There was once a hunter who used often to spend the whole night stalking the deer or setting traps for game. Now it happened one night that he was watching in a clump of bushes near the lake for some wild ducks that he wished to trap. Sudd... Read more of The Swan Maidens at Children Stories.caInformational Site Network Informational
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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



The Mystical Life








And here the practical man, who has been strangely silent during
the last stages of our discourse, shakes himself like a terrier
which has achieved dry land again after a bath; and asks once
more, with a certain explosive violence, his dear old question,
"What is the use of all this?"

"You have introduced me," he says further, "to some curious
states of consciousness, interesting enough in their way; and to a
lot of peculiar emotions, many of which are no doubt most
valuable to poets and so on. But it is all so remote from daily life.
How is it going to fit in with ordinary existence? How, above all,
is it all going to help me?"

Well, put upon its lowest plane, this new way of attending to life--
this deepening and widening of outlook--may at least be as
helpful to you as many things to which you have unhesitatingly
consecrated much time and diligence in the past: your long
journeys to new countries, for instance, or long hours spent in
acquiring new "facts," relabelling old experiences, gaining skill
in new arts and games. These, it is true, were quite worth the
effort expended on them: for they gave you, in exchange for your
labour and attention, a fresh view of certain fragmentary things, a
new point of contact with the rich world of possibilities, a tiny
enlargement of your universe in one direction or another. Your
love and patient study of nature, art, science, politics, business--
even of sport--repaid you thus. But I have offered you, in
exchange for a meek and industrious attention to another
aspect of the world, hitherto somewhat neglected by you, an
enlargement which shall include and transcend all these; and be
conditioned only by the perfection of your generosity, courage,
and surrender.

Nor are you to suppose that this enlargement will be limited to
certain new spiritual perceptions, which the art of contemplation
has made possible for you: that it will merely draw the curtain
from a window out of which you have never looked. This new
wide world is not to be for you something seen, but something
lived in: and you--since man is a creature of responses--will
insensibly change under its influence, growing up into a more
perfect conformity with it. Living in this atmosphere of Reality,
you will, in fact, yourself become more real. Hence, if you accept
in a spirit of trust the suggestions which have been made to you--
and I acknowledge that here at the beginning an attitude of faith
is essential--and if you practise with diligence the arts which I
have described: then, sooner or later, you will inevitably find
yourself deeply and permanently changed by them--will perceive
that you have become a "new man." Not merely have you acquired
new powers of perception and new ideas of Reality; but a quiet
and complete transformation, a strengthening and maturing of
your personality has taken place.

You are still, it is true, living the ordinary life of the body. You
are immersed in the stream of duration; a part of the human, the
social, the national group. The emotions, instincts, needs, of that
group affect you. Your changing scrap of vitality contributes to
its corporate life; and contributes the more effectively since a
new, intuitive sympathy has now made its interests your own.
Because of that corporate life, transfusing you, giving to you and
taking from you--conditioning, you as it does in countless oblique
and unapparent ways--you are still compelled to react to many
suggestions which you are no longer able to respect: controlled,
to the last moment of your bodily existence and perhaps
afterwards, by habit, custom, the good old average way of
misunderstanding the world. To this extent, the crowd-spirit has
you in its grasp.

Yet in spite of all this, you are now released from that crowd's
tyrannically overwhelming consciousness as you never were
before. You feel yourself now a separate vivid entity, a real,
whole man: dependent on the Whole, and gladly so dependent,
yet within that Whole a free self-governing thing. Perhaps you
always fancied that your will was free--that you were actually, as
you sometimes said, the "captain of your soul." If so, this was
merely one amongst the many illusions which supported your
old, enslaved career. As a matter of fact, you were driven along a
road, unaware of anything that lay beyond the hedges, pressed on
every side by other members of the flock; getting perhaps a
certain satisfaction out of the deep warm stir of the collective life,
but ignorant of your destination, and with your personal initiative
limited to the snatching of grass as you went along, the pushing
of your way to the softer side of the track. These operation? made
up together that which you called Success. But now, because you
have achieved a certain power of gathering yourself together,
perceiving yourself as a person, a spirit, and observing your
relation with these other individual lives--because too, hearing
now and again the mysterious piping of the Shepherd, you realise
your own perpetual forward movement and that of the flock, in
its relation to that living guide--you have a far deeper, truer
knowledge than ever before both of the general and the individual
existence; and so are able to handle life with a surer hand.

