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Love And Will
Meditation And Recollection
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
Light And Darkness
Man And Nature
Mystic Intuition And Reason
Mystic Receptivity
Nature Mysticism And The Race
Nature Not Symbolic
Nature, And The Absolute
Poetry And Nature Mysticism
Rivers And Death
Rivers And Life
Seasons, Vegetation, Animals
Springs And Wells
Still Waters
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 World Of Reality

The practical man may justly observe at this point that the world
of single vision is the only world he knows: that it appears to him
to be real, solid, and self-consistent: and that until the existence--
at least, the probability--of other planes of reality is made clear to
him, all talk of uniting with them is mere moonshine, which
confirms his opinion of mysticism as a game fit only for idle
women and inferior poets. Plainly, then, it is the first business of
the missionary to create, if he can, some feeling of dissatisfaction
with the world within which the practical man has always lived
and acted; to suggest something of its fragmentary and subjective
character. We turn back therefore to a further examination
of the truism--so obvious to those who are philosophers, so
exasperating to those who are not--that man dwells, under normal
conditions, in a world of imagination rather than a world of facts;
that the universe in which he lives and at which he looks is but a
construction which the mind has made from some few amongst
the wealth of materials at its disposal.

The relation of this universe to the world of fact is not unlike the
relation between a tapestry picture and the scene which it
imitates. You, practical man, are obliged to weave your image of
the outer world upon the hard warp of your own mentality; which
perpetually imposes its own convention, and checks the free
representation of life. As a tapestry picture, however various and
full of meaning, is ultimately reducible to little squares; so the
world of common sense is ultimately reducible to a series of
static elements conditioned by the machinery of the brain. Subtle
curves, swift movement, delicate gradation, that machinery
cannot represent. It leaves them out. From the countless
suggestions, the tangle of many-coloured wools which the real
world presents to you, you snatch one here and there. Of these
you weave together those which are the most useful, the most
obvious, the most often repeated: which make a tidy and coherent
pattern when seen on the right side. Shut up with this symbolic
picture, you soon drop into the habit of behaving to it as though it
were not a representation but a thing. On it you fix your attention;
with it you "unite." Yet, did you look at the wrong side, at the
many short ends, the clumsy joins and patches, this simple
philosophy might be disturbed. You would be forced to acknowledge
the conventional character of the picture you have made
so cleverly, the wholesale waste of material involved in the
weaving of it: for only a few amongst the wealth of impressions
we receive are seized and incorporated into our picture of the
world. Further, it might occur to you that a slight alteration in the
rhythm of the senses would place at your disposal a complete
new range of material; opening your eyes and ears to sounds,
colours, and movements now inaudible and invisible, removing
from your universe those which you now regard as part of the
established order of things. Even the strands which you have
made use of might have been combined in some other way; with
disastrous results to the "world of common sense," yet without
any diminution of their own reality.

Nor can you regard these strands themselves as ultimate. As the
most prudent of logicians might venture to deduce from a skein
of wool the probable existence of a sheep; so you, from the raw
stuff of perception, may venture to deduce a universe which
transcends the reproductive powers of your loom. Even the
camera of the photographer, more apt at contemplation than the
mind of man, has shown us how limited are these powers in some
directions, and enlightened us as to a few of the cruder errors of
the person who accepts its products at face-value; or, as he would
say, believes his own eyes. It has shown us, for instance, that the
galloping race-horse, with legs stretched out as we are used to see
it, is a mythical animal, probably founded on the mental image or
a running dog. No horse has ever galloped thus: but its real action
is too quick for us, and we explain it to ourselves as something
resembling the more deliberate dog-action which we have caught
and registered as it passed. The plain man's universe is full of
race-horses which are really running dogs: of conventional
waves, first seen in pictures and then imagined upon the sea: of
psychological situations taken from books and applied to human
life: of racial peculiarities generalised from insufficient data, and
then "discovered" in actuality: of theological diagrams and
scientific "laws," flung upon the background of eternity as the
magic lantern's image is reflected on the screen.

The coloured scene at which you look so trustfully owes, in fact,
much of its character to the activities of the seer: to that process
of thought--concept--cogitation, from which Keats prayed with so
great an ardour to escape, when he exclaimed in words which
will seem to you, according to the temper of your mind, either an
invitation to the higher laziness or one of the most profound
aspirations of the soul, "O for a life of sensations rather than
thoughts!" He felt--as all the poets have felt with him--that
another, lovelier world, tinted with unimaginable wonders, alive
with ultimate music, awaited those who could free themselves
from the fetters of the mind, lay down the shuttle and the
weaver's comb, and reach out beyond the conceptual image to
intuitive contact with the Thing.

