A fifth kind of thought arises from the fact that through the regular practice of contemplative prayer the dynamism of interior purification is set in motion. This dynamism is a kind of divine psychotherapy, organically designed for each of us, to empty out our unconscious and free us from the obstacles to the free flow of grace in our minds, emotions, and bodies.
Empirical evidence seems to be growing that the consequences of traumatic emotional experiences from earliest childhood are stored in our bodies and nervous systems in the form of tension, anxiety, and various defense mechanisms. Ordinary rest and sleep do not get rid of them. But in interior silence and the profound rest that this brings to the whole organism, these emotional blocks begin to soften up and the natural capacity of the human organism to throw off things that are harmful starts to evacuate them. The psyche as well as the body has its way of evacuating material that is harmful to its health. The emotional junk in our unconscious emerges during prayer in the form of thoughts that have a certain urgency, energy, and emotional charge to them. You don't usually know from what particular source or sources they are coming. There is ordinarily just a jumble of thoughts and a vague or acute sense of uneasiness. Simply putting up with them and not fighting them is the best way to release them.
As the deep peace flowing from contemplative prayer releases our emotional blocks, insights into the dark side of our personality emerge and multiply. We blissfully imagine that we do good to our families, friends, and business or professional associates for the best of reasons, but when this dynamism begins to operate in us, our so-called good intentions look like a pile of dirty dishrags. We perceive that we are not as generous as we had believed. This happens because the divine light is shining brighter in our hearts. Divine love, by its very nature, accuses us of our innate selfishness.
Suppose we were in a dimly lit room. The place might look fairly clean. But install a hundred bulbs of a thousand watts each, and put the whole room under a magnifying glass. The place would begin to crawl with all kind of strange and wonderful little creatures. It would be all you could do to stay there. So it is with our interior. When God turns up the voltage, our motivation begins to take on a wholly different character, and we reach out with great sincerity for the mercy of God and for His forgiveness. That is why trust in God is so important. Without trust we are likely to run away or say, "There must be some better way of going to God."
Self knowledge in the Christian ascetical tradition is insight into our hidden motivation, into emotional needs and demands that are percolating inside of us and influencing our thinking, feeling, and activity without our being fully aware of them. To give an example: When I was an abbot, which is a father image in a monastery, I was struck by the fact that some of the younger members of the community were unconsciously treating me as their real father I could see that they were working out emotional hassles with authority figures from their early childhood. They were not relating to me as me. When you withdraw from your ordinary flow of superficial thoughts on a regular daily basis, you get a sharper perspective on your motivation, and you begin to see that the value systems by which you have always lived have their roots in prerational attitudes that have never been honestly and fully confronted. We all have neurotic tendencies. When you practice contemplative prayer on a regular basis, your natural resources for psychic health begin to revive and you see the false value systems that are damaging your life. The emotional programs of early childhood that are buried in your unconscious begin to emerge into clear and stark awareness.
If in your psyche there are obstacles to opening yourself to God, divine love begins to show you what these are. If you let go of them, you will gradually unfold in the presence of God and enjoy His Presence. The inner dynamism of contemplative prayer leads naturally to the transformation of your whole personality Its purpose is not limited to your moral improvement. It brings about a change in your way of perceiving and responding to reality This process involves a structural change of consciousness.
As you experience the reassurance that comes from interior peace, you have more courage to face the dark side of your personality and to accept yourself as you are. Every human being has the incredible potential to become divine, but at the same time each of us has to contend with the historical evolution of our nature from lower forms of consciousness. There is a tendency in human nature to reach out for more life, more happiness, more of God; but there are also self-destructive tendencies that want to go back to the unconscious and instinctual behavior of the beasts. Even though we know that there is no happiness in such regression, that aspect of the human condition is always lurking within us. Archbishop Fulton Sheen used to say, "Barbarism is not behind us but beneath us." In other words, violence and the other instinctual drives remain as seeds that can develop, if unchecked, into all kinds of evil.
We have to come to grips with these tendencies in order for the fullness of grace to flow through us. Contemplative prayer fosters the healing of these wounds. In psychoanalysis the patient relives traumatic experiences of the past and in doing so, integrates them into a healthy pattern of life. If you are faithful to the daily practice of contemplative prayer, these psychic wounds will be healed without your being retraumatized. After you have been doing this prayer for some months, you will experience the emergence of certain forceful and emotionally charged thoughts. They don't normally reveal some traumatic experience in early life or some unresolved problem in your present life. They simply emerge as thoughts that arise with a certain force or that put you in a depressed mood for a few hours or days. Such thoughts are of great value from the perspective of human growth even though you may feel persecuted by them during the whole time of prayer.
