Development And Discipline Of Intuition

Although the outstanding mark of intuition is its immediacy,

that does not imply that it is independent of mental

development, of culture, or of discipline. So far all classes of

mystics would be agreed. Nevertheless a certain amount of

comment and criticism will be useful even in this regard. For

erroneous conceptions, especially in matters so largely

influenced by belief in an unconditioned Absolute, may

frequently issue in harmful practices. For proof and illustration

of the danger, need one do more than point to the terrible

excesses of asceticism still prevalent in India?

And first, of the normal development of the mystic feeling for

nature in the case of the individual mind. "The child is father of

the man," said Wordsworth. But in what sense is this true? Let

us turn to the immortal Ode, which is undoubtedly a record of

vivid personal experience.

"Heaven lies about us in our infancy!

Shades of the prison-house begin to close

Upon the growing boy,

But he beholds the light and whence it flows,

He sees it in his joy;

The youth who daily farther from the east

Must travel, still is Nature's priest,

And by the vision splendid

Is on his way attended;

At length the man perceives it die away

And fade into the light of common day."

Of course the poet was in dead earnest in writing thus; but the

two last lines give us pause. How about

"The light that never was on land or sea"?

Was not that with the poet to the end? How about the

"Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears"?

Would those have been possible for the child or growing boy? If

there had been a loss, had there not also been a very real gain as

the years rolled over his head? Such questions are forced upon

us by an examination of the records themselves. Somewhat of

the brightness and freshness of "the vision splendid" might

evaporate; but the mystic glow, the joy, the exaltation,

remained--and deepened--

"So was it when I was a child,

So is it now I am a man,

So may it be when I am old,

Or let me die"--

only that childlike fancy yields place to matured imagination.

And if this was so with Wordsworth, whose childhood was so

exceptional, still more shall we find it to be true of the average

child. The early freshness of the senses may be blunted; the

eager curiosity may be satiated; but where the nature remains

unspoilt, the sense of wonder and of joy will extend its range

and gain in fullness of content.

If we compare Kingsley's development, he was in a way a great

"boy" to the end--but a boy with a deepening sense of mystery

mellowing his character and his utterances. And thus it was that

he could say, looking back on his intercourse with the wonders

of nature: "I have long enjoyed them, never I can honestly say

alone, because when man was not with me I had companions in

every bee and flower and pebble, and never idle, because I

could not pass a swamp or a tuft of heather without finding in it

a fairy tale of which I could but decipher here and there a line or

two, and yet found them more interesting than all the books,

save one, which were ever written upon earth."

True, there is another range of experiences to be reckoned with,

such as that of Omar Khayyam--

"Yet ah that Spring should vanish with the Rose!

That Youth's sweet-scented manuscript should close!

The Nightingale that on the branches sang,

Ah whence, and whither flown again, who knows?"

Yes, but what might Omar have been with a nobler philosophy

of life, and a more wholesome self-restraint. Blase, toper as he

was, how did he begin his Rubaiyat? Thus finely!

"Wake! For the Sun who scatter'd into flight

The stars before him from the Field of Night,

Drives Night along with them from Heav'n and strikes

The Sultan's turret with a Shaft of Light."

There was poetry in the man still--and that, too, of the kind

stirred by nature. And from nature likewise comes the pathos of

a closing verse--

"Yon rising Moon that looks for us again--

How oft hereafter will she wax and wane;

How oft hereafter rising look for us

Through this same Garden--and for _one_ in vain! "

And if in spite of all that is said, Wordsworth's haunting Ode

still asserts its sway, then let there be a still more direct appeal

to its author. One of his loveliest sonnets is that which opens--

"It is a beauteous evening, calm and free."

He tells of the holy stillness, the setting of the broad sun, the

eternal motion of the sea. He is filled with a sense of mystic

adoration. And then there is a sudden turn of thought--

"Dear child! dear girl! that walkest with me here,

If thou appear untouch'd by solemn thought,

Thy nature is not therefore less divine."

What is this but to regard the intuitional faculty as still largely

latent, awaiting the maturing processes of the passing years?

There is no place for further argument.

What has just been said of the child may be said of the race,

especially if there is anything in the theory that the child

recapitulates in brief the stages through which the race has

passed in its upward progress. In the dawn of civilisation the

senses would be comparatively fresh and keen, though lacking

in delicacy of aesthetic discrimination; the imagination would

be powerful and active. Hence the products, so varied and

immense, of the animistic tendency and the mytho-poeic

faculty. To these stages succeed the periods of reflective

thought and accurate research, which, while blunting to some

degree the sharp edge of sensibility, more than atone for the loss

by the widening of horizons and the deepening of mysteries. We

must be careful, however, not to press the analogy, or parallel,

too far. Important modifications of the recapitulation theory are

being urged even on its biological side; it is wise, therefore, to

be doubly on guard when dealing with the complexities of

social development. Still, it is safe to assert that, for the race as

for the individual, the modes of cosmic emotion grow fuller and

richer in "the process of the suns." Would it be easy to parallel

in any previous period of history that passage from Jefferies?--

"With all the intensity of feeling which exalted me, all the

intense communion I held with the earth, the sun, and the sky,

the stars hidden by the light, with the ocean--in no manner can

the thrilling depth of these feelings be written--with these I

prayed, as if they were the keys of an instrument."

Starting from an acknowledgment that the intuitional faculty is

capable of development, it is an easy, and indeed inevitable,

step to the conclusion that training and discipline can aid that

development. As noted above, mystics have gone, and still go,

to lengths which make the world wonder, in their efforts to

enjoy the higher forms of mystic communion with the Real. The

note of stern renunciation has persisted like a bourdon down the

ages in the lives of those who have devoted themselves to the

quest of the Absolute. In the East, and more especially in India,

the grand aim of life has come to be the release from the

appetites and the senses. The Buddhist struggles to suppress all

natural desires, and undergoes all manner of self-inflicted

tortures, that he may rise above the world of illusion, and attain

to absorption in the Universal Spirit. He sacrifices the body that

the soul may see. Similar views, though varying much in detail,

have flourished at the heart of all the great religions, and have

formed almost the sole substance of some of the smaller. Nor

has Christianity escaped. An exaggerated and uncompromising

asceticism has won for many Christian saints their honours on

earth and their assurance of special privileges in heaven.

Contrast with this sterner and narrower type, the mystic who

loves the natural world because he believes it to be, like

himself, a genuine manifestation of the ultimately Real, and to

be akin to his own inmost life. He, too, acknowledges the need

for the discipline of the body--he, too, has his _askesis_--but he

cherishes the old Greek ideal which does not call for a sacrifice

of sense as such, but for a wise abstinence from those sensual

pleasures, or over-indulgences in pleasure, which endanger the

balance of the powers of the body and the mind. The nature-

mystic, more particularly, maintains that there is no form of

human knowledge which may not be of service to him in

attaining to deeper insight and fuller experience in his

intercourse with nature. He is therefore a student, in the best

sense of the word--not a slave to mere erudition, but an alert and

eager absorber of things new and old according to his abilities

and opportunities. He tries to survey life as a whole, and to

bring his complete self, body and soul, to the realisation of its

possibilities. And he looks to nature for some of his purest joys

and most fruitful experiences. He knows that the outward shows

of heaven and earth are manifestations of a Reality which

communes with him as soul with soul.