Last night I had a long talk with some friends about some of the more prominent aspects of my private spiritual life. This conversation had been waiting to happen for a while but my private spiritual life isn’t something that I can just dump on unsuspecting acquaintances; you gotta work up to that level of disclosure. Even though I’ve known for a while that these people were safe to talk to about these things, the time had never been right for the conversation until now.
We talked about a lot of things but about the mystic’s path in particular. I’ve been thinking about this for a while and never was quite able to put it into words until now. Objectively I recognize that there is much of the mystic about me but it’s not really the path that I identify with. I am, perhaps, too aware of my functional capacities, my nature as a spirit worker, to relate most strongly to my search for the variant faces of my Beloved. (“But,” the heart whispers, “might you not be approaching this search through the vehicle of the Work?” Hush, I whisper back, or you’ll spoil the ending.)
Mystics are relentlessly driven to see the face of the Beloved. Sometimes this face is singular and sometimes this face is manifold. Sometimes there is a highly specific name and sometimes there is not. Further, to one degree or another, mystics seem to be able to hold the tension between specificity and the expansive sacred All. Holding this tension is sometimes sweet, sometimes incomparably bitter. Recognizing that all personalized divinity suffers from restrictive particulars can be frustrating because the mystic has a strong desire to have that personalized connection. Many are able to find a personalized connection to that sacred All and others find the sacred All in a personalized connection. Others (like myself) are pushed to fall in love again and again with apparently disparate expressions of the Beloved and Hir machinations but many others have struggled and still are struggling to resolve that tension. It is challenging to be aware of an immense, pervasive, inescapable foundation of sacred nature-awareness while also needing, really needing, that highly personal connection.
The challenges on this path are numerous. Frequently mystics are not in a cultural or religious context that allows them the freedom to express themselves or pursue their search without obstacle. Indeed, the negotiation of obstacles is a primary characteristic of this path. Mirabai in many ways is my favorite mystic and the one whose story I find most helpful and instructive. Her entire life was a series of obstacles in the way of getting what she wanted and of simply enjoying what she had. This is pretty typical, actually. Mystics’ stories are not generally happy ones, even though their private lives are distinguished by intense, life-changing ecstasies. There simply aren’t that many happy or satisfied mystics and saints. (Although wait – those God-realized saints of some traditions absolutely do have that profound bliss but most mystics seem not to fall into that category. Thus I will have to set that small category aside; the mystic is characterized by the search, the God-realized saints by the finding and abiding.)
Another significant set of challenges arise because the mystic has a fundamentally different set of priorities than everyone else. Negotiating and renegotiating these priorities with the circumstances imposed by the world, by the social context, and simply by the human condition an ongoing problem for mystics. Even those who successfully separate themselves from the priorities imposed by others (usually simply by just fucking off into the forest for decades at a time) face the deep consequences of that separation. It is quite rare to find a set of circumstances that allow for the material, psychological, emotional, and spiritual support of someone whose priorities are fixed on deep emotional connection with the divine. It does happen, but most mystics have to juggle their priorities without a full spectrum of meaningful support.
There’s more I’ll write on this subject but I’m going to catch another few hours of sleep first.