Monday, September 25th 2017

Demystifying mysticism

From a hero’s journey to a great awakening, 4 similar features spiritual masters like Jesus, Lao-tse and Gandhi share in common


GUEST COLUMN: RONDA LARUE — More and more people have been asking me lately, “What do you mean by the word mystic?” There’s a lot of confused thinking out there and some outright misconceptions about the term. In a very real sense — and because mysticism concerns the essence of life — it is audacious to even try and define it. Words are insufficient and often get in the way of understanding.

Mysticism is a quality of presence that is quite literally beyond and before any words. Nevertheless l, like others, feel compelled to at least try to frame mysticism in words. Mysticism is terribly misunderstood by mainstream culture, and it always has been. Many people think being a mystic means some kind of odd occultism — someone who studies magic or renounces life and goes off to live in a cave. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The mystic is one who consciously enters into the sacred journey that all the world’s great religions speak of: Some call it becoming awakened, enlightened, born again. It is an inner journey. It is the true meaning of being born anew. It is the process of letting our stale beliefs die so that we may live in the fullness of each new moment of Creation. It is the understanding that conditioned patterns, belief systems and memory are not living, but dead moments. It is the realization that true living can only move with the current of Creation — forever open to each moment and teeming with new potential.

To let go the illusions of ego and stand naked before our true nature often requires removing oneself from typical ways of living and thinking (at least for a time). In sacred literature this is often referred to as entering the wilderness, facing the dark night of the soul, annihilation of the ego or dying to oneself to be born again. It is a fundamental transformation of conscious understanding that the mystic acquires.

The journey a mystic takes to successfully deconstruct the layers of conditioning that block true awareness — or what emerges from it — can often look and sound very mysterious (if not down-right confusing) to the uninitiated and linear mind. But in truth, it is the deepest meaning upon which the world’s great religions were founded. It is the journey to discovering and experiencing a direct relationship with/as God or the Source of All Creation. It is each individual soul coming to directly know itself within the Divine. It is the fulfillment of our purpose: “I and my father are one.”

So you see, a mystic is one who, above all else in life, desires to know the deepest Truth of existence. A mystic is one who senses more to life than making a living or being of service in the world — although these things are both necessary and good. The mystic looks to something beyond survival and self-actualization desires: he looks to discover the deepest truth of our being as incarnate souls; to understand our greatest potential as reflections of God; to realize our wholeness within the Ground of All. The primary interest in life for the mystic is to discover truth, to know God, to see into man’s whole nature. The mystic sees all of life as an abundant opportunity to discover, realize, and express the Divine.

Mysticism springs from an insatiable curiosity for understanding the essential questions of Life: matters of God, Creation, the Infinite — and the human potential for knowing Truth. The mystic is the ultimate scientist who, looking beyond the obvious in all matters, asks: “Is this that I am seeing reality or illusion?” “What existed before this sense of reality?” “What existed before my mental constructs, my beliefs, my self-identity?” “Who is this that observes and self-reflects?” “What is at life’s very source?” That is the mystic.

Great Mystical Teachers of the Present and Past: Jesus, Ghandi, Job & Jung

Throughout history, mystics have been our guides; those who go before, those who see beyond, those who (so often) speak in riddles.

Every religion the world over (both of the east and west, orthodox and liberal) has at its origin the way-showing wisdom of one or more great mystics. Indeed, the men and women throughout history who have had the greatest spiritual integrity and direct authority are rightly called mystics: Jesus of Nazareth was a true mystic, as was Gandhi, Meister Eckhart, Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, William James, Thomas Merton, Sri Aurobindo, Sri Ramakrisna, Lao-tse, Shankara, Vivikananda, Abraham, Job, Carl Jung to name a mere few.

flammarion-woodcut-781371The Great Common Denominators

If you study the life of past mystics you’ll find they share several things in common:

1) They all speak of an induction – or of a need to learn/realize a new level of understanding. They all speak of a fundamental shift in consciousness (be it called awakening, realization, divination, or being born again).

2) They all tell of a journey into and through despair, of being “undone”, as the precursor to arrival — be it through experiencing 40 days and nights in the wilderness, starving under the Boddhi tree, facing the dark night of the soul, or the hero’s journey. This journey is the metamorphosis that all mystics have undergone in some way.