When the unloading of the unconscious begins in earnest, many people feel that they are going backwards, that contemplative prayer is just impossible for them because all they experience when they start to pray is an unending flow of distractions. Actually, there are no distractions in contemplative prayer unless you really want to be distracted or if you get up and leave. Hence, it doesn't matter how many thoughts you have. Their number and nature have no effect whatever on the genuineness of your prayer If your prayer were on the level of thinking, thoughts that were extraneous to your reflections would indeed be distracting. But contemplative prayer is not on the level of thinking. It is consenting with your will to God's Presence in pure faith.
Emotionally charged thoughts are the chief way that the unconscious has of expelling chunks of emotional junk. In this way, without your perceiving it, a great many emotional conflicts that are hidden in your unconscious and affecting your decisions more than you realize are being resolved. As a consequence, over a period of time you will feel a greater sense of well-being and inner freedom. The very thoughts that you lament while in prayer are freeing the psyche from the damage that has accumulated in your nervous system over a lifetime. In this prayer both thoughts and silence have an important role to play.
To use a clumsy simile, in tenement houses where the garbage collection is unreliable, some tenants use the bathroom to store the garbage: If you want to take a bath, the first thing you have to do is empty out the junk. A similar procedure holds in this prayer When we commit ourselves to the spiritual journey, the first thing the Spirit does is start removing the emotional junk inside of us. He wishes to fill us completely and to transform our entire body-spirit organism into a flexible instrument of divine love. But as long as we have obstacles in us, some of which we are not even aware, he can't fill us to capacity In his love and zeal he begins to clean out the tub. One means by which he does this is by means of the passive purification initiated by the dynamic of contemplative prayer.
Centering prayer, insofar as it puts us at God's disposal, is a kind of request that He take our purification in hand. It takes courage to face up to the process of self knowledge, but it is the only way of getting in touch with our true identity and ultimately with our true Self. When you feel bored, restless, and that anything would be better than just sitting still and being battered by thoughts, stay there anyhow. It's like being out in the rain without an umbrella and getting drenched to the skin. There is no use groaning because you didn't bring your umbrella. The best approach is simply to be willing to be doused by the torrent of your thoughts. Say, "I am going to get wet," and enjoy the rain. Before you reflect on whether a particular period of prayer is going well, you are having a good period of prayer. After you reflect, it is not so good. If you are drenched with thoughts and can't do anything about it, acquiesce to the fact that that's the way it is for today. The less you wiggle and scream, the sooner the work can be done. Tomorrow or a few days from now will be better. The capacity to accept what comes down the stream of consciousness is an essential part of the discipline. Cultivate a neutral attitude toward the psychological content of your prayer. Then it won't bother you whether you have thoughts. Offer your powerlessness to God and wait peacefully in His Presence. All thoughts pass if you wait long enough.Another point that is worth remembering. During the unloading process sometimes you may want to figure out where a particular smile, itch, pain, or strong feeling is coming from in your psyche and to identify it with some earlier period in your life. That's useless. The nature of the unloading process is that it does not focus on any particular event. It loosens up all the rubbish, so to speak, and the psychological refuse comes up as a kind of compost. It's like throwing out the garbage. You don't separate the egg shells from the orange peels. You just throw the whole thing out. Nobody is asking you to look through it or try to evaluate it. You just throw everything out together in one big garbage bag.
It can also happen that external difficulties may arise in your life that have a direct connection with your spiritual growth. They are another way God uses to bring you to a deeper knowledge of yourself and to a greater compassion for your family, friends, and other people. I think I've been using the prayer words as a way of resisting thoughts. I'm not sure what it means to sink into a disturbing emotion without holding on to it.
