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W e come now to consider the mental apparatus which is at the disposal of the self: to ask what it can tell us of the method by which she may escape from the prison of the sense-world, transcend its rhythm, and attain knowledge of—or conscious contact with—a supra-sensible Reality. We have seen the normal self shut within that prison, and making, by the help of science and of philosophy, a survey of the premises and furniture: testing the thickness of the walls and speculating on the possibility of trustworthy news from without penetrating to her cell. Shut with her in that cell, two forces, the desire to know more and the desire to love more, are ceaselessly at work. Where the first of these cravings predominates, we call the result a philosophical or a scientific temperament; where it is overpowered by the ardour of unsatisfied love, the self’s reaction upon things becomes poetic, artistic, and characteristically—though not always explicitly—religious.
We have seen further that a certain number of persons declare that they have escaped from the prison. Have they done so, it can only be in order to satisfy these two hungry desires, for these, and these only, make that a prison which might otherwise be a comfortable hotel; and since, in varying degrees, these desires are in all of us, active or latent, it is clearly worth while to discover, if we can, the weak point in the walls, and method of achieving this one possible way of escape. 45
Before we try to define in psychological language the way in which the mystic slips the fetters of sense, sets out upon his journey towards home, it seems well to examine the machinery which is at the disposal of the normal, conscious self: the creature, or part of a creature, which we recognize as “ourselves.” The older psychologists were accustomed to say that the messages from the outer world awaken in that self three main forms of activity. (1) They arouse movements of attraction or repulsion, of desire or distaste; which vary in intensity from the semi-conscious cravings of the hungry infant to the passions of the lover, artist, or fanatic. (2) They stimulate a sort of digestive process, in which she combines and cogitates upon the material presented to her; finally absorbing a certain number of the resulting concepts and making them part of herself or of her world, (3) The movements of desire, or the action of reason, or both in varying combinations, awaken in her a determination by which percept and concept issue in action; bodily, mental, or spiritual. Hence, the main aspects of the self were classified as Emotion, Intellect, and Will: and the individual temperament was regarded as emotional, intellectual, or volitional, according to whether feeling, thought, or will assumed the reins.
Modern psychologists have moved away from this diagrammatic conception, and incline more and more to dwell upon the unity of the psyche—that hypothetical self which none have ever seen—and on some aspect of its energetic desire, its libido, or “hormic drive” as the ruling factor of its life. These conceptions are useful to the student of mysticism, though they cannot be accepted uncritically or regarded as complete.
Now the unsatisfied psyche in her emotional aspect wants, as we have said, to love more; her curious intellect wants to know more. The awakened human creature suspects that both appetites are being kept on a low diet; that there really is more to love, and more to know, somewhere in the mysterious world without, and further that its powers of affection and understanding are worthy of some greater and more durable objective than that provided by the illusions of sense. Urged therefore by the cravings of feeling or of thought, consciousness is always trying to run out to the encounter of the Absolute, and always being forced to return. The neat philosophical system, the diagrams of science, the “sunset-touch,” are tried in turn. Art and life, the accidents of our humanity, may foster an emotional outlook; till the moment in which the neglected intellect arises and pronounces such an outlook to have no validity. Metaphysics and science seem to offer to the intellect an open window towards truth; till the heart looks out and declares this landscape to be a chill desert in which 46 she can find no nourishment. These diverse aspects of things must be either fused or transcended if the whole self is to be satisfied; for the reality which she seeks has got to meet both claims and pay in full.
When Dionysius the Areopagite divided those angels who stand nearest God into the Seraphs who are aflame with perfect love, and the Cherubs who are filled with perfect knowledge, he only gave expression to the two most intense aspirations of the human soul, and described under an image the two-fold condition of that Beatific Vision which is her goal. 5757 The wise Cherubs, according to the beautiful imagery of Dionysius, are “all eyes,” but the loving Seraphs are “all wings.” Whilst the Seraphs, the figure of intensest Love, “ move perpetually towards things divine,” ardour and energy being their characteristics, the characteristic of the Cherubs is receptiveness their power of absorbing the rays of the Supernal Light. (Dionysius the Areopagite, “De Caelesti Ierarchia,” vi. 2, and vii. 1.)
There is a sense in which it may be said, that the desire of knowledge is a part of the desire of perfect love: since one aspect of that all inclusive passion is clearly a longing to know, in the deepest, fullest, closest sense, the thing adored. Love’s characteristic activity—for Love, all wings, is inherently active, and “cannot be lazy,” as the mystics say—is a quest, an outgoing towards an object desired, which only when possessed will be fully known, and only when fully known can be perfectly adored. 5858 So Récéjac says of the mystics, they desire to know, only that they may love; and their desire for union with the principle of things in God, Who is the sum of them all, is founded on a feeling which is neither curiosity nor self-interest” (“Fondements de la Connaissance Mystique,” p. 50). Intimate communion, no less than worship, is of its essence. Joyous fruition is its proper end. This is true of all Love’s quests, whether the Beloved be human or divine—the bride, the Grail, the Mystic Rose, the Plenitude of God. But there is no sense in which it can be said that the desire of love is merely a part of the desire of perfect knowledge: for that strictly intellectual ambition includes no adoration, no self-spending, no reciprocity of feeling between Knower and Known. Mere knowledge, taken alone, is a matter of receiving, not of acting: of eyes, not wings: a dead alive business at the best. There is thus a sharp distinction to be drawn between these two great expressions of life: the energetic love, the passive knowledge. One is related to the eager, outgoing activity, the dynamic impulse to do somewhat, physical, mental, or spiritual, which is inherent in all living things and which psychologists call conation: the other to the indwelling consciousness, the passive knowing somewhat, which they call cognition.
Now “conation” is almost wholly the business of will, but of will stimulated by emotion: for wilful action of every kind, however intellectual it may seem, is always the result of interest, and 47 interest involves feeling. We act because we feel we want to; feel we must. Whether the inspiring force be a mere preference or an overwhelming urge, our impulse to “do” is a synthesis of determination and desire. All man’s achievements are the result of conation, never of mere thought. “The intellect by itself moves nothing,” said Aristotle, and modern psychology has but affirmed this law. Hence his quest of Reality is never caused, though it may be greatly assisted, by the intellectual aspect of his consciousness; for the reasoning powers as such have little initiative. Their province is analytic, not exploratory. They stay at home, dissecting and arranging matter that comes to hand; and do not adventure beyond their own region in search of food. Thought does not penetrate far into an object in which the self feels no interest— i.e. , towards which she does not experience a “conative” movement of attraction, of desire—for interest is the only method known to us of arousing the will, and securing the fixity of attention necessary to any intellectual process. None think for long about anything for which they do not care; that is to say, which does not touch some aspect of their emotional life. They may hate it, love it, fear it, want it; but they must have some feeling about it. Feeling is the tentacle we stretch out to the world of things.
