Action and Contemplation together…

One of the lovely aspects of life on Skye is the accessibility of the natural beauty that surrounds us. I have already admitted that winter is not my preferred season, lacking life, colour, light, vibrancy and the flourishing of all plant life. Having said that there are times, even in the shortest days of winter that fill me with awe at the beauty of the natural world.

Part of the contemplative life, it seems, is to be thoroughly in love with the creator’s unfolding and ever-changing artistry. This is an excerpt from Thomas Merton’s ‘Turning Toward the World’

May 21, 1963
Marvelous vision of the hills at 7:45 am. The same hills as always, as in the afternoon, but now catching the light in a totally new way, at once very earthly and very ethereal, with delicate cups of shadow and dark ripples and crinkles where I had never seen them, and the whole slightly veiled in mist so that it seemed to be a tropical shore, a newly discovered continent. A voice in me seemed to be crying, “Look! Look!” For these are the discoveries, and it is for this that I am high on the mast of my ship (have always been) and I know that we are on the right course, for all around is the sea of paradise.”

The following picture is not Thomas Merton’s but was taken by a friend of my husband a few days ago. However, perhaps it was a day not unlike it that Merton was writing of for it does seem to have elements of an ethereal new continent about it.

Some people might get the idea that contemplatives hide away in cloisters but contemplation is just as much rooted in action as it is non-action. In fact it’s an invitation to become deeply engaged with the world, but the world as it is, at its most real, in radical acceptance of reality as it is unfolding in our lives. Action and contemplation. As mystic Richard Rohr says it’s the AND that’s the important word there. You can’t have one without the other. There is probably no adequate psychology of contemplation but what we can say is that you need an integration of both because they are inseparable. Action feeds on contemplation in a good way, and vice versa. You can have a soul life and that is moving towards concrete, active caring for the world. So the question is how do we act in a heartfelt in depth loving truthful way and how do we contemplate without standing or sitting in isolation from the world, but as part of the whole?

I’d like to finish today’s musing with this quote from ‘New Seeds of Contemplation’ Thomas Merton.

“Contemplation is the highest expression of man’s intellectual and spiritual life. It is that life itself, fully awake, fully active, fully aware that it is alive. It is spiritual wonder. it is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of being. It is a vivid realisation of the fact that that life and being in us proceed from an invisible, transcendent and infinitely abundant Source. Contemplation is above all, awareness of the reality of that source. It knows the Source obscurely, but with a certainty that goes beyond reason and simple faith. For contemplation is a kind of spiritual vision to which both reason and faith aspire, by their very nature, because without it they must always remain incomplete. Yet contemplation is not vision because it sees ‘without seeing’ and knows ‘without’ knowing’ It is a more profound depth of faith, a knowledge too deep to be grasped in images, in words, or even clear concepts. It can be suggested by words, by symbols, but in the very moment of trying to indicate what it knows, the contemplative mind takes back what it has said and denies what it has confirmed. For in contemplation we know by “unknowing” or better, we know beyond all knowing or “unknowing”. “

5 thoughts on “Action and Contemplation together…

  1. A couple of days ago I searched for ‘integral theory’ on WordPress. Last night I spent almost 2 hours reading your blog from the beginning. As someone who has been very influenced by Richard Rohr over the last 5 years, I saw the title of this post and left it to read this morning. Your quote from Thomas Merton says it all. THANK YOU!!

    I’d love to know more of your story.

    1. Hello Peter,
      Thank you for your comments. I’m glad what I wrote was of interest to you. I’ve been into integral theory since it fist came to my attention in the nineties. Can’t remember which year exactly I stumbled across Ken Wilber’s Integral Naked Website. (Now evolved into Integral Life) As soon as I listened to some of the conversations on there I knew I’d come home in the sense that I’m very much at home in the integral stage of consciousness. ( I can see from your website that you’re acquainted with Spiral Dynamics) Integral theory doesn’t have, or claim to have all of the answers. It does ask a lot of the right questions though. It doesn’t tell you what to think but how to think.
      My journey has been eventful and I could write screeds but I’d rather answer your questions one by one, so please go ahead with a couple and I’ll try to oblige. I started off as a cradle catholic. I am very fond of Richard Rohr and was introduced to him, Cynthia Bourgeault, and the contemplative monk Thomas Keating in the late nineties through Wilber’s writings on transpersonal psychology. I have never looked back and all three have been a source of great solace and spiritual wisdom ever since.

  2. Thanks for your comments. I’ve been exploring Integral Life.
    While reading your posts I recognised them as thoughts being put into writing.
    I’ve often said that we don’t really know what we think until we have expressed those thoughts to others.
    It’s about 4 years ago that I found myself touching Yellow quite frequently and this was one of the major factors that prompted me to get away from all that divisive, denominational theology with a view to encouraging other ‘church leavers’ to explore some of the alternatives to Evangelical and Fundamentalist thinking.

    I had been a very active ‘Christian’ for over 45 years when I realised in 2006 that my faith had been almost entirely based on ‘head knowledge’ and very little ‘heart awareness’ (I wouldn’t use those expressions now). It was in 2010 that I was introduced to Richard Holloway (the former leader of the Episcopalian Church in Scotland) and picked on his suggestion that the symbol ‘God’ seems to have been one of the most ambiguous of human inventions,

    I found it strange being asked to ask a question since I’m one with a bit of a reputation for asking some of the awkward questions to which there are no easy answers – and who often used to try to encourage others by answering their questions with another question.

    Since stepping back I’ve been drawn to a realisation that I may need some support in understanding the place of contemplation and the significance of a developing interest in the place of consciousness.
    I sense that this is going to be important after the pandemic when more people start asking, “Where was God in all of this?”
    Do you have any suggestions?

    1. Hello Peter, I might take a day or so to get back to you but get back I will. My reply might come in the form of a post, since I haven’t written for a few weeks now and your comments have sparked something off in me. I’ll see what I can intuit from what your write. Thank you.

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