One way to deal with intense restlessness, physical pain, or emotions, such as fear or anxiety, that arise at such times of unloading is to rest in the painful feeling for a minute or two and allow the pain itself to be your prayer word. In other words, one of the best ways of letting go of an emotion is simply to feel it. Painful emotions, even some physical pains, tend to disintegrate when fully accepted. Other manifestations of the unstressing experience may be an itch, tears, or laughter Some people have been known to have a fit of laughter in the middle of centering prayer. Perhaps there was a joke they heard long ago that they were unable to enjoy because of some defense mechanism, and they finally were humble enough or free enough to get the point. You may also find yourself dissolved in tears for no reason at all. An old grief that wasn't allowed expression at the proper time is at last being felt. Contemplative prayer has a way of completing everything unfinished in your life by allowing the emotions have an outlet in the form of moods or thoughts that seem but a jumble. This is the dynamic of purification. The intensity of feelings of fear, anxiety, or anger may have no relationship to your recent experience. Sitting through that kind of stuff is more useful than consoling experiences. The purpose of centering prayer is not to experience peace but to evacuate the unconscious obstacles to the permanent abiding state of union with God. Not contemplative prayer but the contemplative state is the purpose of our practice; not experiences, however exotic or reassuring, but the permanent and abiding awareness of God that comes through the mysterious restructuring of consciousness. At some point in your life, it could be in the middle of the night, on a subway, or in the midst of prayer, the necessary changes in the nervous system and psyche finally come to completion. That particular stage of the spiritual journey resolves itself, and you no longer have the problems that you had before. The restructuring of consciousness is the fruit of regular practice. That is why it makes no sense to aim at particular experiences. You can't even imagine a state of consciousness that you've never had before, so it is a waste of time and energy to anticipate it. The practice will eventually bring about the change of consciousness. The most significant happening at this stage of the journey is the calming of the affective system. You become free of emotional swings because the false self system on which they were based has at last been dismantled. The emotions then come through in their purity and are no longer upsetting. This is a marvelous release from inner turmoil.
When you feel restless, agitated, or pained by some emotional experience, you can't spend the time better than by waiting it out. The temptation is great when you are suffering from a distressing emotion to try to push it away. However, by allowing your attention to move gently toward the emotion and by sinking into it, as though you were getting into a nice jacuzzi, you are embracing God in the feeling. Don't think, just feel the emotion.
If you were blind and then got your sight back, even the ugliest things would be appreciated. Suppose you had no emotions and suddenly experienced one; even a disagreeable emotion would be thrilling. Actually, no emotion is really distressing; it is only the false self that interprets it as distressing. Emotional swings are gradually dissolved by the complete acceptance of them. To put this into practice, you must first recognize and identify the emotion: "Yes, I am angry, I am panicky, terrified, restless." Every feeling has some good. Since God is the ground of everything, we know that even the feeling of guilt, in a certain sense, is God. If you can embrace the painful feeling, whatever it is, as if it were God, you are uniting yourself with God, because anything that has reality has God as its foundation. "Letting go" is not a simple term; it is quite subtle and has important nuances-depending on what you are intending to let go of. When a thought is not disturbing, letting go means paying no attention to it. When a thought is disturbing, it won't go away so easily, so you have to let it go in some other way One way you can let it go is to sink into it and identify with it, out of love for God. This may not be possible at first, but try it and see what happens. The principal discipline of contemplative prayer is letting go.
To sum up what I have said on this fifth kind of thought, contemplative prayer is part of a reality that is bigger than itself. It is part of the whole process of integration, which requires opening to God at the level of the unconscious. This releases a dynamic that will be peaceful at times, and at other times heavily laden with thoughts and emotion. Both experiences are part of the same process of integration and healing. Each kind of experience, therefore, should be accepted with the same peace, gratitude, and confidence in God. Both are necessary to complete the process of transformation.
If you are suffering from a barrage of thoughts from the unconscious, you don't have to articulate the sacred word clearly in your imagination or keep repeating it in a frantic effort to stabilize your mind. You should think it as easily as you think any thought that comes to mind spontaneously. Do not resist any thought, do not hang on to any thought, do not react emotionally to any thought. This is the proper response to all five kinds of thoughts that come down the stream of consciousness.
When I came out of prayer, I found I had been crying, but I wasn't sad. I didn't perceive myself as being sad during any part of the meditation.
You might be consoled to know that Benedict of Nursia, the founder of Western monasticism, wept almost continuously. This was his characteristic response to the goodness of God. Similarly, there are times when we can't say anything, think anything, or feel anything. The only response is to dissolve in the presence of God's incredible goodness.
Tears may express joy as well as sorrow They may also indicate the release of a whole bundle of emotions that can't find expression in any other way. In prayer if tears come, treat them as a gift, a response to God's goodness, which is both painful and joyful at the same time. joy can be so great that it is painful.