Here the lesson of psychology is the same as that which Dante brought back from his pilgrimage; the supreme importance and harmonious movement of il desiro and il velle. Si come rota ch’egualmente è mossa , 5959 Par. xxxiii. 143. these move together to fulfil the Cosmic Plan. In all human life, in so far as it is not merely a condition of passive “awareness,” the law which he found implicit in the universe is the law of the individual mind. Not logic, not “common sense,”but l’amor che move il sole e le altre stelle the motive force of the spirit of man: in the inventors, the philosophers, and the artists, no less than in the heroes and in the saints.
The vindication of the importance of feeling in our life, and in particular its primacy over reason in all that has to do with man’s contact with the transcendental world, has been one of the great achievements of modern psychology. In the sphere of religion it is now acknowledged that “God known of the heart” gives a better account of the character of our spiritual experience than “God guessed at by the brain”; that the loving intuition is more fruitful and more trustworthy than the dialectic proof. One by one the commonplaces of mysticism are thus rediscovered by official science, and given their proper place in the psychology of the spiritual life. Thus Leuba, hardly a friendly witness, is found to agree with the Fourth Evangelist that “Life, more life, a larger, richer, more satisfying life, is in the last analysis the end of 48 religion,” 6060 The Monist , July, 1901, p. 572. and we have seen that life, as we know it, has the character of a purposive striving, more directly dependent on will and feeling then on thought. Of this drive, this urge, thought indeed is but the servant; a skilled and often arrogant servant, with a constant tendency to usurpation. Some form of feeling—interest, desire, fear, appetite—must supply the motive power. Without this, the will would be dormant, and the intellect lapse into a calculating machine.
Further, “the heart has its reasons which the mind knows not of.” It is a matter of experience that in our moments of deep emotion, transitory though they be, we plunge deeper into the reality of things than we can hope to do in hours of the most brilliant argument. At the touch of passion doors fly open which logic has battered on in vain: for passion rouses to activity not merely the mind, but the whole vitality of man. It is the lover, the poet, the mourner, the convert, who shares for a moment the mystic’s privilege of lifting that Veil of Isis which science handles so helplessly, leaving only her dirty fingermarks behind. The heart, eager and restless, goes out into the unknown, and brings home, literally and actually, “fresh food for thought.” Hence those who “feel to think” are likely to possess a richer, more real, if less orderly, experience than those who “think to feel.”
This psychological law, easily proved in regard to earthly matters, holds good also upon the supersensual plane. It was expressed once for all by the author of “The Cloud of Unknowing” when he said of God, “By love He may be gotten and holden, but by thought of understanding, never.” 6161 “The Cloud of Unknowing,” cap. vi. That exalted feeling, that “secret blind love pressing,” not the neat deductions of logic, the apologist’s “proofs” of the existence of the Absolute, unseals the eyes to things unseen before. “Therefore,” says the same mystic “what time that thou purposest thee to this work, and feelest by grace that thou art called of God, lift then up thine heart unto God with a meek stirring of love; and mean God that made thee and bought thee, and that graciously hath called thee to thy degree and receive none other thought of God. And yet not all these but if thou list; for it sufficeth thee enough, a naked intent direct unto God without any other cause than Himself.” 6262 Op. cit., cap. vii. Here we see emotion at its proper work; the movement of desire passing over at once into the act of concentration, the gathering up of all the powers of the self into a state of determined attention, which is the business of the Will. “This driving and drawing,” says Ruysbroeck, “we feel in the heart and in the unity of all our bodily powers, and especially in the desirous powers.” 6363 “De Ornatu Spiritalium Nuptiarum,” I. ii. cap. v. This act of perfect concentration, 49 the passionate focussing of the self upon one point, when it is applied “with a naked intent” to real and transcendental things, constitutes in the technical language of mysticism the state of recollection: 6464 See below, Pt. II. Cap. VI. a condition which is peculiarly characteristic of the mystical consciousness, and is the necessary prelude of pure contemplation, that state in which the mystic enters into communion with Reality.
We have then arrived so far in our description of the mechanism of the mystic. Possessed like other men of powers of feeling, thought, and will, it is essential that his love and his determination, even more than his thought, should be set upon Transcendent Reality. He must feel a strong emotional attraction toward the supersensual Object of his quest: that love which scholastic philosophy defined as the force or power which causes every creature to follow out the trend of its own nature. Of this must be born the will to attain communion with that Absolute Object. This will, this burning and active desire, must crystallize into and express itself by that definite and conscious concentration of the whole self upon the Object, which precedes the contemplative state. We see already how far astray are those who look upon the mystical temperament as passive in type.
Our next concern, then, would seem to be with this condition of contemplation: what it does and whither it leads. What is (a) its psychological explanation and (b) its empirical value? Now, in dealing with this, and other rare mental conditions, we are of course trying to describe from without that which can only adequately be described from within; which is as much as to say that only mystics can really write about mysticism. Fortunately, many mystics have so written; and we, from their experiences and from the explorations of psychology upon another plane, are able to make certain elementary deductions. It appears generally from these that the act of contemplation is for the mystic a psychic gateway; a method of going from one level of consciousness to another. In technical language it is the condition under which he shifts his “field of perception” and obtains his characteristic outlook on the universe. That there is such a characteristic outlook, peculiar to no creed or race, is proved by the history of mysticism; which demonstrates plainly enough that in some men another sort of consciousness, another “sense,” may be liberated beyond the normal powers we have discussed. This “sense” has attachments at each point to emotion, to intellect, and to will. It can express itself under each of the aspects which these terms connote. Yet it differs from and transcends the emotional, intellectual, and volitional life of ordinary men. It was recognized by 50 Plato as that consciousness which could apprehend the real world of the Ideas. Its development is the final object of that education which his “Republic” describes. It is called by Plotinus “Another intellect, different from that which reasons and is denominated rational.” 6565 Plotinus, Ennead vi. 9. Its business, he says, is the perception of the supersensual—or, in Neoplatonic language, the intelligible world. It is the sense which, in the words of the “Theologia Germanica,” has “the power of seeing into eternity,” 6666 “Theologia Germanica,” cap. vii. (trans. Winkworth). the “mysterious eye of the soul” by which St. Augustine saw “the light that never changes.” 6767 Aug. Conf., bk. vii. cap. x. It is, says Al Ghazzali, a Persian mystic of the eleventh century, “like an immediate perception, as if one touched its object with one’s hand.” 6868 A. Schmölders, “Essai sur les Écoles Philosophique chez les Arabes,” p. 68. In the words of his great Christian successor, St. Bernard, “it may be defined as the soul’s true unerring intuition, the unhesitating apprehension of truth”: 6969 “De Consideration,” bk. ii. cap. ii. which “simple vision of truth,” says St. Thomas Aquinas, “ends in a movement of desire.” 7070 “Summa Theologica,” ii. ii. q. clxxx, art. 3. eds. 1 and 3.
It is infused with burning love, for it seems to its possessors to be primarily a movement of the heart: with intellectual subtlety, for its ardour is wholly spent upon the most sublime object of thought: with unflinching will, for its adventures are undertaken in the teeth of the natural doubts, prejudices, languors, and self-indulgence of man. These adventures, looked upon by those who stay at home as a form of the Higher Laziness, are in reality the last and most arduous labours which the human spirit is called to perform. They are the only known methods by which we can come into conscious possession of all our powers; and, rising from the lower to the higher levels of consciousness, become aware of that larger life in which we are immersed, attain communion with the transcendent Personality in Whom that life is resumed.
