Learning to See

Contemplative Consciousness

Learning to See
Wednesday, January 10, 2017

If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to [us] as it is, infinite. —William Blake [1]

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.

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, usually in our left brain 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, God, 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. When we couldn’t put together this paradox in Jesus, we couldn’t recognize the same truth about ourselves and others. 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” God. We missed the major point!

This is why we end the Daily Meditations with “Gateway to Presence,” an invitation to contemplative knowing. 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 becomes one continual practice or a “school of union.”

References:
[1] William Blake, “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,” The Complete Poems, ed. Alicia Ostriker (Penguin Classics: 1977), 188. 

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Just This (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2017), 7-9; and
The Art of Letting Go: Living the Wisdom of Saint Francis, disc 3 (Sounds True: 2010), CD.

Image credit: Impression Sunrise (detail), Claude Monet, 1872, Musee Marmottan Monet.
When another thought arises [in contemplation]—as no doubt it will—welcome it and let it go, returning to your inner watch place on the bank of the river. —Thomas Keating
Numbers only; no punctuation

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