Resting in awareness:

wisdom from The Book of Privy Counselling

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It’s not necessary to fill our mind with thoughts about God to be with God – not even one.

In meditation, we rest from thinking about God, and allow ourselves to be with God (rather than with our thoughts about God).

We rest from thinking about our life, and allow ourselves to more fully inhabit it.

“Come away by yourselves to a solitary place and rest awhile,”[1] Jesus encourages us. “Come to me, all you who toil and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”[2]

Why do people find it so hard to accept the utter simplicity of meditation?

The anonymous medieval author of The Book of Privy Counselling (who wrote the more famous Cloud of Unknowing) gives a wonderful teaching about the simplicity of meditation. It is enough, he teaches, to rest in simple awareness of our being.[3] We don’t “think” our way to realising our oneness with God, but by releasing every thought that obscures this simple truth.

What follows is my free translation of a luminous section of this text.[4]

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It is not beyond anyone to learn this simple practice.  It is so simple that I quietly marvel and smile to myself when I hear highly educated people say that this teaching is so difficult, so profound, so subtle, that it can hardly be grasped by the greatest scholar or intelligent man or woman alive.
 

People become so blinded by their cleverness and learning that they overlook the utter simplicity of meditation and cannot understand it. Trying to grasp it with the intellect, they can no more gain an understanding of this easy practice than a young child learning their ABCs could understand the knowledge of the greatest scholar.

And yet by this simple practice, even the most simple and uneducated person in the world is oned[5] to God in loving humility and perfect love.

Here is my advice.

Don’t focus on what you are, but rest in simple awareness that you are.

Allow yourself to descend to the deepest point of your mind, and letting go of any desire to know what you are, rest in simple awareness that you are.

It requires all the gifts of our learning and much skilful use of our intelligence to comprehend what you are. But to rest in simple awareness that we are is something you can do without need of any special cleverness or natural gifts.

And if you happen to be feeling awful about yourself and so burdened that you are unsure what to do with yourself, here is some more advice to help you.

Take God just as he is.  Accept his good graciousness and press him against yourself as naturally as you would a plain and simple plaster or warm compress when you are sick. Lay him against yourself, just as you are

Step up, then. Be bold and try this simple remedy: lift yourself up (just as you are) to God (just as he is) without any attempt to analyse yourself or God. And stop trying to determine whether anything is good or bad, divine or human, grace-given or from your nature.

The most important thing is your simple awareness of your naked being. In this simple awareness you will be carried in willingness of love to be oned in grace and spirit in the precious being of God, just as he is – without anything more.

But be prepared for your unruly thinking mind to react.

When your anxious mind can find nothing in the practice to grab hold of and chew on, it will start to complain. It will urge you to give up this work and do something (anything!) to satisfy its hungry curiosity. It will try and tell you that meditation is of no value and that, in fact, you are doing nothing at all.

And that is precisely why I love it! For there is no work that I may do, none that may be done by my mind or body, that can bring me so near to God as this simple awareness and offering up of my blind being.

So, although your thinking mind can find no food for itself in this simple practice, and might try to make you stop, do not give up, but be its master. Do not turn back to feed your thoughts with your attention, however persistent they are.

However subtle, however good, however beneficial our thoughts on our nature and life may be – they are a fragmentation and scattering in comparison with this simple awareness and offering of your being.  They are a distraction from the perfection of oneness.

And so be still. Stay at the deepest level of your spirit, which is your being. And don’t turn back for anything, however good or holy it may seem and to which your mind would lead you.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

In meditation we rest from thinking about God, and allow ourselves to be with God (rather than with our thoughts about God).

We rest from thinking about our life, and allow ourselves to more fully inhabit it.

Our practice is to just sit, as we are, where we are, saying our prayer word, following our breath.

We allow ourselves to rest in simple awareness of our being, trusting that God has everything in hand.


[1] Mark 6:31.

[2] Matthew 11:28.

[3] For those who are interested, there are deep synergies between this Christian practice of resting in awareness and the practice of “just sitting” or “silent illumination” in Zen/Chan Buddhism. 

[4] Sections from the Middle English edition The Cloud of Unknowing and The Book of Privy Counselling, edited by Phyllis Hodgson (published for The Early English Text Society by Oxford University Press), pp. 137-139.

[5] Oned (“Oynd”) a Middle English term indicating the realisation (unveiling) of our essential oneness with God.

 
 
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