Mary has chosen the better, not the idler part; for her gaze is directed towards those First Principles without which the activity of Martha would have no meaning at all. In vain does sardonic common sense, confronted with the contemplative type, reiterate the sneer of Mucius, “Encore sont-ils heureux que la pauvre Marthe leur fasse la cuisine.” It remains a paradox of the mystics that the passivity at which they appear to aim is really a state of the most intense activity: more, that where it is wholly absent no great creative action can take place. In it, the superficial self compels itself to be still, in order that it may liberate another 51 more deep-seated power which is, in the ecstasy of the contemplative genius, raised to the highest pitch of efficiency.
“This restful travail,” said Walter Hilton, “is full far from fleshly idleness and from blind security. It is full of ghostly work but it is called rest, for grace looseth the heavy yoke of fleshly love from the soul and maketh it mighty and free through the gift of the holy ghostly love for to work gladly, softly, and delectably. . . . Therefore is it called an holy idleness and a rest most busy; and so is it in stillness from the great crying and the beastly noise of fleshly desires.” 7171 Walter Hilton, “The Scale of Perfection,” bk. ii. cap. xl.
If those who have cultivated this latent power be correct in their statements, the self was mistaken in supposing herself to be entirely shut off from the true external universe. She has, it seems certain tentacles which, once she learns to uncurl them, will stretch sensitive fingers far beyond that limiting envelope in which her normal consciousness is contained, and give her news of a higher reality than that which can be deduced from the reports of the senses. The fully developed and completely conscious human soul can open as an anemone does, and know the ocean in which she is bathed. This act, this condition of consciousness, in which barriers are obliterated, the Absolute flows in on us, and we, rushing out to its embrace, “find and feel the Infinite above all reason and above all knowledge,” 7272 Ruysbroeck, “De Septem Gradibus Amoris,” cap. xiv. is the true “mystical state.” The value of contemplation is that it tends to produce this state, release this transcendental sense; and so turns the “lower servitude” in which the natural man lives under the sway of his earthly environment to the “higher servitude” of fully conscious dependence on that Reality “in Whom we live and move and have our being.”
What then, we ask, is the nature of this special sense—this transcendental consciousness—and how does contemplation liberate it?
Any attempt to answer this question brings upon the scene another aspect of man’s psychic life: an aspect of paramount importance to the student of the mystic type. We have reviewed the chief ways in which our surface consciousness reacts upon experience: a surface consciousness which has been trained through long ages to deal with the universe of sense. We know, however, that the personality of man is a far deeper and more mysterious thing than the sum of his conscious feeling, thought and will: that this superficial self—this Ego of which each of us is aware—hardly counts in comparison with the deeps of being which it hides. “There is a root or depth in thee,” says Law, “from whence all these faculties come forth as lines from a centre, 52 or as branches from the body of a tree. This depth is called the centre, the fund, or bottom, of the soul. This depth is the unity, the Eternity, I had almost said the infinity of thy soul, for it is so infinite that nothing can satisfy it, or give it any rest, but the infinity of God.” 7373 “The Spirit of Prayer” (“Liberal and Mystical Writings of William Law,” p, 14). So too St. François de Sales says: “This root is the depth of the spirit, Mens , which others call the Kingdom of God.” The same doctrine appears, under various symbols, in all the Christian Mystics.
Since normal man is utterly unable to set up relations with spiritual reality by means of his feeling, thought, and will, it is clearly in this depth of being—in these unplumbed levels of personality—that we must search, if we would find the organ, the power, by which he is to achieve the mystic quest. That alteration of consciousness which takes place in contemplation can only mean the emergence from this “fund or bottom of the soul” of some faculty which diurnal life keeps hidden “in the deeps.”
Modern psychology, in its doctrine of the unconscious or subliminal personality, has acknowledged this fact of a range of psychic life lying below and beyond the conscious field. Indeed, it has so dwelt upon and defined this shadowy region—which is really less a “region” than a useful name—that it sometimes seems to know more about the unconscious than about the conscious life of man. There it finds, side by side, the sources of his most animal instincts, his least explicable powers, his most spiritual intuitions: the “ape and tiger,” and the “soul.” Genius and prophecy, insomnia and infatuation, clairvoyance, hypnotism, hysteria, and “Christian” science—all are explained by the “unconscious mind.” In his destructive moods the psychologist has little apparent difficulty in reducing the chief phenomena of religious and mystical experience to activities of the “unconscious,” seeking an oblique satisfaction of repressed desires. Where he undertakes the more dangerous duties of apologetic, he explains the same phenomena by saying that “God speaks to man in the subconsciousness,” 7474 Cutten, “Psychological Phenomena of Christianity,” p. 18. James, “Varieties of Religious Experience,” p. 155. For a temperate and balanced discussion, see Pratt: “The Religious Consciousness.” by which he can only mean that our apprehensions of the eternal have the character of intuition rather than of thought. Yet the “unconscious” after all is merely a convenient name for the aggregate of those powers, parts, or qualities of the whole self which at any given moment are not conscious, or that the Ego is not conscious of. Included in the unconscious region of an average healthy man are all those automatic activities by which the life of the body is carried on: all those “uncivilized” instincts and vices, those remains of the ancestral savage, which education has 53 forced out of the stream of consciousness and which now only send their messages to the surface in a carefully disguised form. There too work in the hiddenness those longings for which the busy life of the world leaves no place; and there lies that deep pool, that heart of personality, from which in moments of lucidity a message may reach the conscious field. Hence in normal men the best and worst, most savage and most spiritual parts of character, are bottled up “below the threshold.” Often the partisans of the “unconscious” forget to mention this.
It follows, then, that whilst we may find it convenient and indeed necessary to avail ourselves of the symbols and diagrams of psychology in tracking out the mystic way, we must not forget the large and vague significance which attaches to these symbols, and the hypothetical character of many of the entities they represent. Nor must we allow ourselves to use the “unconscious” as the equivalent of man’s transcendental sense. Here the mystics have surely displayed a more scientific spirit, a more delicate power of analysis, than the psychologists. They, too, were aware that in normal men the spiritual sense lies below the threshold of consciousness. Though they had not at their command the spatial metaphors of the modern school, and could not describe man’s ascent toward God in those picturesque terms of levels and uprushes, margins and fields, projection, repression, and sublimation, which now come so naturally to investigators of the spiritual life, they leave us in no doubt as to their view of the facts. Further, man’s spiritual history primarily meant for them, as it means for us, the emergence of this transcendental sense; its capture of the field of consciousness, and the opening up of those paths which permit the inflow of a larger spiritual life, the perception of a higher reality. This, in so far as it was an isolated act, was “contemplation.” When it was part of the general life process, and had permanent results, they called it the New Birth, which “maketh alive.” The faculty or personality concerned in the “New Birth”—the “spiritual man,” capable of the spiritual vision and life, which was dissociated from the “earthly man” adapted only to the natural life—was always sharply distinguished by them from the total personality, conscious or unconscious. It was something definite; a bit or spot of man which, belonging not to Time but to Eternity, was different in kind from the rest of his human nature, framed in all respects to meet the demands of the merely natural world. 7575 Note to the 12th Edition. During the eighteen years which have elapsed since this chapter was written, much work has been done on the psychology of mysticism. After suffering severely at the hands of the “new psychologists” the contemplative faculty is once more taken seriously; and there is even some disposition to accept or restate the account of it given by the mystics. Thus Bremond (“Prière et Poésie” and “Introduction à la Philosophie de la Prière”) insists on the capital distinction between the surface-mind, capable of rational knowledge, and the deeper mind, organ of mystical knowledge, and operative in varying degrees in religion poetic, and Esthetic apprehensions. The business of the mystic in the eyes of these old specialists was to remake, transmute, his total personality in the interest 54 of his spiritual self; to bring it out of the hiddenness, and unify himself about it as a centre, thus “putting on divine humanity.”
