Meister Eckhart was a late-thirteenth- and early-fourteenth-century preacher and mystic, yet, like Rumi and Hafiz, he remains relevant today. His work speaks to so many and touches people’s hearts. In this short excerpt from his new book, Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior for Our Times
, bestselling author Matthew Fox
shares Eckhart’s insights on letting go.
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Eckhart says, “God is not found in the soul by adding anything, but by a process of subtraction.” Subtraction and letting go leads us to the Divine depths. When we can let go and “sink into God,” amazing things happen between God and us. “I advise you to let your own ‘being you’ sink into and flow away into God’s ‘being God.’ Then your ‘you’ and God’s ‘his’ will become so completely one ‘my’ that you will eternally know with him his changeless existence and his nameless nothingness.”
God is characterized by a “nameless nothingness.” Nothingness lies at the heart of Divinity — and maybe all things. Notice we are to sink, not strive, not ladder-climb, not ascend by willpower and determination. We “let God,” as AA members talk of it. To sink is a godly act, according to Eckhart: “God alone sinks into the essences of things.” When in love, we sink into each other, we let go, we don’t try overly much, we trust; we don’t rule by willpower.
Eckhart goes further in naming the practically unnameable union created by letting go. “When all the images of the soul are taken away and the soul can see only the single One then the pure being of the soul finds passively resting in itself the pure, form-free being of divine unity, when the being of the soul can bear nothing else than the pure unity of God.” Intuition is sometimes like this; it lends us a direct knowledge of truth or God “without image, without mediation, and without likeness.” Thus Eckhart promises:
All God wants of you is for you to let go of yourself and creatures and let God be within you. The smallest creature image that takes shape in you is as big as God. Why? It deprives you of the whole of God. As soon as this image enters you, God with all His Godhead has to exit. But when the image exits, God enters....What harm can it do you to do God the favor of letting God be God in you? Let go of yourself for God’s sake, and God will let go of Himself for your sake! When these two have exited, what is left is one and simple. In this One the Father bears His Son in the innermost source.
Eckhart explains how it is that being unable to let go restricts our experience of the Divine. “True possession of God depends on the mind, an inner mental turning and striving toward God — but not in a continuous and equal thinking of Him, for that would be impossible for nature to strive for, very difficult and not even the best thing. One should not have or be content with a God one imagines, for when the image disappears, God also disappears. Rather, one should have an essential God, who is far beyond the thought of humans and of all creatures.”
For Eckhart, emptying the mind is “the most powerful prayer, one almost omnipotent to gain all things, and the noblest work of all is that which proceeds from a bare mind. The more bare it is, the more powerful, worthy, useful, praiseworthy and perfect is the prayer and the work. A bare mind can do all things. What is a bare mind? A bare mind is one which is worried by nothing and is tied to nothing which has not bound its best part to any mode, does not seek its own in anything, that is fully immersed in God’s dearest will and goes out of its own.” A bare mind is not busy worrying, not living in the past or the future, in regret or fear. It dwells in the now.
Furthermore, this great emptying is conducted decidedly not to make us bliss bunnies or capable of strange spiritual or mental feats, such as levitations, bilocation, or other oddities. No, the purpose of such deep unity is to render our work and our service more effective so that it derives from our being and not our compulsion to act. This is how Eckhart puts it: “Here God’s ground is my ground and my ground is God’s ground. Here I live from my own as God lives from His own....Out of this inmost ground, all your works should be wrought without Why. I say truly, as long as you do works for the sake of heaven or God or eternal bliss from without, you are at fault. It may pass muster, but it is not the best.”
In this way, Eckhart cautions against turning practice, even the practice of letting go, into an idol. “Indeed, if a person thinks she will obtain more of God by meditation, by devotion, by ecstasies or by special infusion of grace than by being at the fireside or in the stable — that is nothing but taking God, wrapping a cloak round His head and shoving Him under a bench. For whoever seeks God in a special way gets the way and misses God, who lies hidden in it. But whoever seeks God without any special way gets Him as He is in Himself, and that person lives with the Son, and is life itself.” For Eckhart the practice of letting go itself must eventually be let go, so that it is not taken as an end in itself.
As a way to help visualize what this means, Eckhart asks us to consider a tablet you would write on: “The tablet is never so suitable for me to write on as when there is nothing on it. Similarly, if God is to write the highest on my heart, then everything called ‘this and that’ must be expunged from my heart, and then my heart stands in detachment.... Therefore the object of a detached heart is neither this nor that.”
Such an emptied heart “desires nothing at all, nor has it anything it wants to get rid of. Therefore it is free of all prayers or its prayer consists of nothing but being uniform with God. That is all its prayer.... When the soul has got so far, it loses its name and is drawn into God, so that in itself it becomes nothing.... When the detachment reaches its climax, it becomes ignorant with knowing, loveless with loving, and dark with enlightenment. Thus we may understand the words of a master, that the poor in spirit are they who have abandoned all things to God, just as He possessed them when we did not exist. None can do this but a pure, detached heart.” Eckhart applies a passage from wisdom literature to God when he says: “This is God who ‘in all things I seek rest’ ” (Sirach 24:11). The Godself seeks rest in us, but we must offer a restful place for God to reside in.
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