“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness… This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud… But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”
This was Thomas Merton’s accounting of a mystical experience he had in 1958. Quite the experience, right? And quite the realization that accompanied that experience!
But mystical experiences do not need to be this intense to cause a shift in our awareness. In fact, they can range anywhere on a wide spectrum of, at one end, the real intense, cosmic-consciousness kinds of experience, and on the other end, the more subtle experiences. More often than not, mystical experiences are much more subtle, and sometimes go unmarked. Let’s call these subtler ones “opening our mystic-heart.”
You might have a mystic-heart experience in those moments where, say…you and a loved one share a deep connection…a true “heart-moment” and you lose track of time and place. Or, in a moment you are looking at the sky – the sunset maybe, or just clouds moving across the sky and you are in a state of awe…again losing a sense of location and time. Those moments become transcendent. It could also happen in those moments where you drift off and catch just a glimpse of another dimension…or some insight comes to you directly from Source, and you suddenly have a strong realization about something. Those are all mystic-heart experiences, and what we’re really experiencing in those moments is our natural state…the Divine beings that we are. It’s this “being human” thing that fools us into thinking that we are locked in the limitations of time and space and that we are just a physical body. This is not our natural state. We’re just here for awhile expressing in this human dimension….and hopefully bringing our love and sharing our gifts with the world. That’s really what we’re all here for, right?
Wayne Teasdall, explains what mysticism is in his book, The Mystic Heart: “Mystical wisdom enlarges our understanding and gives us access to the experience of ultimate reality – to the principles governing existence. Mysticism grants us a picture of the totality; it is the most precious wisdom we have.”
We want to cultivate these mystic moments and encourage them, because with each mystic-heart opening, our vibration is lifted and we’re a little freer of the shackles human limitation. With each mystic-heart moment, we become a little more awake.
But the how still remains, right? How do we achieve this? How do we cultivate cosmic-consciousness?
William Blake gave us a clue when he wrote: “If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is—Infinite.”
So it’s not about trying to achieve something at all. It’s about cleaning the gunk from our windows so we can see reality! It’s about purifying our vision so we can see our oneness with the Infinite.
Well, there are ways we can “cleanse the windows through which we see the world.” And, by the way, these are not just my methods…these are across the board, time-tested methods going all the way back to the Tao Te Ching, and to St. Teresa, and to Evelyn Underhill who wrote the guide to “Practical Mysticism” back in the 1920’s. This is just my personal interpretation of it.
1. Open your heart wide. Spirit resides within all of nature and It also resides within the center of each and every one of us…even if some are doing a good job of covering it up! Therefore, search for the Spirit in everything and in everyone. You’ll find it if you keep looking. Also, allow God to love you. The Infinite loves you so totally and unconditionally…exactly as you are right now. You are beloved. Let it in. Allow yourself to feel loved. Let it fill your heart and soul. The following affirmation might be helpful to do in the morning, and right before falling to sleep at night.
I consciously open to the Cosmic Power of Love within my heart. I see Spirit in everything and everyone. I accept that God loves me totally and completely right now. I am a beloved, Radiant One.
2. The second way is to: Get comfortable with the questions…with wondering.
William Martin says in The Sage’s Tao Te Ching. “Some see answers as strong and questions as weak…But I tell you the truth: The happy person is not the one with all the answers. Each new question is an affirmation of the delight of living.”
Do you want more delight in living? Then begin to get more comfortable with not knowing the answers to everything. Become more comfortable with the unknown, the undefinable edges…the why…the mystery. That’s what mystics do. It’s the same root word. The arrogance that comes from one thinking he or she has all the answers is what leads to fundamentalism, and rigid institutions, and politics. Lots of people get hurt over one side thinking they have all the answers. You see this playing out all over the Middle East. You see it here in the halls of congress. Each side thinking they know what’s best for the country…and for everyone. And they won’t even pretend to listen to what the other side has to say. What comes from knowing all the answers to everything? Pain and suffering. Those are extreme example of course, but we all do it on a smaller scale. We think we know the answers to a lot of things.
