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Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation by Martin Laird
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“God in Christ has taken into Himself the brokenness of the human condition. Hence, human woundedness, brokenness, death itself are transformed from dead ends to doorways into Life. In the divinizing humanity of Christ, bruises become balm.”
Martin Laird, Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation
“This is why most people do not stick with a contemplative discipline for very long; we have heard all sorts of talk about contemplation delivering inner peace but when we turn within to seek this peace, we meet inner chaos instead of peace. But at this point it is precisely the meeting of chaos that is salutary, not snorting lines of euphoric peace. The peace will indeed come, but it will be the fruit, not of pushing away distractions, but of meeting thoughts and feelings with stillness instead of commentary. This is the skill we must learn.

The struggle with distractions is not characterized only by afflictive thoughts. Many sincerely devout people never enter the silent land because their attention is so riveted to devotions and words. If there is not a wordy stream of talking to God and asking God for this and that, they feel they are not praying. Obviously this characterizes any relationship to a certain extent. When we are first getting to know someone, the relationship is nurtured by talking. Only with time does the relationship mature in such a way that we can be silent with someone, that silence comes to be seen to be the deeper mode of communion. And so it is with God; our words give way to silence.”
Martin Laird, Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation
“The key is to move from being a victim of thoughts (the commenting, chattering mind) to being their witness (the heart’s stillness) . . . What we have observed of fear can be observed of practically any struggle with afflictive thoughts and feelings. We must move from being a victim of these thoughts to being their witness. Typically we spend many, many years being their victim. We are imprisoned by the chattering mind. Gradually we learn to distinguish the simple thought or emotion from the chatter and we discover an inner stability that grows into the silence of God.”
Martin Laird, Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation
“But gradually we learn something very precious under the tutelage of these wounds. We learn a compassion for others that replaces judging, self-loathing, and the compulsion to find someone to blame. We learn a reverent joy before our wounds that replaces the condemnation of and comparison of ourselves with others that used to fuel our anxiety. We learn that the consummation of self-esteem is self-forgetful abandonment to the Silence of God that gives birth to loving service of all who struggle.”
Martin Laird, Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation
“Dying is all about letting go and letting be, as is the awareness of God. People who have traveled far along the contemplative path are often aware that the sense of separation from God is itself pasted up out of a mass of thoughts and feelings. When the mind comes into its own stillness and enters the silent land, the sense of separation goes. Union is seen to be the fundamental reality and separateness a highly filtered mental perception.”
Martin Laird, Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation
“A helpful image to express this sort of thing is a wheel with spokes centered on a single hub. The hub of the wheel is God; we the spokes. Out on the rim of the wheel the spokes are furthest from one another, but at the center, the hub, the spokes are most united to each other. They are a single meeting in the one hub. The image was used in the early church to say something important about that level of life at which we are one with each other and one with God. The more we journey towards the Center the closer we are both to God and to each other. The problem of feeling isolated from both God and others is overcome in the experience of the Center. This journey into God and the profound meeting of others in the inner ground of silence is a single movement. Exterior isolation is overcome in interior communion.”
Martin Laird, Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation
“By waiting and by calm you shall be saved, in quiet and in trust your strength lies. —Isaiah 30:15”
Martin Laird, Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation
“Union with God is not something we acquire by a technique but the grounding truth of our lives that engenders the very search for God. Because God is the ground of our being, the relationship between creature and Creator is such that, by sheer grace, separation is not possible. God does not know how to be absent. The fact that most of us experience throughout most of our lives a sense of absence or distance from God is the great illusion that we are caught up in; it is the human condition. The sense of separation from God is real, but the meeting of stillness reveals that this perceived separation does not have the last word.

This illusion of separation is generated by the mind and is sustained by the riveting of our attention to the interior soap opera, the constant chatter of the cocktail party going on in our heads. For most of us this is what normal is, and we are good at coming up with ways of coping with this perceived separation (our consumer-driven entertainment culture takes care of much of it). But some of us are not so good at coping, and so we drink ourselves into oblivion or cut or burn ourselves “so that the pain will be in a different place and on the outside.”

The grace of salvation, the grace of Christian wholeness that flowers in silence, dispels this illusion of separation. For when the mind is brought to stillness, and all our strategies of acquisition have dropped, a deeper truth presents itself: we are and have always been one with God and we are all one in God (Jn 17:21).”
Martin Laird, Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation
“But as important as time set aside specifically for prayer, is learning to sit when you are not sitting. By this I mean, whenever the reasoning mind is not required for a specific task, take this as an opportunity to practice. Commuting to and from work, shopping for groceries, showering, shaving, cooking, ironing, gardening. All of these tasks, and others, are perfectly workable with contemplative practice and the principles of common sense. Far from lulling the reasoning mind into some dull blankness, contemplative practice sharpens reason and engenders all manner of creativity. So there is no cause for concern here. The bottom line is this: minimize time given over to chasing thoughts, dramatizing them in grand videos, and believing these videos to be your identity. Otherwise life will pass you by.”
Martin Laird, Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation
“This watchfulness also applies to our tendency to add thought upon thought upon thought. We notice, for example, our anger and how it is quickly followed by another thought that judges it: “I should not be having this angry thought” or “after all these years I still can’t let go of my anger” or “I thought I dealt with this years ago.” This aggregate of thoughts must also be observed, and we must each see for ourselves that part of the reason we can’t let go is that we whip these thoughts and feelings into a great drama that we watch over and over again.