The divine nucleus, the point of contact between man’s life and the divine life in which it is immersed and sustained, has been given many names in course of the development of mystical doctrine. All clearly mean the same thing, though emphasizing different aspects of its life. Sometimes it is called the Synteresis, 7676 An interesting discussion of the term “Synteresis” will be found in Dr. Inge’s “Christian Mysticism,” Appendix C, pp. 359, 360. the keeper or preserver of his being: sometimes the Spark of the Soul, the Fünklein of the German mystics: sometimes its Apex the point at which it touches the heavens. Then, with a sudden flight to the other end of the symbolic scale, and in order to emphasize its participation in pure Being, rather than its difference from mere nature, it is called the Ground of the Soul, the foundation or basal stuff indwelt by God, whence springs all spiritual life. Clearly all these guesses and suggestions aim at one goal and are all to be understood in a symbolic sense; for, as Malaval observed in answer to his disciples’ anxious inquiries on this subject, “since the soul of man is a spiritual thing and thus cannot have divisions or parts, consequently it cannot have height or depth, summit or surface. But because we judge spiritual things by the help of material things, since we know these better and they are more familiar to us, we call the highest of all forms of conception the summit, and the easier way of comprehending things the surface, of the understanding.” 7777 “La Pratique de la Vraye Theologie Mystique,” vol. 1. p. 204.
Here at any rate, whatever name we may choose to give it, is the organ of man’s spiritual consciousness; the place where he meets the Absolute, the germ of his real life. Here is the seat of that deep “Transcendental Feeling,” the “beginning and end of metaphysics” which is, says Professor Stewart, “at once the solemn sense of Timeless Being—of ‘That which was and is and ever shall be’ overshadowing us—and the conviction that Life is good.” “I hold,” says the same writer, “that it is in Transcendental Feeling, manifested normally as Faith in the Value of Life, and ecstatically as sense of Timeless Being, and not in Thought proceeding by way of speculative construction, that Consciousness comes nearest to the object of metaphysics, Ultimate Reality.” 7878 J. A. Stewart, ‘*The Myths of Plato,” pp. 41, 43. Perhaps I may point out that this Transcendental Feeling—the ultimate material alike of prayer and of poetry—has, like the mystic consciousness, a dual perception of Reality: static being and dynamic life. See above, p. 42. 55
The existence of such a “sense,” such an integral part or function of the complete human being, has been affirmed and dwelt upon not only by the mystics, but by seers and teachers of all times and creeds: by Egypt, Greece, and India, the poets, the fakirs, the philosophers, and the saints. A belief in its actuality is the pivot of the Christian position; indeed of every religion worthy of the name. It is the justification of mysticism, asceticism, the whole machinery of the self-renouncing life. That there is an extreme point at which man’s nature touches the Absolute: that his ground, or substance, his true being, is penetrated by the Divine Life which constitutes the underlying reality of things; this is the basis on which the whole mystic claim of possible union with God must rest. Here, they say, is our link with reality; and in this place alone can be celebrated the “marriage from which the Lord comes.” 7979 Tauler, Sermon on St. Augustine (“The Inner Way,” p. 162).
To use another of their diagrams, it is thanks to the existence within him of this immortal spark from the central fire, that man is implicitly a “child of the infinite.” The mystic way must therefore be a life, a discipline, which will so alter the constituents of his mental life as to include this spark within the conscious field; bring it out of the hiddenness, from those deep levels where it sustains and guides his normal existence, and make it the dominant element round which his personality is arranged.
It is clear that under ordinary conditions, and save for sudden gusts of “Transcendental Feeling” induced by some saving madness such as Religion, Art, or Love, the superficial self knows nothing of the attitude of this silent watcher—this “Dweller in the Innermost”—towards the incoming messages of the external world: nor of the activities which they awake in it. Concentrated on the sense-world, and the messages she receives from it, she knows nothing of the relations which exist between this subject and the unattainable Object of all thought. But by a deliberate inattention to the messages of the senses, such as that which is induced by contemplation, the mystic can bring the ground of the soul, the seat of “Transcendental Feeling,” within the area of consciousness: making it amenable to the activity of the will. Thus becoming unaware of his usual and largely fictitious “external world,” another and more substantial set of perceptions, which never have their chance under normal conditions, rise to the surface. Sometimes these unite with the normal reasoning faculties. More often, they supersede them. Some such exchange, such “losing to find,” appears to be necessary, if man’s transcendental powers are to have their full chance.
“The two eyes of the soul of man,” says the “Theologia 56 Germanica,” here developing a profound Platonic image, “cannot both perform their work at once: but if the soul shall see with the right eye into eternity, then the left eye must close itself and refrain from working, and be as though it were dead. For if the left eye be fulfilling its office toward outward things, that is holding converse with time and the creatures; then must the right eye be hindered in its working; that is, in its contemplation. Therefore, whosoever will have the one must let the other go; for ‘no man can serve two masters.’“ 8080 “Theologia Germanica,” cap. vii. Compare “De Imitatione Christi,” 1. iii. cap. 38.
There is within us an immense capacity for perception, for the receiving of messages from outside; and a very little consciousness which deals with them. It is as if one telegraph operator were placed in charge of a multitude of lines: all may be in action, but he can only attend to one at a time. In popular language, there is not enough consciousness to go round. Even upon the sensual plane, no one can be aware of more than a few things at once. These fill the centre of our field of consciousness: as the object on which we happen to have focussed our vision dominates our field of sight. The other matters within that field retreat to the margin. We know, dimly, that they are there; but we pay them no attention and should hardly miss them if they ceased to exist.
Transcendental matters are, for most of us, always beyond the margin; because most of us have given up our whole consciousness to the occupation of the senses, and permitted them to construct there a universe in which we are contented to remain. Only in certain states—recollection, contemplation, ecstasy and their allied conditions—does the self contrive to turn out the usual tenants, shut the “gateways of the flesh,” and let those submerged powers which are capable of picking up messages from another plane of being have their turn. Then it is the sense-world which retreats beyond the margin, and another landscape that rushes in. At last, then, we begin to see something of what contemplation does for its initiates. It is one of the many names applied to that chain of processes which have for their object this alteration of the mental equilibrium: the putting to sleep of that “Normal Self” which usually wakes, and the awakening of that “Transcendental Self” which usually sleeps. To man, “meeting-point of various stages of reality,” is given—though he seldom considers it—this unique power of choosing his universe.
