Contemplation implies a silence of all faculties, a special state in which there is, on the one hand, intense concentration, and on the other hand, there is complete receptivity to the thing contemplated.
By Roberto Assagioli, Undated, From the Assagioli Archives in Florence, Docs. #23204 and 23205. Original Title: Contemplazione e Illuminazione. Translated and Edited With Notes by Jan Kuniholm.
At the last meeting we talked about meditation, and we saw how a complete exercise of meditation involves the use of all our normal inner faculties. In fact, meditation requires the successive and simultaneous use of:
The cycle ends with Action.
But there is another exercise — or inner activity — by which higher levels of consciousness are reached: deeper and more valuable energies are aroused and more powerful results are achieved, as much in deep inner transformation as in efficiency and radiance in life. This inner exercise is contemplation. However, since this word has been given different meanings, it is good to specify how we understand it, even though it is something that can hardly be expressed in words. In the practice of meditation, when we have reached the highest and most vital point, that is, to arouse the feelings inherent in the theme of meditation, can we pause, and rise again? With a burst of aspiration we can almost try to get out of ourselves, to contemplate the chosen object steadily until we can identify ourselves with it, to become one with it. This implies a silence of all faculties, a special state in which there is on the one hand intense concentration, and on the other hand there is complete receptivity to the thing contemplated. In this state we forget ourselves; or more precisely we forget our ordinary personality with its usual states of consciousness (memories, thoughts, images, feelings). But this does not mean that we become unconscious and lazily passive; on the contrary one is extraordinarily alert, but in a whole different sphere of consciousness and life, more subtle yet more vibrant. One has at one and the same time a sense of stillness, of perfect peace, and yet a sense of intense work taking place spontaneously within us. Because of the first character it has been called by the mystics “quiet prayer.” They also call contemplation — to use the words of St. Francis de Sales — “a loving, simple and permanent attention of the spirit (mind) to divine things.” 
It is the spirit who works in us in this state of stillness, in this silence. St. John of the Cross expressed this in a bold but very clear and meaningful way, saying that such action is a kind of conception of God in the soul; in other words, a kind of fertilization of the soul by the spirit.
Often during this silence one has only a vague, indistinct sense of that mysterious work; sometimes it even seems as if nothing is happening. This is because the work is done at a level that consciousness cannot reach, in what we have called the superconscious. But the reality of that work is demonstrated by the effects that are later manifested. At other times, however, consciousness is able to participate, at least in part, in what takes place in the superconscious, and to receive the gifts that come down from the Spirit, and then contemplation produces illumination.
How can one say what illumination is? In human language it is already difficult to express the delicate nuances and tones of normal states of mind, to indicate the different qualities of inner experiences; but how much more difficult is it to give an adequate idea of states of mind that are so much higher or more intense, and qualitatively so different from the usual ones!
For the quality of those states insisted upon by most people — by both those who have experienced them and those who, like William James, have made an objective and dispassionate study of them — is their ineffability. But while realizing that every word is inadequate to convey the reality, the essence of what we would like to describe, we can at least attempt to indicate, to suggest, some of the most salient features.
Consciousness finds itself as if flooded with Light, and is awakened in that Light to a new faculty of intuition, of direct spiritual vision, by which it discovers new true meanings in the soul and in the universe. Or it realizes the profound nature, the essence of what is contemplated, discerns its value, its connections, its place in the Great Reality. This Light is often joined by a sense of expansion, joy, peace, security, power. It is a true inner transfiguration.
