The integration of the ‘not’

The integration of the ‘not’

The spiritual path does not mean the mere cultivation of our religious ideals, but rather the path goes through the darkness with the help of the light in our hearts.

[…] you must be free from the ‘not’. One asks what burns in hell. The masters all answer: it is self-will. But I say truthfully that the ‘Not’ burns in hell. Listen to a parable:

Take a glowing coal and put it on my hand. If I were now to say that the coal burns my hand, I would be doing it a great injustice. Should I say exactly what burns me? It is the ‘not’, because the coal has something in it that my hand does not have. You see, it is precisely this ‘not’ that burns me. If my hand had everything in it what coal is and can do, then it would have the very nature of fire. If someone then took all the fire that has ever burned and poured it on my hand, it could not hurt me. Likewise I say: because God and all who behold God have something in themselves in the blessed state which those who are separated from God do not have, therefore this ‘not’ torments the soul in hell more than self-will or any (real) fire. I say truthfully: as much of the ‘not’ clings to you, so far are you imperfect. Therefore (I say): if you want to be perfect, then you must be free from the ‘not’.¹

These words Meister Eckhart² wrote in a sermon that he composed around the year 1311. There is a deep realisation behind this. For we are not only imperfect with regard to the divine, but also imperfect in ourselves. In childhood and youth, due to our upbringing and our social and cultural influences, our subjective abilities and our world of ideas are formed with our beliefs, which shape our self-awareness. It is, however, a subjective world of imagination that always excludes a part of reality and of life that is unknown to us, that we do not know. This often results in us having to judge or reject the unknown, the different, because it frightens us. Even before the unpleasant and painful things that make us suffer, we usually flee. This means that the ‘not’, everything that we are not, that we do not know, becomes a pitfall for us. Because the more we marginalise, the tighter it becomes inside us. The more we flee, the more the unknown has power over us.

Only when we open ourselves up to the strange and threatening, confront it, learn to understand it, even to feel a part of it within us, can we accept these forces and allow them to flow through us. But how should we achieve this? We will not succeed on our own. However, in connection with our heart and our soul, we can feel a supportive help that gives us strength. This can turn our heart into a large bowl, in which all feelings have a place, in which all joy, but also all suffering, the beautiful and the terrible are integrated. On this basis an inner stillness can arise within us. Only by becoming still in the fullness of all possibilities can the divine enter, fill us with its splendour and transform into a space of consciousness within us.

The ‘not’, which previously had taken up a large place within us is now filled with the divine radiation. As a result, we no longer have to flee from the dark side of the world, but the earthly light and the earthly darkness merge into the divine light. The threatening element is thus integrated and has lost its power over us. For this reason, the spiritual path does not mean the mere cultivation of our religious ideals, but rather the path goes through the darkness with the help of the light in our hearts. Precisely through looking closely at and accepting the strange, the unpleasant and the terrible we can come closer to God if we manage to let go in the fullness of experiences, to become still and thereby open ourselves to the spiritual.

1) from: Mieth, Dietmar (ed.): Meister Eckhart – Vom Atmen der Seele, Stuttgart 2014, p. 72

2) Meister Eckhart was born in Hochheim around 1260. At the age of 17 he joined the Dominican order. He studied especially Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Scotus Erigena and the Neoplatonists. In 1314, Meister Eckhart was appointed professor of theology in Strasbourg, later in Cologne and Frankfurt. With his numerous writings and sermons, he ranks among the German mystics. Towards the end of his life, he was accused of heresy. He died in 1328 in Avignon, before his condemnation.

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Date: March 29, 2024
Author: Sonja Vilela (Germany)
Photo: fire-Bild von Ralph auf Pixabay CCO

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