There are certain happy accidents which have the power of
inducting man for a moment into this richer and more vital
world. These stop, as one old mystic said, the "wheel of his
imagination," the dreadful energy of his image-making power
weaving up and transmuting the incoming messages of sense.
They snatch him from the loom and place him, in the naked
simplicity of his spirit, face to face with that Other than himself
whence the materials of his industry have come. In these hours
human consciousness ascends from thought to contemplation;
becomes at least aware of the world in which the mystics dwell;
and perceives for an instant, as St. Augustine did, "the light that
never changes, above the eye of the soul, above the intelligence."
This experience might be called in essence "absolute sensation."
It is a pure feeling-state; in which the fragmentary contacts with
Reality achieved through the senses are merged in a wholeness of
communion which feels and knows all at once, yet in a way
which the reason can never understand, that Totality of which
fragments are known by the lover, the musician, and the artist. If
the doors of perception were cleansed, said Blake, everything
would appear to man as it is--Infinite. But the doors of perception
are hung with the cobwebs of thought; prejudice, cowardice,
sloth. Eternity is with us, inviting our contemplation perpetually,
but we are too frightened, lazy, and suspicious to respond: too
arrogant to still our thought, and let divine sensation have its
way. It needs industry and goodwill if we would make that
transition: for the process involves a veritable spring-cleaning of
the soul, a turning-out and rearrangement of our mental furniture,
a wide opening of closed windows, that the notes of the wild
birds beyond our garden may come to us fully charged with
wonder and freshness, and drown with their music the noise of
the gramaphone within. Those who do this, discover that they
have lived in a stuffy world, whilst their inheritance was a world
of morning-glory; where every tit-mouse is a celestial messenger,
and every thrusting bud is charged with the full significance of

There will be many who feel a certain scepticism as to the
possibility of the undertaking here suggested to them; a prudent
unwillingness to sacrifice their old comfortably upholstered
universe, on the mere promise that they will receive a new
heaven and a new earth in exchange. These careful ones may like
to remind themselves that the vision of the world presented to us
by all the great artists and poets--those creatures whose very
existence would seem so strange to us, were we not accustomed
to them--perpetually demonstrates the many-graded character of
human consciousness; the new worlds which await it, once it
frees itself from the tyranny of those labour-saving contrivances
with which it usually works. Leaving on one side the more subtle
apprehensions which we call "spiritual," even the pictures of the
old Chinese draughtsmen and the modern impressionists, of
Watteau and of Turner, of Manet, Degas, and Cezanne; the
poems of Blake, Wordsworth, Shelley, Whitman--these, and
countless others, assure you that their creators have enjoyed
direct communion, not with some vague world of fancy, but with
a visible natural order which you have never known. These have
seized and woven into their pictures strands which never
presented themselves to you; significant forms which elude you,
tones and relations to which you are blind, living facts for which
your conventional world provides no place. They prove by their
works that Blake was right when he said that "a fool sees not the
same tree that a wise man sees"; and that psychologists, insisting
on the selective action of the mind, the fact that our preconceptions
govern the character of our universe, do but teach the most
demonstrable of truths. Did you take them seriously, as you
should, their ardent reports might well disgust you with the
dull and narrow character of your own consciousness.

What is it, then, which distinguishes the outlook of great poets
and artists from the arrogant subjectivism of common sense?
Innocence and humility distinguish it. These persons prejudge
nothing, criticise nothing. To some extent, their attitude to the
universe is that of children: and because this is so, they
participate to that extent in the Heaven of Reality. According to
their measure, they have fulfilled Keats' aspiration, they do live a
life in which the emphasis lies on sensation rather than on
thought: for the state which he then struggled to describe was that
ideal state of pure receptivity, of perfect correspondence with the
essence of things, of which all artists have a share, and which a
few great mystics appear to have possessed--not indeed in its
entirety, but to an extent which made them, as they say, "one with
the Reality of things." The greater the artist is, the wider and
deeper is the range of this pure sensation: the more sharply he is
aware of the torrent of life and loveliness, the rich profusion of
possible beauties and shapes. He always wants to press deeper
and deeper, to let the span of his perception spread wider and
wider; till he unites with the whole of that Reality which he feels
all about him, and of which his own life is a part. He is always
tending, in fact, to pass over from the artistic to the mystical
state. In artistic experience, then, in the artist's perennial effort
to actualise the ideal which Keats expressed, we may find a point of
departure for our exploration of the contemplative life.