Here is how those who have had such an experience have tried to describe it:
“I remember the night, and almost the very spot on the hill-top, where my soul opened out, as it were, into the Infinite, and there was a rushing together of the two worlds, the inner and the outer. It was deep calling unto deep — the deep that my own struggle had opened up within being answered by the unfathomable deep without, reaching beyond the stars. I stood alone with Him who had made me, and all the beauty of the world, and love, and sorrow, and even temptation. I did not seek Him, but felt the perfect unison of my spirit with His. The ordinary sense of things around me faded. For the moment nothing but an ineffable joy and exultation remained. It is impossible fully to describe the experience. It was like the effect of some great orchestra when all the separate notes have melted into one swelling harmony that leaves the listener conscious of nothing save that his soul is being wafted upwards, and almost bursting with its own emotion. The perfect stillness of the night was thrilled by a more solemn silence. The darkness held a presence that was all the more felt because it was not seen. I could not any more have doubted that HE was there than that I was. Indeed, I felt myself to be, if possible, the less real of the two.
“My highest faith in God and truest idea of him were then born in me. I have stood upon the Mount of Vision since, and felt the Eternal round about me. But never since has there come quite the same stirring of the heart. Then, if ever, I believe, I stood face to face with God, and was born anew of his spirit. There was, as I recall it, no sudden change of thought or of belief, except that my early crude conception, had, as it were burst into flower. There was no destruction of the old, but a rapid, wonderful unfolding.” 
“I was in perfect health: we were on our sixth day of tramping, and in good training. We had come the day before from Sixt to Trient by Buet. I felt neither fatigue, hunger, nor thirst, and my state of mind was equally healthy. I had had at Forlaz good news from home; I was subject to no anxiety, either near or remote, for we had a good guide, and there was not a shadow of uncertainty about the road we should follow. I can best describe the condition in which I was by calling it a state of equilibrium. When all at once I experienced a feeling of being raised above myself, I felt the presence of God — I tell of the thing just as I was conscious of it — as if his goodness and his power were penetrating me altogether. The throb of emotion was so violent that I could barely tell the boys to pass on and not wait for me. I then sat down on a stone, unable to stand any longer, and my eyes overflowed with tears. I thanked God that in the course of my life he had taught me to know him, that he sustained my life and took pity both on the insignificant creature and on the sinner that I was. I begged him ardently that my life might be consecrated to the doing of his will. I felt his reply, which was that I should do his will from day to day in humility and poverty, leaving him, the Almighty God, to be judge of whether I should some time be called to bear witness more conspicuously. Then, slowly, the ecstasy left my heart; that is, I felt that God had withdrawn the communion which he had granted, and I was able to walk on, but very slowly, so strongly was I still possessed by the interior emotion.” 
If we take a look at other “testimonies” we find that the manifestation most often reported is of an extraordinary and dazzling sensation of “light,” hence the name of “illuminations” is well-suited to these spiritual experiences. Everyone remembers the conversion of St. Paul as it began, according to the narrative contained in the Acts of the Apostles, with “a light from heaven blazing around him.” 
And a modern person, Dr. R. M. Bucke, in recounting his own inner experience in the third person, says:
All at once, without warning of any kind, he found himself wrapped around as it were by a flame-colored cloud. For an instant he thought of fire, some sudden conflagration in the great city; the next he knew that the light was within himself. 
The testimony of an unknown person, quoted by the James, said,
The very heavens seemed to open and pour down rays of light and glory. Not for a moment only, but all day and night, floods of light and glory seemed to pour through my soul, and oh, how I was changed, and everything became new. 
President Finney thus describes such an experience,
all at once the glory of God shone upon and round about me, in a manner most marvelous. The day was just beginning to dawn. But all at once a light perfectly ineffable shone in my soul, that almost prostrated me to the ground. In this light it seemed as if I could see that all nature praised and worshipped God except man. This light seemed to be like the brightness of the sun in every direction. It was too intense for the eyes. 
The poet Walt Whitman points to this experience with the short but very effective phrase, “Light rare untellable, lighting the very light.”
But the simplest and at the same time most powerful expression in its bare conciseness is found in Pascal’s famous “Amulet,” the piece of parchment on which, around a red drawing of the flaming cross are written a few short sentences, direct evidence of the awakening of his soul:
“The year of Grace 1654, Monday, November 23rd, St. Clement’s Day . . . from about half past ten at night to about half after midnight, fire . . .”
