On letting go.
Thanks for this, Jack. It was really good to read, and challenging in the right way.
This might not be a question you want to answer, but I found myself wanting to know what kind of 'contemplative practice' you're engaging in, and whether it is a practice of the monastery or a personal one. But ignore me if I'm being nosy.
Yeah, our minds, brains, whatever they are, cannot and do not ever really solve anything even though they are very good at thinking. The idea that our reasoning power is the highest force of intelligence we have is deeply ingrained in this age of rationality. The higher intelligence is thought to be irrational but really it is Suprarational . It’s the next step in human evolution, or more accurately, involution.
It is strange how, as you say, cursory moments can affect us such in a disproportionate way. I have often theorized that there are a limited number of days that make your life what it is. These are the days of the Big Moments that either changed you or illuminated your path in some way. I have, somewhat randomly, set the number of these days as somewhere between 5 and 10. It may well be more or less than that.
For me, none of my Big Moments were connected to any professional success, marriage, or family. In fact, the two most significant Big Moments occurred during random meetings with complete strangers. The first happened when I was a young fire fighter in the Gold Country of California. One day our fire crew came across a solitary man who was working one of the many abandoned mines in the area. I was captivated by him and envied him his freedom that was so unlike most of the adults I knew. Still the coolest dude I ever met. The second occurred on a rainy day in San Francisco, when, while waiting for a bus home, a cab pulled up and a young man rolled down the rear window and asked me if I wanted to share a ride. Given how tired, depressed and hopeless I was feeling at that time in my life, the timing of this act of kindness took on the nature of a supernatural intervention. The young man seemed to have been sent to me personally as a reminder by a kindly Providence that I was not alone. I gratefully accepted his offer. He declined my offer to pay.
Both of these encounters were short, and I never learned either of the men's names. Mundane is a generous description of these events, yet they loom large in my memory. Of all the tens of thousands of similar meetings I have had in my life, why do these stick in my mind? I think the answer is that in a roundabout way, each touched on themes that have concerned me all of my life; the quest for freedom in a world that is increasingly hostile to the concept, and the need to have faith in a culture which has squeezed it to the margins.
None of this makes sense, except to me, and this is my interpretation. Neither of these chance meetings have resolved anything in my life. They have not made it any easier. But they have nonetheless served a purpose, which is to keep my eyes focused on the important things. Of course, my thoughts about their importance and their role in my life took a long time for me to discover. Would that I had figured it out sooner. But God, it seems, not only writes in crooked lines, He also uses a lot of circles. Why else would I still be turning over in my mind memories of events, now four decades past, of a lone gold miner and a ride in a yellow cab?
Thank you for this post. The process you describe at the beginning of the article, of the parade of recollections, is common to many meditative practices. I recall about two years of very similar experiences at the height (or perhaps depths?) of my sitting. Interestingly, one of the clearest descriptions of it is in a couple of Carlos Castaneda's books, where it is referred to as 'recapitulation', and is done somewhat deliberately (sometimes in a little wooden shed built for the purpose) to clear the 'charged relationships', as you mention. My personal feeling is that it's a beneficial phase and essential to stabilising the mind and clarifying the heart. Of course, it doesn't mean that current entanglements won't upset the applecart sometimes, but it does clear out old enmeshed attachments, deliver insights, and eventually make way for Tao, or God. And that is no small thing. Good wishes for your practice.
A beautiful column, and I like the word “column” because it’s like a pillar holding something up/upright. Those who are amenable to deeper truth will see it.
I liked this part: "But neither is this a path of strenuous effort and self-will. The only way through is down and by letting go. In that sense, it is exceedingly simple. But this is no easy process and it cannot be controlled."
Harder to describe it to someone who doesn't know what you are talking about, but easily understood by those who have travelled that way.
I heard a raven yesterday morning on my walk. All my ideas and plans have been paused by the need to have my niece and nephews live with us. It feels like it is as it should be, as this post reminds me.
