Common steps and sub-activities
Contemplation and introversion
I shall leave it to Evelyn Underhill to describe the process. Remember the practicalities and objectives – you have to find ways of depriving your senses and also still your ‘intellect’ – your function of reason….
Contemplation is … is an extreme form of that withdrawal of attention from the external world and total dedication of the mind which also, in various degrees and ways, conditions the creative activity of musician, painter and poet: releasing the faculty by which he can apprehend the Good and Beautiful, and enter into communion with the Real.
As "voice" or "vision" is often the way in which the mystical consciousness presents its discoveries to the surface-mind, so contemplation is the way in which it makes those discoveries, perceives the suprasensible over against itself. The growth of the mystic's effective genius, therefore, is connected with his growth in this art: and that growth is largely conditioned by education.
The painter, however great his natural powers, can hardly dispense with some technical training; the musician is wise if he acquaint himself at least with the elements of counterpoint. So too the mystic. It is true that he sometimes seems to spring abruptly to the heights, to be caught into ecstasy without previous preparation: as a poet may startle the world by a sudden master-piece. But unless they be backed by discipline, these sudden and isolated flashes of inspiration will not long avail for the production of great works.
..This strange art of contemplation, which the mystic tends to practise during the whole of his career - which develops step by step with his vision - demands of the self which undertakes it the same hard dull work, the same slow training of the will, which lies behind all supreme achievement, and is the price of all true liberty. ……
The education which tradition has ever prescribed …. consists in the gradual development of an extraordinary faculty of concentration, a power of spiritual attention. It is not
enough that he should naturally be "aware of the Absolute," unless he be able to contemplate it: just as the mere possession of eye sight or hearing, however acute, needs to be supplemented by trained powers of perception and reception, if we are really to appreciate - see or hear to any purpose - the masterpieces of Music or of Art.
….. The condition of all valid seeing and hearing, upon every plane of consciousness, lies not in the sharpening of the senses, but in a peculiar attitude of the whole personality: in a self-forgetting attentiveness, a profound concentration, a self-merging, which operates a real communion between the seer and the seen…….
All that is asked is that we shall look for a little time, in a special and undivided manner, at some simple, concrete, and external thing. This object of our contemplation may be almost anything we please: a picture, a statue, a tree, a distant hillside, a growing plant, running water, little living things. "A little thing the quantity of an hazel nut" will do for us, as it did for Lady Julian long ago. Remember, it is a practical experiment on which we are set; not an opportunity of pretty and pantheistic meditation.
Look, then, at this thing which you have chosen. Wilfully yet tranquilly refuse the messages which countless other aspects of the world are sending; and so concentrate your whole attention on this one act of sight that all other objects are excluded from the conscious field. Do not think, but as it were pour out your personality towards it: let your soul be in your eyes. Almost at once, this new method of perception will reveal unsuspected qualities in the external world. First, you will perceive about you a strange and deepening quietness; a slowing down of our feverish mentality. Next, you will become aware of a heightened significance, an intensified existence in the thing at which you look.
We now need to turn to the Catholic process of Introversion, Evelyn again…………….
This humble receptiveness, this still and steady gazing, in which emotion, will, and thought are lost and fused, is the secret of the great contemplative ….. But whilst the contemplation of Nature entails an outgoing towards something indubitably external to us, and has as its material the world of sensible experience: the contemplation of Spirit, as it seems to those who practise it, requires a deliberate refusal of the messages of the senses, an ingoing or "introversion" of our faculties, a "journey towards the centre." The Kingdom of God, they say, is within you: seek it, then, in the most secret habitations of the soul. The mystic must learn to concentrate all his faculties, his very self, upon the invisible and intangible, that all visible things are forgot: to bring it so sharply into focus that everything else is blurred. He must call in his scattered faculties by a deliberate exercise of the will, empty his mind of its swarm of images, its riot of thought. In mystical language he must "sink into his nothingness": into that blank abiding place where busy, clever Reason cannot come.
The whole of this process, this gathering up and turning "inwards" of the powers of the self, this gazing into the ground of the soul, is that which is called introversion.
Introversion is an art which can be acquired, as gradually and as certainly, as the art of piano-playing can be acquired by the born musician. In both cases it is the genius of the artist which makes his use of the instrument effective: but it is also his education in the use of the instrument which enables that genius to express itself in an adequate way. Such education, of course, presumes a something that can be educated: the "New Birth," the awakening of the deeper self, must have taken place before it can begin.
It is a psychological process, and obeys psychological laws. There is in it no element of the unexpected or the abnormal. In technical language, we are here concerned with "ordinary" not "extraordinary" contemplation.
In its early stages the practice of introversion is voluntary, difficult, and deliberate; as are the early stages of learning to read or write. But as reading or writing finally becomes automatic, so as the training in introversion proceeds, habits are formed: and those contemplative powers establish themselves amongst his normal faculties.