The effect of the new light is the transfiguration of the visible world: every being, every object acquires a new beauty, seems to be surrounded by a halo of glory.
“The appearance of everything was altered,” says Jonathan Edwards, describing his own conversion. “There seemed to be, as it were, a calm, sweet cast, or appearance of divine glory, in almost everything. God’s excellency, his wisdom, his purity and love, seemed to appear in everything; in the sun, moon, and stars; in the clouds and blue sky; in the grass, flowers, and trees; in the water and all nature.” 
This high state of consciousness lasts for a longer or shorter time, then it gradually fades away and to our regret we are forced to descend into the heavy and dense atmosphere of ordinary levels of everyday life. But we are no longer the same as before: a change has taken place, a “sign” has been imprinted in us. We can no longer attach importance and value to the common things of communal life; ordinary passions no longer have the power over us that they did before, human attachments have loosened their grip; the ambitions, desires, and goals pursued by ordinary humanity no longer fascinate us. We have glimpsed another reality: higher, wider, brighter, truer, and we feel a subtle longing, a besetting call, an unbearable aspiration toward that spiritual sphere. But this does not make us passive dreamers. New goals, new tasks of goodness excite us, new achievements attract us, and we resume with increased fervor, with firmer faith, with firmer purpose to “act.”
The beauty and value of these experiences naturally arouses a lively desire to have them in those who have never experienced them, and to renew and intensify them in those who have already tasted them. Sometimes they come spontaneously and unexpectedly as the culmination and compensation of a strenuous inner work; but in other cases they are like the fruit and crowning achievement of methodical exercises of inner development — precisely that is, of Meditation and Contemplation.
A careful and complete examination of the various methods would require not a single lecture, but an entire Course; so we shall therefore limit ourselves to reviewing the principal themes and objects of Meditation and Contemplation, referring to the valuable works extant on this subject for those who would like more guidance in this regard.
The choice of these objects depends:
- On the end we wish to achieve.
- On the particular psychological type to which we belong.
The consideration of the first element is quite easy. For example, if we wish to develop a certain quality or virtue (opposite to a defect we deplore in ourselves), it will naturally form the subject of meditation. Thus we may meditate on calmness, courage, confidence, goodness, generosity, humility, wisdom, energy, love, or gladness. If our aspiration turns instead to realizing spiritual consciousness directly, we will choose the most suitable objects for that, which we will name in a moment.
It is more difficult, however, to know which objects and methods are most appropriate and that give better results in relation to our particular individual constitution. The study of the various psychological types, and the methods of inner development best suited to each of us, is very interesting and can give valuable criteria for knowledge and life. In the meantime, the best method to follow is the experimental one; that is, to try various objects of meditation little by little and thus find out which is best suited to our temperament and gives us the best results.
OBJECTS OF MEDITATION AND CONTEMPLATION[Examples of] the “objects” can be listed as follows:
- A sentence, a motto, a thought, a verse, a poetic passage. They should be chosen from those that most appeal to us, “touch us,” connect to us inwardly. Passages from sacred texts (such as the Psalms), from the writings of mystics, of poets: there is a rich harvest in Dante.
- An idea, a philosophical principle. These are suitable for mental, intellectual types, i.e., for a minority, but useful for all as discipline and development of higher mental faculties: philosophical thinking, reason.
- A broad theme that lends itself to a broad unfolding of thoughts and reflections and the evocation of elevated feelings. For example: meditations on nature (there are examples by Michelet, Fabre, Anile, De Lorenzo). Geological and astronomical ideas are particularly suitable: Flammarion and Maeterlink (La grande Féerie).
- Imaginative evocation of specific scenes that can shake up, arouse intense feelings, make resolutions, make decisions, awaken and strengthen the will. Among the religious, meditations on the Passion of Jesus; also the Exercises of St. Ignatius are effective and much used. 
