A Contemplative Lie?

The mystic Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee writes that we go through different stages in the contemplative life, through times of expansion and contraction. There are times when we experience God’s feminine side, of grace, forgiveness, and mercy, and there are times we experience his masculine side, his power and magnificence, and stand in awe.

A Contemplative Lie?

Part of our task on this journey is to integrate these two aspects of our spirituality into a unified whole. Part of that is learning to become alert and responsive to the moment we find ourselves in.

This is a gradual process of opening ourselves to the divine presence.

One of the tricky aspects of trying to articulate and pass on contemplative truths in the online space is the nature of that space itself.

The organization I co-founded with writer and teacher Clint Sabom, for example, produces courses on contemplative teaching and practice. We’re working on a course on the Christian mystics, for example, requiring hundreds of man hours combined.

If you feel the call to invest your time and energy, of course, you’d also like people to experience it, and you get into the murky waters of marketing, and worse, internet marketing.

Questions come up: what’s a fair price? Especially in our space of impractical, intuitive, pie-in-the-sky mystics and contemplative types? Tapping into your network for advice, you come up with all kinds of recommendations: read the marketing experts like Michael Hyatt, or Pat Flynn, or Donald Miller, or Jeff Walker. All reputable marketers who handle this tension in their own way.

Suddenly, you’re down an entirely different rabbit hole of books, and posts, and webinars, and courses, and free downloads, and seminars and podcasts and cross-promotions and email lists.

You’re supposed to ask the right questions: will it fly? Do I have the right platform? Did I get my landing page copy just right? Is my profile optimized? What’s my LinkedIn presence? What about these blog post titles? They’re key, you know!

It takes discipline to come back to center, to the original quiet, the voice that inspired you in the first place: “Hey, maybe people could really benefit and deepen their spiritual path from a better understanding of the Christian Mystics.”

Simple enough.

The logic of marketing, of the market itself, seems to operate on different assumptions.

In a recent sermon on the spiritual life, my wife and local Presbyterian pastor Karla Shaw, spoke of the difference between the ladder and the onion.

We think we signed up for a climb up the ladder to the highest position of power and success, but instead we found we’re being stripped away, layer by layer, until only the True Self remains.

That reminded me of this online thing. Of click-bait, of ad copy, of subtle or not-so-subtle manipulation.

I’d like to avoid falling in the trap of becoming a shallow internet marketer of the sacred, a contemplative bag man.

Marketing copy often assumes the ladder mentality. Identify what people want and then promise them that through your product. It’s a simple cause and effect, logical and linear, cut and dried. Hair loss? Buy these pills! Loss of the sacred? Spiritual dryness? Depressed? Buy my course!

Of course we do live in this relative world of time and responsibilities. Of costs to cover. This is on the one hand.

But on the other what can a contemplative truly offer in the end? Their own experience. Their own understanding. Their own learning. Their own presence. In humility, without any promise of where it will lead the listener.

On the ladder of the market we want to know what to expect. We want to know where we’re being taken. We want the clear vision of outcomes, a return on investment.

If we frame the process too simply, though, we’re telling a contemplative lie.

The contemplative path is like the onion. A process of being stripped away, of loss of selfhood, of divestiture.

We have periods of bliss and opening along the path, of a level of inner freedom beyond words, but also periods of stagnation, of painful losses, even despair.

Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee again:

“We need perseverance if we are to stay on the path as the experience of limitation intensifies. We need to remain focused on our invisible goal despite the difficulties placed in our way by the dying ego. As the ego’s horizon closes in we have to trust that we are being guided and not deceived. This period of transition usually lasts for several years although it will vary in intensity. The opening of the heart takes time and requires patience. Gradually we make the transition from the ego to the Self.”

I’ll go touch up that course landing page copy now.

Going Further

Richard Rohr on The Way of Suffering

Cynthia Bourgeault’s correspondence “Reflections on Suffering

Contemplative Light’s Introduction to the Christian Mystics course introduction

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