Jack, just a quick thought. I wonder if contemplation is more of the Western tradition, an action we take, rather than letting God do the work? I don’t know, I’m just asking a philosophical question. I’m copying and pasting a letter to my priest I wrote recently that has something to do with this. And then at the end did you see the article Dreher linked to today? Exactly what you’ve been talking about in terms of micro sketes. First the letter:
I don’t know anything about these things, so this is probably entirely wrong, forgive me.
I wonder if tears, or consciously furrowing deep sorrow, as a sign of repentance is ours to will for ourselves. If we try to hegemonize it, it is our effort, our pride in charge, not God’s humility molding us, and thus likely doomed to failure over the long term.
Perhaps all we can do in our spiritual poverty is empty and soften ourselves, ready the dough in preparation for the feast where God brings all the gifts and guests.
Emptying and softening ourselves while being alive to the material world, how does that happen? I’m uncertain it can in any profound way (at least that’s what I’ve found the last couple of weeks as I struggle to return to where I was). Instead in our spiritual hardness we put on superficial masks, we ourselves bring the gifts and guests: “look at me, God, the grand party I’ve prepared. Here are some brandy and cheesecake, here, sit in this comfy chair in the corner of my life and enjoy the feast I’ve made for you. Excuse me while I go greet my other guests, I’ll be back in a bit.”
Every day we are offered are own worldly garden apple, and every day we eat them. Career, 401k balance, new iPhone, someone serving us dinner at a restaurant, news, Facebook likes, irritation because someone cuts off our car, on and on. We eat all the apples and in eating them turn away from God.
I’m reminded of a famous saying, “Having heard all of this, you may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.” We know.
In divine love Christ went to the Cross for us, and in our return human love we offer Him what we have time for, or is convenient in the order of our “important” worldly material lives.
And thus our own efforts for tears or furrowing deep sorrow seem impossible. We’ve haven’t left the emptied and softened dough for God to mold. He left the brandy and cheesecake we gave him on the table while we went off to play host to the world.
And here is the article: https://www.ncregister.com/features/la-lucerne-abbey-in-france-is-a-new-beacon-in-the-night-of-de-christianization?utm_source=substack&utm_medium=email
'There is great hope in surrender and letting things go and letting things be': the paradoxical, but not impossible, crux.
The way you used the quotations in this piece is special. It draws a picture of you dropping into silence and brings the form and message into a lovely alignment.
"Even someone we never paid much attention to can leave a lasting impression on us and affect our lives in ways that we can never fully reckon. And that out there somewhere we too might be playing that same role for someone else." This is an idea that resonates strongly with me - maybe because I am a very relational person...I do believe that every person that enters our life is there for a reason, they play a role on the grand stage, and it is my part to discern how I can encounter them with attention, care, service etc. Looking back over the last couple of decades of encounters, acquaintances, and friendships, I am often incredibly struck with their relevance that I could not have possibly predicted.
Hi, Jack, this post inspired to formulate my personal prayer practice. I can point to verses in the NT and OT as models, but not so much in the classic contemplative literature. I stand, Mark 11:25, even if I begin sitting, I end up standing as life fills me. I even have a preferred direction to face as I first stand - north as that is the direction the Lord arrived from when he met with Job and Ezekiel. But I usually end up moving around, even dancing, or going on my face. I begin with a simple “Lord Jesus” acknowledging his immediate presence, and renewing once again the proper response to him as Lord, God and the Door to the Father and the Spirit and re-enacting Thomas’s response to the Risen Christ and Romans 10:9-10, all this is contained in that simple phrase of speaking directly to the One who is there. I typically immediately speaking quietly in tongues, alternating with English expressions of praise and thanksgiving to the Father and the Son, 1 Corinthians 14: 2-4,14-18. Intercession and confession can happen, times of rapt quietness can happen, it’s quite physical and I can attest that our bodies are indeed temples of the Spirit, “the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus” Romans 8:2,11 , John 4:14, John 7:37-39, Ephesians 6:16, Jude 20. I think the Spirit is a freely given gift given to us in the blessed name of Jesus the friend of sinners “ the Spirit helps us in our weakness” Romans 8:26. Blessings on both our continued journeys to the same place. The I need to change and grow stuff happens also in my life, and there are certainly times of repentance, confession and humility that are ministered to me.