It is good not to make too much of any experience or insight during prayer itself. Afterward you can reflect on it, but during prayer if you notice tears falling, lips smiling, eyes twitching; itches, and pains--treat them like any other thought and let them all go by. Gently return to the sacred word. This prayer is an apprenticeship in letting go of our dependency on thinking in order to know God in interior silence. The obstacles to getting there have to be unloaded in one way or another. Thoughts, moods, or feelings of depression that might last for several days are ways the Psyche has of evacuating the undigested emotional material of a lifetime. When these pass, your psychological insides will feel much better It's like being nauseated; it is disagreeable while your dinner is coming up, but afterwards you feel great.
Of course, if a physical pain lasts throughout the whole period of prayer, you may actually have some pathology and need to see a doctor. But often it is just an emotional knot rooted in your physiology that is unwinding, and it takes the form of a brief pain, tears, or laughter I know people who were overcome by laughter in their prayer, I guess they hit something in the unconscious they never thought was funny before and finally got the joke. Through the deepening of one's trust in God, one is able to acknowledge the dark places in one's personality according to one's own natural rhythm. A good therapist will not bring up painful insights until he or she sees that the patient is ready to face them. God is the same way. As humility and trust deepen, you can acknowledge the dark side of your personality more easily. Eventually you will reach the center of your human poverty and powerlessness and feel happy to be there. Then you enter into the freedom of God's creative action because there is no longer any selfish or possessive attitude toward your personality or talents. You are completely at God's disposal. Interior freedom is the goal of this prayer Not freedom to do what you like, but freedom to do what God likes--freedom to be your true Self and to be transformed in Christ.
There seems to be a dimension in the prayer of quiet that is healing. At least that is my experience. Some people do not have too much to heal. But if there are big scars, the prayer of quiet seems to be a very soothing ointment for these wounds.
Yes, that is one important effect. John of the Cross taught that interior silence is the place where the Spirit secretly anoints the soul and heals our deepest wounds. Does the healing extend to the body as well as the soul?
Illnesses that are largely psychosomatic can certainly be healed by bringing peace to ones emotional life. I was thinking that God has a way of concealing His work in us from our own eyes, leaving us with something like St. Paul's thorn of the flesh, to keep us humble.
Contemplative prayer doesn't establish people in glory, that's for sure, but it helps them to bear infirmities such as you mentioned. If certain types of people have too much success in their prayer, they may need a little tug to bring them down to earth once in a while.
The method of centering prayer is only an entrance into contemplative prayer. As one's experience of the latter develops, it becomes more difficult to speak about because it doesn't enter into the ordinary experience of the psychic life as such. Imagine the rays of the sun in a pool of water. The sun's rays are united to the water, yet at the same time they are quite distinct from it. They are coming from a different place. Similarly, one's experience of God in contemplative prayer is not easy to make distinctions about. The less you can say about it, the more likely it is present. It is in all and through all. And so it kind of falls out of sight.
The beginning of anything is always striking, but as you get used to it or when it becomes a part of you, you begin to take it for granted. It no longer stirs up the emotional dust that it did when it was a new experience. The same thing happens at the beginning of the spiritual journey. For some people, contemplative prayer can be very mysterious indeed. They themselves can't say anything about what they experience except that it is real for them. The kind of infirmities that you mention, which are obvious both to them and to others, are a wonderful means of hiding them from themselves as well as from others. God loves to hide the holiness of His friends, especially from themselves. As people grow in the prayer life, do they still experience an alternation of thoughts and contemplative moments?
As the unconscious empties out, the fruits of an integrated human nature and the resulting free flow of grace will manifest themselves by a significant change of attitude. The union that one discovers in contemplative prayer will not be reserved to that time. Moments of silence will overtake you in the course of daily life. Reality will tend to become more transparent. Its divine Source will shine through it.
When everything in the unconscious is emptied out, the kinds of thoughts that were passing by in the beginning will no longer exist. There is an end to the process of purification. Then the awareness of union with God will be continuous because there will be no obstacle in our conscious or unconscious life to interfere with it. There is nothing wrong with reality. The problem is with us, who cannot relate to it properly because of the obstacles in us. When all the obstacles are emptied out, the light of God's presence will illumine our spirit all the time, even when we are immersed in activity. Instead of being overwhelmed by externals, the true Self, now in union with God, will dominate them.