3) It is an inner journey that must be navigated alone. This is a hallmark of the mystic’s realization: The reason the journey must be alone is because that which must be faced, seen, and surrendered in order that something new can emerge, is only possible through sustaining the fear and despair process of being alone and meeting the ultimate and fundamental fear of “non-being” and of annihilation.

4) They all realize the frustration of being misunderstood by those who have not yet been through the awakening. A great deal of the mystical writings are devoted almost exclusively to the fact that fundamental spiritual truth cannot be understood by the intellect nor correctly put into words. It is known on a level that is before and beyond the mind. This is something unfathomable to those who have not yet had this breakthrough revelation – and particularly so in a culture that reduces our understanding of intelligence to that which is sensory, measurable and linear in nature. (Life isn’t only or always linear. In fact it rarely is, except in man-made constructions and habituated uses of the mind.)

william_blake_jacobs_ladderThe (mysterious) language of God

There is literally a new language/understanding that accompanies spiritual realization. The same old words now have entirely different, deeper layers of meaning and significance within the new framework. In fact, no words can encompass that which has been realized. That is why when the words of our world’s great mystics are heard through the common language of those who have not yet made the mystic’s journey, they are invariably misunderstood (misconstrued and misused). That is why Jesus was crucified. It is why we have “religious wars.” And it is why we have so much religious politic and prejudice corrupting the universal truth that one has to enter into alone.

That is why we see so many people (vainly) trying to “practice” their way into spiritual realization with all sorts of dogma, belief systems, religious structures, postures, and prayers. The reason these things don’t work is because the need to grasp something (the very mechanism of the mind that needs to hold on to anything for its salvation) is the very thing that has to be let go of!

It’s an odd sort of reverse psychology (with a double twist): The path to spiritual realization is completely antithetical to what anyone would call a path at all. It is always the subtle paradoxical opposite of what one tries to see, know, understand. That is why so much of it sounds like riddles. That is why I say it is a fundamentally different language.

That’s as close as I can come to pointing you toward finding your way: realize that we’re talking about developing an ear for a completely foreign language. Start listening into the unfamiliar, the unclear, the uncomfortable. Start living in not-knowing anything (not any thing!). From there, the new Language of Knowing emerges like one of those 3-D picture puzzles where the image is embedded within (and is more than) the dots. Listen in a new way – and not so much for new things (a key).

The word Mystic at its root stands for that which cannot be named – that which is forever before the naming: Source. The word also hints at the path to spiritual realization — to become capable of going into a terrain that is beyond the mind, separate from any belief, any identification or security.

The mystic is anybody who seeks to experience above all else, the direct expression of God/Source/Being in one’s life. He or she is anyone with the deep desire and courage necessary to look — and see — beyond the obvious; beyond the illusions of our self-created identities, and find what lies forever before and all around us, as the One that is All. The path is one of surrendering that which we hold as belief, identity, intellect. What emerges is the full expression of Being within the language of Love.

Ronda is an author and spiritual teacher living in Ojai, CA. Ronda runs Ojai’s Soul Arts retreat, which is featured in the Soul’s Code slide show about spiritual resorts. Her latest book is: “Remembering Who You Really Are: The Journey of Awakening to Soul”. For an expanded version of this article, visit Ronda’s website.

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13 Comments on “Demystifying mysticism”

  1. You hit the nail on the head. Those of us called to this path navigate it as ourselves.

  2. The mystic's path is always the most the challenging path but also the brightest. A mystic's existential question always revolves around their deepest yearning for Truth "What am I?".

  3. A most interesting article indeed! And you mentioned 4 of my favorite teachers!! William James, Thomas Merton, Sri Aurobindo, Sri Ramakrisna. Great to see. I have a few questions for you Ronda, if you might be so kind to clarify the true depth of this article, I would love to hear your feedback.
    1. You mention that a mystic is not someone who studies magic or renounces life or goes off to live in a cave, but that a mystic is one who consciously enters into the sacred journey that all the world’s great religions speak of.
    Are you therefore saying that mystics did not exist prior to the great world religions, and that mystic's do not exist in areas of the world that are as yet untouched by the great world religions?

