It is common for us to question the truth of something we have not individually seen, known, realized, experienced, and/or felt. On the flip side, to the other extreme, we often place experts on pedestals, and assume that because those persons know a lot about a subject, then they know everything about it, which is not true because it is impossible to achieve that level. Nevertheless, we can respect what the person does know – we do it all the time, from science to religion to medicine. I’m pointing to this human tendency for questioning what someone else knows, for one reason in this moment and that is to ask: how many of us believe, in our deepest selves, that those persons referred to as mystics actually became one with the Divine? Do we believe their stories or do we think they were crazy, deluded, etc.?
A woman named Evelyn Underhill wrote, in 1911, of her own explorations into the world of the mystics and mysticism. We allow for the knowledge of so-called experts in many areas of life, from doctors to inventors, from adventurers who climb mountains to explorers of the Amazon, so why not also for those who dare to explore the invisible realm of Spirit? The single, most powerful difference between the preceding, however, is that all those other experts likely had companions who could confirm or deny their experiences, while mystics venture alone. Underhill said in her book:
“[Mystics] should claim from us the same attention that we give to other explorers of countries in which we are not competent to adventure ourselves; for the mystics are the pioneers of the spiritual world, and we have no right to deny validity to their discoveries, merely because we lack the opportunity or the courage necessary to those who would prosecute such explorations for themselves.”
Many if not most of us have experienced momentary glimpses of the beyond or brief ecstatic relationship with the Divine in one form or another; we’ve felt, perhaps, something that could lead us to relate to what a mystic saw or felt. At the same time, very few of us ever devote the majority of our time and lives to furthering this relationship, this union. So, why do we question the veracity of those few people’s experiences who do go that extra mile? Is it because “there is no trustworthy standard by which we can separate the ‘real’ from the ‘unreal’ aspects of phenomena”? Is it real or imagination or hallucination? How can we know? Underhill continues with thought-provoking ideas, that mirror some of what scientists are saying today, when she writes:
“We have no reason to suppose that matter, space, and time are necessarily parts of reality; of the ultimate Idea. Probability points rather to their being the pencil and paper with which we sketch it.”
As I get older, my mind becomes more flexible, allowing for greater possibility of all that I don’t know and may never fully comprehend. I’m more than willing to give Mystics the benefit of the doubt, with the qualifier that they – as do we all – filter whatever they have perceived through the lens of the era and religious (or other) belief system in which they are existing. None of us can remove ourselves from the time, place, and culture in which we are situated during a particular event or on-going experience. Nevertheless, that doesn’t make the experience unreal.
Underhill’s book, Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness, is complex and I don’t want to take anything away from her by making it appear that this subject can be simplified into several pithy quotes or remarks. My hope is that something here may stir the reader into explorations of their own, in some way, shape or form, that will lead to inner growth and greater manifestation of Love in the world.