Developing ‘Soft Eyes’: Apophatic ‘Day-Dreaming’

20170818 DEVELOPING SOFT EYES APOPHATIC DAYDREAMINGYesterday we looked at kataphatic ‘day-dreaming’ as one way of thinking in a visual and imaginative way, that is vital if we are to rekindle that childhood and deep perception of the world around us.

Then, with the ‘soft eyes’ of exploring mystery, rather than only with the use the analytical eyes of modernity we can regain that way of ‘seeing’ the ‘magic’ that exists and appreciate all that is around us. We can look at things more deeply, rather than at surface level.

In that previous article I mentioned an Anishinabe (First Nations) man from Canada wrote:

‘When most humans go into the forest they enter with so much of the world on them that any possibility of feeling the sacred is removed. When we go into the forest we must become soft like the animal people and the tree people’.

Today, I’d like to introduce apophatic ‘day-dreaming’. If kataphatic (see here) ‘day-dreaming’ is the using of mental ‘pictures’ and the imagination to grow, mature and be transformed, then apophatic ‘day-dreaming’ could be viewed as being the opposite.

As I extinguish the candle on the garden table, and losing the small but significant light, I’m plunged into darkness. I can’t see anything for a while, and it’s a wonderful feeling. And then as my eyes get used to the dark, I begin to make out shapes, and realise that I can see a few things, after all. This is very much like apophatic day-dreaming.

Now some may call it apophatic meditation, but for this article I’d like to call it apophatic day-dreaming because we all ‘day-dream’. Some are fearful of exercises which seek to empty the mind of thoughts, but I’d like to suggest that what apophatic day-dreaming really does is encourage us to disregard those annoying and extraneous thoughts that ‘flutter’ into our minds all the time. It’s a ‘down-playing’ of thoughts that get in the way. And, many churches and faith-groups are finding apophatic ‘day-dreaming’ useful, though they may call it centering prayer.

‘Another way to think about Centering Prayer is training the mind to become free from distractions so it can “rest in God.’ Amos Smith

It’s rather like, when I’m at the north Wales coast, and sit on the beach, and gaze at the horizon where the sea seems to meet the sky. I’m sure you’ve done similar. You can gaze away for what seems like a few minutes and yet half an hour or more has gone by. Call it lost in thought, focussed attention, or being ‘mesmerised’, but I’d like to suggest this is apophatic day-dreaming.

And, as you gaze at the horizon, maybe a dog  runs across the beach between you and the water’s edge. You may be mildly aware of the dog but you pay no attention to it. That’s apophatic day-dreaming. However, it you ‘focus’ on the dog, metaphorically, and think about it, then you’ve lost that wonderful ‘horizon-gaze’, and the moment has gone and ‘you’re back’, and you’re out of apophatic ‘day-dreaming’.

Now apophatic day-dreaming has a vast number of uses, and there are many exercises to assist us develop skills to assist us.

For instance, if you wanted to dwell on the Source of All, Nature or God, then what do you think of? I’d suggest that not concentrating on what the Source, Nature or God looks like – to take the apophatic approach – is one good way forward. After all, whatever image we have in our minds about the Source, Nature or God is going to be wrong. By definition, how can the finite mind imagine the infinite? And so, not dwelling on imaginative and extraneous thought can draw us closer. And, before you know it, that Time of Quiet, which you thought lasted only a few minutes, had infact lasted half an hour – a sure sign that you achieved apophatic day-dreaming.

This is in contrast to yesterday’s way of ‘day-dreaming’ and isn’t contrary to it – it’s another useful ‘tool’ for us to use.

With our eyes closed, and distractions abated, apophatic ‘day-dreaming’ brings us ‘closer’ to Source of All, Nature or God. Ofcourse, locationally we’re no closer or further away, but in our awareness we have drawn ‘closer’. This type of day-dreaming isn’t about doing, it’s about ‘being’. It isn’t about visualising anything, but not dwelling on thought(s). It’s not about recieving a ‘picture’, message or guidance, but revelling in that inner silence and stillness, in that inner place that some call le point vierge (the virgin point).

‘It’s very, very simple. You sit, either in a chair or on a prayer stool or mat, and allow your heart to open toward that invisible but always present Origin of all that exists.’ Cynthia Bourgeault

It’s being in a ‘place’ where effort isn’t needed. There is a point in any new human relationship where there is an sharing of views, a time of vocalisation to get to know someone – laughing, joking, teasing etc – and then there comes a point when you know each other sufficiently so that words aren’t need. Your’e madly in love and words just seem cumbersome. They’re now not needed in the courtship, and you’re comfortable with silence and each others company.

Apophatic ‘day-dreaming’ is very much like that. As you enter that area where the Source of All, Nature or God is, as the Beloved draws closer to you all you can do, all you need do is rest, relax, surrender, and bask in each others company. Words are not needed.

Time will fly, and what seemed to be a few minutes might be half an hour or more. Any analytical thinking (such as ‘Am I achieving apophatic day-dreaming, yet?’) will actually ‘pull you out’ of that wonderful liminal space-time. And so it’s usually afterwards as you leave sacred space-time that you realise, in hindsight, that you have had an encounter. Or, maybe you don’t feel that afterwards. Nevertheless, you are more than ‘feelings’ and the fact that you entered that liminal space with the intention of apophatic ‘day-dreaming’ means you have, indeed, encountered.

‘The mystery of seeking God is that God is the One who finds you.’ Kingsley Opuwari Manuel

This is one small aspect of apophatic ‘day-dreaming’, and something we’ll come back to from time to time, perhaps with the addition of local and online workshops soon.

Meanwhile, I would highly recommend that you put yourself in a position to make time for apophatic ‘day-dreaming’. A deep encounter with the Source of All, Nature, God or the Beloved in that place of inner stillness is beneficial. Through such encounters we can grow, mature, and are changed, transformed. Through such practises we can (re)develop ‘soft eyes’ to see beyond seeing and rekindle that childlike trust, innocence of the world around us, and original perception.

 

8 thoughts on “Developing ‘Soft Eyes’: Apophatic ‘Day-Dreaming’

  1. Sometimes I wish I could see the sea and sky meld into one; or stand on a mountain top with God; but no all live in these areas. I do believe that day-dreaming is not confined to only some areas. ‘soft eyes’ touch me to see in poor areas; areas where God is only mentioned in cussing; or awaken to the thing needed that I can supply

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  2. Pingback: Developing ‘Soft Feet’: A Celtic Lifestyle/Perspective | Tadhg Talks…

  3. Thank you for this.
    Your description of Centering Prayer is the most helpful for me.
    Nothing against the saint of a man Thomas Keating.
    It’s just that I got too hung up on the “prayer word”. I never could figure out how to let go of it without that becoming a thought so instead I just didn’t use it. When I realised I was being distracted I just got back to the” here and now “.
    So when I see that you make no mention of it , I found that encouraging.
    Thank you.
    Petet Byl

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    • Thank you for taking the time to read the article and commenting. Yes, the ‘prayer word’ to get us back to ‘le point vierge’ is a useful tool for some, that can be ‘jettisoned’ when ‘there’. But, it is only a tool, and if any don’t find it useful then I wouldn’t use it. Also, I think after a while and when more mature it might even be hindrance. Thanks for your comment. Please stay in touch. Blessings to you and yours, Tadhg.

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