From the Introduction
Contemplative life is nothing esoteric. It is a simple bloom not frequently found in the climate of contemporary Western culture. We have been too busy to cultivate the silence, simplicity, and emptiness necessary to reach the fullness of mystical life. And yet the path is not as inaccessible as we may first imagine.
We can all live a more contemplative life. There is not one way, but many ways. We can start wherever we are and let a more contemplative lifestyle evolve naturally; it is an expression of certain aspects of our being. It is the stillness and coolness of a quiet mind, the openness of a surrendered heart, the simplicity of just being ourselves. It is the balance of not too tight and not too loose.
We will open more eagerly to contemplative life if we recognize it as something that is rich and juicy. If it is only stern and dry, those with a joyful heart will not be as interested. What a relief it is to discover that we don’t have to behave like a monk! There is room to monkey around a little. True Nature is not grim.
The Tao of Contemplation takes the essence of contemplative life (the elements of silence, solitude, simplicity, surrender, receptivity, and an orientation toward direct encounter with the One Reality) and combines these with the naturalness, spontaneity, and joy of a Taoist approach. I find them to be perfect partners.
The book straddles East and West, shuttling back and forth between the language of theistic and nontheistic systems, finding the differences totally unimportant to the true posture of contemplation. Exercises throughout the text help readers integrate and embody the material. A few, like the exercise on open presence, can be used as a practice.
The book is sequenced in a way that reflects the process of inner work. The more practical issues are placed up front, and the deepest parts are saved for the end. The first two chapters describe the context and approach of the book. They begin to build a definition of contemplation and its place in spiritual and personal growth work. In the first chapter, I differentiate between two journeys: one to find ourselves and one to lose ourselves. I try to show how these two journeys relate and how contemplation figures into each of them. The second chapter describes the more intuitive and individual approach to contemplation that I am calling “the natural way.”
The next four chapters are about creating the elements of a contemplative lifestyle. Chapter 3 is about the need to create empty space in one’s life, and Chapter 4 discusses the issues involved in returning to a simpler way of living. Chapter 5 describes the balance between restraint and enjoyment, the much championed “Middle Way.” In Chapter 6, this is applied to relationships, finding that both solitude and intimacy have an important place in spiritual life.
Just as the first star comes out when it is dark enough to see it, our Deeper Self comes into range when we are quiet enough, clear enough, and sensitive enough to perceive it. The next three chapters address this. Chapter 7 is about the many ways people can cultivate a state of inner quiet. Chapter 8 develops the theme of receptivity, and Chapter 9 explores the central quality of openness.
In Chapter 10, I come back to the concept of the two journeys and the importance of working on the personality. I introduce a method for staying with one’s immediate experience as a useful tool in both psychological and spiritual work.
Chapter 11 is about letting go and Chapter 12 is about the deepest surrender of all–letting go of the separate self. This leads into the last two chapters which are about the mystical side of spiritual life. Chapter 13 focuses on the importance of love. The book ends (Chapter 14) with the jewels of the night, the jewels of mystical union and other precious experiences that happen on the way to this union. There is no question: contemplative life is rich indeed.
I don’t think there will ever be a definitive text on how to create a lifestyle that allows for more contact with spirit. There are too many different ways. It is my hope that The Tao of Contemplation will support you in moving toward the depths in a way that is natural to you.
Listen, the Silence is calling.