    2. In this sentence, 'To let go the illusions of ego and stand naked before our true nature often requires removing oneself from typical ways of living and thinking'
    In regard to letting go of ego, do you speak of the Freudian version, or that structure which defends our individuality, or both?
    In 'To stand naked before our true nature'
    did you mean to set this sentence up as a duality?
    And, in the use of the word 'typical', to which level of development do you speak of here?
    To use the Spiral Dynamic model (there's an article on this site about this), there are about 10 different levels, all of which are specifically typical to individuals at each level, some of which do not have objectivity on the ego.

    3. In the sentence 'In sacred literature this is often referred to as entering the wilderness, facing the dark night of the soul, annihilation of the ego or dying to oneself to be born again.' Do you include here the dark night of the senses and the dark night of the self as part of the dark night of the soul?

    4. This sentence 'It is a fundamental transformation of conscious understanding that the mystic acquires.' Again, is the implication of duality (in the use of the word 'acquires') deliberate? And, 'transformation of conscious understanding' what exactly is the transformation of understanding of, I was not sure?

    5. And finally and thank you for your patience, here you say 'The mystic is anybody who seeks to experience above all else, the direct expression of God/Source/Being in one’s life.' It is known that a person will interpret their experience of God/Source/Being, and logically that interpretation will color its direct expression, so I would like for you to clarify if you are inferring interpretation according to the stage of development attained by the experiencer here? For instance, a Zen Buddhist, Hindu sage, and a radical fundamentalist all have access to experiences of God/Source/Being. However, the way in which each on will interpret that experience will be based on their particular stage of development, therefore, the direct expression of the experience may be very, very different indeed. What do you think?

    Again, thank you,
    With warmest regards, and best of luck with your work in the world.

    Mick Quinn
    Author of The Uncommon Path

  4. Ronda's 4th paragraph crystallizes it for me (in the machinery of thought).

    If there is a section of your head that says, "Oh, I get it. I'm clear! I'm enlightened" . . . that is *dualism*

    Advaita, non-dualism are labels in thought that describe an enlightened state.

    The divine paradox: an enlightened person would never pour forth the self-observation, "I've made it. I'm realized."

    It's a de facto betrayal that the mind has split-off: There is an active part of the mind that is observing something else and making editorial comments about it.

    "Non-dual" is a pointer to that state where the mind is not split-off or split-up -- and even more is fused with the knowing of the body.

    We know this when we have intimate physical contact with another: my body is mind. There *is* no mind. There is only awareness.

  5. It is interesting to observe the truth, the TRUTH and the inherent problems with language, semantics and judgment in trying to describe the indescribable. ;)

    The article is, at the very least, a clear exposition of the Common Denominators, which many of us have felt, experienced, and which we all know can barely be described!

    Thank you,all of you who commented. Yes, the mystic commits to a journey unlike and yet 'like' and only as oneSelf... the unconditional love of TRUTH and so through all of the layers of subjectivity - truth is largely subjective - to TRUTH which is not... and yet... as we traverse the worlds finding TRUTH in truth, and as we go, we do go on as 'authentic' - not the norm, not the 'done thing' yet also not alone... as evidenced!

    Thank you all and on your various journeys, May Every Blessing Find you!!
    (and may we find OurSelves)
    ~unending love

  6. Very well have been a liberating vessel for me today!! I am a Psychic Healer/Counselor(Have been since birth, but only channeling this professionally for a few years). I am 48 yrs old, & am finally almost 'THROUGH' the dark night of the soul, even though I've been doing this work for 22 yrs. My sessions are beginning to be so much more powerful,& direct now. It has been tough, but I'm awakening & understand what you're talking about...THANK YOU for the clarification.

    Psychic OM(Facebook)

  7. Well greetings there Mick and nice to “e-meet” at Soul’s Code.

    I do (very much) appreciate your inquiry and set of posed questions back on this article. It’s always enticing to have the rare opportunity to speak with a fellow writer and mull over the use of words and their meaning. That, for me, is the beauty of writing itself: to see how close I can come to the essence of something that is way beyond the limits of any word…and indeed way before the grasping of the mind to identify, hold and contain.

