearns for and responds to God—and vice versa (see James 4:5). The contemplative is deeply attuned and surrendered to this process; the process we call Creative Interchange.
We are not so much human beings trying to become spiritual. We’re inherently spiritual beings and our job is learning how to be good humans! Richard Rohr “Jesus came as a human being: not to teach us how to go to heaven, but how to be a fully alive human being here on this earth.”
Learning to See
If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to [us] as it is, infinite. — William Blake [iv]
Contemplation is about seeing, but a kind of seeing that is much more than mere looking because it also includes recognizing and thus appreciating. The contemplative mind does not tell us what to see, but teaches us how to see what we behold. Being contemplative is being fully aware!
Contemplation allows us to see the truth of things in their wholeness. It is a mental discipline and gift that detaches us—neurologically and spiritually—from our addiction to our habitual way of thinking, which likes to be in control. Through contemplative practice we stop identifying solely with our small binary, dualistic mind, which strips things down to two choices and then usually identifies with only one of them. Gradually we begin to recognize the inadequacy and superficiality of that limited way of knowing reality. Only the contemplative, or the deeply intuitive, can start venturing out into much more open-ended horizons. The rational, dualistic mind does not have the capacity to hold the big questions of life like love, death, suffering, sexuality, the Divine, or anything infinite.
We need a contemplative, non-dual mind to accept or even have an elementary understanding of what is meant by Jesus being fully human and fully divine—at the same time. Western Christianity has tended to overemphasize his divinity, and we thus lost sight of how Jesus holds these two together. Since we couldn’t put together this paradox in Jesus, we couldn’t recognize the same truth about others and ourselves. We too are a paradox, a seeming contradiction that is not actually a contradiction at all. Yet we ended up being “only” human and Jesus ended up being “only” Divine. We missed the major point! Only a non-dual mind can discover that to be human is to also be divine.
How do we learn contemplative consciousness—this deep, mysterious, and life-giving way of seeing, of being with, reality? Why does it not come naturally to us? Many people experience this knowing in small glimpses, in brief moments of intimacy, awe, or grief. But such wide-eyed seeing normally does not last. We return quickly to dualistic analysis and use our judgments to retake control. Contemplation is simply a way of maintaining the fruits of great love and great suffering over the long haul. And that takes a lot of practice. In fact, our whole life should become one continual practice and we should do this in an interdependent way, forming what I call a “Community of Practice of Creative Interchange’.
Mirroring the Divine
In Christianity the inner self is simply a stepping-stone to an awareness of God. Man is the image of God, and his inner self is a kind of mirror in which God not only sees Himself, but reveals Himself to the “mirror” in which He is reflected. Thus, through the dark, transparent mystery of our own inner being we can, as it were, see God “through a glass.” All this is of course pure metaphor. It is a way of saying that our being somehow communicates directly with the Being of God, Who is “in us.” If we enter into ourselves, find our true self, and then pass “beyond” the inner “I,” we sail forth into the immense darkness in which we confront the “I AM” of the Almighty. — Thomas Merton[v]
Your life is not about you; you are about Life. You are an instance of a universal, eternal pattern. The One Life that many call “God” and others, like Henry Nelson Wieman “Creative Interchange”, is living itself in you, through you, and as you! You have never been separate from God [Creative Interchange] except in your mind. Can you imagine that?
This realization is an earthquake in the brain, a hurricane in the heart, a Copernican revolution in the mind, and a paradigm shift in consciousness. Yet most of us do not seem interested in it. It is too big to imagine and can only be revealed slowly. So it takes time, courage and perseverance and we lack them all.
Luckily, there is hope, since we are much more prepared to understand this in a post-Einstein world—where energy, movement, or life itself is the one constant movement, and not an isolated substance.
Awe and Surrender
To begin to see with new eyes, we must observe—and usually be humiliated by—the habitual way we encounter each and every moment. It is humiliating because we will see that we are well practiced in just a few predictable responses. Not many of our responses are original, fresh, or naturally respectful of what is right in front of us. The most common human responses to a new moment are mistrust, cynicism, fear, defensiveness, dismissal, and being judgmental. These are the common ways the ego tries to be in control of the data instead of allowing the moment to get some control over us—and teach us something new!
To let the moment teach us, we must allow ourselves to be at least slightly stunned by it until it draws us inward and upward, toward a subtle experience of wonder.
The spiritual journey is a constant interplay between moments of awe followed by a process of surrender to that moment. We must first allow ourselves to be captured by the goodness, truth, or beauty of something beyond and outside ourselves. Then we universalize from that moment to the goodness, truth, and beauty of the rest of reality, until our realization eventually ricochets back to include ourselves! This is the great inner dialogue some call genuine prayer. We humans resist both the awe and, even more, the surrender. Both are vital, and so we must practice.
Practice: Watching the River
To live in the present moment requires a change in our inner posture. Instead of expanding or shoring up our fortress of the small self—the ego or created self—contemplation waits to discover who we truly are. Most people think they are their thinking. They don’t have a clue who they are apart from their thoughts. In contemplation, we move to a level beneath thoughts and sensations, the level of pure being and naked awareness.
In contemplation (in the West) and meditation (in the East), we calmly observe our own stream of consciousness and see its compulsive patterns. That’s the essence of mindfulness: We wait in silence with an open heart and attuned body. It doesn’t take long for our usual patterns to assault us. Our habits of control, addiction, negativity, tension, anger, and fear assert themselves; this is the devastating work of the Vicious Circle.
Many teachers insist on at least twenty minutes for a full contemplative “sit,” because you can assume that the first half (or more) of any contemplation time is just letting go of those thoughts, judgments, fears, negations, and emotions that want to impose themselves. We become watchers and witnesses, stepping back and observing without judgment. Gradually we come to realize those thoughts and the corresponding feelings are not “me.”
Thomas Keating teaches a beautifully simple exercise. Imagine yourself sitting on the bank of a river. The river is your stream of consciousness. Observe each of your thoughts coming along as if they’re saying, “Think me, think me.” Watch your feelings come by saying, “Feel me, feel me.” Acknowledge that you’re having the feeling or thought. Don’t hate it, don’t judge it, don’t critique it, or move against it. Simply name it: “resentment toward so and so,” “a thought about such and such.” Then place it on a boat and let it go down the river. When another thought arises—as no doubt it will—welcome it and let it go, returning to your inner watch place on the bank of the river.[vi]
[iii] Stacie Hagan and Charlie Palmgren, The Chicken Conspiracy: Breaking The Cycle of Personal Stress and Organizational Mediocrity. Baltimore, MA: Recovery Communications, Inc. 1998.
[iv] Blake, William. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, The Complete Poems, ed. Alicia Ostriker. New York, NY: Penguin Classics, Penguin Books USA, Inc. 1977, 188.
[v] Thomas Merton, The Inner Experience: Notes on Contemplation New York, NY: HarperCollins. 2004, 10-11.
[vi] To further explore this centering prayer practice, see Thomas Keating, Open Mind, Open Heart: The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel. New York, NY: The Continuum International Publishing Group, Inc. 2006, especially chapter 9.