- A quality, a virtue, a spiritual note. Useful for correcting defects, and developing necessary gifts.
- Seeing one’s Self endowed with a desired quality or virtue. Visualize oneself, imagine putting it into practice, try to feel it.
- Seeing our perfect Selves: development of the preceding.
- A Symbol. Great effectiveness of symbols. The unconscious “feels” them and is influenced by them more than by words, which after all are themselves symbols, but more schematic, pale, abstract. Symbols are synthetic. They have the advantage of being understood and felt in various ways, in various aspects; of having different applications: personal, collective, universal, both external (natural) and inner (psychological). Thus a symbol is gradually deepened and gradually reveals itself to us, allows itself to be “conquered.”
Most common symbols:
- Cross – In a universal sense: Spirit and Matter and their mutual action and reaction. In Christianity: Passion, Redemption and Sacrifice.
- Seed – Flower – Symbol of birth, growth, development, blossoming of the soul.
- The Grail (more on this later).
- An embodied ideal. A Great Being, the Christ. All these are concrete or at least defined “objects;” therefore, contemplation of them falls into the category called Samprajnatah Samadhi by the Indians. But there is an even higher form of contemplation: asamprajnatah Samadhi. This “seedless” contemplation, can have three purposes (one can no longer speak of actual “objects”).
- The Light of Spirit. The inner light, which, as we have seen, manifests spontaneously in the sudden awakenings of the soul, can be sought and found by turning the mind’s eye toward it. As Patanjali says, “Through meditation on the Light one can attain knowledge of the Spirit.” 
- The Spiritual Self, the Higher Self. The deep Soul. It is a matter of forgetting, of “losing” sight, so to speak, of the ordinary personal self, in order to discover our true being within ourselves.
Tennyson’s singular method: repeating one’s own name.
More than once when I
Sat all alone, revolving in myself
The word that is the symbol of myself,
The mortal limit of the Self was loosed,
And passed into the nameless, as a cloud
Melts into heaven. I touch’d my limbs, the limbs
Were strange, not mine—and yet no shade of doubt,
But utter clearness, and thro’ loss of Self
The gain of such large life as matched with ours
Were sun to spark—unshadowable in words,
Themselves but shadows of a shadow-world. 
The last, highest note of contemplation is the attempt to turn the inner eye toward God Himself in His Transcendent Essence, toward Mystery, toward Life, the Universal Self.
This has been boldly attempted by the greatest mystics, some of whom have then endeavored to record a glimmer of their vision, to convey to us an echo of their experience. For example: Lao Tse; the unknown authors of the Shankaracharya Upanishads in the Vivekachudamani, Plotinus, Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, Ruysbroeck . . . Even if they fail to express the inexpressible, nevertheless their inspired words have a singular efficacy, they exert a powerful fascination on us; they help us, if not to reach where they have reached, at least to glimpse those sublime heights. And this alone purifies us, arouses us, elevates us.
To return to a field more accessible to us, we deem it appropriate to conclude this lecture — and with it the entire Course — with the evocation and individual and collective application of the evocative symbolism of the Grail legend, as it has been taken up and beautifully expressed in words and music by the genius of Richard Wagner.
THE DESCENT OF THE GRAIL
Each of us must relive in himself the story of Titurel, the first knight of the Grail, in all its significant details.
We must first of all ascend, as he did, to the top of the high mountain and spend the night there in prayer. That is, we must ascend to the highest region of our earthly being and raise our consciousness to the highest level it can reach by its own efforts.
We must remain there overnight: that is, spend a period of rigorous recollection, of darkness, of sacred silence of the senses and mind, in which the vain aspects of the outer world no longer distract us.
We must, like Titurel, kneel down; that is, make a deep and sincere act of humility, recognizing the powerlessness of our personality when separated from its Divine Source.