The phenomenon known as double or disintegrated personality may perhaps give us a hint as to the mechanical nature of the change which contemplation effects. In this psychic malady the total character of the patient is split up; a certain group of qualities 57 are, as it were, abstracted from the surface-consciousness and so closely associated as to form in themselves a complete “character” or “personality”—necessarily poles asunder from the “character” which the self usually shows to the world, since it consists exclusively of those elements which are omitted from it. Thus in the classical case of Miss Beauchamp, the investigator, Dr. Morton Prince, called the three chief “personalities,” from their ruling characteristics, “the Saint,” “the Woman,” and “the Devil.” 8181 Morton Prince, “The Dissociation of a Personality,” p. 16. The totality of character which composed the “real Miss Beauchamp” had split up into these contrasting types; each of which was excessive, because withdrawn from the control of the rest. When, voluntarily or involuntarily, the personality which had possession of the field of consciousness was lulled to sleep, one of the others emerged. Hypnotism was one of the means which most easily effected this change.
Now in persons of mystical genius, the qualities which the stress of normal life tends to keep below the threshold of consciousness are of enormous strength. In these natural explorers of Eternity the “transcendental faculty,” the “eye of the soul,” is not merely present in embryo, but is highly developed; and is combined with great emotional and volitional power. The result of the segregation of such qualities below the threshold of consciousness is to remove from them the friction of those counterbalancing traits in the surface mind with which they might collide. They are “in the hiddenness,” as Jacob Boehme would say. There they develop unchecked, until a point is reached at which their strength is such that they break their bounds and emerge into the conscious field: either temporarily dominating the subject as in ecstasy, or permanently transmuting the old self, as in the “unitive life.” The attainment of this point may be accelerated by processes which have always been known and valued by the mystics; and which tend to produce a state of consciousness classed by psychologists with dreams, reverie, and the results of hypnosis. In all these the normal surface-consciousness is deliberately or involuntarily lulled, the images and ideas connected with normal life are excluded, and images or faculties from “beyond the threshold” are able to take their place.
Of course these images or faculties may or may not be more valuable than those already present in the surface-consciousness. In the ordinary subject, often enough, they are but the odds and ends for which the superficial mind has found no use. In the mystic, they are of a very different order: and this fact justifies the means which he instinctively employs to secure their emergence. Indian mysticism founds its external system almost wholly 58 on ( a ) Asceticism, the domination of the senses, and ( b ) the deliberate practice of self-hypnotization; either by fixing the eyes on a near object, or by the rhythmic repetition of the mantra or sacred word. By these complementary forms of discipline, the pull of the phenomenal world is diminished and the mind is placed at the disposal of the subconscious powers. Dancing, music, and other exaggerations of natural rhythm have been pressed into the same service by the Greek initiates of Dionysus, by the Gnostics, by innumerable other mystic cults. That these proceedings do effect a remarkable change in the human consciousness is proved by experience: though how and why they do it is as yet little understood. Such artificial and deliberate production of ecstasy is against the whole instinct of the Christian contemplatives; but here and there amongst them also we find instances in which ecstatic trance or lucidity, the liberation of the “transcendental sense,” was inadvertently produced by purely physical means. Thus Jacob Boehme, the “Teutonic theosopher,” having one day as he sat in his room “gazed fixedly upon a burnished pewter dish which reflected the sunshine with great brilliance,” fell into an inward ecstasy, and it seemed to him as if he could look into the principles and deepest foundations of things. 8282 Martensen, “Jacob Boehme,” p. 7. The contemplation of running water had the same effect on St. Ignatius Loyola. Sitting on the bank of a river one day, and facing the stream, which was running deep, “the eyes of his mind were opened, not so as to see any kind of vision, but so as to understand and comprehend spiritual things . . . and this with such clearness that for him all these things were made new.” 8383 Testament, cap. iii. This method of attaining to mental lucidity by a narrowing and simplification of the conscious field, finds an apt parallel in the practice of Immanuel Kant, who “found that he could better engage in philosophical thought while gazing steadily at a neighbouring church steeple.” 8484 Starbuck, “The Psychology of Religion,” p. 388.
It need hardly be said that rationalistic writers, ignoring the parallels offered by the artistic and philosophic temperaments, have seized eagerly upon the evidence afforded by such instances of apparent mono-ideism and self-hypnotization in the lives of the mystics, and by the physical disturbances which accompany the ecstatic trance, and sought by its application to attribute all the abnormal perceptions of contemplative genius to hysteria or other disease. They have not hesitated to call St. Paul an epileptic. St. Teresa the “patron saint of hysterics”; and have found room for most of their spiritual kindred in various departments of the pathological museum. They have been helped in this grateful task by the acknowledged fact that the great contemplatives, though 59 almost always persons of robust intelligence and marked practical or intellectual ability—Plotinus, St. Bernard, the two Ss. Catherine, St. Teresa, St. John of the Cross, and the Sufi poets Jàmi and Jalalu ‘ddin are cases in point—have often suffered from bad physical health. More, their mystical activities have generally reacted upon their bodies in a definite and special way; producing in several cases a particular kind of illness and of physical disability, accompanied by pains and functional disturbances for which no organic cause could be discovered, unless that cause were the immense strain which exalted spirit puts upon a body which is adapted to a very different form of life.
It is certain that the abnormal and highly sensitized type of mind which we call mystical does frequently, but not always, produce or accompany strange and inexplicable modifications of the physical organism with which it is linked. The supernatural is not here in question, except in so far as we are inclined to give that name to natural phenomena which we do not understand. Such instances of psycho-physical parallelism as the stigmatizations of the saints—and indeed of other suggestible subjects hardly to be ranked as saints—will occur to anyone. 8585 See, for instances, Cutten, ‘The Psychological Phenomena of Christianity,” cap. viii. I here offer to the reader another less discussed and more extraordinary example of the modifying influence of the spirit on the supposed “laws” of bodily life.
