Spiritual teacher and writer James Finley says inner growth comes from experiencing great suffering and great love. The anonymous author of the ancient text, The Cloud of Unknowing, adds to that, saying we must first pass through the cloud of forgetting—learning from and letting go of past hurts—to move into the cloud of unknowing—that place in our hearts where, having let go of our suffering, we allow ourselves to be protected and held by the unconditional love of the Divine.
Getting there isn’t easy. After completing two years of study at the Rohr Institute for Action and Contemplation, my wife and I planned to take an afternoon tram to the top of the Sandia Mountains near Albuquerque, New Mexico, and go hiking.
During my quiet time that morning before the hike, I stared at a gray bird feather I had found the day before. I turned it side to side. The hollow shaft with the tiny hairs protruding from it symbolized my past hurts—my frustration with the bishop who’d shut down the deacon program after I’d completed three years of studies; the loss of my father to cancer when I was sixteen; my egoic imperfections and self-doubt I wore like a chain around my heart.
It was time to let go of my past hurts. Time to quit nursing these wounds. Time for me to enter the cloud of forgetting, so I could move into the cloud of knowing God’s unconditional love. Time for me to forget so I could know.
I placed the feather in my pocket and carried it with me to the mountain. Standing at the top, gazing over the majestic rocks and lush valley far below, I knew this was the right place and time to set the feather—and my heart—free.
I raised my arms high, lifted the feather to the tips of my fingers, and let it go into an updraft of wind that soared my offering across a sun-blazed sky.
In that moment, my heart felt free. I no longer had to think about the pain I’d felt for years. It was gone. I had released it. I had entered the cloud of forgetting, invited by God to move into the cloud of unknowing—the heart-space beyond the mind’s understanding that allows us to be embraced by love.
Standing in the stillness of a whispering mountain wind, the word halleluiah rolled off my tongue. It was as if God had placed that word in my heart, and he and I were rejoicing as I became free like the feather that now soared across the cliffs.
Let yourself forget to know.
Practice: The words of Leonard Cohen’s song, “Halleluiah,” which was the “sending” song at the Rohr Institute, capture how we move from suffering into the experience of God’s unconditional loving embrace. Take a moment to click on this link and listen to the song. As you listen, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and let the words speak to your heart.
—brian j plachta