A DEFINITION OF MYSTICISM
Mysticism has several generally agreed upon elements, as summarized by Woodhouse (216) and ( 89-93). The mystical experience is one of:
(1) Undifferentiated unity (a sense of self merging with the infinite, eternal, godhead, or god as it may be variously viewed.)
Furthermore, it is generally agreed upon that the mystical experience, and the above characteristics associated with it, occur similarly across time, space and culture. To those chosen, or disciplined, or lucky, few, the mystical experience is received in very similar ways and experienced in similar ways, whether one is Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish or Christian, and whether one lived before Christ or today, although the interpretations and nomenclature assigned to the experience might vary slightly according to cultural tradition. Finally, most critics agree that mysticism, because it transcends time and space, is not the equivalent of either paranormal phenomena such as ghosts and telepathy and telekinesis, nor is it the same as other religious experience, such as miracles, visions, or voices of God, the angels, or saints. (Other religions refer to "God" as the infinite, the one, Brahman, Nirvana, Krishna, etc. In this paper, I shall use the Judeo-Christian word, God, for this concept/person.)
(1) emphasis on the necessity for readiness/preparation of the soul,
THE SPIRITUAL BETROTHAL AND THE SPIRITUAL MARRIAGE
When referring to the mystical experience, St. Teresa of Avila and Ruysbroeck both use the metaphor of the soul's spiritual betrothal and spiritual marriage to God. This is an apt one. (And perhaps also, it is a way of reconciling the duality of Christian world view with the belief in "the One" at the core of all being.) A marriage requires preparation; it usually takes at least months and often years to enter into, from first meeting to the vows, consummation, and years of love together. A marriage requires sacrifice; two people must "forsake all others" and exhibit selflessness for the other in order to create one life together. A marriage produces love and service for others; for example, it produces children. And, ultimately and most importantly, a marriage is defined as a union of two souls who become one. This union is the core of the nature of a marriage; all else results from it. The feelings of love and romance that accompany the marriage union, while pleasant, do not define it and are merely a side effect; just as the ecstasy of the mystical experience is not the definition of the soul's mystical union with God.
NECESSITY FOR READINESS AND PREPARATION OF THE SOUL
Eckhart writes, "It is up to him to show himself to you or not, according as he knows you are ready for him…" (Stace 151). One cannot simply plunge into a mystical experience unprepared. This point is similar to point 2, for the suffering of the denial of senses and ego is the way of making ready for God's presence. The important thing to remember here is that the mystical union is rarely attained through shortcuts or a few simple meditative techniques. It is slowly worked towards, often over years at a time, often preceded with meditation that is of the mind, or perhaps sparked through images, which while desirable at one point, are later eschewed for the ultimate union, which must be devoid of thoughts or images. Ruysbroeck says that before one can unite with God, one must: (1) empty himself (2) "inwardly cleave to God" with a "burning glowing fire [of love that] can never more be quenched" and (3) "have lost himself in Waylessness and in a Darkness…in which the loving spirit has died to itself" (Stace 164). We see here in Ruysbroeck's second step the imperative quality of the love of God that is discussed in the last point. St. John of the Cross identifies readiness as being: (1) no longer able to mediate "discursively" (2) no longer desiring to think of sense-intellectual objects in meditation (3) and when "the soul delights in being alone, its loving attention fixed upon God in inward peace, quietude and rest" (Stace 192). He says the mystic must "learn" to live in God (Stace 192). He discusses, too, the "secret ladder" (Stace 197), implying that ultimately mystical union with God is a process of growth and preparation - one must climb the ladder, not jump to the top step of the ladder.
DENIAL OF SENSES AND SELF: SUFFERING
St. John of the Cross calls this suffering the "dark night of the soul." Eckhart refers to this as the "barren desert." Dionysius the Areopagite called this the "via negativa" or the "divine gloom." He explains, "For, by the unceasing and absolute renunciation of thyself and all things, though shalt in pureness cast all things aside, and be released from all, and so shalt be led upwards…" (Stace 135). For all the Christian mystics, as well as other mystics, emptiness of soul and renunciation of self is necessary to receive God. Not only senses and thoughts must be spurned, but also "divine enlightenment and voices and heavenly utterances" (136), in order to completely empty the soul.
LOVE AND SERVICE TO OTHERS IS PRIMARY
The Christian mystics especially emphasize that it is the fruit of the experience- love and service to others - that must take precedence over the experience of the ecstatic bliss of oneness with God itself (Stace 131-132). Why? Because there is reward in the experience (ecstasy, and sometimes, pride in the ecstasy), which can be food for the selfish ego, that is not found in simple, tedious, laborious tasks of service, such as mopping floors and feeding the poor. Eckhart explains: "St. Thomas [Aquinas] says that the active life [of good deeds] is better than the contemplative, for in it one pours out the love he has received in contemplation" (Stace 152). This love is characterized, not by emotional effusiveness and bliss, but rather by quiet dignity, exhibiting a selfless servitude and sobriety. "Eckhart tells us that if a man were in a mystical ecstasy and knew of a poor man who needed his help, he should leave his ecstasy in order to go and serve the poor man" (Stace 26). If he merely enjoys his mystical state without service to others, he is guilty of "spiritual gluttony," according to St. John of the Cross (Stace 26). If the mystic has truly given his soul to God, then the most rewarding activity in which he can partake is service to others that arises from his overwhelming love for them. The mystical consciousness produces love not just of God, but of others, because it clarifies that we are all one.
UNION/ RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD IS PRIMARY
Finally, and most important, the mystic's emphasis is on his Beloved, and his love of and union with the Beloved, not the by-product of that love (the feelings or experience). As soon as the emphasis is removed from the union itself, the uniting with God, and the relationship of awe and reverence and love of God, and once it is placed on the attainment of ecstasy itself, then the focus is on the self, the self's gain through the experience, and the experience becomes a selfish one rather than a selfless, spiritual one. Dr. Timothy Leary writes of the experiential "kick" or ecstasy produced by LSD as equal to the Catholic host, which also gives the same "kick" ( 87). In saying this, he equates the two because of their "kick", that is, ostensibly because of its "flirtation - confrontation - with God" (87), but his tone and emphasis on the LSD experience is more on the wonderful feelings and the ecstatic experience produced and far less on the awe and reverence and love of God found so often in traditional mystic literature. It is as though God has become a tool or instrument to create the experience (thus becoming subordinate to the experience), rather than the self/ego becoming subordinate to God (or the One) where the experience is, as it should be, a mere byproduct. The experience and the feelings should be a side effect, not the goal. The ecstatic experience, if focused on, is an addition to and inflation of the ego. Zen master Harada Roshi writes, "An ancient Zen saying has it that to become attached to one's own enlightenment is as much a sickness as to exhibit a maddeningly active ego" ( 98). The joy and bliss and wonder of, the enlightenment and knowledge gained from, the mystical experience are not wrong in and of themselves; they are beautiful and useful in helping the mystic find his way to true union - in helping the soul find its way home. But they become selfish when placed first. God only and the union with God (which is found through ultimate humility and emptiness of the soul) are first.
_____________________ . "Mysticism and LSD." _______________________.
pp. 66 - 111.
Stace, W. T. The Teachings of the Mystics. ___________________________, 1960.
Woodhouse, Mark B. Paradigm Wars: Worldviews for a New Age. Berkeley: Frog, Ltd.,
Copyright(c) 2002 by Karey Perkins / E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org