Do not suppose from this that your new career is to be perpetually
supported by agreeable spiritual contacts, or occupy itself
in the mild contemplation of the great world through which
you move. True, it is said of the Shepherd that he carries the
lambs in his bosom: but the sheep are expected to walk, and put
up with the inequalities of the road, the bunts and blunders of the
flock. It is to vigour rather than to comfort that you are called.
Since the transcendental aspect of your being has been brought
into focus you are now raised out of the mere push-forward, the
blind passage through time of the flock, into a position of creative
responsibility. You are aware of personal correspondences with
the Shepherd. You correspond, too, with a larger, deeper, broader
world. The sky and the hedges, the wide lands through which you
are moving, the corporate character and meaning of the group to
which you belong--all these are now within the circle of your
consciousness; and each little event, each separate demand or
invitation which comes to you is now seen in a truer proportion,
because you bring to it your awareness of the Whole. Your
journey ceases to be an automatic progress, and takes on some of
the characters of a free act: for "things" are now under you, you
are no longer under them.

You will hardly deny that this is a practical gain: that this
widening and deepening of the range over which your powers of
perception work makes you more of a man than you were before,
and thus adds to rather than subtracts from your total practical
efficiency. It is indeed only when he reaches these levels, and
feels within himself this creative freedom--this full actualisation
of himself--on the one hand: on the other hand the sense of a
world-order, a love and energy on which he depends and with
whose interests he is now at one, that man becomes fully human,
capable of living the real life of Eternity in the midst of the world
of time.

And what, when you have come to it, do you suppose to be your
own function in this vast twofold scheme? Is it for nothing, do
you think, that you are thus a meeting-place of two orders?
Surely it is your business, so far as you may, to express in action
something of the real character of that universe within which you
now know yourself to live? Artists, aware of a more vivid and
more beautiful world than other men, are always driven by their
love and enthusiasm to try and express, bring into direct
manifestation, those deeper significances of form, sound, rhythm,
which they have been able to apprehend: and, doing this, they
taste deeper and deeper truths, make ever closer unions with the
Real. For them, the duty of creation is tightly bound up with the
gift of love. In their passionate outflowing to the universe which
offers itself under one of its many aspects to their adoration, that
other-worldly fruition of beauty is always followed, balanced,
completed, by a this-world impulse to creation: a desire to fix
within the time-order, and share with other men, the vision by
which they were possessed. Each one, thus bringing new aspects
of beauty, new ways of seeing and hearing within the reach of the
race, does something to amend the sorry universe of common
sense, the more hideous universe of greed, and redeem his
fellows from their old, slack servitude to a lower range of
significances. It is in action, then, that these find their truest and
safest point of insertion into the living, active world of Reality: in
sharing and furthering its work of manifestation they know its
secrets best. For them contemplation and action are not opposites,
but two interdependent forms of a life that is one--a life that
rushes out to a passionate communion with the true and beautiful,
only that it may draw from this direct experience of Reality a new
intensity wherewith to handle the world of things; and remake it,
or at least some little bit of it, "nearer to the heart's desire."