Thanks for this, Jack. Whenever I read your work, I feel like a spiritual translator, asking myself, “He lives in a monastery, and I live in suburbia, so what can I take away from what he does there, and do it here?”
So, I wonder, what does it mean to let go for me? For me, it can’t mean releasing myself from all attachments, because many of the attachments serve a purpose or have a meaning (work, children, etc.). So here, letting go means something else, like relaxing control, or letting go of the tendency to cling to certain emotions. In other words, it is not a total surrender; and while I am glad to let go of negative emotions, I am happy to enjoy the positive ones and even draw them out a bit – whereas in truly monastic traditions even those might be abandoned (I assume).
Looked at in this way, I can be left feeling like a second-class spiritual citizen, one who is not truly seeking the ultimate but settling for a watered-down version of spirituality, although I don’t actually believe that is the case (nor do I think that that is your point either). Still, it raises the question, Is the spiritual framework of the monk and ordinary person the same, or just overlapping yet otherwise different?
A reverse way of looking at things is to suppose that we were meant to have attachments; that as relational beings there is necessarily a separation between one person and another, and attachment of some kind is needed to bridge this gap; and that the suffering we experience from such attachments are also a part of their meaning. We may need therapy when the attachments become too painful, or pathological, but otherwise, we limp along, sometimes weeping, sometimes joyful, sometimes quiet, struggling to keep the balance between healthy attachment and the suffering it might bring.
I’m just thinking out loud here...indulging in incomplete thoughts.
Jack is there a suggested starting place for Meister Eckhart? His tracks have always been mixed in with others but I've never followed his.
Keep up the good work
Having just found this substack, I will say that retiring to a monastery is delusion. Jesus' message was to help the poor, that was not all of it, but it was a critical part, and if one is not doing that, one is not doing the will of Jesus.
You do way more good by doing something like signing the Giving What We can pledge than being in a monastery. I know one Christian who has a career yet lives in a minivan because he gives most of his salary to charity. That is real spiritual development.
This stuff could be, but it needs to be grounded in actual good works. Otherwise you are not attaining perfection or getting close to God, you are just deluded. Ever questioned yourself that? How would you know whether or not you are deluded? I say if your spiritual development happens purely within you, it actually is delusion. A substack is not enough to change that: the world has too many problems before we get to those a substack might help with.
Since you are of the contemplative bent, take a page from the Sufis. They are contemplatives, yet of the world.
Apologies if you actually are doing something like what the Christian I mentioned is doing. It's not like I read the whole substack.
Its Ceci again, actually I have recently decided to share my full given name with you. Its Cecilia.
I know you well enough to know that you are well versed in the significance of names in the Bible. My name when traced back to its core actually means blind.
I apologize for the ridiculous disaster of a girl I have been to you, I am a gentle soul... Always have been. I knew early on I would not last long in the environment of lies and manipulation that we were speeding toward. So I taught myself to use a clinical paradox method to fortify myself for as long as I could. It worked well until the people I loved and trusted most abandoned me. Have you ever loved someone so much you'd give them anything they asked? I would have let my loved ones cut off my leg and eaten it . You cannot imagine the pain and grief I experienced when I realized they not only would not do the same for me, but actually chose to hurt me every opportunity they got. It should have destroyed me. But it didn't.
My dark night of the soul was not as complex as I told you. I was spiritually blind (dead) and I called out to Jesus when I hit bottom. And he answered. He has continued to answer my call, ever since that first night. Its why I tell people I am blessed and favored by him. I am more aware than most of just how spiritually bankrupt I am without him.
Blind is the name I am called and blind is the name I answer to.
All this Jesus stuff is real, I actually tried to pulled a Jonah when I found out. Apparently I am terrified of my own success...
Anyway, it turns out my calling is to heal and lift up others to the potential God has destined for them.
Please message me if you would like my help healing and forgiving your scars. Or just want to talk to someone who will not judge you. I can guarantee my own past is worse than your own.
I told you the monastery program was a waste of time months ago... Jus sayin lol
Just because I did, or I was? Does not mean I AM.
Beauty should shine from the inside out :)