The day began with a review of the previous day. In summary, Eckhart is trying to help us wake up. There is the universe and infinity, and where they meet is the point of oneness that is perpetually birthing itself moment by moment in a dynamic activity of love. God holds nothing back. To wake up and realise this unity, we must become detached. This is a lifelong, intimate practice. The morning session followed, focusing on meditation and detachment.
Meditation is listening to the virgin mind. There are thought systems of God from different cultural perspectives, e.g., Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, etc. This is a culturally specific music of language of divinity trying to express what cannot be said. Eckhart advocates that whilst accepting all traditions we think clearly in an orderly way questioning what reality is. We practice being clear minded and not getting caught up in a web of thought and ideas. Meditation is a practice to this end that embodies life and suffering. There is no agenda or ulterior motive in meditation. We sit quietly and calmly in awareness. Take a backward step and observe what arrives in consciousness. We sit attentively and watch the thoughts arise. Observe what arises without thinking about the thought. When the mind flips into thinking take a backward step to observing. The practice is the same with body sensations and emotions. Observe all that arises with non-judgmental consciousness and compassion. As we will fall into thinking – observe and step back. Meditation is a non-judgmental awareness of all that has arisen.
As we watch thoughts arise, endure and pass away, we begin to endure the divinity of thoughts arising. Oneness is the fruit of detachment. The ‘I’ that is aware of this is the infinite observer who observes everything arise-endure-pass away. This distinct consciousness is the infinity of oneness.
James quoted from Eckhart on the subject:
‘Here in the ground (God’s ground) is my ground and my ground is God’s ground.’
‘There is something in the soul (namely in the ground) in which God is bare and the masters say this is nameless, and has no name of its own …. God is always present and within it. I say that God has always been in it, eternally and uninterruptedly …’
… God is nowhere so truly as in the soul, and … in the inmost soul, in the summit of the soul.’
‘There is something that transcends the created being of the soul, not in contact with created things, which are nothing: not even an angel has it, though he has a clear being that is pure and extensive: even that does not touch it. It is akin to the nature of the deity, it is one in itself, and has naught in common with anything. It is a stumbling block to many a learned cleric.’
The ten-minute practice started with a bow then line by line participants repeated the following words which lead into the meditation:
Be still and know that I am God
Be still and know that I am
Be still and know
Suggestions for studying the writing of the mystics and finding a teacher
Find the person (mystic) whose words open your heart for the desire of the Great Way – that person is your teacher. It is a gift to find your teacher – the transmission is heart to heart – mind to mind. It is highly personal – beyond you and yet with you. The mystics write in a way to open the heart and cells. Mystics don’t just say everything is one; they use a language that provokes the realisation and experience of this. The following steps are helpful in studying a mystic text:
1. First read the complete text making notes to yourself about things that strike you.
2. Go back and read the first paragraph and outline the structure of it.
3. Sit with the paragraph and meditate on it.
4. Note how you have experienced the content.
5. Paraphrase it in your own words.
Next, go on to the following paragraph. To study a book this way can take a year or two. When you are finished you may go back and start again in the same way. You can do this over and over again. Reading a book like this can access your heart beyond the words. It is a flow of consciousness.
Questions, Discussion and Sharing
Next, participants broke into groups to discuss these two questions:
1. What is it about Eckhart so far that particularly inspires you?
2. What is it about Eckhart so far that seems particularly confusing?
Once participants had gathered again in the large group, James invited comments and questions to which he responded.
Comment: It is difficult to get the essentiality of the message. The message is a benevolence of spirit.
Response: When we are in this realm, are we responding to essence or being moved by essence? We are moved because we know – this is translogical. We cannot pin down from whence it arises – God, speaker, book, etc. The response is getting ‘joy without a cause.’ We cannot explain this gracious benevolence. It is a quiet amazement about our life. This is not about ego. It is a preciousness of life and existence that is a place of rest and reassurance.
Comment: You are the archetype of the priest channeling grace. You enable me to pick up what you are channeling easily. I would like to go to your sermons if you lived near-by.
Response: You like being with me; I like being with you. There is recognition and affinity that opens up this dimension of our lives. This is the love that makes community possible.
Comment: This understanding at a heart level is difficult to regurgitate intellectually. It is hard to study this material in an academic environment.
Response: The vocation of the theologian is a practice of reflection in thought. When Eckhart chose to be a preacher to the contemplative nuns he used this language to evoke experience and this dynamic is the important part – it is not until it is energised that it becomes alive.
Question: Is it meant to be oral tradition rather than written?
