Skip to main content
Center for Action and Contemplation

The Cloud of Unknowing, Part II

Friday, July 24, 2015

Mystics and Non-Dual Thinkers: Week 2

The Cloud of Unknowing, Part II
Friday, July 24, 2015

In his introduction to his translation, Ira Progoff writes: “The ultimate goal of the work of The Cloud of Unknowing is union with God, not as God is thought of or imagined to be, but as God is in [God’s] nature. . . . [This] refers to an experience in which man seems to be transcending himself, but is in fact discovering himself as he is. He is coming into contact with his own ‘naked being,’ and, by means of this, it becomes possible for him to come into contact with God as He is.” [1] (Please excuse the sexist language. As Jim Finley would say, “It was before they knew better.”) Throughout The Cloud, the author offers practices to quiet the mind, breaking our attachments to our thoughts and senses, so we can experience our “naked being,” the core of our own self and of God. Jim Finley reminds us that “We can’t make [union with God] happen, but we can actively choose to be as vulnerable as possible to opening ourself to what we can’t make happen.”

Cynthia Bourgeault uses The Cloud of Unknowing to teach non-dual consciousness in the Living School. She sees the “bonds that separate” us from our eternal nature as our usual dualistic way of thinking. In her words, “The price you pay for dividing the field in order to perceive is this haunting sense of otherness: you’re separate.” She emphasizes the power of our attention when it is withdrawn from its usual subject/object orientation and placed in what the Tibetan Buddhists call “objectless attention.” When we hold our attention in this way, we gather it as a “field of perceptive energy.” Cynthia says the author of The Cloud “calls this alternative system of perceptivity love.” In the author’s words: “God may be reached and held close by means of love, but by means of thought, never.

Our anonymous author describes the culminating experience of union with God: “the higher part of the contemplative life, as it may be had here, takes place altogether in this darkness and in this cloud of unknowing with a loving stirring blindly beholding the naked being only of God[self].” It comes down to this, if God wants to work in your soul, God has to work in secret. If you knew, you would either get puffed up, you would run in fear, you would try to take control of the process, or you would close down the whole Mystery with your rational mind. We each must learn to live in the cloud of our own unknowing.

Adapted from Following the Mystics Through the Narrow Gates, disc 6 (CD, DVD, MP3 download),
and an exclusive teaching within the Living School program

Gateway to Silence:
“Nothing can come between God and the soul.” –Julian of Norwich

[1] Ira Progoff, trans., The Cloud of Unknowing (Dell Publishing: 1957), 24.

Photograph (detail) by pedrojperez
Navigate by Date

This year’s theme

A candle being lit

Radical Resilience

We live in a world on fire. This year the Daily Meditations will explore contemplation as a way to build Radical Resilience so we can stand in solidarity with the world without burning up or burning out. The path ahead may be challenging, but we can walk it together.

The archives

Explore the Daily Meditations

Explore past meditations and annual themes by browsing the Daily Meditations archive. Explore by topic or use the search bar to find wisdom from specific teachers.

Join our email community

Sign-up to receive the Daily Meditations, featuring reflections on the wisdom and practices of the Christian contemplative tradition.

Hidden Fields

Find out about upcoming courses, registration dates, and new online courses.
Our theme this year is Radical Resilience. How do we tend our inner flame so we can stand in solidarity with the world without burning up or out? Meditations are emailed every day of the week, including the Weekly Summary on Saturday. Each week builds on previous topics, but you can join at any time.
In a world of fault lines and fractures, how do we expand our sense of self to include love, healing, and forgiveness—not just for ourselves or those like us, but for all? This monthly email features wisdom and stories from the emerging Christian contemplative movement. Join spiritual seekers from around the world and discover your place in the Great Story Line connecting us all in the One Great Life. Conspirare. Breathe with us.