Mark, I like this piece very much.
James Souttar

The essence of the mystic’s challenge

James Souttar,

Thank you for pointing out the general nature of The Five Practices, and how they don’t fully describe the practices of a mystic. I completely agree, and your three insights clarify that very well.

I especially like your statement that “Mysticism is about the doing, rather than the thinking or the feeling.” This is the ‘call to action’ which I think gets distorted, similar — as you point out — to the call to celibacy, and so on.

For the mystic, a sense of urgency can develop when he or she discovers a powerful insight, which can often result in a compulsion to share with the world. Unfortunately, unless mystics are circled around a campfire of like-minded believers or similarly experienced travelers, their messages tend to fall flat.

The world is generally tone deaf to the visionary’s message from the great beyond. But it’s more than that, isn’t it? Because while the mystic’s outreach to the world is typically ineffective, the world is always on the lookout for practical solutions, calls to action that it and it alone judges as do-able and beneficial.

So, when I refer to “a gradual discovery of what worked and what didn’t,” it’s not a set of insights that I gained based solely on my personal inner journey. It also refers to the gnawing frustration of the mystic, that the insights revealed from the “vast interior” or the great unknown are restricted to me and only me. Eventually, out of this sense of impotence and sometimes seething frustration, the mystic can falter, sinking into loneliness, despair and certainly very easily into cynicism.

But let’s look at what we have here, because I think we are actually calling out some of the vital elements. The formula for success is to somehow transform the mystic’s insights into “practical solutions” that the world will embrace. Not mere words nor lofty ideas, but rather solutions presented as “calls to action.” At its most basic it’s about, “Tell me what to do and I’ll do it. If it works, I’ll keep doing it.”

So the essence of the challenge we face is, in my opinion, simplifying that which is deeply complex and arduous.

To be clear, the challenges these comments tackle are not a ‘light reading’ topic. For example, it is clear that the practices that The Little Creek Monastery depicts are lightweight compared to what we are discussing.

So, if someone were to say to a mystic, “Tell me what to do,” the responses will vary. The Abbot of a mainline monastery might say, “Join the order. And then pray many times a day, and be immersed in meditations, scriptures and routine chores for 20 to 40 years, and then come back and talk to me.”