You On Fire?
Mysticism in Modern Times
Rev. Alesia Matson, D.D.
According to a poll published in December 1999 by USA Today, 30% of
Americans say they consider themselves "spiritual but not religious."
45% say they rely on their own views, not religious teachings, to
decide how to conduct their lives. Though religious hierarchies express
concern that such beliefs "endanger immortal souls," these
Americans are exemplary of the movement of spiritual and religious
consciousness into the secular mainstream. Spearheading all such movements
are Mystics, those for whom the idea of God is not enough, for whom
the Reality of God is everything.
In its simplest sense, mysticism is a quest, the ultimate goal of
which is complete submersion in the Absolute Mystery; direct communion
with All That Is, the Divine Source—God, by any and all other
names. Mystics are those who pursue the Unitive Experience the way
a man whose hair is on fire pursues a bucket of water (the very definition
of single-pointed meditation!).
Mystics come from every religious tradition, without exception. Where
is found a Path to Heaven, Enlightenment, Nirvana, Mastery, there
also the mystics have already gone, blazing the trail ahead of mainstream
consciousness. Even more intriguing, mystics occur outside of religion
altogether—poets, athletes, artists, warriors, musicians and
scientists have their share of mystics, as do other pursuits which
require similar levels of discipline, endurance and focus.
In an era where personal development is chic, and self-help gurus
abound, it can be difficult to find a true mystic's signal amidst
the noise generated across the band. Mystics seldom wear signs or
labels declaring themselves as such; many don't even recognize themselves
as mystics. As with their forebears, modern mystics tend to guard
the details of their relationship with God quite closely, as the private
and intimate dynamic it is, rather than risk judgment and exile.
In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, cloistered mystics could close
themselves away from the world and its temptations. They were supported
by religious organizations, cared for by the other monastics, and
supported through the physical, psychological and emotional traumas
that occur in some stages of the Mystic Way. Their journeys toward
the Absolute were solitary, private quests, conducted in environments
where they were rarely understood, often feared. They brought back
from their direct communions with Deity messages that were poorly
received politically; messages that often put them at personal risk
within the very organizations meant to sustain and support them.
Today, the symptomology and stresses of the mystic way—voices,
visions, inexplicable actions, automatic writing—have been and
still are confused with mental psychosis rather than taken as signs
of a soul enrapt in its communion with the Divine. Despite this, modern
mystics survive and even thrive under the radically different demands
of today's society. "Mysticism has gone mainstream," says
noted author and medical intuitive, Dr. Carolyn Myss, in the audiobook
version of her best-selling work, Anatomy of the Spirit. Mysticism
has emerged from silence, mystery, and solitude to make inroads into
the collective consciousness as an eclectic path to enlightenment.
What differentiates that path from so many others available to seekers
today? How does one identify a mystic? What does that journey look
like? Mystics through the ages have left behind their writings, poetic
and detailed, describing the incredible heights and despairing depths
of the Way. From that body of collected literature, their descendants
have pieced together a composite portrait, or map, which serves as
a useful guide to anyone who suspects they may have strayed onto that
Active and Practical
First, the disciplines (and
they are disciplines, make no mistake) involved in mysticism are active
and practical. The Mystic Way to union with the Divine is a thing
that pervades one's entire life. It is a driving force, a seductive
desire; once one has tasted the sweet breath of the Beloved, nothing
is ever the same again.
Mysticism is a whole-life process for cloistered and uncloistered
mystics. Everything in their lives is rewritten under the higher and
more intense energies needed to co-exist with Divine consciousness.
Modern mystics juggle their fervent desire for enlightenment right
along with careers, families, children, relationships, mortgages,
traffic jams, and chest colds. A mystic quite practically uses that
list of distractions and others like them in an active systematic
way. They serve as reminders, challenges, and lessons on the path
to higher consciousness. Mysticism is not a thing about which they
hold an opinion. It is a holistic lifestyle, a way of approaching
every thought, every choice, every action.
Transcendent and Spiritual
That said, the second characteristic
of mysticism is its transcendent, spiritual nature. The ultimate goal
of a mystic has nothing to do with adding, subtracting, rearranging,
or improving anything in the physical world. Though she uses her life
in the world to teach or remind herself what it is to be fully conscious
of Divine Reality, she remains aware that her aims transcend her life
and existence. She cannot neglect her duty to the illusory "many,"
but her heart and mind remain ever fixed upon the changeless and ever-changing
This characteristic distinguishes mysticism from the occult. A mystic
knows the Divine by communion, a direct intuition of the Absolute.
He "has God," and needs nothing more. Though a mystic will
expend his personal energies profligately on behalf of his fellow
men, he neither needs nor craves "power" in the sense the
world has defined it. His ends are for the simple and profound state
of being with the Divine.
The third characteristic of
mysticism is also perhaps the most distinctive: The driving power
of mysticism is Love. It is the true business of the mystic; it is
the means and the end, the method and the manner which illuminates
him and his activities. This is Love in the truest, fullest sense
of that word. As Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941) described it in her
treatise "Mysticism," such Love is "the ultimate expression
of the self's most vital tendencies, not as the superficial affection
or emotion often dignified by this name.
Mystic Love is a total dedication of the will; the deep-seated desire
and tendency of the soul towards its Source."
The business of mysticism is all about Love, not power, glory, respect,
riches, admiration, mundane relationships, or material possessions.
Though the mystic may well experience any or all of those things,
they are ancillary to the mystic experience. They are not at root
Better Living Through
Evelyn Underhill once more
provides a clear, succinct analysis of this last distinguishable trait
of the Mystic Way: "The end and object of this `inward alchemy'
will be the raising of the whole self to the condition in which conscious
and permanent union with the absolute takes place; and man, ascending
to the summit of his manhood, enters into that greater life for which
he was made."
A mystic has beheld the Divine, and strives ever-after to be worthy
of communion with It. All negative moral judgments, all self-serving
acts, all self-deceptions, all lies, all facades, all vanity, pride,
egotism, greed, and doubt, to name but a few, must be cast off the
personality in the same way a liberated prisoner casts off his chains.
These are heroic acts which never make the headlines, and yet are
the necessary and eloquent product of the mystical journey. Wishing
does not make it so; there are no short-cuts. It is, truly and literally,
a labor of Love.
Into Whose Hands...?
In conclusion, mysticism in
its truest sense is not self-seeking. It is a "self-noughting,"
as Julian of Norwich once wrote. Those who enter into the quest for
mere self-satisfaction, the ecstasy of Divine Union, supernatural
powers, or an end to suffering are, according to St. John of the Cross,
"spiritual gluttons," though we may identify them now as
"occultists." The mystic enters the journey because he or
she finds that he or she must, and that there is no arguing with that
quiet, insistent call of the soul. It is discovered that there is
seeking without certainty of success, and that the passion of such
seeking defines the rest of one's life.
Rev. Matson is
co-founder of Church of the New Renaissance, a Home for Modern Mystics.
She is the author of Seven Steps to Higher Consciousness, A
Modern Mystic's Meditation. Her Doctorate of Divinity was granted
by the church for her work on modern mysticism. Her current work
includes spiritual counseling, lifepath mentoring, and teaching
classes on the many facets of mysticism. For more information, visit
the church website http://www.vetl.org
Visit the Christine Breese website to read articles on consciousness and awakening, visit University of Metaphysical Sciences Video Satsangs to see talks on spiritual subjects. Read articles on Wisdom of the Heart Church. Visit Starlight Journal for blogs, newsletter, and forums on spiritual subjects. Visit Christine Breese's Metaphysical Sciences youtube channel to view free video satsangs.