I am reading Love Burning in the Soul: The Story of the Christian Mystics, and find a good deal of parallels with what is described in mainstream Buddhism (in particular Zen and Dzogchen) and with my own experiences.
One example is the “rapture” described by Richard Rolle. One form of this rapture is where there is an absorption into formless awareness, to the point where all influence over the body is temporarily lost. This is described by folks in especially the Indian traditions, and something I experienced this summer as well.
Another is the Cloud of Unknowing (from another 1300s English author), which seems to describe another aspect of being centered in formless awareness – a sense of “unknowing” beyond conventional knowing and not knowing. It is the every-present and ordinary formless awareness on top of which we add a layer of abstractions, and the knowing and not knowing we are familiar with from everyday life. It is pure awareness, distinct from any abstractions.
And through contemplative prayer and/or varius meditation practices, we can become very familiar with this – and allow the center of gravity to move into this unknowing, even in our daily life. The Byron Katie inquiry process is another way of revealing this “ground” awareness – crystal clear, awake, intelligent – and allowing it to be our ground in daily life. It gives a news sense of fluidity and freedom, and absence of drama.
There is still a full and free access to abstractions, although they are now revealed as just that – abstractions. There is no longer any need to believe in them or take them too seriously, other than as just a temporary and practical tool for orienting and navigating the world of phenomena.
When we shift into this new “ground”, others may not even notice any difference apart from the sense of absence of drama.
And as the author of The Cloud of Unknowing notes, this is obviously not any end point. It may be an end (or the beginning of the end) of drama and struggle, but it is also a new beginning. It is entrance into an awakening into the Absolute, into Big Mind/Heart, into a fuller union of God.
From this unknowing, we allow attachments to preferences and anything else in the world of phenomena to erode and fall away. And here, we awaken to/as Big Mind, as that which embraces all polarities – including those of existence and nonexistence, spirit and matter, creator and creation, delusion and awakening. And we awaken to/as Big Heart, which is the infinite and unconditional compassion for all beings, and the joy and bliss aspects of God and compassion.
The Cloud of Unknowing is simultaneously a barrier to this more full blown awakening – if we attach to it or see it as an end point, and a gateway into this fuller awakening – if we apply the unknowing to the unknowing itself, allowing the unknowing to dissolve attachments to itself.
Using Ken Wilber’s AQAL model, we see that he places the Cloud of Unknowing at the causal level, the level of the Witness, of formless and pure awareness (F9). And this becomes an entrance into the more fully nondual (Big Mind, beyond all polarities) as well as into the subtle level, that of Big Heart, as bliss, joy, rapture, unconditional love and compassion, the level of the typical mystics and bodhisattvas (F8).