What would it mean for a soul that truly captured it; this life in
which the emphasis should lie on the immediate percepts, the
messages the world pours in on us, instead of on the sophisticated
universe into which our clever brains transmute them? Plainly, it
would mean the achievement of a new universe, a new order of
reality: escape from the terrible museum-like world of daily life,
where everything is classified and labelled, and all the graded
fluid facts which have no label are ignored. It would mean an
innocence of eye and innocence of ear impossible for us to
conceive; the impassioned contemplation of pure form, freed
from all the meanings with which the mind has draped and
disguised it; the recapturing of the lost mysteries of touch and
fragrance, most wonderful amongst the avenues of sense. It
would mean the exchanging of the neat conceptual world our
thoughts build up, fenced in by the solid ramparts of the possible,
for the inconceivable richness of that unwalled world from which
we have subtracted it. It would mean that we should receive from
every flower, not merely a beautiful image to which the label
"flower" has been affixed, but the full impact of its unimaginable
beauty and wonder, the direct sensation of life having communion
with life: that the scents of ceasing rain, the voice of
trees, the deep softness of the kitten's fur, the acrid touch of sorrel
on the tongue, should be in themselves profound, complete, and
simple experiences, calling forth simplicity of response in our

Thus understood, the life of pure sensation is the meat and drink
of poetry, and one of the most accessible avenues to that union
with Reality which the mystic declares to us as the very object of
life. But the poet must take that living stuff direct from the field
and river, without sophistication, without criticism, as the life of
the soul is taken direct from the altar; with an awe that admits not
of analysis. He must not subject it to the cooking, filtering
process of the brain. It is because he knows how to elude this
dreadful sophistication of Reality, because his attitude to the
universe is governed by the supreme artistic virtues of humility
and love, that poetry is what it is: and I include in the sweep of
poetic art the coloured poetry of the painter, and the wordless
poetry of the musician and the dancer too.

At this point the critical reader will certainly offer an objection.
"You have been inviting me," he will say, "to do nothing more or
less than trust my senses: and this too on the authority of those
impracticable dreamers the poets. Now it is notorious that our
senses deceive us. Every one knows that; and even your own
remarks have already suggested it. How, then, can a wholesale
and uncritical acceptance of my sensations help me to unite with
Reality? Many of these sensations we share with the animals: in
some, the animals obviously surpass us. Will you suggest that my
terrier, smelling his way through an uncoordinated universe, is a
better mystic than I?"

To this I reply, that the terrier's contacts with the world are
doubtless crude and imperfect; yet he has indeed preserved a
directness of apprehension which you have lost. He gets, and
responds to, the real smell; not a notion or a name. Certainly the
senses, when taken at face-value, do deceive us: yet the deception
resides not so much in them, as in that conceptual world which
we insist on building up from their reports, and for which we
make them responsible. They deceive us less when we receive
these reports uncooked and unclassified, as simple and direct
experiences. Then, behind the special and imperfect stammerings
which we call colour, sound, fragrance, and the rest, we
sometimes discern a whole fact--at once divinely simple and
infinitely various--from which these partial messages proceed;
and which seeks as it were to utter itself in them. And we feel,
when this is so, that the fact thus glimpsed is of an immense
significance; imparting to that aspect of the world which we are
able to perceive all the significance, all the character which it
possesses. The more of the artist there is in us, the more intense
that significance, that character will seem: the more complete,
too, will be our conviction that our uneasiness, the vagueness of
our reactions to things, would be cured could we reach and unite
with the fact, instead of our notion of it. And it is just such an act
of union, reached through the clarified channels of sense and
unadulterated by the content of thought, which the great artist or
poet achieves.

We seem in these words to have come far from the mystic, and
that contemplative consciousness wherewith he ascends to the
contact of Truth. As a matter of fact, we are merely considering
that consciousness in its most natural and accessible form: for
contemplation is, on the one hand, the essential activity of all
artists; on the other, the art through which those who choose to
learn and practise it may share in some fragmentary degree,
according to their measure, the special experience of the mystic
and the poet. By it they may achieve that virginal outlook upon
things, that celestial power of communion with veritable life,
which comes when that which we call "sensation" is freed from
the tyranny of that which we call "thought." The artist is no more
and no less than a contemplative who has learned to express
himself, and who tells his love in colour, speech, or sound: the
mystic, upon one side of his nature, is an artist of a special and
exalted kind, who tries to express something of the revelation he
has received, mediates between Reality and the race. In the game
of give and take which goes on between the human consciousness
and the external world, both have learned to put the emphasis
upon the message from without, rather than on their own reaction
to and rearrangement of it. Both have exchanged the false
imagination which draws the sensations and intuitions of the self
into its own narrow circle, and there distorts and transforms them,
for the true imagination which pours itself out, eager,
adventurous, and self-giving, towards the greater universe.

Next: The Preparation Of The Mystic

Previous: What Is Mysticism?

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