The Cloud of Forgetting

Curriculum Focus

  • Forget Yourself
  • Perpetual Release
  • Presence
  • Interior Silence

Material

The Cloud of Unknowing, Edited by William Johnson, Image Books Doubleday, New York, NY, 1973: Chapter 5 & 6, pages 53 55. Original Text has been modified for contemporary clarity.

During contemplative connection all created things and their works must be buried beneath a cloud of forgetting.

If you wish to enter into this cloud, to be at home in it, and to take up the contemplative work of love as I urge you to, there is something else you must do. Just as the cloud of unknowing lies before you, between you and your Infinite Object, so you must fashion a cloud of forgetting behind you, between you and every created thing. The cloud of unknowing will perhaps leave you with the feeling that you are far from the Infinite Presence. But no, if it is authentic, only the absence of a cloud of forgetting keeps you from connecting with the Infinite Presence now. Every time I say all creatures, I refer not only to every created thing but also to all their circumstances and activities. I make no exception. You are to concern yourself with no creature whether material or relational nor with their situation and doings whether good or ill. To put it briefly, during this work you must abandon them all beneath the cloud of forgetting.

For although at certain times and in certain circumstances it is necessary and useful to dwell on the particular situation and activity of people and things, during this work it is almost useless. Thinking and remembering are forms of relational understanding in which the eye of the relational being is opened and closed upon things as the eye of a marksman is on his target. But I tell you that everything you dwell upon during this work becomes an obstacle to union with the Infinite Presence. For if your mind is cluttered with these concerns there is no room for that Presence.

Yes, and with all due honoring, I go so far as to say that it is equally useless to think you can nourish your contemplative work by considering the Infinite Mysterys attributes, like kindness or dignity; or by thinking about individuals or the community of those who have embodied those attributes or the joys of timelessness, wonderful as these will be. I believe that this kind of activity is no longer of any use to you. Of course, it is laudable to reflect upon the Infinites kindness and to love and praise it for this; yet it is far better to let your mind rest in the awareness of the One Presence in its naked existence and to love and honor it for the Truth It is within Itself.

Now you say, How shall I proceed to think of the Infinite One as it is in Itself To this I can only reply, I do not know.

With this question you bring me into the very darkness and cloud of unknowing that I want you to enter. A human person may know completely and ponder thoroughly every created thing and its works, yes, and the works of the Creator, too, but not the Infinite One Itself. Thought cannot comprehend the Infinite Presence. And so, I prefer to abandon all I can know, choosing rather to love the One I cannot know. Though we cannot know this One we can love this One. By love the Infinite Presence may be touched and embraced, never by thought. Of course, we do well at times to ponder the Infinites majesty or kindness for the insight these reflections may bring. But in the real contemplative work you must set all this aside and cover it over with a cloud of forgetting. Then let your loving desire, gracious and devout, step bravely and joyfully beyond it and reach out to pierce the darkness before you. Yes, beat upon that thick cloud of unknowing with the dart of your loving desire and do not cease come what may.

Reflection Questions

  1. What is the Cloud of Forgetting Why does the author believe it is important

  2. What is the relationship of the Cloud of Forgetting to the Cloud of Unknowing

  3. How have you experienced this dynamic in your life How are you experiencing it now

  4. Talk about the areas in your life where you are struggling to release every created thing but also to all their circumstances and activities Does this seem a little harsh Why do you believe the author sees this as a necessary step

  5. What would it practically look like in your life to embrace this radical step