The Cloud of Unknowing can be seen as a western reciprocal to eastern meditation. Those in the west are searching their own tradition in the area of meditation. As research shows more and more the value prayer and meditation, more and more people will take advantage of mindfulness and meditation.
One area of similarity is the use of a single word, a simple phrase. A mantra is a tool to assist the mind in reaching its depth, the spirit. The tool, or the ‘tra’ in mantra is a repetitive sound. the ‘man’ or mind is doing the action. Here I want to point out that the goal in both eastern meditation and the goal seen in the Cloud of Unknowing is the desire for the self to participate with the spirit.
A substantial difference is the intent in repeating the word. In the western tradition the word chosen is not a ‘power word,’ but it can have a powerful effect. One common reduction of a common mantra is “Saa Taa Naa Maa,” birth, life, death, rebirth. Christianity, the belief at the heart of the western meditative tradition, as seen in the Cloud, also teaches about birth, life, death, rebirth, not as a cycle, but as one path for each soul.
Instead of a specific set of words, like ‘saa taa naa maa’ The Cloud recommends choosing a simple, single-syllable, personal word. As such, the word God is an option. Repeating God would not be the goal. The goal is to move past the point when you do anything, to the point where God is the only one acting. Anytime you are active (thinking), it is from your seat of power, the heart or the will. So when the mind wanders, the one meditating would say God. This would be to return the will, mind, heart toward God. You might have to say God a hundred times in ten min, depending on the activity of the mind, but the goal is not to say God at an interval or as many times as posible, but to gently redirect the mind toward God.
This is the power of a word. You can walk down the street and apply the word anytime you need to correct course. You can use the word to encourage yourself to act toward love or to direct the mind from any thought which takes us away from God.
Back to the idea of using a personal word in meditation.My mind wanders; I struggle not to loose my focus. When this happens in speaking or thinking, my word nudges my wandering mind back on track. For me the track is toward allowing God to overwhelm me, for God to be in charge. Yielding to God is the goal. Saying my word, as I walk through the world can be a permanent action, but in meditation, the goal is to hinder the mind from being the actor, whether through wandering or any other activity. This is the picture painted by the story of the charioteer in Plato’s Phaedrus. The mind. will, and heart are pulled by a pure noble steed and a steed which is ignoble. If the Charioteer masters and orders the horses toward the goal both natures eat ambrosia and drink nectar.
It is Christ who is the food and drink. This is contemplation. Meditation is when we are acting, saying a small word to redirect our wondering heart. Contemplation is God taking over.
Contemplation comes in short periods. These times when my will is set aside or overwhelmed are brief. Ten to thirty minutes a day would be a blessing. I have come to the conviction that ten minutes in this inactivity is enough to empower me through a day. The rest of the day would be active, the mind directing. The rest of the day would be the charioteer mastering the steads, the heart directing the body and soul.
A word can have a powerful effect. Why not pray that God send you a personal word?