Mystic Receptivity

The general character of the nature-mystic's main contention

will now be sufficiently obvious. He maintains that man and his

environment are not connected in any merely external fashion,

but that they are sharers in the same kind of Being, and

therefore livingly related. If this be sound, we shall expect to

find that wherever and whenever men are in close and constant

touch with nature they will experience some definit
sort of

influence which will affect their characters and their thoughts.

Nor, as will already have been obvious, are we disappointed in

this expectation. Let us turn to a somewhat more detailed study

of the evidence for the reality and potency of the mystic

influence continuously exercised by physical phenomena on

man's psychic development.

As has been stated, the nature-mystic lays considerable, though

by no means exclusive, stress upon what he calls "intuition."

His view of this faculty or capacity is not quite that of the

strict psychologist. Herbert Spencer, for instance, in his

"Psychology," uses the term intuition in what he deems to be its

"common acceptation"--"as meaning any cognition reached by

an undecomposable mental act." Of course much would turn on

what is implied by cognition, and it is impossible to embark on

the wide sea of epistemology, or even on that of the intuitional

controversy, with a view to determining this point. Spencer's

own illustration of an intuited fact for knowledge--relations

which are equal to the same relation are equal to one another--

would appear to narrow its application to those so-called self-

evident or necessary truths which are unhesitatingly accepted at

first sight. The nature-mystic, however, while unreservedly

recognising this kind of intuition (whatever may be its

origin) demands a wider meaning for the term. A nearer

approach to what he wants is found in the feats of certain

calculating prodigies, who often seem to reach their astounding

results rather by insights than operations. The celebrated

mathematician, Euler, is said to have possessed, in addition to

his extraordinary memory for numbers, "a kind of _divining

power_," by which he perceived almost at a glance, the most

complicated relations of factors and the best modes of

manipulating them. As regards the calculating prodigies, a

thought suggests itself. It has been almost invariably found that

as they learnt more, their special power decreased. Has this any

bearing on the loss of imaginative power and aesthetic insight

which often accompanies the spread of civilisation?--or on the

materialisms and the "brute matter" doctrines which so often

afflict scientists?

But even this expansion of meaning does not satisfy the

nature-mystic. Perhaps the case of musical intuition comes still

nearer to what he is looking for, inasmuch as cognition, in the

sense of definite knowledge, is here reduced to a minimum. On

the other hand there is more at work than mere feeling. The soul

of the music-lover moves about in a world which is at once

realised and yet unrealised--his perceptions are vivid and yet

indefinable. And it is important to note that the basis is


And thus we say of mystical intuition that it is a passing of the

mind, without reasoned process, behind the world of phenomena

into a more central sphere of reality--an insight into a

world beyond the reach of sense--a direct beholding of

spiritual facts, guided by a logic which is implicit, though it

does not emerge into consciousness. It is intuition of this fuller

and deeper kind which in all likelihood forms the core of what

some would call the aesthetic and the moral senses.

And here an interesting question presents itself. The older

mystics, and the more orthodox of modern mystics, would have

us believe that the intuition for which they contend is purely

passive. The mind must be quieted, the will negated, until a

state of simple receptivity is attained. Is this contention valid? It

is difficult to break away from venerable traditions, but the

nature-mystic who would be abreast of the knowledge of his

day must at times be prepared to submit even intuition itself to

critical analysis. And in this instance, criticism is all the more

necessary because the doctrine of pure passivity is largely a

corollary of belief in an unconditioned Absolute. If union with

such an Absolute is to be enjoyed, the will must be pulseless,

the intellect atrophied, the whole soul inactive: otherwise the

introduction of finite thoughts and desires inhibits the divine


Now it was noted, when intuition was first mentioned, that, like

sensation (which is an elementary form of intuition) it provides

"matter" for the mind to work upon. So far, it may rightly be

deemed passive--receptive. But only half the story is thus told.

The mind reacts upon the "matter" so provided, and gives it

context and meaning. Even the sense-organ reacts to the

physical stimulus, and conditions it in its own fashion; much

more will the mind as a whole assert itself. Indeed it is only on

condition of such action and reaction that any union, or

communion, worthy of the name, can be effected. And should it

be suspected that the distinction between "matter" and "form" is

too Kantian and technical (though it is not intended to be such)

the matter can be stated in more general terms by saying that in

all forms of intuition, from the lowest to the highest, the mind

goes out to meet that which comes to it--there is always some

movement from within, be it desire, emotion, sympathy, or

other like affection. In short, the self, as long as it is a self,

can never be purely passive.

