The Drawbacks of “Success” and the “Non-Achievement” of Contemplative Practice

Success can be detrimental.

When we feel blissfully awake, and that is seen as a success, prayer can evaporate and any spiritual consolations we thought we had “earned” in that moment will be lost. Success in prayer is not experiencing wonder and bliss; it is not experiencing peace and oneness; it is not even experiencing God’s love and union… we are lost in the wonder, bliss, peace, oneness, love, and union of God when success emerges in prayer practice – but there is no “experiencing” of these things (or anything else as “things” to experience).

Success in prayer is something like a pure praise and participation through self-forgetting… success in prayer is constituted in part by the loss of an experiencing “me” to even notice anything aside from maybe the knowing of awareness itself – and yes, that awareness is wonderful, blissful, etc. but there is no longer any”one” there to experience it: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who lives, but Christ lives in me.”

In my “experience” (haha…), the Grace of Christ’s resurrection within me is accessed through a falling away from what I call “me”… that selfish, naive, loving, desirous, kind, wretched, and egoic swirling of mind-and-body (spirit-and-matter) that is so familiar to us all – the perfection of which we typically (and, in my mind, erroneously) believe to be the path to salvation.

Awakening to this mystery comes (or can come) in small moments of gradual renewal of our “Selves-in-Christ” – the “still small voice” of the Spirit – and may only occur once in our lives… or twice, or every week, or never!

Awakening is not success… is it a gift.

The purpose of prayer is self-emptying; self-forgetting; egoic-death; crucifixion… Any “success” is purely the result of the fullness of emptying; remembering of the act of forgetting; rebirth; redemption… the space between these nodes of experience (between the experiences of prayer and success) is the point of prayer practice: a falling away of the experiencing self.

At this point, there is no “me”, there is only God… which is all there ever is anyway (“Christ is all and in all”).

The beginners mind; the spirit of non-attainment; doing “nothing”; resting in choicelessness; simply “being”; a receptive attitude of non-achievement…

These are some ways to describe a beneficial intentional starting point in the practice of Contemplative prayer. They aren’t necessarily possible to maintain, but they are part of what it means to put on the “Mind of Christ”.

Adopting what Martin Laird calls “riverbed awareness” – simultaneously receiving and releasing all phenomena within conscious experience – is a great illustration of this type of attitude “in action”.

Thinking also of the waves of an ocean arising and falling above the infinite depths of stillness can be a helpful way to settle in to an observational stance of openness and receptivity: holding all that one is with an open-palmed grasp. The silent source of these waves constitutes the waves themselves and is also their ultimate destination – each wave shares a common center. The waves are not searching for the ocean, they are already full of ocean.

We too are already full of God. We are the branches of the vine: we do not need to strain to “search” for the vine, we are already a part of the vine. We exist as rays of light do: not constantly and frantically chasing the sun, but eternally carrying its warmth and radiance. These images are always True, but only ever manifested, however, if we fully step out of the way and into the Way (“the Truth and the Life”)…

…the simplest thing… the most difficult thing… the only thing (Luke 10:38-42).

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