Again, the great mystics tell us that the "vision of God in His
own light"--the direct contact of the soul's substance with the
Absolute--to which awful experience you drew as near as the
quality of your spirit would permit in the third degree of
contemplation, is the prelude, not to a further revelation of the
eternal order given to you, but to an utter change, a vivid
life springing up within you, which they sometimes call the
"transforming union" or the "birth of the Son in the soul." By this
they mean that the spark of spiritual stuff, that high special power
or character of human nature, by which you first desired, then
tended to, then achieved contact with Reality, is as it were
fertilised by this profound communion with its origin; becomes
strong and vigorous, invades and transmutes the whole personality,
and makes of it, not a "dreamy mystic" but an active and
impassioned servant of the Eternal Wisdom.

So that when these full-grown, fully vital mystics try to tell us
about the life they have achieved, it is always an intensely active
life that they describe. They say, not that they "dwell in restful
fruition," though the deep and joyous knowledge of this, perhaps
too the perpetual longing for an utter self-loss in it, is always
possessed by them--but that they "go up and down the ladder
of contemplation." They stretch up towards the Point, the unique
Reality to which all the intricate and many-coloured lines of life
flow, and in which they are merged; and rush out towards those
various lives in a passion of active love and service. This double
activity, this swinging between rest and work--this alone, they
say, is truly the life of man; because this alone represents on
human levels something of that inexhaustibly rich yet simple life,
"ever active yet ever at rest," which they find in God. When he
gets to this, then man has indeed actualised his union with
Reality; because then he is a part of the perpetual creative act, the
eternal generation of the Divine thought and love. Therefore
contemplation, even at its highest, dearest, and most intimate, is
not to be for you an end in itself. It shall only be truly
yours when it impels you to action: when the double movement of
Transcendent Love, drawing inwards to unity and fruition, and
rushing out again to creative acts, is realised in you. You are to
be a living, ardent tool with which the Supreme Artist works: one
of the instruments of His self-manifestation, the perpetual process
by which His Reality is brought into concrete expression.

Now the expression of vision, of reality, of beauty, at an artist's
hands--the creation of new life in all forms--has two factors: the
living moulding creative spirit, and the material in which it
works. Between these two there is inevitably a difference of
tension. The material is at best inert, and merely patient of the
informing idea; at worst, directly recalcitrant to it. Hence,
according to the balance of these two factors, the amount of
resistance offered by stuff to tool, a greater or less energy must
be expended, greater or less perfection of result will be achieved.
You, accepting the wide deep universe of the mystic, and the
responsibilities that go with it, have by this act taken sides once
for all with creative spirit: with the higher tension, the unrelaxed
effort, the passion for a better, intenser, and more significant life.
The adoration to which you are vowed is not an affair of
red hassocks and authorised hymn books; but a burning and
consuming fire. You will find, then, that the world, going its own
gait, busily occupied with its own system of correspondences--
yielding to every gust of passion, intent on the satisfaction of
greed, the struggle for comfort or for power--will oppose your
new eagerness; perhaps with violence, but more probably with
the exasperating calmness of a heavy animal which refuses to get
up. If your new life is worth anything, it will flame to sharper
power when it strikes against this dogged inertness of things: for
you need resistances on which to act. "The road to a Yea lies
through a Nay," and righteous warfare is the only way to a living
and a lasting peace.

Further, you will observe more and more clearly, that the stuff of
your external world, the method and machinery of the common
life, is not merely passively but actively inconsistent with your
sharp interior vision of truth. The heavy animal is diseased as
well as indolent. All man's perverse ways of seeing his universe,
all the perverse and hideous acts which have sprung from them--
these have set up reactions, have produced deep disorders in the
world of things. Man is free, and holds the keys of hell as well as
the keys of heaven. Within the love-driven universe which you
have learned to see as a whole, you will therefore find egotism,
rebellion, meanness, brutality, squalor: the work of separated
selves whose energies are set athwart the stream. But every
aspect of life, however falsely imagined, can still be "saved,"
turned to the purposes of Reality: for "all-thing hath the being by
the love of God." Its oppositions are no part of its realness;
and therefore they can be overcome. Is there not here, then,
abundance of practical work for you to do; work which is the
direct outcome of your mystical experience? Are there not here,
as the French proverb has it, plenty of cats for you to comb? And
isn't it just here, in the new foothold it gives you, the new clear
vision and certitude--in its noble, serious, and invulnerable faith--
that mysticism is "useful"; even for the most scientific of social
reformers, the most belligerent of politicians, the least
sentimental of philanthropists?

