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
o 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.