We know, as a historical fact, unusually well attested by contemporary evidence and quite outside the sphere of hagiographic romance, that both St. Catherine of Siena and her namesake St. Catherine of Genoa—active women as well as ecstatics, the first a philanthropist, reformer, and politician, the second an original theologian and for many years the highly efficient matron of a large hospital—lived, in the first case for years, in the second for constantly repeated periods of many weeks, without other food than the consecrated Host which they received at Holy Communion. They did this, not by way of difficult obedience to a pious vow, but because they could not live in any other way. Whilst fasting, they were well and active, capable of dealing with the innumerable responsibilities which filled their lives. But the attempt to eat even a few mouthfuls—and this attempt was constantly repeated, for, like all true saints, they detested eccentricity 8686 “Singularity,” says Gertrude More, “is a vice which Thou extremely hatest.” (‘The Spiritual Exercises of the most vertuous and religious Dame Gertrude More,” p. 40). All the best and sanest of the mystics are of the same opinion. —at once made them ill and had to be abandoned as useless. 8787 See E. Gardner, “St. Catherine of Siena,” pp. 12and 48; and E. von Hügel, “The Mystical Element of Religion,” vol. i. p. 135. 60
In spite of the researches of Murisier, 8888 “Les Maladies des Sentiments Religieux.” Janet, 8989 “L’État Mentale des Hysteriques,” and “Une Extatique” ( Bulletin de l’Institut Psychologique , 1901). Ribot, 9090 “La Psychologie des Sentiment,” 1896. and other psychologists, and their persevering attempts to find a pathological explanation which will fit all mystic facts, this and other marked physical peculiarities which accompany the mystical temperament belong as yet to the unsolved problems of humanity. They need to be removed both from the sphere of marvel and from that of disease—into which enthusiastic friends and foes force them by turn—to the sphere of pure psychology; and there studied dispassionately with the attention which we so willingly bestow on the less interesting eccentricities of degeneracy and vice. Their existence no more discredits the sanity of mysticism or the validity of its results than the unstable nervous condition usually noticed in artists—who share to some extent the mystic’s apprehension of the Real—discredits art. “In such cases as Kant and Beethoven,” says Von Hügel justly, “a classifier of humanity according to its psycho-physical phenomena alone would put these great discoverers and creators, without hesitation, amongst hopeless and useless hypochondriacs.” 9191 Op. cit ., vol. ii. p. 42.
In the case of the mystics the disease of hysteria, with its astounding variety of mental symptoms, its strange power of disintegrating, rearranging and enhancing the elements of consciousness, its tendencies to automatism and ecstasy, has been most often invoked to provide an explanation of the observed phenomena. This is as if one sought the source of the genius of Taglioni in the symptoms of St. Vitus’s dance. Both the art and the disease have to do with bodily movements. So too both mysticism and hysteria have to do with the domination of consciousness by one fixed and intense idea or intuition, which rules the life and is able to produce amazing physical and psychical results. In the hysteric patient this idea is often trivial or morbid 9292 For examples consult Pierre Janet, op. cit. but has become—thanks to the self’s unstable mental condition—an obsession. In the mystic the dominant idea is a great one: so great in fact, that when it is received in its completeness by the human consciousness, almost of necessity it ousts all else. It is nothing less than the idea or perception of the transcendent reality and presence of God. Hence the mono-ideism of the mystic is rational, whilst that of the hysteric patient is invariably irrational.
On the whole then, whilst psycho-physical relations remain so little understood, it would seem more prudent, and certainly more scientific, to withhold our judgment on the meaning of the psychophysical 61 phenomena which accompany the mystic life; instead of basing destructive criticism on facts which are avowedly mysterious and at least capable of more than one interpretation. To deduce the nature of a compound from the character of its byproducts is notoriously unsafe.
Our bodies are animal things, made for animal activities. When a spirit of unusual ardour insists on using its nerve-cells for other activities, they kick against the pricks; and inflict, as the mystics themselves acknowledge, the penalty of “mystical ill-health.” “Believe me, children,” says Tauler, “one who would know much about these high matters would often have to keep his bed, for his bodily frame could not support it.” 9393 Sermon for First Sunday after Easter (Winkworth, p. 302). “I cause thee extreme pain of body,” says the voice of Love to Mechthild of Magdeburg. “If I gave myself to thee as often as thou wouldst have me, I should deprive myself of the sweet shelter I have of thee in this world, for a thousand bodies could not protect a loving soul from her desire. Therefore the higher the love the greater the pain.” 9494 “Das Fliessende Licht der Gottheit,” pt. ii. cap. xxv.
On the other hand the exalted personality of the mystic—his self-discipline, his heroic acceptance of labour and suffering, and his inflexible will—raises to a higher term that normal power of mind over body which all possess. Also the contemplative state—like the hypnotic state in a healthy person—seems to enhance life by throwing open deeper levels of personality. The self then drinks at a fountain which is fed by the Universal Life. True ecstasy is notoriously life-enhancing. In it a bracing contact with Reality seems to take place, and as a result the subject is himself more real. Often, says St. Teresa, even the sick come forth from ecstasy healthy and with new strength; for something great is then given to the soul. 9595 Vida, cap. xx. sect. 29. Contact has been set up with levels of being which the daily routine of existence leaves untouched. Hence the extraordinary powers of endurance, and independence of external conditions, which the great ecstatics so often display.
If we see in the mystics, as some have done, the sporadic beginning of a power, a higher consciousness, towards which the race slowly tends; then it seems likely enough that where it appears nerves and organs should suffer under a stress to which they have not yet become adapted, and that a spirit more highly organized than its bodily home should be able to impose strange conditions on the flesh. When man first stood upright, a body long accustomed to go on all fours, legs which had adjusted themselves to bearing but half his weight, must have rebelled against this 62 unnatural proceeding; inflicting upon its author much pain and discomfort if not absolute illness. It is at least permissible to look upon the strange “psycho-physical” state common amongst the mystics as just such a rebellion on the part of a normal nervous and vascular system against the exigencies of a way of life to which it has not yet adjusted itself. 9696 Boyce Gibson (“God with Us,” cap. iii.) has drawn a striking parallel between the ferment and “interior uproar” of adolescence and the profound disturbances which mark man’s entry into a conscious spiritual life. His remarks are even more applicable to the drastic rearrangement of personality which takes place in the case of the mystic, whose spiritual life is more intense than that of other men.
In spite of such rebellion, and of the tortures to which it has subjected them, the mystics, oddly enough, are a long-lived race: an awkward fact for critics of the physiological school. To take only a few instances from amongst marked ecstatics, St. Hildegarde lived to be eighty-one, Mechthild of Magdeburg to eighty-seven, Ruysbroeck to eighty-eight, Suso to seventy, St. Teresa to sixty-seven, St. Catherine of Genoa and St. Peter of Alcantara to sixty-three. It seems as though that enhanced life which is the reward of mystical surrender enabled them to triumph over their bodily disabilities: and to live and do the work demanded of them under conditions which would have incapacitated ordinary men.
Such triumphs, which take heroic rank in the history of the human mind, have been accomplished as a rule in the same way. Like all intuitive persons, all possessors of genius, all potential artists—with whom in fact they are closely related—the mystics have, in psychological language, “thresholds of exceptional mobility.” That is to say, a slight effort, a slight departure from normal conditions, will permit their latent or “subliminal” powers to emerge and occupy the mental field. A “mobile threshold” may make a man a genius, a lunatic, or a saint. All depends upon the character of the emerging powers. In the great mystic, these powers, these tracts of personality lying below the level of normal consciousness, are of unusual richness; and cannot be accounted for in terms of pathology. “If it be true,” says Delacroix, “that the great mystics have not wholly escaped those nervous blemishes which mark nearly all exceptional organizations, there is in them a vital and creative power, a constructive logic, an extended scale of realization—in a word, a genius—which is, in truth, their essential quality. . . . The great mystics, creators and inventors who have found a new form of life and have justified it . . . join, upon the highest summits of the human spirit, the great simplifiers of the world.” 9797 Delacroix, “Études sur le Mysticisme,” p. iii.