To "bring Eternity into Time," the "invisible into concrete
expression"; to "be to the Eternal Goodness what his own hand is
to a man"--these are the plainly expressed desires of all the great
mystics. One and all, they demand earnest and deliberate action,
the insertion of the purified and ardent will into the world of
things. The mystics are artists; and the stuff in which they work
is most often human life. They want to heal the disharmony
between the actual and the real: and since, in the white-hot
radiance of that faith, hope, and charity which burns in them, they
discern such a reconciliation to be possible, they are able to work
for it with a singleness of purpose and an invincible optimism
denied to other men. This was the instinct which drove St.
Francis of Assist to the practical experience of that poverty which
he recognised as the highest wisdom; St. Catherine of Siena from
contemplation to politics; Joan of Arc to the salvation of France;
St. Teresa to the formation of an ideal religious family; Fox to the
proclaiming of a world-religion in which all men should be
guided by the Inner Light; Florence Nightingale to battle with
officials, vermin, dirt, and disease in the soldiers' hospitals;
Octavia Hill to make in London slums something a little nearer
"the shadows of the angels' houses" than that which the practical
landlord usually provides.

All these have felt sure that a great part in the drama of creation
has been given to the free spirit of man: that bit by bit, through
and by him, the scattered worlds of love and thought and action
shall be realised again as one. It is for those who have found the
thread on which those worlds are strung, to bring this knowledge
out of the hiddenness; to use it, as the old alchemists declared
that they could use their tincture, to transmute all baser; metals
into gold.

So here is your vocation set out: a vocation so various in its
opportunities, that you can hardly fail to find something to do. It
is your business to actualise within the world of time and space--
perhaps by great endeavours in the field of heroic action, perhaps
only by small ones in field and market, tram and tube, office and
drawing-room, in the perpetual give-and-take of the common
life--that more real life, that holy creative energy, which this
world manifests as a whole but indifferently. You shall work for
mercy, order, beauty, significance: shall mend where you find
things broken, make where you find the need. "Adoro te devote,
latens Deitas," said St. Thomas in his great mystical hymn: and
the practical side of that adoration consists in the bringing of the
Real Presence from its hiddenness, and exhibiting it before the
eyes of other men. Hitherto you have not been very active in this
matter: yet it is the purpose for which you exist, and your
contemplative consciousness, if you educate it, will soon make
this fact clear to you. The teeming life of nature has yielded up to
your loving attention many sacramental images of Reality: seen
in the light of charity, it is far more sacred and significant than
you supposed. What about your life? Is that a theophany too?
"Each oak doth cry I AM," says Vaughan. Do you proclaim by
your existence the grandeur, the beauty, the intensity, the living
wonder of that Eternal Reality within which, at this moment, you
stand? Do your hours of contemplation and of action harmonise?

If they did harmonise--if everybody's did--then, by these
individual adjustments the complete group-consciousness of
humanity would be changed, brought back into conformity with
the Transcendent; and the spiritual world would be actualised
within the temporal order at last. Then, that world of false
imagination, senseless conflicts, and sham values, into which our
children are now born, would be annihilated. The whole race, not
merely a few of its noblest, most clearsighted spirits, would be
"in union with God"; and men, transfused by His light and heat,
direct and willing agents of His Pure Activity, would achieve that
completeness of life which the mystics dare to call "deification."
This is the substance of that redemption of the world, which
all religions proclaim or demand: the consummation which is
crudely imagined in the Apocalyptic dreams of the prophets and
seers. It is the true incarnation of the Divine Wisdom: and you
must learn to see with Paul the pains and disorders of creation--
your own pains, efforts, and difficulties too--as incidents in the
travail of that royal birth. Patriots have sometimes been asked to
"think imperially." Mystics are asked to think celestially; and
this, not when considering the things usually called spiritual, but
when dealing with the concrete accidents, the evil and sadness,
the cruelty, failure, and degeneration of life.

