Tuesday, August 22nd 2017

God is in the Details: Mysticism for the Cosmically Clueless


I’ll admit that spiritually speaking, I’m still groping my way through the universe. My soul may have been around the block a few times, but with respect to its understanding of the how and what and why of my existence . . . it still has a great deal of homework to do.

I’ve always taken comfort in the philosophy of William James, who created a long laundry list of characteristics for mystical experience, but who also insisted that contact with the divine was not reserved for the high and mighty. In his view, everyday folks had equal access to the great hereafter, and being human and curious were sufficient conditions for finding it.

I regard those looking to “prove” all of this with great skepticism. I’m convinced that whatever else is “out there”, It wouldn’t be foolish enough to make Itself detectable through our pathetic Radio Shack gadgets.

I’m fairly certain that if orbs and light streaks in photographs prove anything, it’s that the spiritual world likes to pull faces and moon us. If the state of our universe proves anything, it’s that whatever or whoever is in charge has an incredible capacity for humor, and a keen sense of irony.

So I don’t look for the almighty (whoever he/she/they/it may be) in burning bushes, or statues that cry, or in strangely-shaped pit stains on my shirt. The cement Buddha in the garden, the likeness of Ganesha in the living room, and the Menorah with the holiday decorations are hopeful declarations of my desire to learn, but they’re not the basis of my faith.

I let myself off the hook and try to see connections to the universe in all of the little things over which I stumble on a daily basis. I feel a connection to my ancestors when I bite into a butter tart (my paternal grandmother’s signature dish). I smile when the dog stares at nothing in particular on the other side of the room and wags its tail. I read “true” ghost stories with the same vigour with which others grant celebrity tabloids.

I’m not looking for certainty, or tangible evidence, or even profound revelatory experience. What I crave, and what I treasure, are the same things that make-up James’ checklist: small moments of clarity and connection, and the sense that I’m not alone in the universe.

I felt this one afternoon in the subway, on my way home from a job I despised, in the midst of a quarter-life crisis. A violinist and keyboard player were filling the station with a respectable rendition of Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major. It may have been the echo, or the warm summer breeze, or the nagging persistence of twenty-something angst looking to relieve itself, but something happened. I had a fleeting, but very clear sense that this wasn’t it. There was so much more to come, and I wasn’t the only being frustrated by the long search. The most comforting aspect of the experience was that revelation wasn’t beyond me. Order and balance, wherever it came from, would find me eventually. And all I had to do was go about my business.

Amy is a freelance writer and educator. If you like what you experience here, you can find more of her at http://amysanomalies1.blogspot.com/ and here, http://www.amyleask.com

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2 Comments on “God is in the Details: Mysticism for the Cosmically Clueless”

  1. I never thought of William James in that way, but you're right.

    The university I went to had this beautiful font -- literally etched in stone -- across the horizontal stone beam of the dining hall, a kind of classical graffiti displaying one of James's deepest truths: "A chain is no stronger than its weakest link, and life is after all a chain."

    The weak link in the chain is now a stereotype that has been cheapened and leavened by management gurs -- Oops! Everyone's a guru :) But James' expression of the insight is one of the most powerful spiritual truths that speaks to the communune of being.

    By 'weak' link, I believe he meant "unconscious" link. And we have all experienced that drop-out of consciousness in work, love and family.

    Thank you

  2. A lot of intelligent stuff has been written about this form of experience - William James, Evelyn Underhill and Walter Stace are a few I've read. One of them, for example, distinguishes "extrovertive" and "introvertive" mystical experience. An example of the former is the sense of unity with life that we can experience in relation to nature; the latter, the kind of experience that can be had in contemplative prayer or meditation.

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