The One Thing Necessary

Curriculum Focus



The Cloud of Unknowing, Edited by William Johnson, Image Books Doubleday, New York, NY, 1973: Chapters 8 - 9, pages 57 61. Original Text has been modified for contemporary clarity.

If you are to commit your life to the work of the contemplative you must give up curiosity, learning, pride, intellectual pursuit, egoism, natural intelligence, worldly affairs, human vanities, riches, empty pleasures and flattery.

In profound affairs there are two types of life: the active and the contemplative. The active life is lower, and the contemplative life is higher. The higher degree of the active life flows into the lower degree of the contemplative life so that, no matter how active a person may be, s/he is also at the same time partially contemplative; and when s/he is as fully contemplative as s/he can be in this life, s/he remains to some extent active also.

The active life is such that it begins and ends in this world of time and space. The contemplative life, however, may indeed begin in time and space but it will continue without end into the Infinite. The work of the active life is rooted in the temporal while the work of the contemplative is infinite. The active life is troubled and busy about many things but the contemplative life sits in peace with the one thing necessary.

In the higher degree of contemplation all is darkness and a cloud of unknowing. Here one turns to Ultimate Reality with a burning desire for connection and rests in the blind awareness of naked being.

As s/he advances to the higher degree of the active life (which merges with the lower degree of the contemplative life) s/he becomes increasingly interior, living more from the depths of oneself and becoming, therefore, more fully human.

I urge you to dismiss every clever or subtle thought no matter how profoundly special or valuable. Cover it over with a thick cloud of forgetting because in this life only love can touch Ultimate Reality as it is, never knowledge. As long as we live in these mortal bodies the keenness of our intellect remains dulled by material limitations whenever it deals with relational realities and most especially Ultimate Reality.

You must reject all clear conceptualizations whenever they arise, as they inevitably will, during the blind work of contemplative love. If you do not conquer them, they will surely conquer you. For when you most desire to be alone with Ultimate Reality, they will slip into your mind with such stealth that only constant vigilance will detect them. Be sure that if you are occupied with something less than Ultimate Reality, you place it before you for the time being and create a barrier between yourself and Ultimate Reality. Therefore, firmly reject all clear ideas however pious or delightful. For I tell you this, one loving blind desire for Ultimate Reality alone is more valuable in itself, more pleasing to the Infinite Object and to those who have connected with It throughout all of history, more beneficial to your own growth, and more helpful to your friends, both living and dead, that anything else you could do.

Does this surprise you That is only because you have not experienced it for yourself. For when you do, you will understand.

If you are seeking Ultimate Reality alone, you will never rest contented with anything less than connection.

Reflection Questions

Words/phrases and concepts

What are some of the things that the author suggests we must give up if we are to pursue the work of the contemplative

What the heck is the author talking about Isnt this craziness, rejecting clear conceptualizations Isnt clear thinking what we human beings value and desire Whats wrong with this person

What clues do you get in this message about the meaning of the blind work of contemplative love What is the one thing necessary

How can I practically go about rejecting all clear ideas What would this look like
What are some examples of pious or delightful ideas that in fact get in the way of my connection with Ultimate Reality

What does the author suggest we need to do with these Why

What do you think might be beneficial about this contemplative work

Why would anyone set out to intentionally do this work What new perspective does this message place on the concept of Service

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