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Love And Will
Meditation And Recollection
Self-adjustment
The First Form Of Contemplation
The Mystical Life
The Preparation Of The Mystic
The Second Form Of Contemplation
The Third Form Of Contemplation
The World Of Reality
What Is Mysticism?
Anaximenes And The Air
Animism, Ancient And Modern
Brooks And Streams
Development And Discipline Of Intuition
Earth, Mountains, And Plains
Fire And The Sun
Heracleitus And The Cosmic Fire
Introductory
Light And Darkness
Man And Nature
Mystic Intuition And Reason
Mystic Receptivity
Mythology
Nature Mysticism And The Race
Nature Not Symbolic
Nature, And The Absolute
Poetry And Nature Mysticism
Pragmatic
Rivers And Death
Rivers And Life
Seasons, Vegetation, Animals
Springs And Wells
Still Waters
Thales
The Beautiful And The Ugly
The Charge Of Anthropomorphism
The Expanse Of Heaven--colour
The Immanent Idea
The Moon--a Special Problem
The Ocean
The Waters Under The Earth
Will And Consciousness In Nature
Winds And Clouds



Nature Not Symbolic








Mysticism and symbolism are generally regarded as
inseparable: some may go so far as to make them practically
synonymous. Hence the large space devoted to symbols in most
treatises on Mysticism. Recejac, for instance, in his treatise on
the "Bases of the Mystic Belief," devotes about two-thirds of
the whole to this subject. Whence such preponderating
emphasis? There are, of course, many conspiring causes, but the
conception of the Absolute is still the strongest. Given an
Unconditioned which is beyond the reach of sense and reason,
the phenomenal is necessarily degraded to the rank of the
merely symbolical. Nature, being at an infinite distance from
the Real, can only "stand for" the Real; and any knowledge
which it can mediate is so indirect as to be hardly worthy of the
name.

To this degradation of the phenomenal the true nature-mystic is
bound to demur, if he is to be faithful to his fundamental
principle. He desires direct communion with the Real, and looks
to external nature as a means to attain his end. To palm off upon
him something which "stands for" the Real is to balk him of his
aim; for the moment the symbol appears, the Real disappears:
its place is taken by a substitute which at the best is Maya--an
illusion; or, to use technical phraseology of the metaphysical
sort, is "mere appearance."

But further, the symbolic conception of nature would seem to
contradict the requirement of immediacy--a requirement more
vital to the Absolutist than to the genuine nature-mystic, and yet
apparently lost from the view of those who are the strongest
advocates of symbolism. For intuition implies direct insight,
independent of reasoning process and conceptual construction.
Whereas, a symbol, in any ordinary acceptation of the word, is
indisputably a product of conscious mental processes: its very
reference beyond itself demands conscious analysis and
synthesis, and a conscious recognition of complicated systems
of relations. The doctrine of symbols is thus in reality
subversive of Mysticism of any kind, and more especially of
Nature Mysticism.

Let it not be supposed that to argue thus is to repudiate
symbolism as such. Whoever understands the nature and
conditions of human knowledge sees that symbolic systems, of
endless variety, are necessary instruments in almost every
department of theory, research, and practice. We cannot move
without them. Some symbols are thoroughly abstract and
artificial, but frequently of the utmost value, in spite of their
being pure creations of the mind. Other symbols are founded on
analogies and affinities deep down in the nature of things, and
so come nearer to the matter of genuine intuition. Between the
two extremes there are an infinite number of graded systems,
some of which enter into the very texture of daily life. But so
long as, and in so far as, there is a "standing for" instead of a
"being," the mystic, qua mystic, is defrauded of his direct
communion with the Ground of things.

But the mystic who champions symbolism may object that the
definition of that term must not be taken so narrowly, and that
there is the wider sense in which it is taken by writers on
aesthetics. Some such definition as this may be attempted: A
symbol is something which does not merely "stand for"
something else, but one which, while it has a meaning of its
own, points onward to another thing beyond itself, and suggests
an ideal content which of itself it cannot fully embody. But are
we really cleared of our difficulty by substituting "suggests" for
"stands for"? Again it must be insisted that the mystic aims at
direct communion, not with that which is "suggested," but that
which "is." An object may be low or high in the scale of
existence, may be rich or poor in content--but it is what it is,
and, as such, and in and for itself, may be the source of an
intuition. The man lying on the bank of the mill-stream and
meditating on the water-wheel wanted the secret of the wheel
itself, not what the wheel "suggested." Jefferies, yearning for
fuller soul-life, and sensitive to nature's aspects, felt that the
life was there--that the universe _is_ the life--that the life is
intuited in and through the universe, though not grasped as
yet by the conscious reasoning processes.

As an interesting example, the symbol of the cross may be
briefly considered. Why should a form so simple and so familiar
have acquired an astonishingly wide range and be generally
regarded as symbolic of life? Much has to be learnt before the
problem is solved. One thing seems fairly certain--the choice
has not been wholly arbitrary; there has been at work an
intuitional, subconscious factor. Is it possible that the negativing
of a line in one direction by a line in another direction raises
subliminally a sense of strain, then of effort, then of purposeful
will, and so, lastly, of life? Probably a piece of pure
imagination! And yet there must be some real power in the
symmetrical form itself to account for its symbolic career.
Conscious reason, obscurely prompted by this power, evolved
the symbolic use; and the strange interminglings of intuition,
rational action, and force of circumstance, during the long
course of civilised history, have accomplished the rest.

