Introduction to The Cloud The Work of the Contemplative

Curriculum Focus

Awesome XX
The Infinite Addiction
Absolute Attention
Forget Myself
Inner Journey


The Cloud of Unknowing, Edited by William Johnson, Image Books Doubleday, New York, NY, 1973: Chapter 3, p 48 49.

Desire the mystery of the Infinite for its own sake and not for any tangible result that may be generated from this pursuit. Center all of your attention and desire on the Infinite and let this be the sole concern of your mind and heart. Do all in your power to forget everything else, keeping your thoughts and desires free from involvement with any creatures or their affairs whether in general or in particular. Perhaps this will seem like an irresponsible attitude, but I tell you, let them all be; pay no attention to them.

What I am describing here is the contemplative work of the interior life.

The work of contemplation is intending ones love exclusively toward the mystery of the Infinite and paying no attention to the created world or the affairs of the created world. Through this apparently irresponsible posture, others, the created world and ones own self are transformed in a process the rational mind cannot grasp. Persevere in this work until you feel joy in it. Trust that the transformative permission of the Infinite itself will support you in this work. For in the beginning it is usual to feel nothing but a kind of darkness about your mind or, as it were, a cloud of unknowing. You will seem to know nothing and to feel nothing except a naked intent toward the Infinite in the depths of your being. Try as you might, this darkness and this cloud will remain between you and your Infinite Object. You will feel frustrated, for your mind will be unable to grasp the Infinite One, and your heart will not relish the delight of the Infinite love. But learn to be at home in this darkness. Return to it as often as you can, letting your being cry out to the One you love. For if, in this life, you hope to feel and see the Infinite Object as it is in Itself it must be within this darkness and this cloud. But if you strive to fix your love of this One forgetting all else, which is the work of contemplation I have urged you to begin, I am confident that the Infinite One in its goodness will bring you to a deep experience of connection.

Reflection Questions

What is the work of the contemplative

Reflecting on the very first sentence, what are some ways that we sometimes seek a tangible benefit from loving the Mystery

What is the author instructing us to do in the first paragraph What would this look like or feel like in our real lives Is the first paragraph pure nonsense

Why does the posture and the practice the author is recommending seem like an irresponsible orientation to the eyes of the created world

Where, in encountering or thinking about the deep things of life have you experienced a kind of darkness around your mind or a cloud of unknowing

What is the cloud of unknowing and why is it the author recommends that if you are going to pursue the work of the contemplative to get used to it

What clues do we get in the last paragraph as to the relationship the author suggests we take to darkness and learning to be at home in it What would this practice look like in our daily lives

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