    Still, as you realize from our commonality of favorite great teachers, any point-by-point reply I could offer comes no closer to the Truth which (hopefully) rides on the waves between and beneath the words, and our linear structures of (mis)interpretation. No clarification of terms on my part here will bring us closer to Truth.

    If I attempt to satisfy our intellect’s hunger to know, hold, grasp, I only incite the very mechanism that keeps us from clear seeing (which, in my experience, is before interpretation of the mind. Clear seeing is thus impossible to grasp by the mind…but very possible to realize it’s dancing through direct experience).

    So I’m in pickle: I’d love to respond to you in respect for your good works and your sincere questions, strong mind and depth of study. And I’ll offer to enjoy just such dialogue one day in private with a cup of tea if you like. But I’d truly be of disservice to my lifework here, if I were to indulge in the intellect’s pleasure to wrangle over words and meanings in hopes of deeper understanding because that’s not where the deeper understanding and clarity reside!

    My SoulArts process of teaching has become an elegantly simple way to directly see the dualistic mechanisms of mind against a backdrop of a fundamentally free and apriori “Seeing”. My self has of course opinions and comparisons such as your questions request. But the truth is not in any such reply. It brings us no closer.

    So I hope you can appreciate that I’m not side-stepping your questions. Rather, this is the best I can offer back within the integrity and essence of what this article is pointing toward. No answer or clarification will ever satisfy the mind’s hearing. So the mind will try and satisfy itself with this response through all sorts of activity: interpretations, fantasy replies back, ways to be right or wrong or whatever is in the need-content of the mind. That’s just what the mind does as a dualistic, linear and containing structure.

    Thank you for stepping into the heart of the matter and for the opportunity to connect. I am in love with the paradox of it all. Join me for tea one day and we’ll enjoy the waves…



  8. As a self declared mystic I thoroughly enjoyed your article and Rhonda when you said " The mystic sees all of life as an abundant opportunity to discover, realize, and express the Divine. " it resonated with me deeply. Gratitude for all that has come, comes and will come to me is the foundation of my own path. Nothing happens to me, but everything happens for me. It is all Divine Grace- the fierce and the sweet. As practices, dogmas and beliefs are stripped away that is what sustains me.

  9. Hi Ronda,

    I am not sure if;
    I should thank you for your reply,
    not thank you for your reply,
    thank you for your non-reply
    or not thank you for your non-reply.

    But, I can say,
    that I have experienced
    a priori confusion
    like none below.

    For that,
    I thank you.

  10. ha! gave me a delighted chuckle Mick.

    Isn't confusion "The Great Portal".
    Forgetting; Remembering;
    Breathing In; Breathing Out
    Endless Endings

    So "this brings out that" right now:
    (...And really only for you here)

    1 to 5 Poem

    Both Yes Couldn't Say
    It All Depends

    Then another No
    But Prior to
    Comes Breakthrough.

    Fear is The Great Separator of All


    In (slightly impish) good humor and
    sincerely playful gratitude....
    Thank you! ;)

  11. "Actually The Transition is not so difficult....Probably the most important difficulty which has made Recognition a rare event is a characteristic in our type of consciousness. The focus is placed upon the objective content of consciousness. Development in this sense involves an ever greater and greater growth in complexity.

    Hence, when a person learns of Transcendental Consciousness and she seeks to Realize This, her first effort, rather naturally, is in the direction of a more complex ideology. The greater the intellectual evolution of an individual, the more likely is this to be the case. And this explains why it is so often just the able people who have most difficulty in effecting the Transition.

    Now, the effective focusing of consciousness is precisely in the diametrically opposite direction. It is toward the subjective moment in the subject-object manifold, and possesses the simplicity of a point. It is easily overlooked just because of its extreme simplicity.

    Yet it remains true that if the able person can succeed in finding this, he can reap a richer harvest, both for herself, individually, and for others, than is true in the case of those of inferior ability."--Franklin Merrell-Wolff, Pathways Through to Space, published by SUNY, 1994

  12. Humor is often the only option Ronda! :)

  13. yes indeedeeeoo -- and p.s. did you notice in the "1-5 Poem" that I proceeded toI "answer" each of your 5 originally posted "questions" to me? Enjoyed the connect. Ronda

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