Exploring Silence IV
While self-knowledge in the ancient and medieval worlds includes a moral inventory, it is even more a matter of learning both how to understand the process and to receive the gifts of the mind working in silence. (Cloud, ch. 67; 66/31-34) It is only by accessing the silence and allowing it to do its work that human beings can come to the 'kynde knowyng' that Langland's Will so greatly desired, and which Holy Church so signally failed to teach him. It is only by learning to drawing one's life from this kynde knowyng that the outward forms of living change, not the other way around (Cloud ch. 61; 63/11-13). This process cannot be taught in the way that chemistry can be taught. The teacher of the work of silence can only point the way; each person has to experiment—or 'prove' it, as the Cloud-author would say, for him or her self.
For this reason it is possible to say that each of the authors who writes about this dynamic could have done so without reference to any of the others (Cloud ch. 70; 70/9-15). In that case the texts would have been far different to what we know—but we need to be aware that there is not always a textual trail to be followed, nor is the knowledge contained in them necessarily inherited. But in fact these authors do not write in a vacuum, not only because they are educated people writing in a context of community and communion, but also because they are keen to cite any authority that will give their work credibility. To those unfamiliar with it, the work seems incredible; it is counter-intuitive, and it is threatening to certain kinds of institutional leadership (I Cor. 1:23). In addition, the nature of the work makes it very difficult to find language to express this dynamic. This poverty of language cuts several ways: it means that writers do borrow from one another, but it also means that similar phrases occur in authors who may have no connection at all. It also gives rise to extravagant allegory and metaphor.
For readers of these texts who are unaware of the work of silence, language that describes the details of the process may be misinterpreted as expressing philosophy or metaphysics. Conversely, a description of what a particular phase of the process feels like may be mistaken for a theological, doctrinal or spiritual declaration.
 Georges Duby and Philippe Braunstein, 'The Emergence of the Individual' in A History of Private Life, vol. II, Revelations of the Medieval World, ed. Georges Duby, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (Cambridge, Mass. and London: Belknap Press, 1988), 624. [Given the medieval attitude towards women, it is tempting to translate ydiota as idiots; etiamsi sit muliercula vel ydiota seems deceptively and patronisingly translated by Duby and Braunstein as 'the humblest of believers, the simplest of spirits' ('. . . lorsqe le fidèle le plus humble, l'esprit le plus simple').] The entire sentence reads: Ex quo alteram concludimus differentiam quoniam theologia mystica licet sit suprema atque perfectissima notita, ipsa tamen potest hubri a quolibet fideli, etiam si sit muliercula vel idiota. De Mystica Theologia IV.30, Gerson, Oeuvres complètes, Introduction, texte et notes par Mgr [Palémon] Glorieux (Paris, 1960), vol. 3, p. 276.
 'Langland's "Kynde Knowyng" and the Quest for Christ' by Britton J. Harwood, Modern Philology, Vol. 80, No. 3 (Feb. 1983), pp. 242-255. As Julian says in chapter 69, 'And the beholding of this while we arn here, it is full plesant to God and full gret spede to us. And the soule that thus beholdyth it makith it like to him that is beholdyn, and onyth it in reset and peas be his grace'. By the time of Piers Plowman, the institution had nearly lost the ability to teach 'kynde knowing', if indeed it remembered what it was.
 In his little-known treatise for nuns, De perfectione vitae ad sorores Bonaventure he says, if you do not understand your worth as one who shares God's divinity, then your relationships with yourself and the world around you will be troubled. He states the difference between the positive effects of the self-respect gained through contemplation and the destructive ones of narcissistic self-esteem, although of course this is not the language that he uses. In this treatise for women his idea of capax dei, or capacity for God, is not that we are mere passive receptacles, but includes an active dynamic of—paradoxically—our being drawn by God's outpouring.
 Buddhist meditation is taught this way to this day. So are modern 'secular' versions as this one from The Guardian: www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/gallery/2011/jan/22/how-to-meditate-ten-steps-headspace. However, for the Cloud-author and similar writers, meditation is only a first and minor step in a process that shifts the centre of consciousness from the conceptual mind to the wellspring of silence.