The truth, then, so far as we know it at present, seems to be 63 that those powers which are in contact with the Transcendental Order, and which constitute at the lowest estimate half the self, are dormant in ordinary men; whose time and interest are wholly occupied in responding to the stimuli of the world of sense. With those latent powers sleeps the landscape which they alone can apprehend. In mystics none of the self is always dormant. They have roused the Dweller in the Innermost from its slumbers, and round it have unified their life. Heart, Reason, Will are there in full action, drawing their incentive not from the shadow-show of sense, but from the deeps of true Being; where a lamp is lit, and a consciousness awake, of which the sleepy crowd remains oblivious. He who says the mystic is but half a man, states the exact opposite of the truth. Only the mystic can be called a whole man, since in others half the powers of the self always sleep. This wholeness of experience is much insisted on by the mystics. Thus the Divine Voice says to St. Catherine of Siena, “I have also shown thee the Bridge and the three general steps, placed there for the three powers of the soul; and I have told thee how no one can attain to the life of grace unless he has mounted all three steps, that is, gathered together all the three powers of the soul in My Name.” 9898 Dialogo, cap. lxxxvi.
In those abnormal types of personality to which we give the name of genius, we seem to detect a hint of the relations which may exist between these deep levels of being and the crust of consciousness. In the poet, the musician, the great mathematician or inventor, powers lying below the threshold, and hardly controllable by their owner’s conscious will, clearly take a major part in the business of perception and conception. In all creative acts, the larger share of the work is done subconsciously: its emergence is in a sense automatic. This is equally true of mystics, artists, philosophers, discoverers, and rulers of men. The great religion, invention, work of art, always owes its inception to some sudden uprush of intuitions or ideas for which the superficial self cannot account; its execution to powers so far beyond the control of that self, that they seem, as their owner sometimes says, to “come from beyond.” This is “inspiration”; the opening of the sluices, so that those waters of truth in which all life is bathed may rise to the level of consciousness.
The great teacher, poet, artist, inventor, never aims deliberately at his effects. He obtains them he knows not how: perhaps from a contact of which he is unconscious with that creative plane of being which the Sufis call the Constructive Spirit, and the Kabalists Yesod, and which both postulate as lying next behind the world of sense. “Sometimes,” said the great Alexandrian Jew Philo, 64 “when I have come to my work empty, I have suddenly become full; ideas being in an invisible manner showered upon me, and implanted in me from on high; so that through the influence of divine inspiration, I have become greatly excited, and have known neither the place in which I was, nor those who were present, nor myself, nor what I was saying, nor what I was writing; for then I have been conscious of a richness of interpretation, an enjoyment of light, a most penetrating insight, a most manifest energy in all that was to be done; having such an effect on my mind as the clearest ocular demonstration would have on the eyes.” 9999 Quoted by James (“Varieties of Religious Experience,” p. 481) from Clissold’s “The Prophetic Spirit in Genius and Madness,” p. 67. This is a true creative ecstasy, strictly parallel to the state in which the mystic performs his mighty works.
To let oneself go, be quiet, receptive, appears to be the condition under which such contact with the Cosmic Life may be obtained. “I have noticed that when one paints one should think of nothing: everything then comes better,” says the young Raphael to Leonardo da Vinci. 100100 “Mérejkowsky, “Le Roman do Leonard de Vinci,” p. 638. The superficial self must here acknowledge its own insufficiency, must become the humble servant of a more profound and vital consciousness. The mystics are of the same opinion. “Let the will quietly and wisely understand,” says St. Teresa, “that it is not by dint of labour on our part that we can converse to any good purpose with God.” 101101 Vida, cap. xv. 9. “The best and noblest way in which thou mayst come into this Life,” says Eckhart, “is by keeping silence and letting God work and speak. Where all the powers are withdrawn from their work and images, there is this word spoken . . . the more thou canst draw in all thy powers and forget the creature the nearer art thou to this, and the more receptive.” 102102 Meister Eckhart, Pred. i. (“Mystische Schriften,” p. 18).
Thus Boehme says to the neophyte, 103103 “Three Dialogues of the Supersensual Life,” p. 14. “When both thy intellect and will are quiet and passive to the expressions of the eternal Word and Spirit, and when thy soul is winged up above that which is temporal, the outward senses and the imagination being locked up by holy abstraction, then the eternal Hearing, Seeing, and Speaking will be revealed in thee. Blessed art thou therefore if thou canst stand still from self thinking and self willing, and canst stop the wheel of thy imagination and senses.” Then, the conscious mind being passive, the more divine mind below the threshold—organ of our free creative life—can emerge and present its reports. In the words of an older mystic, “The soul, leaving all things and forgetting herself, is immersed in the ocean 65 of Divine Splendour, and illuminated by the Sublime Abyss of the Unfathomable Wisdom.” 104104 Dionysius the Areopagite, “De Divinis Nominibus,” vii. 3.
The “passivity” of contemplation, then, is a necessary preliminary of spiritual energy: an essential clearing of the ground. It withdraws the tide of consciousness from the shores of sense, stops the “wheel of the imagination.” “The Soul,” says Eckhart again, “is created in a place between Time and Eternity: with its highest powers it touches Eternity, with its lower Time.” 105105 Pred. xxiii. Eckhart obtained this image from St. Thomas Aquinas, “Summa Contra Gentiles,” I. iii. cap. lxi. “The intellectual soul is created on the confines of eternity and time.” These, the worlds of Being and Becoming, are the two “stages of reality” which meet in the spirit of man. By cutting us off from the temporal plane, the lower kind of reality, Contemplation gives the eternal plane, and the powers which can communicate with that plane, their chance. In the born mystic these powers are great, and lie very near the normal threshold of consciousness. He has a genius for transcendental—or as he would say, divine—discovery in much the same way as his cousins, the born musician and poet, have a genius for musical or poetic discovery. In all three cases, the emergence of these higher powers is mysterious, and not least so to those who experience it. Psychology on the one hand, theology on the other, may offer us diagrams and theories of this proceeding: of the strange oscillations of the developing consciousness, the fitful visitations of a lucidity and creative power over which the self has little or no control, the raptures and griefs of a vision by turns granted and withdrawn. But the secret of genius still eludes us, as the secret of life eludes the biologist.
The utmost we can say of such persons is, that reality presents itself to them under abnormal conditions and in abnormal terms, and that subject to these conditions and in these terms they are bound to deal with it. Thanks to their peculiar mental make up, one aspect of the universe is for them focussed so sharply that in comparison with it all other images are blurred, vague, and unreal. Hence the sacrifice which men of genius—mystics, artists, inventors—make of their whole lives to this one Object, this one vision of truth, is not self-denial, but rather self-fulfilment. They gather themselves up from the unreal, in order to concentrate on the real. The whole personality then absorbs or enters into communion with certain rhythms or harmonies existent in the universe, which the receiving apparatus of other selves cannot take up. “Here is the finger of God, a flash of the Will that can!” exclaims Abt Vogler, as the sounds grow under his hand. “The numbers 66 came!“ says the poet. He knows not how, certainly not by deliberate intellection.