Part 3Perhaps the first stage in the development of contemplative prayer is the awareness of our independence from our ordinary psychological world. In other words, we are aware that we are not just our body and that we are not just our thoughts and feelings. We are no longer so identified with external objects that we can think of nothing else. We are becoming aware of our spiritual nature. Our spirit is the dwelling place of the Trinity. That realization remains part of every other reality and is no longer over whelmed, even in the midst of great activity, by circumstances, external objects or our emotions and thoughts.
But the experience of independence and distancing from the rest of reality is not an absolute independence. It is only the affirmation of our true Self. Another awareness follows as a further development. As the unconscious is emptied out, the awareness of the deepest level in us is also an awareness of the deepest level in everyone else. This is the basis for the commandment to love ones neighbor as oneself. When you truly love your self, you become aware that your true Self is Christ expressing himself in you, and the further awareness that everybody else enjoys this potential too. Augustine had a phrase for it: "One Christ loving himself." That is a good description of a mature Christian community You are aware that a power greater than you is doing everything.
Then everything begins to reflect not only its own beauty but also the beauty of its Source. One becomes united to everything else in which God dwells. The insight into Christ dwelling in every other person enables one to express charity toward others with greater spontaneity. Instead of seeing only someone's personality, race, nationality, gender, status, or characteristics (which you like or do not like), you see what is deepest--ones union or potential union with Christ. You also perceive everyone's desperate need of help. The transcendent potential of most people is still waiting to be realized, and this awakens a great sense of compassion. This Christ-centered love takes us out of ourselves and brings our newly found sense of independence into relationships that are not based on dependency, as many relationships tend to be, but that are based on Christ as their center. It enables one to work, for others with great liberty of spirit because one is no longer seeking ones own ego-centered goals but responding to reality as it is.
Divine love is not an attitude that one puts on like a cloak. It is rather the right way to respond to reality. It is the right relationship to being, including our own being. And that relationship is primarily one of receiving. No one has any degree of divine love except what one has received. An important part of the response to divine love, once it has been received, is to pass it on to our neighbor in a way that is appropriate in the present moment.
Is the purpose of this prayer to keep you in a state of union with God throughout the day?
Yes, but in the beginning it is not likely to be continuous. Later on, as prayer develops, a closer union in daily life becomes more evident. One can also be in union with God without any form of recollection that affects the senses. This is what I mean by preparing the body for higher states of consciousness. Physical ecstasy is access of the body. When the senses, are not ready to endure the intensity of God's communications, they just give way and one is rapt out of the body. Mature mystics who have passed through that stage rarely have bodily ecstasies. They have integrated spiritual communications with their physical nature and the body is now strong enough to receive them without the former inconveniences. Living the divine life becomes like living ordinary human life. If you are familiar with the Ten Ox Pictures of Zen, the last one represents the return to ordinary life after full enlightenment. It symbolizes the fact that there is no way to distinguish the life with which you started from what it has become, except that it is totally transformed in its ordinariness.
The triumph of grace enables people to live their ordinary lives divinely. First come moments of recollection that are absorbing. After these have been thoroughly integrated, the same graces are given without one's being absorbed by them. One is completely free for one's ordinary daily activities with the same degree (or greater) of union with God that one had before. Continuous prayer in the fullest sense of the term is present when the motivation of all our actions is coming from the Spirit. Short of that state, we have to use methods to unite us to God.
There is a difference between being and doing. Once one's being is transformed into Christ, all ones doing becomes anointed with the interior transformation of one's being. I suppose this is the mystery of Mother Teresa's great charm. She fascinates people. Cameras follow her not because she is physically beautiful, but because she is radiating the mysterious attractiveness of God. I'm sure she is not trying to do so, but because she is so, it happens. This is the kind of transformation contemplative prayer tends to produce. It is easy to bog down at lower levels of spiritual development. The challenge always comes to go farther, and if we accept, we are off to the races again.
No one ever grew as much in the spiritual life as the Blessed Virgin Mary because there was no interior obstacle to hinder her growth. Growing in grace for her meant growing in the midst of the human condition with its interminable trials. She had, in fact, the heaviest kinds of trials. The transforming union should enable one to handle greater trials than those of less evolved Christians. What's the use of building this magnificent spiritual building unless you do something with it? I am sure God doesn't intend merely to look at these people who are so holy. He wants them to do something. If He liberated them from their false selves, it was precisely for some great purpose.
