“Mysticism is practical, not theoretical.” – Evelyn Underhill
Evelyn Underhill in “Mysticism: The nature and development of spiritual consciousness”, Oxford 1994, 82
I disagree. My mystical experiences have never lead me to enact any kind of practical use of the phenomenon, or regard it as a theory.
Scientists, academics, theologists and religionists who examine the phenomenon give the impression there is such a thing as practical or even theoretical mysticism. There isn’t. They simply haven’t experienced the mystical experience of Reality (MER).
They give the feeliing it is correct to expect something of human use from the phenomena, like rules of conduct, morality, ethics, commandments, worship, devotion, prohibitions, even drugs or mind shifting dances; at the very least some stages of human attainment.
Sadly not, if my experiences are to be believed. I had the experiences throughout every one of my years from about 14 years of age to the age of 35 or so.
I did not experience any practical demands then or since, any more than a tulip would demand to know what its existence is all about … the unfolding message for me is to ignore anything human as a distraction. That has been one of the gifts of Reality – a freedom beyond expression.
The only answer I got when I ‘demanded’ to be told what was expected of me was: “Nothing. Reality is in charge. Reality does everything. All Is Well.”
This revelation might not measure up to the utilitarian demands humans make of their experiences and revelations in life, but there it is. According to my experiences It is what It is, make of it what you can.
MER is not theoretical either. The key to understanding Reality is experience of Reality! A corollary.
All else is what George Fox the founder of Quakerism (a suspiciously Western imitation of Sufism) referred to as “notionalising”.
But even George Fox couldn’t overcome his instinct for the human need for utilitarianism. He thought his MERs demanded extreme simplicity – a Quaker morality, ethic, place, manner of worship, and clothing.
Fox really does appear to have been a mystic. But did he, like most of the mystics before and after him, wrongly believe MER was meant to be evangelised, or practised, or even could be?
My intuition is that “practical mysticism” or “theoretical mysticism” are mythomanical human inventions, nothing to do with Reality. In spiritual terms there are no such things as “practical or theoretical mysticism”.
My MER have been practical for me. I now look at life as an observer of the play in which each of us has a role. That has allowed me not to take this life too seriously. The ‘realities’ of this life are finite and and transient. Ultimate Reality is infinite and eternal.
Yes, in that sense of the ‘practical’ you use, I agree because your experience is much like my own experience! I took Evelyn Underhill’s use of the word to mean somehing like “socially utilitarian”, and that does not express my experiences at all.
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I have read that book by Evelyn Underhill. I think that she meant the mystical experiences are lived, rather than a philosophy. She later wrote a book titled “Practical Mysticism” (which I haven’t read).
From the Wikipedia article on Evelyn Underhill:
“In the following paragraph, Underhill defines the meaning of the phrase “Practical Mysticism”:
Therefore it is to a practical mysticism that the practical man is here invited: to a training of his latent faculties, a bracing and brightening of his languid consciousness, an emancipation from the fetters of appearance, a turning of his attention to new levels of the world. Thus he may become aware of the universe that the spiritual artist is always trying to disclose to the race. This amount of mystical perception—this ‘ordinary contemplation’, as the specialist call it,—is possible to all men: without it, they are not wholly alive. It is a natural human activity.”
“Therefore it is to a practical mysticism that the practical man is here invited: to a training of his latent faculties, a bracing and brightening of his languid consciousness, an emancipation from the fetters of appearance, a turning of his attention to new levels of the world.”
My experiences were different. I was not “invited”, not given the choice. . I was suddenly, without warning, understanding or consent, taken.
“Thus he may become aware of the universe …”
Yes, this conforms with my experiences. I seem to know of everything even though I feel humans are not yet fully evolved to understand everything yet.
” …that the spiritual artist is always trying to disclose to the race”.
No. This, in my understanding, is where the mystics of history paid dearly for their hubris. In my experiences, the mystical experience of Reality (MER) is caught, not taught. It is not within human ability to gift it on …
“This amount of mystical perception—this ‘ordinary contemplation’, as the specialist call it,—is possible to all men: without it, they are not wholly alive. It is a natural human activity.”
Maybe, but It is not apparent to me that it is awakened by human effort. I think it is understood at best by some intellectual effort but is not actually experienced by human will or effort.
Best wishes, Keith.
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