It is not a question of having only acceptable thoughts, but of thoughts thoroughly observed as they appear and disappear in awareness. No thought or feeling should appear in the valley of awareness unobserved.”
Martin Laird, Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation
“The doorway into the silent land is a wound. Silence lays bare this wound. We do not journey far along the spiritual path before we get some sense of the wound of the human condition, and this is precisely why not a few abandon a contemplative practice like meditation as soon as it begins to expose this wound; they move on instead to some spiritual entertainment that will maintain distraction. Perhaps this is why the weak and wounded, who know very well the vulnerability of the human condition, often have an aptitude for discovering silence and can sense the wholeness and healing that ground this wound.

There is something seductive about the contemplative path. “I am going to seduce her and lead her into the desert and speak to her heart” (Hosea 2:14), says Yahweh to Israel. It is tempting to think it is a superior path. More often, however, the seduction is to think we can use our practice of contemplation as a way to avoid facing our woundedness: if we can just go deeply enough into contemplation, we won’t struggle any longer. It is common enough to find people taking a cosmetic view of contemplation, and then, after considerable time and dedication to contemplative practice, discover that they still have the same old warts and struggles they hoped contemplation would remove or hide. They think that somewhere they must have gone wrong.

Certainly there is deep conversion, healing, and unspeakable wholeness to be discovered along the contemplative path. The paradox, however, is that this healing is revealed when we discover that our wound and the wound of God are one wound.”
Martin Laird, Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation
“You say you seek God, but a ray of light doesn’t seek the sun; it’s coming from the sun. You are a branch on the vine of God. A branch doesn’t seek the vine; it’s already part of the vine. A wave doesn’t look for the ocean; it’s already full of ocean. Because you don’t know that who you are is one with God, you believe all these labels about yourself: I’m a sinner, I’m a saint, I’m a wretch, I’m a worm and no man, I’m a monk, I’m a nurse. These are all labels, clothing. They serve a purpose, but they are not who you are. To the extent that you believe these labels, you believe a lie, and you add anguish upon anguish. It’s what most of us do for most of our lives.”
Martin Laird, Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation
“The distinction between acquisition and discovery may seem like hairsplitting, but it is important to see that . . . the contemplative discipline of meditation, what I will call in this book contemplative practice, doesn’t acquire anything. In that sense, and an important sense, it is not a technique but a surrendering of deeply imbedded resistances that allows the sacred within gradually to reveal itself as a simple, fundamental fact. Out of this letting go there emerges what St. Paul called our “hidden self”: “may he give you the power through his Spirit for your hidden self to grow strong” (Eph 3:16). Again, contemplative practice does not produce this “hidden self” but facilitates the falling away of all that obscures it. This voice of the liberated hidden self, the “sacred within,” joins the Psalmist’s, “Oh, Lord, you search me and you know me. … It was you who created my inmost self. … I thank you for the wonder of my being” (Ps 138 (9):1, 13, 14).”
Martin Laird, Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation
“. . . there is a foundational core of what we might as well call identity that remains hidden from scrutiny’s grip and somehow utterly caught up in God, “in whom we live and move and have our being,” in whom our very self is immersed. Precisely because our deepest identity, grounding the personality, is hidden with Christ in God and beyond the grasp of comprehension, the experience of this ground-identity that is one with God will register in our perception, if indeed it does register, as an experience of no particular thing, a great, flowing abyss, a depthless depth. To those who know only the discursive mind, this may seem a death-dealing terror or spinning vertigo. But for those whose thinking mind has expanded into heart-mind, it is an encounter brimming over with the flow of vast, open emptiness that is the ground of all. This “no thing,” this “emptiness” is not an absence but a superabundance . . . the so-called psychological self, our personality (not what Paul is talking about as hidden with Christ in God) is a cognitive construct pasted up out of thoughts and feelings. A rather elaborate job has been done of it, and it is singularly useful. But our deepest identity, in which thoughts and feelings appear like patterns of weather on Mount Zion (Psalm 125), remains forever immersed in the silence of God.”
Martin Laird, Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation
“Symptoms of growth may look like breakdown or derangement; the more we are allowed by the love of others and by self-understanding to live through our derangement into the new arrangement, the luckier we are. It is unfortunate when our anxiety over what looks like personal confusion or dereliction blinds us to the forces of liberation at work.”
Martin Laird, Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation