I have spent a few weeks immersed in ‘The Cloud of Unknowing’. A classic of both Christian mysticism and Middle English. My guide through this process has been Cynthia Bourgeault. The Cloud is a masterpiece of apophatic spirituality. And, as is now being argued quite strongly, the pre-eminent text on non-dual consciousness in the Christian tradition.
For the last two decades I have happily accepted the clear divide between the apophatic and cataphatic spiritualities. I have taught many times that they are different paths to God. As silence is seen as being a superior way of praying – many people often assume that the apophatic way is somehow ‘better’ than the cataphatic way.
As a long time practitioner and teacher of Ignatian spirituality I have long fought against such stratification. In reading Cynthia’s writings and commentary on The Cloud and on Centering Prayer I have found myself looking for the deeper threads of both apophatic and cataphatic streams.
Cynthia uses a phrase ‘heart-centred cognition’ which she suggests is the disposition required for non-dual consciousness to take hold. ‘Heart-centred cognition’ is not at all a focus on the emotions rather than the rational. It is probably better understood as embodied cognition – where the rational is an element but doesn’t dominate.
I cannot help but wonder whether Ignatian discernment is not a training in ‘heart-centered cognition’. Certainly when I think about my own process of discernment it resonates. When I consider the phrase I repeat often on training course – you use the whole of your being as a tool for discernment’ it feels consistent.
Discernment when understood in this way, is really not about getting to the right answer or making the right decision. It is fundamentally about honing one’s being to attuning to the resonant echo of God’s presence in our world. ‘Right choice’ becomes almost meaningless – it is about fundamental disposition.