So it is with the mystic. Madame Guyon states in her autobiography, that when she was composing her works she would experience a sudden and irresistible inclination to take up her pen; though feeling wholly incapable of literary composition, and not even knowing the subject on which she would be impelled to write. If she resisted this impulse it was at the cost of the most intense discomfort. She would then begin to write with extraordinary swiftness; words, elaborate arguments, and appropriate quotations coming to her without reflection, and so quickly that one of her longest books was written in one and a half days. “In writing I saw that I was writing of things which I had never seen: and during the time of this manifestation, I was given light to perceive that I had in me treasures of knowledge and understanding which I did not know that I possessed.” 106106 Vie, t. ii. pp. 120, 223, 229. It might reasonably be objected that Madame Guyon does not rank high among the mystics and her later history includes some unfortunate incidents. This is true. Nevertheless she exhibit such a profusion of mystical phenomena and is so candid in her self-disclosures, that she provides much valuable material for the student.
Similar statements are made of St. Teresa, who declared that in writing her books she was powerless to set down anything but that which her Master put into her mind. 107107 G. Cunninghame Graham, “Santa Teresa,” vol. i. p. 202. So Blake said of “Milton” and “Jerusalem,” “I have written the poems from immediate dictation, twelve or sometimes twenty or thirty lines at a time, without premeditation and even against my will. The time it has taken in writing was thus rendered non-existent, and an immense poem exists which seems to be the labour of a long life, all produced without labour or study.” 108108 “Letters of William Blake,” April 25, 1803.
These are, of course, extreme forms of that strange power of automatic composition, in which words and characters arrive and arrange themselves in defiance of their authors’ will, of which most poets and novelists possess a trace. Such composition is probably related to the automatic writing of “mediums” and other sensitives; in which the often disorderly and incoherent subliminal mind seizes upon this channel of expression. The subliminal mind of the great mystic, however, is not disorderly. It is abnormally sensitive, richly endowed and keenly observant—a treasure house, not a lumber room—and becomes in the course of its education, a highly disciplined and skilled instrument of knowledge. When, therefore, its contents emerge, and are presented to the normal consciousness in the form of lucidity, “auditions,” visions, automatic writing, or any other translations of the supersensible 67 into the terms of sensible perception, they cannot be discredited because the worthless unconscious region of feebler natures sometimes manifests itself in the same way. Idiots are often voluble: but many orators are sane.
Now, to sum up: what are the chief characteristics which we have found to concern us in this sketch-map of the mental life of man?
(1) We have divided that life, arbitrarily enough, along the fluctuating line which psychologists call the “threshold of his consciousness” into the surface life and the unconscious deeps.
(2) In the surface life, though we recognized its essential wholeness, we distinguished three outstanding and ever-present aspects: the Trinity in Unity of feeling, thought, and will. Amongst these we were obliged to give the primacy to feeling, as the power which set the machinery of thought and will to work.
(3) We have seen that the expression of this life takes the two complementary forms of conation, or outgoing action and cognition, or indwelling knowledge; and that the first, which is dynamic in type, is largely the work of the will stimulated by the emotions; whilst the second, which is passive in type, is the business of the intellect. They answer to the two main aspects which man discerns in the universal life: Being and Becoming.
(4) Neither conation nor cognition—action nor thought—as performed by this surface mind, concerned as it is with natural existence and dominated by spatial conceptions, is able to set up any relations with the Absolute or transcendental world. Such action and thought deal wholly with material supplied directly or indirectly by the world of sense. The testimony of the mystics, however, and of all persons possessing an “instinct for the Absolute,” points to the existence of a further faculty—indeed, a deeper self—in man; a self which the circumstances of diurnal life usually keep “below the threshold” of his consciousness, and which thus becomes one of the factors of his “subliminal life.” This hidden self is the primary agent of mysticism, and lives a “substantial” life in touch with the real or transcendental world. 109109 This insistence on the twofold character of human personality is implicit in the mystics. “It is” says Bremond, “the fundamental dogma of mystical psychology—the distinction between the two selves: Animus, the surface self; Anima , the deep self; Animus , rational knowledge; and Anima , mystical or poetic knowledge . . . the I, who feeds on notions and words, and enchants himself by doing so; the Me, who is united to realities” (Bremond “Prière et Poésie,” cap. xii.).
(5) Certain processes, of which contemplation has been taken as a type, can so alter the state of consciousness as to permit the emergence of this deeper self; which, according as it enters more or less into the conscious life, makes man more or less a mystic. 68
The mystic life, therefore, involves the emergence from deep levels of man’s transcendental self; its capture of the field of consciousness; and the “conversion” or rearrangement of his feeling, thought, and will—his character—about this new centre of life.
We state, then, as the conclusion of this chapter, that the object of the mystic’s adventure, seen from within, is the apprehension of, or direct communion with, that transcendental Reality which we tried in the last section to define from without. Here, as in the fulfilment of the highest earthly love, knowledge and communion are the same thing; we must be “oned with bliss” if we are to be aware of it. That aspect of our being by which we may attain this communion—that “marrow of the Soul,” as Ruysbroeck calls it—usually lies below the threshold of our consciousness; but in certain natures of abnormal richness and vitality, and under certain favourable conditions, it may be liberated by various devices, such as contemplation. Once it has emerged, however, it takes up, to help it in the work, aspects of the conscious self. The surface must co-operate with the deeps, and at last merge with those deeps to produce that unification of consciousness upon high levels which alone can put a term to man’s unrest. The heart that longs for the All, the mind that conceives it, the will that concentrates the whole self upon it, must all be called into play. The self must be surrendered: but it must not be annihilated, as some Quietists have supposed. It only dies that it may live again. Supreme success,—the permanent assurance of the mystic that “we are more verily in heaven than in earth,”—says the Lady Julian, in a passage which anticipates the classification of modern psychology, “cometh of the natural Love of our soul, and of the clear light of our Reason, and of the steadfast Mind.” 110110 Julian of Norwich, “Revelations of Divine Love,” cap, lv.
But what is the order of precedence which these three activities are to assume in the work which is one ?All, as we have seen, must do their part; for we are concerned with the response of man in his wholeness to the overwhelming attraction of God. But which shall predominate? The ultimate nature of the self’s experience of reality will depend on the answer she gives to this question. What, here, are the relative values of Mind and Heart? Which will bring her closest to the Thought of God; the real life in which she is bathed? Which, fostered and made dominant, is most likely to put her in harmony with the Absolute? The Love of God, which is ever in the heart and often on the lips of the Saints, is the passionate desire for this harmony; the “malady of thought” is its intellectual equivalent. Though we may seem to escape God, we cannot escape some form of this craving; except at the price of utter stagnation. 69 We go back, therefore, to the statement with which this chapter opened: that of the two governing desires which share the prison of the self. We see them now as representing the cravings of the intellect and the emotions for the only end of all quests. The disciplined will—the “conative power”—with all the dormant faculties which it can wake and utilize, can come to the assistance of one of them. Which? The question is a crucial one, for the destiny of the self depends on the partner which the will selects.70
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