Suppose one has reached inner resurrection, transforming union, and no longer experiences the turmoil of ones emotions because they have all been transmuted into virtues. Christ is living in such persons in a remarkable way, and they are aware of their permanent union with Him. Suppose God should then ask them to give up that state of enlightenment and to go back to the kind of trials, or worse, they they endured before. Their union with God would remain, but it would be completely hidden from them on the psychic level. This is one form of vicarious suffering. The transforming union is not a free ticket to happiness in this world. For some, this may mean a life of complete solitude full of loneliness; for others, it may mean an active apostolate that prevents them from enjoying the delights of divine union; for others again, it may mean intense suffering-physical, mental or spiritual--which they undergo for some special intention or for the whole human family Their transformed humanity makes their sufferings of immense value for the same reason that Jesus, because of his divine dignity, became the Savior of every human being, past, present, and future.
Therese of Lisieux during her last illness could no longer think of heaven, although up until then it had been her greatest joy. Yet she had clearly reached transforming union, attested to by the piercing of her heart. As she herself was dimly aware, she was passing through another dark night for the unbelievers of her time. She lived at the crest of the rationalistic age when the arrogance of the human intellect was probably at its height.
Thus the greatest trials of the spiritual journey may occur after the transforming union. They would not take away the union, but the union would be so pure that, like a ray of light passing through a perfect vacuum, it would not be perceived. This would be a most profound way of imitating the Son of God, who gave up being God, as Paul said, in order to take upon himself the consequences of the human condition. Jesus relinquished the privileges of his unique union with the Father in over to experience our weakness and to make our sufferings his own. That sacrifice could only be imitated by one who has achieved divine union and who then, at God's request or insistence, gives back to God all the normal enjoyment of that state to be immersed once again in unbearable trials. This is evident in the lives of a number of mystics and saints. And I dare say God isn't going to change His way of doing things.
Life, once one is in union with God, is what God wants it to be. It is full of surprises. You can be sure that whatever you expect to happen will not happen. That is the only thing of which you can be certain in the spiritual journey. It is by giving up all your expectations that you will be led to Medicine Lake, the Native American's term for contemplative prayer. The medicine that everyone needs is contemplation, which alone leads to transformation.
Contemplative prayer will go through various stages and vicissitudes. You may have experiences that will leave you in confusion. The Lord will bring help to you through a book, a person, or your own patience. Sometimes it is God's will to leave you alone without any help. You may have to learn to live with impossible situations. People who can live peacefully in impossible situations will make great headway in the spiritual journey. You will come up against loneliness and existential dread. You may feel as if nobody in the world understands you or could help you and that God is a billion light-years away. All these things are part of the preparation process. God is like a farmer preparing the soil of our soul to bear not just fortyfold or sixtyfold, but a hundredfold. That means that the soil has to be well tilled. It is as if God drives His tractor over the field of our soul and harrows it in one direction, then in the opposite direction, and then He goes around in a circle. He keeps doing the same thing again and again until the soil becomes as fine as sand. When all is ready, the seed is sown.
Or take the image of a growing tree. At first you see the trunk and the branches. Later come the leaves. This makes the tree beautiful, the stage of growth that might be compared to the enjoyment that comes when you first learn how to enter into interior silence. After the leaves come the flowers, another moment of intense satisfaction. But they quickly die and fall to the ground. The fruit comes only at the end of the season, and even then it takes a while for it to ripen on the tree. So don't think when the leaves appear and the flowers come, that this is the end of the journey. The spiritual Journey is a long trip.
Moreover, your experience will seem to recycle and you'll feet that you are back to where you started and haven't made any progress at all. Recycling is like climbing a spiral staircase. You seem to be returning to the point from which you started, but in actual fact you are at a higher level. An eagle rising toward the sun keeps returning to the same place on the horizontal plane, but to a higher place on the vertical plane.
The inflowing of the divine light into our souls is a ray of darkness according to John of the Cross. We see light in a dark room is because of the dust that is there. If there were no dust, the ray of light would go right through the room without being observed. This is a symbol of the full development of contemplative prayer, which is so pure that it is not perceptible to the one receiving it. It is manifest, however, in the progressive transformation of the person. Such a person manifests God more than any sacrament.
Is this not the meaning of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception? We are invited to become what Our Lady was from the beginning, a pure transmission of God's presence and action. Contemplative prayer is the school through which we pass to come to the contemplative state, the means God normally uses to bring people to an abiding state of union. Once in that state they may not have much awareness of God's inflowing graces, but the Holy Spirit is the inspiration or motivation of all they do.