The Path of Descent — Center for Action and Contemplation

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The Path of Descent

The Path of Descent

The Path of Descent
Monday, March 23, 2020

The CONSPIRE 2018 conference focused on the Path of Descent as the Path of Transformation. Suffering is a universal experience occurring across space and time, revealing the “big T” Truth that going down, going through, and going into the unknown can be powerfully transformative. In the meditations this week I will be sharing the wisdom offered by my fellow teachers at the CAC, whom I also call my friends. I hope you will trust their insights as you seem to trust my own. Today, Mirabai Starr shares a breathing practice and a reading from John of the Cross (1542–1591). Don’t hurry through it with your intellectual mind; allow it to do its work in your heart and body as well. 

Welcome to the descent. As we slip down deeper and deeper, I invite you to remember . . . that it is not in perfection that we reach the divine, but through the gateway of our mistakes and our suffering. . . .

Let’s take three deep breaths. I invite you to breathe all the way in and hold your inhalation for a while, for as long as you can, holding that inhalation before letting it all go and holding the exhalation. [Do this] three times at your own pace, paying attention to every nuance of your breath as you inhale, hold, exhale and hold, noticing especially the empty space of the out breath.

As you breathe, feel your attention pouring into the container of this moment so that you fully inhabit your own dear body in this precious moment. [You have] nowhere else to go, nothing to accomplish, [you are giving] yourself the . . . gift of being fully present and resting right here.

From Dark Night of the Soul (Noche Oscura del Alma):

The divine is purifying contemplation, and the human is the soul. The divine lays siege upon the soul in order to make her new and to make her divine, stripping her of habitual affections and attachments to the old self to which she had been reconciled. The Divine disentangles and dissolves her spiritual substance, absorbing it in deep darkness. In the face of her own misery, the soul feels herself coming undone and melting away in a cruel, spiritual death. 

Man says, the soul feels as if she herself were coming to an end. David calls out to God: ‘Save me, Lord, for the waters have come in even unto my soul. I am trapped in the mire of the deep. I have nowhere to stand. I have come unto the depth of the sea, and the tempest has overwhelmed me. I have labored in my cry. My throat has become raw, and my eyes have failed while I hope in my God.’ [Psalm 69:2–4] . . .  [1]

We abandon the self-improvement project and instead surrender to the Holy Fire. Allowing your breath to be the touchstone of your meditation and contemplation, allow yourself to rest for a few minutes in the stillness.


[1] John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul, trans. Mirabai Starr (Riverhead Books: 2002), 103, 105–106.

Adapted from a presentation by Mirabai Starr at CONSPIRE 2018.

Image credit: Agitated Sea at Étretat, Claude Monet, 1883, Museum of Fine Arts, Lyon, France. 
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The “cross,” rightly understood, always reveals various kinds of resurrection. It’s as if God were holding up the crucifixion as a cosmic object lesson, saying: “I know this is what you’re experiencing. Don’t run from it. Learn from it, as I did. Hang there for a while, as I did. It will be your teacher. Rather than losing life, you will be gaining a larger life. It is the way through.” As impossible as that might feel right now, I absolutely believe that it’s true. —Richard Rohr
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