The train of reflection thus started will add special point to a
passage from an early letter of Kingsley's, quoted by Inge in a
slightly curtailed form, but here given in full. "The great
Mysticism is the belief that is becoming every day stronger with
me, that all symmetrical natural objects, aye, and perhaps all
forms, colours, and scents which show organisation or
arrangement, are types of some truth or existence, of a grade
between the symbolical type and the mystic type. When I walk
the fields I am oppressed every now and then with an innate
feeling, that everything I see has a meaning, if I could but
understand it. And this feeling of being surrounded with truths
which I cannot grasp, amounts to indescribable awe sometimes!
Everything seems to be full of God's reflex, if we could but see
it."

The passage is of profound significance when taken as a whole,
and will serve as a remarkable description of the genuine mystic
experience which can be prompted by nature, without going to
the length of "vision," still less of ecstasy. But the stress now
lies on the words--"a grade between the symbolical type and the
mystic type." Kingsley evidently realised the insufficiency of
symbolism to meet his demands, while he shrank from the
vagueness of what was called Mysticism. Objects for him had a
meaning in their own right, and he was casting about for a
fitting term to express this fact. He also distinctly states that to
him, "Everything seems to be full of God's reflex." Once grant
that Nature Mysticism, as denned and illustrated in the
preceding chapters, is a genuine form of Mysticism, and his
difficulty would be solved. The natural objects which stirred his
emotions would be acknowledged as part and parcel of the
ultimate Ground itself, and therefore competent to act, not as
substitutes for something else not really present, but in their
own right, and of their own sovereign prerogative. Nature, in
short, is not a mere stimulus for a roving fancy or teeming
imagination: it is a power to be experienced, a secret to be
wrested, a life to be shared.

The famous "Canticle of the Sun" of St. Francis d'Assisi gives
naive and spontaneous expression to the same truth. Natural
objects, for this purest of mystics, were no bare symbols, nor
did they gain their significance by suggesting beyond
themselves. He addressed them as beings who shared with him
the joy of existence. "My Brother the Sun"--"my Sister the
Moon"--"our Mother the Earth"--"my Brother the Wind"--"our
Sister Water"--"Brother Fire." The same form of address is
maintained for things living and things lifeless. And it is
obvious that the endearing terms of relationship are more than
metaphors or figures of speech. His heart evidently goes with
them: he genuinely claims kinship. Differences dissolve in a
sense of common being. It would be an anachronism to read
into these affectionate names the more fully developed
mysticism of Blake, or Shelley, or Emerson. But the absence of
any tinge of symbolic lore is noteworthy.

Kingsley, as was just seen, was feeling about for something
more satisfactory than mystic symbolism; so also was Emerson.
"Mysticism" (he writes) "consists in the mistake of an
accidental and individual symbol for an universal one. . . . The
mystic must be steadily told, 'All that you say is just as true
without the tedious use of that symbol as with it.'" Emerson's
uneasiness is manifest. He is rebelling, but is not quite sure of
his ground. At one time he inclines to think the mystic in fault
because he "nails a symbol to one sense, which was a true sense
for a moment, but soon becomes old and false." At another time
he is inclined to condemn the symbol altogether as being of too
"accidental" a character. But it is surely simpler to throw
symbolism overboard so far as genuine mystic experience is
concerned. What the mystic is in search of is "meaning" in its
own right--"meaning" existing in and for itself. Anything less is
a fraud. Emerson nearly reached this conclusion, as witness the
following passage: "A happy symbol is a sort of evidence that
your thought is just. . . . If you agree with me, or if Locke or
Montesquieu agree, I may yet be wrong; but if the elm tree
thinks the same thing, if running water, if burning coal, if
crystals, if alkalies, in their several fashions, say what I say, it
must be true." Here Emerson is all but clean out of the tangle.
He speaks of a "happy symbol." But inasmuch as this "happy
symbol" is to express what the elm tree, the running water, and
the rest, _actually say_ in their several fashions, it is safer to
drop the idea of symbolism altogether; for what they _say_, is
not what they "stand for," but what they actually _are_.

If the contention is renewed that the elm tree, running water,
and the rest, _suggest_ truths and thoughts beyond themselves,
of course the point may be readily granted. But this is only to
affirm that every object is linked on to every other object by a
multiplicity of relations--that each part is woven into the texture
of a larger whole in a universe of interpenetrations. The
consistent working out of the organic interdependence of the
modes and forms of existence is found in such a system as that
of Hegel, where each part pre-supposes correlatives, and where
each stage or "moment" includes all the past, and presses on to
that which dialectically succeeds. It is not necessary to be a
Hegelian to appreciate the grand idea of his doctrine--that all
modes and manifestations of the Real are logically and
organically connected. But to say that one stage of the evolution
of the Idea is dependent on another, or essentially involves
another, is not to make the lower of the stages symbolic of the
higher. Indeed to introduce the concept of symbolism at all into
such a context is to court inextricable confusion. Let symbolism
be one thing, and let organic (or dialectic) connection be
another--then we know where we are when we claim for natural
objects that they have a being and a meaning in their own right,
and that they are akin to the soul of man. Emerson had a firm
grasp of the nature-mystic's inevitable contention.

"The rounded world is fair to see,
Nine-times folded in mystery:
Though baffled seers cannot impart
The secret of its labouring heart.
Throb thine with Nature's throbbing breast,
And all is clear from east to west.
Spirit that lurks each form within
Beckons to spirit of its kin;
Self-kindled every atom glows,--
And hints the future which it owes."





Next: The Charge Of Anthropomorphism

Previous: Development And Discipline Of Intuition



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