So, we want to get more comfortable with wondering. We can practice this by wondering how the Divine will unfold in someone’s life – maybe someone you’ve been thinking about, or praying about — and not thinking you know what would be best for them. Or, wondering how big the universe is..how expansive is it? Or, what it’s like in the afterlife. We can also wondering how we can be both human and Divine at the same time. And don’t look for answers!! Just be in the question. What an amazing mystery life is!
3. Refuse to pre-judge anything. This is such a habit with us human beings. We do it so much we don’t even know we’re prejudging. Someone asks us if we want to go see a movie and we say “no, I don’t like genre of film, or that actor. I won’t see it.” Or we’re invited to a party and we say, “no, I won’t know anyone there and it would be awkward.” Or we refuse to try the Uni Sushi on the menu because it looks weird and we’re certain we won’t like that. Or worse, we refuse to talk to, and get to know someone, because of the way they’re dressed or the way they talk. We’ve prejudging him or her. Whenever we’re tempted to say no, or turn our backs, or refuse to participate in something, it could be a clue that we’re pre-judging. So, see if you can catch yourself, and instead stay open. ”Hmmmm, I don’t really know what this experience will be like, but I’m not going to pre-judge it. I’m gonna remain open and see what gifts there are in it for me.”
4. We want to put aside the endless classification of things. And also refuse to accept anything for what it first appears to be. This tendency to classify and categorize happens more the older, and more knowledgeable we get. We look at the world and when we see things we don’t really see them. We see a name in our head. Oh, that’s a cardinal. Yes, I know what that is. The male is bright red and the female is more brown. Rather than…oh my God! Look at that gorgeous bird! It’s so brilliantly red!! It’s exquisite!!! We do this with flowers too. Those things that have just come up my garden are iris’s – black irises. The first time I saw anything like that, it took my breath away. It’s impossibly deeply purple! Now, that I know what they are, I can dismiss them with a “oh that;s a black iris.” And the fragrant smell that’s in the air right now in North Carolina? That’s honeysuckle. I’d never smelled that until I came here, and when I did the first time, it was like heavenly ambrosia. I thought I died and gone to heaven. Then someone told me what it was, and now, it’s like…oh yeah, that’s honeysuckle.
There’s something about naming and classifying something that just sucks all the magic out of it. How can we get back to the magic of it? How can we regain that sense of awe we had when we first encountered something we didn’t know what it was? I was thinking about this the other day. One way I thought of is to have a baby. With a new baby you get to re-experience life all over again with it…everything is awesome. They are in total awe of everything that first year. But alas, that doesn’t last. They quickly grow into teenagers! And then, everything is boring. So, not a good plan.
Teresa of Avila told her pupils, “I do not require of you to form great and curious considerations in your understanding. I require of you no more than to look.” I think she meant to gaze with a new and cleansed vision on the same things we’ve been looking at and dismissing with a, “oh, well that’s a (fill in the blank.)” What we really need to do is to transcend the intellect…that part of us that wants to classify and categorize. And then get into a state of gratitude for what we’re encountering. This is how we can experience things as if for the first time. Gratitude is how we get into direct communication with life itself…and experience the miracle of the creation, on piece at a time! It takes practice. (See other articles on this blogsite on how to practice proactive gratitude.)
5. Finally…and here’s the tough one…surrender. Surrender to Spirit. That means, surrender that all-mighty ego! And it often feels like death. But it’s only when we surrender our little self (die to the small self) that the Infinite has room and can move in, fill us with ecstatic love, Divine Life Energy, and enfold all our activities in the one unifying “cosmic context.
This surrendering rarely occurs completely all at once. Those it does happen to this way often experience a “dark night of the soul.” For many mystics, their illumination came at the very end of their “dark night of the soul.” Some of you may have already experienced that.
For most of us though, we can do this gradually and gently. Nothing wrong with that! We can encourage a gradual letting go of the ego and surrendering to Spirit by affirming every morning:
I step back and let God lead the way. (Or,) I step back and let Love lead the way.
And then check ourselves throughout the day. Is that my ego responding to this, or is it the Love within me? If it’s the ego, we have the freedom to then, choose again.
In the moments when we can keep our heart’s open, and see things anew, and refuse to pre-judge anything, and soften our rigidity and let our Love lead the way….in those moments…we open to and can experience the Mystic Heart!