Contemplation gives a sense of expansion, of enlargement, of joy, peace, of certainty, and of power. It is a true internal transfiguration.
By Roberto Assagioli, 1931, from the Assagioli Archive in Florence, translated by Gordon Symons. Original title: Meditazione E Contemplazione.
At the last meeting we talked about meditation and we saw how a complete meditation exercise involves the use of all our normal inner faculties. In fact, meditation requires the subsequent and contemporary use of:
But there is another internal exercise with which at higher levels of consciousness, deeper and more precious energies are aroused, more powerful results are obtained, both of inner transformation and of efficiency and irradiation in life. This inner exercise is contemplation. Since, however, different meanings have also been given to this word, it is good to specify how we understand it, although it is something that can only be poorly expressed in words.
When in the practice of meditation, one has reached the highest and most vital point, arousing the feelings inherent in the theme of the meditation, one can linger and rise even more. With a rush of aspiration, we can try almost to get out of ourselves, to contemplate the chosen object steadily until we get to identify ourselves, to become one with it. This implies a silencing of all faculties, a special state which on the one hand is intense concentration and on the other hand is complete receptivity towards the thing contemplated. In this state we forget ourselves or, more precisely, 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 extremely alert, but in a sphere of consciousness and inner life which is very different, more subtle, more vibrant.
At the same time there is a sense of stillness, perfect peace, and a sense of intense work that takes place spontaneously within us. It was first called “quiet prayer” by the mystics. They also call contemplation – to use the words of St. Francis de Sales – a simple and permanent “loving attention” of the Spirit (we would say “consciousness”) of divine things. (V. Amour de Dieu, VX. Ch. 3, V. Lamballe, La Contemplation)
And who it is who works in us in this state of stillness, in this silence, is the superconscious, is the Spirit. St. John of the Cross expressed this boldly but very exactly and meaningfully, saying that this action is a kind of conceiving of God in the Soul. In other words, a kind of fertilization of the Soul by the Spirit.
Often, during that silence, there is a vague, indistinct sense of that mysterious work that takes place on a level that consciousness cannot reach. But the reality of that work is demonstrated by the effects that are seen later. At other times, however, the consciousness manages to participate, at least in part, in what is accomplished in the superconscious, to receive the gifts that come down from the Spirit and then Contemplation produces Enlightenment. Consciousness is found to be flooded with light and in that light a new faculty of intuition, of direct spiritual vision with which it discovers new true, new meanings in the soul and universe, awakens; or it realizes the true, profound nature, the essence of the thing contemplated, sees its value, relationships, its place in the Great Reality. A sense of expansion, of enlargement, of joy, of peace joins this Light; of certainty, of power. It is a true internal transfiguration.
This high state of consciousness can last for a longer or shorter time and then it gradually subsides and with regret we are forced to descend into the heavy and dense atmosphere of the ordinary levels of everyday life. But we are no longer the same as before: a change has occurred, a “sign” has been impressed on us. We can no longer give so much importance and value to the things of common life; ordinary passions no longer have the power over us as before, human attachments have loosened their grip, the ambitions, desires, goals pursued by ordinary humanity no longer fascinate us nor exalt us anymore. We have glimpsed another larger and higher, brighter, truer reality and we feel a subtle nostalgia, a nagging call, an irrepressible aspiration towards that spiritual sphere. But that doesn’t make us passive dreamers. We are passionate about new goals, new tasks for good, new inner conquests attract us, and we resume with increased fervor, with firmer faith, with more firm intention, to act.
This vision of the marvellous possibilities, of the precious fruits of meditation and contemplation, incites us to approach the ways of practicing them with more lively and conscious interest. What is important is the choice of the object, the theme to be proposed.
These objects are very different, and the choice depends on:
a) The goal we wish to achieve.
b) 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 the defect that we deplore in us) it will naturally form the theme of meditation. In this way we will be able to meditate on calm, courage, trust, goodness, generosity, humility, wisdom, energy, love, joy.
If our aspiration is aimed at directly realizing spiritual consciousness, we will choose the most suitable objects that we will now name. On the other hand, it is more difficult to know which objects and methods are most appropriate and give better results in relation to our particular individual constitution. The study of the various psychological types and methods of inner development most suited to each of us is very interesting and can give valuable rules of knowledge and life, but it requires extensive discussion. In the meantime, the best method to follow is the experimental one: that is gradually to try the various objects of meditation and thus find out which (or which ones) is more suitable for our temperament and gives us the best results.
Now let’s see what themes there are to choose from.
1. A phrase, motto or thought. A verse that we like and relates to us.
2. An abstract idea, a universal principle.
3. A broader theme that lends itself to the development of thoughts, the evocation of feelings: meditations on nature (Anile, Michelet, Fabre) – Geological (De Lorenzo) – Astronomical (Flammarion).
4. Imaginative evocation of specific scenes designed to stir, to arouse; meditation on the Passion, widely used by the religious. The exercise of St. Ignatius.
5. An inner quality, a virtue, something with a spiritual tone.
6. Themselves, gifted with that quality or virtue.
7. An embodied ideal, a Great Being (the Christ).
8. The spiritual Self, the true Self, as the Center of Reality, of Life, of Light.
9. Themselves, being perfect.
10. The Light of the Spirit (Patanjali. 1.36).
11. Union with all beings. Spiritual love. Sense of unity of Life.
12. A meaningful symbol:
a) The Cross
b. The jewel in the lotus
c. The Grail: (its qualities): Suggestive, universal:
The Grail Cup = Center of Individuality
The Grail Temple = The Personality
Surrounding landscape = Field of work
The scene of the Descent of the Grail.