“The mystic assumes—because he tends to assume an orderly basis for things—that there is a relation, an analogy, between the microcosm of man’s self and the macrocosm of the world-self. Hence his experience, the geography of the individual quest, appears to him good evidence of the geography of the invisible. Since he must transcend his natural life in order to attain consciousness of God as essentially transcendent to the natural world. His description of that geography … will be conditioned by his temperament, by his powers of observation, by the metaphor which comes most readily to hand. … The so-called journey itself is a psychological and spiritual experience: the purging and preparation of the self, the movement to higher levels of consciousness, its unification with that more spiritual but normally unconscious self which is in touch with the transcendental order.” ~Evelyn Underhill
By Harold Boulette
The Mystic’s Experience
While the details of the awakening spiritual faculties of mystics may vary, the overall method doesn’t. Underhill does make a good point in that how the mystic describes that experience to others will vary depending on his education, background, religion and beliefs. It is like many catholic miracles where an angel or Being of Light appears to someone, but because of their beliefs and theological upbringing, they see as Mary. If the same spiritual being appears to a Jew, a Hindu, or an atheist, what that person will say she saw will be very different.
I have to disagree with Ms. Underhill when she says that the mystic sees the geography of his own experience as the geography of all spiritual experiences and his view of the world as that of the higher world, apparently using the “as above, so below” philosophy. I think all true mystics, that is all who have become spiritually awakened, see the same spiritual world. It is only in trying to describe it to others using a language created to deal with the physical world, that they end up with differences because of their choice of words, allegory, and metaphor. The times one lives in has an effect also. A mystic today might describe a spiritual experience as looking into a bright spotlight, while an ancient described it as looking into a great fire, or a burning bush. Behind both metaphors they are describing the same thing.
Spiritual is Natural
It may just be a poor choice of words when Underhill says the mystic must see God as “transcendent to the natural world”, but I can’t agree with that. It seems to imply that God is something anti-nature, something unnatural, and that is certainly not true. It would be more accurate to say that God transcends the world of matter than to say he transcends the natural. Of course spirit is above matter, and above Nature if one thinks of nature strictly as the governing force of the material world, but God is natural, not artificial, not imaginary. The spiritual world is also natural, but higher than the world of matter.
Physical, Psychological, and Spiritual
The journey to spiritual awakening is both psychological and spiritual, as Underhill says, but it is also physical. We cannot deny that we dwell in a physical body if we are to make progress. What’s more, we can and must use the physical along with the mental and spiritual faculties to make progress. For example, we must use the physical body to move to a mountaintop, hilltop, or other recommended place to do spiritual techniques. We can enhance the process by listening to certain sounds with the physical ears, smelling certain odors with the nose (incense primarily, though certain flower scents work also). Most of all, we can look toward the physical sun with the physical eyes (NEVER stare directly at it) in a certain way that allows the Light of the spiritual sun to enter the eyes, and activate the pineal gland, which, although a physical gland, when awakened can be an aid to spiritual growth.
On the psychological side, one must work to get rid of false beliefs, limitations, phobias, and negativity that holds us back and limits our spiritual growth. This is not something that can happen overnight, but we should work on improving in this regularly.
It is also true that physical or psychological illness can make it difficult to develop spiritually, so it helps to make our bodies and minds healthy as much as possible. While it is not true that the illness of the body can make the spirit ill as well, it is true that they can block access to our spiritual side.