So, what is being offered to you is not merely a choice amongst
new states of consciousness, new emotional experiences--though
these are indeed involved in it--but, above all else, a larger and
intenser life, a career, a total consecration to the interests of the
Real. This life shall not be abstract and dreamy, made up, as
some imagine, of negations. It shall be violently practical and
affirmative; giving scope for a limitless activity of will, heart, and
mind working within the rhythms of the Divine Idea. It shall cost
much, making perpetual demands on your loyalty, trust, and
self-sacrifice: proving now the need and the worth of that training in
renunciation which was forced on you at the beginning of your
interior life. It shall be both deep and wide, embracing in its span
all those aspects of Reality which the gradual extension of your
contemplative powers has disclosed to you: making "the inner
and outer worlds to be indivisibly One." And because the
emphasis is now for ever shifted from the accidents to the
substance of life, it will matter little where and how this career is
actualised--whether in convent or factory, study or battlefield,
multitude or solitude, sickness or strength. These fluctuations of
circumstance will no longer dominate you; since "it is Love that
payeth for all."

Yet by all this it is not meant that the opening up of the universe,
the vivid consciousness of a living Reality and your relation with
it, which came to you in contemplation, will necessarily be a
constant or a governable feature of your experience. Even under
the most favourable circumstances, you shall and must move
easily and frequently between that spiritual fruition and active
work in the world of men. Often enough it will slip from you
utterly; often your most diligent effort will fail to recapture it, and
only its fragrance will remain. The more intense those contacts
have been, the more terrible will be your hunger and desolation
when they are thus withdrawn: for increase of susceptibility
means more pain as well as more pleasure, as every artist knows.
But you will find in all that happens to you, all that opposes and
grieves you--even in those inevitable hours of darkness when the
doors of true perception seem to close, and the cruel tangles of
the world are all that you can discern--an inward sense of security
which will never cease. All the waves that buffet you about,
shaking sometimes the strongest faith and hope, are yet parts and
aspects of one Ocean. Did they wreck you utterly, that Ocean
would receive you; and there you would find, overwhelming and
transfusing you, the unfathomable Substance of all life and
joy. Whether you realise it in its personal or impersonal
manifestation, the universe is now friendly to you; and as he is a
suspicious and unworthy lover who asks every day for renewed
demonstrations of love, so you do not demand from it perpetual
reassurances. It is enough, that once it showed you its heart. A
link of love now binds you to it for evermore: in spite of
derelictions, in spite of darkness and suffering, your will is
harmonised with the Will that informs the Whole.

We said, at the beginning of this discussion, that mysticism was
the art of union with Reality: that it was, above all else, a Science
of Love. Hence, the condition to which it looks forward and
towards which the soul of the contemplative has been stretching
out, is a condition of being, not of seeing. As the bodily
senses have been produced under pressure of man's physical
environment, and their true aim is not the enhancement of his
pleasure or his knowledge, but a perfecting of his adjustment to
those aspects of the natural world which concern him--so the use
and meaning of the spiritual senses are strictly practical too.
These, when developed by a suitable training, reveal to man a
certain measure of Reality: not in order that he may gaze upon it,
but in order that he may react to it, learn to live in, with, and for
it; growing and stretching into more perfect harmony with the
Eternal Order, until at last, like the blessed ones of Dante's vision,
the clearness of his flame responds to the unspeakable radiance of
the Enkindling Light.






Previous: The Third Form Of Contemplation



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