Consider from this point of view the following passage from

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

the intense communion I held with the earth, the sun and 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, of an organ,

with which I swelled forth the notes of my soul, redoubling my

own voice by their power. The great sun burning with light; the

strong earth, dear earth; the warm sky; the pure air; the thought

of ocean; the inexpressible beauty of all filled me with a

rapture, an ecstasy, an inflatus. With this inflatus, too, I prayed."

How strong throughout the activity of the soul--culminating in

prayer! And by "prayer," Jefferies distinctly states that he

means, not "a request for anything preferred to a deity," but

intense soul-emotion, intense aspiration, intense desire for fuller

soul-life--all the marks of the highest forms of mysticism, and

proportionately strengthened soul-activities.

And what, then, shall be said of Wordsworth?

"I deem that there are Powers

Which of themselves our minds impress;

That we can feed these minds of ours

In a wise passiveness.

Think you, 'mid all this mighty sum

Of things for over speaking,

That nothing of itself will come,

But we must still be seeking."

Is not this, it may be asked, in harmony with the older doctrine?

Not so. There is a rightful and wholesome insistence on the

necessity for a receptive attitude of mind. Jefferies, too, was

intensely receptive as well as intensely active. But Wordsworth

is contrasting concentration of the mind on definite studies and

on book-lore with the laying of it open to the influences of

nature. He calls this latter a "wise passiveness"--a "dreaming":

but is nevertheless an active passivity--a waking dream. All the

senses are to be in healthy working order; a deep consciousness

is to be gently playing over the material which nature so

spontaneously supplies. And so it comes that he can tell of

"A Presence that disturbs me with the joy

Of elevated thoughts."

Is not this the same experience as that of Jefferies, only passing

through a mind of calmer tone. And if at times Wordsworth also

is lifted into an ecstasy, when

"the light of sense

Goes out, but with a flash that has revealed

The invisible world,"

his mind is not in an Absolutist state of passivity, but, on the

contrary, is stirred to higher forms of consciousness. The

experiences may, or may not be such as subsequent reflection

can reduce to order--that is immaterial to the issue--but at any

rate they imply activity. We may safely conclude, therefore, that

intuition in all its grades necessitates a specialised soul-activity

as well as a specialised soul-passivity.

It will have been apparent in what has preceded that there are

many grades of intuition, rising from sense-perception to what

is known as ecstasy. Some may doubt the wisdom of admitting

ecstasy among the experiences of a sane, modern nature-mystic.

Certainly the word raises a prejudice in many minds. Certainly

the fanaticisms of religious Mysticism must be avoided. But

Jefferies was not frightened of the word to describe an

unwonted experience of exalted feeling; nor was Wordsworth

afraid to describe the experience itself:

"that serene and blessed mood

In which the affections gently lead us on--

Until the breath of this corporeal flame,

And even the motion of our human blood

Almost suspended, we are laid asleep

In body, and become a living soul;

While with an eye made quiet by the power

Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,

We see into the life of things."

This is in many respects the same type of experience as that

described by Plotinus--"the life of the gods, and of divine and

happy men"--but shorn of its needless degradation of the

body and the senses, which, with Wordsworth are still and

transcended, but remain as a foundation for all the rest. There is

yet another and very significant point of difference. Porphyry, a

disciple of Plotinus, tells us that his master attained to the

ecstatic condition four times only in the six years which he

spent in his company. How often Wordsworth attained to his

form of ecstasy we do not know. But there is the little word

"we" which occurs throughout his description: and this

evidently links the past on to his readers. That is to say, he does

not sever his experience from that which is open to ordinary

humanity. He called for and anticipated genuine sympathy. Nor

was he wrong in making this demand, for there are few

sensitive lovers of nature who are not able to parallel, in some

degree, what the English high-priest of Nature Mysticism has so

wonderfully described. And as for the lower and simpler grades

of feeling for nature, given that the conditions of life are

"natural," they are practically universal, though often