We must, like Titurel, pray with our faces lifted up to the stars; that is, invoke with our whole soul the descent of the Divine, the sacred communion between the soul and the Spirit.
If all this work is accomplished in the required manner, the higher response cannot fail: the angelic hosts descend with the Cup and the Spear, and at the life-giving touch of the Spirit, the soul is flooded with Wisdom, with Love, with Energy; it is, for an instant, transmuted and transfigured and is poured into the Ineffable.
Then the angelic hosts ascend, the ecstasy ceases . . . but the Cup and the Spear remain.
Then begins for Titurel — and for us — a new life.
The new treasures and powers acquired correspond to new tasks and new responsibilities.
On a hill in a lonely place Titurel built a castle and a temple in which the Holy Relics are defended and guarded. So we must build an inner stronghold where we jealously guard the gifts of the Spirit, a sanctuary of the soul that preserves them from all impure contact.
Titurel founded an order of knights dedicated to the service of the Grail, who, inspired by its influence, went out into the world to fight on behalf of the oppressed, to do works of justice and piety. Thus we must consecrate all our material possessions and powers, our outward possessions, and our intellectual and moral faculties to the service of God, country and humanity.
With this spirit we can and must aspire to the fulfillment of the great event — the descent of the Grail within us.
This can be helped by the ethereal music of the Prelude to Lohengrin, which Richard Wagner wrote — in this spirit — as appears from the beautiful, even literary interpretation he gave of it.
To the enraptured gaze in longing for sublime, otherworldly love, it appears as if the pure blue of the ether is transmuted into a marvelous vision, barely perceptible, which nevertheless captivates every sense. From the indefinitely vaporous contours, the host of angels dispensing miracles is outlined with increasing clarity, and descends insensibly from the bright heights, bearing with it the Sacred Cup.
While the vision becomes sharper and clearer as it approaches the earth, behold, marvelous fragrances emanate from it; intoxicating essences emanate as from a golden cloud and infuse man’s senses with a divine excitement down to the innermost beatings of the heart; now jubilation, now a sweet sorrow rises in his breast; all stifled seeds of love blossom irresistibly, redeemed by the animating spell, and it seems that the heart swells, and overflows in the rush of desire for liberation, of a desire never equaled.
Still, ever and ever the ecstasy of jubilation increases, until the Divine Apparition unfolds, in immediate proximity, to the glorified and transformed senses.
But when the Sacred Cup, in all the beauty of its reality appears blazing to the eyes of the faithful, when the Grail radiates everywhere from the Sacred Liquor — the heavenly fire of an unquenchable love that inflames every burning heart — behold, man’s senses fail and he falls exhausted. The Grail rains its blessed grace on the faithful, lost in the ecstasy of love, and anoints him a Knight.
Then the luminous flames recede, slowly paling, and their reverberation radiates over the earth like a breath of unspeakable tenderness and fills the chest of the worshipper with unknown bliss. The nimbus of Angels reascends toward the Empyrean, smiling; it has brought back to the world the spring of Love that had disappeared from it; it has left the Holy Grail in the custody of pure men, and in their hearts the Divine Blood has poured out in blessing.
In the dazzling Heavenly Light the Angels disappeared there, whence they had descended. 
 This translation attempts to reconcile the two Archive documents, correcting typographical errors and other discrepancies, following the most likely solution where the transcripts were not in agreement. —Tr.
 Traité de l’amour de Dieu [Treatise on the Love of God], VI, Ch. 3. (translation from original French) —Tr.
 A quotation from a “manuscript communication by a clergyman — I take it from Starbuck’s manuscript collection” — From the original English of The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James, in http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/j/james/william/varieties/complete.html, Page 54 of 400. —Tr.
Author’s original citation: London, Longmans, Green & Co. 1907.—Ed.
 Ibid. Quoted by James from “Professor Flourney’s rich collection.”—Ed.