Response: If I could bear witness anywhere I would love to hear Eckhart speak to the contemplative nuns. I am convinced that when he spoke a power opened up. Plato said he did not write down his central teaching as they are transmitted by mind-energy from teacher to student. When you then read the text, the words come alive. Once you have tasted oneness, the words will come alive and you can regain the experience.
Comment: It’s the articulation of the jewel of non-word.
Response: This was how the wisdom was passed.
Comment: I am struck by the simple and beautiful practice of Gelazeinheit – surrender versus control; however, my son committed suicide and I’m not ready to surrender to this.
Response: Gelazeinheit is inspiring and simple, yet when one really gets into it, it is daunting. In one sense, it is a purity of simplicity, but it is very challenging to really open up to this. It is in-depth transpersonal work. Struggling with this, with loving patience, is in itself the path – a rite of passage. If you are drawn towards the discipline of articulating the language, inwardly this humbles, transforms and deepens you.
Regarding the tragedy of the loss of your son, suicide is a tragic misdirection. It is never the answer. It is very sad that the last act will be an act of violence to the self. The pain is so great that suicide is a paradoxical way to leave pain – a paradoxical act of love. This helps us with compassion, yet it does not destroy ourselves. Being grounded in love transcends this suffering. It is a mysterious richness that sustains you. Silence is a gift of sustenance. It’s transformative – sitting with the presence of God. Be humble when asked to speak as all comes out of silence.
Question: What is the practical application of this material?
Response: Ask what is truly practical. The worldly view is that the task at hand is practical and this can lead to a drowning in practicality. Ask yourself, ‘Is the universe practical? Are play, joy and poetry practical? Philosophy is not practical, yet it feeds the soul. Places like Findhorn bear witness to ultimate practicality – true practicality. Being here at this retreat is true practicality.
Question: If I detach from physical possessions, does this bring me closer to the spiritual level?
Response: What helps me is seeing what is going on in my life that has power to name who I am. I believe this constitutes my authority/inauthority. Regarding possession of things, letting go of excess can be a way of manifesting spirituality, but if we are attached to this idea it will not happen. Discernment is important. When we look deeper we are being asked to respect more, rather than let go. Letting things flow in unexpected ways is detachment. It is a willingness to ride the crest of the wave.
Question: When I woke up this morning, I observed anxiety momentarily then confronted the terror of unconditional love. I glimpsed it and wanted to run away into shame and addiction.
Response: Anxiety – we can wake up and think ‘oh shit another day’. There is a difference between the absence of anxiety and freedom within the presence of it. If you wake up with it, it does not mean you have to act on it or drive it away. We can learn to befriend anxiety and be graciously present and calm in its presence. We can learn the inner and outer triggers, round the edges of it, and devise strategies to work with it.
Eckhart’s ‘Three Phases of the Spiritual Journey’
i) Detachment – growing and becoming spiritually mature (laying bare the Ground).
ii) Birth of World and Soul – a divine generosity welling up out of life. This is the fullness of God/Life (and the impellment to share this with others).
iii) Breakthrough to the Godhead
These are three aspects of a process that happens simultaneously. Sometimes even before one thinks of detachment, one gets flooded with grace. This foretaste of wonder is a stimulus to pursue the path. The process is linear and non linear at the same time.
Vision of the Birth of World and Soul
Setting of the tone (in the language Eckhart used):
i) Emptiness – understanding God as emptiness prior to all distinctions (this is similar to Buddhism and Daoism). The infinite void of presence is without any trace of distinction. Emptiness is God essence, an abyss of oceanic presence – a state of eternal stillness that is pregnant with God. The universe is in all of us, yet utterly hidden, empty still and void. Stillness of the Godhead is our destiny – we come back home to emptiness whilst pregnant with God.
ii) Perpetual Motion Gives Birth to Intimacy – this oceanic stillness is perpetually in motion. It is a boiling paradox of stillness in a state of dynamic activity. This boiling is the manifestation of emptiness. It gives birth to divine intimacy and this intimacy is the first manifestation of emptiness. This divine relationship of knowledge and love is the infinite oneness (trinity).
iii) Boiling Over of Emptiness is the Origin of All – the divine emptiness boils over and the universe is the super abundant overflow. This manifestation is a perfect expression of God and everything is divine. Creation is God bringing through to existence the trees, stars, sun, etc. – the birthing of eternal nature. God and the universe arise simultaneously. It is the creation that makes the creator with no infinite distance between. There is eternal pregnancy and birthing perpetually evolving manifestations of emptiness – a paradox.
