Thomas Keating: The Secret Embrace, Part One
What the Mystics Know
Friday, October 23, 2020
Today I pause Cynthia Bourgeault’s reflections and offer a few words about the essential role of contemplation in the lives of honest spiritual seekers like Thomas Keating and Cynthia herself.
To many people, contemplation is an old-fashioned word, but it simply means the deliberate seeking of God by an inner dialogue. The soul grows closer to God through our willingness to detach from the passing self, the tyranny of feelings, the addiction to self-image, and the false promises of culture. It is a journey into the nothingness of true faith, where the ordinary rules of thinking, managing, explaining, and fixing up the smaller self do not apply. Contemplation shouldn’t be used to spiritually bypass what is real, harmful, or unjust in our lives or the world around us. However, with steady practice it will eventually give us the ability to stay present to what is, and meet it with wisdom, compassion, and courage. All the major world religions at their more mature stages recognize the necessity of contemplative practice in some form and under different names.
I’m not sure that most people in the Western world have ever really met the person who they themselves really are. Most of us have lived our lives with a steady stream of ideas, images, and feelings that we cling to—thinking they are our very essence. But in reality, at that level, I don’t have the idea; the idea has me. I don’t have the feeling; the feeling has me. We have to discover who this “I” really is. Who are we at the deepest level—behind our thoughts and feelings or others’ thoughts and feelings about us?
At every moment, all our life long, we identify ourselves either with our thoughts, our self-image, or our feelings. We have to find a way to get beyond those things to discover our “original face,” the one we already had before we were born. Even with great practice, most of us will only glimpse or abide in our True Self for moments at a time while we are alive. Mystics seem to finally and fully abide there, which I hope encourages us to keep going.
We yearn for “breach menders” who can “restore our ruined houses,” as Isaiah says (58:12). We long for great-souled people who can hold the chaos together within themselves—and give us the courage to do the same. I pray all of us know such people in our lives and that we be granted such people on the world stage. And I am confident such people have gone before and paved the way for us—the mystics and saints of all genders, cultures, and faith traditions, those both known and unknown.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, What the Mystics Know: Seven Pathways to Your Deeper Self (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2015), 20, 79, 83.