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The Cloud of Unknowing, Part II

Friday, July 24th, 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 She emphasizes the power of our attention when it is withdrawn from its usual subject/object orientation and placed in what the Tibetan Buddhists call “objectless attention.”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
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