Letting go of Attachment
As we let go of attachment, we start to sense the beginningness and endless nature of all things. As Jung said, this is: ‘The secret that whispers in the brooks.’ This is a lucid immediacy – heard in the detachment of meditative stillness. All opens up in the fruit of attachment – the sacredness of God being given as concreteness of each thing. However, in attachment we do not see the light. We are the apertures through which it shines and the more we open up through meditation the more awareness we have of the light.
The generosity of God is the totality reality given in the concrete immediacy of each thing – one thing/person is not loved more than another. There is equanimity of love in every twig, flower, person, bee, etc. People have the capacity to awaken and intimately experience this. Our responsibility in the universe is to bare witness to the generosity of the universe by the way we live our life. God, the father, is eternally giving birth in one and the same act of birthing. The following quotes allude to this: (this kind of quote got Eckhart in trouble)
‘everything that Holy scripture says of Christ is entirely true of every good and holy man’ (37)
understands everything I say …… whoever loves justice remains so firmly established in it that what he loves becomes his own essence. Nothing can distract him from this, and he heeds nothing else.’
Apart from justice, the person described in the quote above has no life of his own. Become the medium that justice can manifest through you. What is the birth of the world in soul as a light energy? Find that person, community, creative process, ministry, form of service within. When you give yourself to it with the whole heart, it unravels and strangely brings you home to yourself when you are closest to origin. The finite exhausts you in a way that energises you with the force of life itself.
‘He (God) has borne him in my soul. Not only is she (the soul) with Him and He equally with her but he is in her: the Father gives birth to His Son in the soul in the very same way as He gives birth to him in eternity, and no differently. He must do it whether He likes it or not. The Father begats His son unceasingly and further more I say He begets me as His son and the same son. I say even more: not only does He beget me as His son, but He begets me as Himself and Himself as me, and me as His being and His nature…. All that God works is one: therefore He begats me as His son without any difference.’ (38)
The more you give away the more you have. This is a paradox. The invitation is to look deeply at how and why we give. Sometimes people hear this language and respond by giving themselves away. They extend to others generosity they don’t give themselves. It does not work to give everything away and this can lead to metaphysical burn-out. This is not true generosity. Authentic giving is being there for yourself and the community supporting this. We extend to others generosity that we hold back from ourselves because of a deep inner shame.
What are the signs of this birthing in this life?
‘Now pay attention and look ——— fruitfulness of gift is the gratitude of gift’
‘He who understands my teaching about justice and the just man’
The following comparison shows the difference in perceptions of the attachment and detachment realms:
Body – Preoccupation with pleasure, appearance, and avoiding pain.
Attachment to self through body.
Projecting onto others unmet needs and getting angry at others who do not fulfill our needs.
Arena for power, reputation, identity through doing, self esteem – I am what I do ‘The moment you make anything out of anything you are dead.’ (Merton).
Thought realm – need to be right – believe what I believe. If you differ from me you are in error.
Experience Realm – Quest for spiritual experience and perception – attainment is the aim.
Body – experienced as a fragile, wondrous, sensual miracle – an incarnation of deathless love. A deep respect for mystery of falling asleep and waking up.
Relationship – Experience of the ‘thou’ – I and thou that fills entire horizon of being.
Recognition of preciousness of the other. Endless relationship.
Birthing is the communal wisdom of tradition. An Inner system with its own integrity.
A global mandala – an expression of the divine. Transparent metaphor of all thought – provoking sense of awe and beauty.
‘The Ology’ The Word that expresses. Birth of the word in soul (illuminating experiences).
Experiential, childlike spirituality. An endlessly trustworthy mystery.
The ground is a place deep within us that remains untraumatised. God’s ground is your ground; your potential is God’s potential. Formal creation is finite of soul, body, mind, and senses the interiority of our lifeforce. Virtual creation is infinite. The ground is the uncreated, the oneness – God and ourself that is realised in detachment. It is the learning of a language to awaken the soul and unearth the ground.
Mystic World View
Each mystic is unique yet there is profound resonance between them. For example, Jesus and the Buddha had the same inner landscapes. They were mystics and in their own voices made similar statements. What the Buddha called ignorance Jesus called blindness. They both saw that:
* we do not recognise the light we live in (ignorance)
* in our confusion we are afraid
* in our fear we cling (attachment)
* in clinging, the suffering is worse – intensity of suffering
* ignorance, clinging and ego are the three modes of suffering
* the remedy for ignorance is to wake up; the remedy for clinging is to let go; the remedy for intense suffering is to die (reduce the ego)
* we are addicted to finiteness, e.g., striving for enlightened ego.
Join us tomorrow for the final day of our retreat with James and a deeper exploration into the third phase of the spiritual journey according to Eckhart: ‘Breakthrough to the Godhead.’
– Jane Rasbash –