 Acts of the Apostles 9:3. —Ed
 taken from the original English edition: Bucke, Richard Maurice, ed., Cosmic Consciousness. 2010, Martino Publishing, p.8. (original edition published 1901 by Innes & Sons. —Tr.
 James, op.cit. p.191. —Ed.
 Charles G. Finney (1792-1875) was an American minister, evangelist, and President of Oberlin College. His Autobiography was published in 1876. This quote is taken from pages 45-46 of an online version of the 1908 edition at https://www.ntslibrary.com. —Tr.
 Whitman, “Prayer of Columbus,” from Leaves of Grass Bk.XXVII. Electronic Classics Series p.477. —Tr.
 from “Online Library of Liberty: The Thoughts of Blaise Pascal,” p.10. Taken from The Thoughts of Blaise Pascal translated from the text of M. Auguste Molinier by C. Kegan Paul, London, George Bell and sons, 1901. —Tr.
 Quoted by James, op.cit. p.189, and quoted (in French) by Roberto Assagioli in “Le Réveil de l’âme,” published in Sophia: Revista Mensual de Sintesis Espiritual, Section Française, Vol.II, No.1, 1932, found in Assagioli Archives doc. #22748. Many of the other quotations in this current essay also appeared in that published article.—Tr.
 In Assagioli Archive Doc.#11790 there is a hand-written note concerning nature symbols that explicitly refers to Antonio Salvatore Anile (1869-1943), Jules Michelet (1798-1874), Maurice Maeterlinck (1862-1949), and Jean-Henri Fabre (1823-1915). La Grande Féerie was one of the works of Maeterlinck. Giuseppe De Lorenzo (1971-1957), was professor of geology at the University of Naples and author of numerous works. Nicolas Camille Flammarion (1842-1925), was a French astronomer and author of numerous works and publisher of the magazine L’Astonomie. —Ed.
 During the 1520’s, St. Ignatius Loyola began writing about the emotions that took hold of him — feelings of gratitude and anguish, consolation and sadness — while encountering the Scriptures. Those meditations eventually became the Spiritual Exercises, which were first published in 1548. The Spiritual Exercises is a compilation of meditations, prayers, and other contemplative practices. It is not like other classics in Western spirituality that are typically read from beginning to end. It is more like a handbook, especially for use by spiritual directors who accompany and guide people through this dynamic process of reflection.—Ed.
 According to www.yogapedia.com, Samprajnata samadhi is a Sanskrit term for a type of conscious meditation that is also referred to as “concrete meditation.” In this type of meditation, the practitioner’s samskaras (mental impressions) are not erased. It is a cognitive sort of meditation wherein the practitioner is aware of the outside world, of the self, and of an inner sense of bliss and existence.—Ed.
 According to www.yogapedia.com, In most Hindu yogic traditions, asamprajnyata samadhi is the highest stage of samadhi, which is a state of bliss obtained when the yogi has realized the nature of the true or higher Self and thoughts disappear. In Raja yoga, this higher state of samadhi is called nirvikalpa samadhi.—Ed.
 Patanjali, (Yoga Sutra, I, 36). —Author’s Note.
 Tennyson, Alfred Lord, “The Ancient Sage,” from Vol. VIII of Complete Works, p. 48, quoted in R.M. Bucke, op.cit. p.241. —Ed.
 John van Ruysbroeck (1293 or 1294 – 1381), was an Augustinian canon and one of the most important of the Flemish mystics. Some of his main literary works include The Kingdom of the Divine Lovers, The Twelve Beguines, The Spiritual Espousals, A Mirror of Eternal Blessedness, The Little Book of Enlightenment, and The Sparkling Stone. —Ed.
 Richard Wagner, Samtliche Schriften (Sacred Writings) B.V.S. 174. —Author’s Note. This translator was unable to translate this directly from German to English, so that a translation from Assagioli’s Italian is provided. —Tr.