‘Lift Up Your Heart Towards God With A Humble Stirring Of Love’

The opening paragraph of Chapter 3 of the anonymously authored Christian text The Cloud of Unknowing provides the earnest seeker, the budding mystic with excellent counsel:

Lift up your heart towards God with a humble stirring of love; and think of himself, not of any good to be gained from him. See, too, that you refuse to think of anything but him, so that nothing acts in your intellect or will but God himself. And do what you can to forget all of God’s creations and all their actions, so that your thoughts and desires are not directed and do not reach towards any of them, in general or in particular. But leave them alone, and pay no heed to them. (The Cloud of Unknowing and Other Works, trans. and ed. A.C. Spearing, pp. 21-2)

The assumption is that the student here wishes to come to unio mystica with the divine source. Given this aspiration, how is one to proceed?

First, let an earnest desire, a “humble stirring,” be what animates your inquiry. “Humble stirring” is a nice choice of words. Nisargadatta often emphasizes “earnestness” and “conviction.” Zen teachers might speak of “humbly opening.” Recently on this site, we heard Raimon Panikkar refer to having a “pure heart”–in this case, it would be a pure heart of longing. In short, there is something “pure” and wholesome within me that yearns to be at one with the ultimate.

Second, the inquiry cannot be motivated by self-will or the hope of ego gain. In this sense, it must be “dispassionate” (Nisargadatta again). That is, the inquiry will go nowhere except to “ego trips” (spiritual materialism being the most notable danger here) unless one “thinks only and foremost” of the ultimate. One, as it were, places all one’s focus on God himself without any care about pleasure or pain, gain or loss, hope or fear.

Third, putting the inquiry into the ultimate first necessarily means “forgetting” “all of God’s creations and all their actions.” Anything that is truly worldly is not it and, as such, is what causes one to stray from the path. To be clear, the Cloud author is not suggesting that one swear off all worldly activities; rather, he is whoever most surely feels this “humble stirring” to shift from “the mind going outward” (to speak in Advaita Vedanta language) to “the mind turning inward.” It’s not–to be even clearer–that putting God first means that there is a rank-ordering of second, third, fourth, etc. Not at all. Putting God first means that he is first without any second, that such an inquiry could not be or get any higher. The ultimate itself, as itself, of itself has become an ultimate matter of concern (to speak with Paul Tillich).

Therefore, everything is turned away from the creation and toward the Creator; everything it turned away from the self and toward the Other; everything is turned away from the outside and toward the deepest interior.

Indeed, of worldly concerns and of all things unrelated to this existential inquiry into the nature of the ultimate, just leave them be and “pay no heed to them.” In other words, carry on with them as needed, but do so as if they were taking care of themselves while your natural koan blossoms of its own accord.

Put everything on him and leave the rest alone.