Now observe how great the use is! For all the truth learned by all the masters by their own intellect and understanding, or ever to be learned till Doomsday, they never had the slightest inkling of this knowledge and this ground. Though it may be called a nescience, an unknowing, yet there is in it more than in all knowing and understanding without it, for this unknowing lures and attracts you from all understood things, and from yourself as well. This is what Christ meant when he said, "Whoever will not deny himself and will not leave his father and mother, and is not estranged from all these, is not worthy of me."—ME, The Complete Mystical Works, Sermon 1, page 36
I thought I'd comment on several misunderstandings I encounter again and again in those who undertake spiritual work.
To the last man or woman, almost everyone I meet who undertakes spiritual work is sincere and hopeful. Yet there are several powerful temptations that few escape; and the first of them is one that, I think, afflicts many of the best and the brightest.
Inner work is not an intellectual pursuit.
Now, this may sound like a contradiction, coming from one who spends as much time as they do using the intellect to define inner work; yet, to explain —intellect is an essential part of it.
The mistake occurs when one thinks that it is the entire center of gravity.
Smart people use their intelligence like a scalpel or a sword; in any sense, they cut things part with it, and are very nearly unable to get out of that part of themselves into any other part. Those who have a good part, a good intellect, cling to it very powerfully indeed. Some of the smartest people I know are brilliant in the prosecution of inner work; but they are prosecutors. The difficulty with expertise in prosecution is that one always ends up in litigation, with defendants and victims.
...Sound familiar? Read my friend Patty's book, Taming Your Inner Tyrant.
The root of inner work is ultimately in the body, in the sensation; and this kind of work will not necessarily appeal to the intellect, not at all, and, because it is incredibly demanding, it may even become unpleasant at times.
The organic sense of Being is obliged to engage in the destruction of much of what the intellect and the emotions think makes sense in order to manifest itself more wholly; and presiding over the destruction, the breaking down, of these two faculties is a very, very difficult task. Intellect and emotion will resist this with every kind of negativity imaginable; those who have never engaged in this process won't know what I am talking about, but those who have will know that there will be absolutely terrible trials. The inner events do not make sense to the intellect, not in the least — and that is where the arguments with God begin.
One can't intellectualize such events, because they involve collisions that are not subject to analysis and breakdown. The things that have to break down are the analysis and the breakdown; one has to engage fully with one's sensation and one's feeling, and understand them from a completely different point of view. A human being that wants to come to a new inner sense of themselves must first come to an inner sense of themselves in all the old ways, and none of those ways will be enjoyable.
In any event, having said this.
The intellect hijacks almost everything that takes place, and it is a haughty facility, given to dismiss others, dismiss what it sees as inferior, etc. If one is very lucky, in inner work, one may reach a moment where this faculty is actually shut down for a while; and then one sees how little it has to do with the actual action of Being. That is to say, intellect, as it is defined by Meister Eckhart, is a much higher property than the mechanical intelligence we use to engage in ordinary life. Yet it's the mechanical intelligence we used to engage in ordinary life that we use to encounter and evaluate spiritual work; ah, what a mistake. Only when true intellect arrives do we see the difference; and it always comes with a profound dose of humility.
One might say, that in inner work, smart people need to become stupid; and, yes, stupid people need to become smart. One must always compensate for one's excellence and nature by developing the opposite of one's excellence and, in a sense, the opposite of one's nature; one can't have balance unless one cultivates the opposite sides of one's Being, the one that are weak.
When one works in this way, there is strength in one's weakness.