“The best definition I know for contemplation is as follows: Contemplation is a long, loving look at what really is…
We have to find a place where we can receive all of our experiences without repressing anything. We need a place where we can consider all that we’ve done –and not done–in our life, a place that’s bigger than Yes and No, a place bigger than the judgements we pass. At this all embracing place God becomes quite clear. Here there is room for every part of you and for God’s presence…
I’m sure that most people in the Western world have never really met the person who they themselves really are. Because 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 behind our thoughts, feelings and self-image. We have to discover the face that we already had before we were born. We have to find out who we were all along in God before we did anything right or wrong. This is the first goal of contemplation.
I ask you to imagine a river or stream. You’re sitting on the bank of this river, where boats and ships are sailing past. While the stream flows past your inner eye, I ask you to name each one of these vessels. For example, one of the boats may be called “my anxiety about tomorrow.” Or along comes the ship “objections to my husband,” or the boat “Oh, I don’t do that well.” Every judgement that you pass is one of those boats. Take the time to give each one of them a name, and then let it move on.
For some people this is a very difficult exercise, because we’re used to jumping aboard the boats immediately. As soon as we own a boat, and identify with it, it picks up energy. But what we have to practice is un-possessing, letting go. With every idea, with every image that comes into our head we say, “No, I’m not that; I don’t need that; that’s not me.” Again and again we have to tell ourselves this. Some of the boats that are accustomed to our jumping aboard them immediately think we just didn’t see them the first time. That’s why they head back upstream and return. The boat says: “But before this he always used to get mad at his wife. Why didn’t he this time?” Some of you will feel the need to torpedo your boats. But don’t attack them. Don’t hate or condemn them: this is also an exercise in nonviolence. You aren’t allowed to hate your soul. The point is to recognize things and to say, “That’s not necessary; I don’t need that.” But do it very amiably. If we learn to handle our own souls tenderly and lovingly, then we’ll be able to carry this same loving wisdom into the world outside…
Psychology can only help us to arrange our images somewhat differently, to get a somewhat more positive image of ourselves. But authentic spirituality not only shifts the image, it says, “I don’t need any images at all; I don’t have to protect any self-image.” If you see this exercise through, in a short time you’ll know which images you personally cling to, which patterns of thought energize you. I warn you, it’s a humiliating experience at first, because most people will find out that they don’t know who they are apart from their thoughts and feelings. But after only a few minutes some will find that the river is cleared of boats. Occasionally it even happens that people have the feeling that they’d love to tear their clothes off and dive into the river. The water is our spiritual self that flows much deeper than our psyche.
Bonaventure says, “Being and goodness are one and the same thing.” That’s why we have to return to the level where we simply “are,” where we’re naked, and where we experience how inherently good we are, yet paradoxically that goodness has nothing to do with my own performance. It is a total unearned gift. We have to return to this place; otherwise there will never be any radical reformation of religion, nor will there be any true politics. There will only be one ego warring against another. An ego with a right-wing ideology is just as bad as an ego with a left-wing ideology. A capitalist ego is just as bad as a communist ego. Genuine religion leads us beyond these egocentric attitudes and helps us see who we are in God… We don’t have to prove anything, we don’t have to defend anything, and we return from this place to the world with greater strength…
For this reason I ask you now simply to sit in silence for six minutes. With this exercise there is no such thing as success or failure. The important thing is to see it though and to keep letting go of the unnecessary false self– and not to be afraid.
Because being and goodness are identical. The goal of all spirituality is that in the end the naked person stands before the naked God. The important thing is that we’re naked. As you know, the act of lovemaking requires nakedness. And the same is true of loving God. We have to cast off our false self to be ready for real unity with God.
…the purpose of this new liberation from bondage is so I can commit myself from free and healthy motives. The effect of contemplation is authentic action, and if contemplation doesn’t lead to authentic action, then it remains only navel-gazing and self-preoccupation.
But I’m convinced that if you stick with it, if you do this exercise regularly, then you will come to the inner place of compassion… At this point you’re indestructible, because there you find the peace that the world cannot give. You don’t need to win anymore; you just need to do what you have to do, as simplistic and naive as that might sound… People who are living from a truly God-centered place instead of a self-centered place are dangerously free precisely because they are tethered at the center.”
by Richard Rohr, Simplicity pages 92-99