What it means to be a mystic

In this short extract from Mysticism, Evelyn Underhill describes what it means to be a mystic:

“To be a mystic is simply to participate here and now in that real and eternal life, in the fullest, deepest sense which is possible to man. It is to share, as a free and conscious agent – not a servant, but as a son [or daughter] – in the joyous travail of the Universe: its mighty onward sweep through pain and glory towards its home in God.

“This gift of ‘sonship’, this power of free cooperation in the world-process, is man’s greatest honour. The ordered sequence of states, the organic development, whereby his consciousness is detached from illusion and rises to the mystic freedom which conditions, instead of being conditioned by, its normal world, is the way he must tread if that sonship is to be attained.

“Only by this deliberate fostering of his deeper self, this transmutation of the elements of character, can he reach those levels of consciousness upon which he hears, and responds to, the measure ‘whereto the worlds keep time’ on their great pilgrimage towards the Father’s heart. The mystic act of union, that joyous loss of the transfigured self in God, which is the crown of man’s conscious ascent towards the Absolute, is the contribution of the individual to this, the destiny of the Cosmos.

“The mystic knows that destiny. It is laid bare to his lucid vision, as plain to him as our puzzling world of form and colour is to normal sight. He is the ‘hidden child’ of the eternal order, an initiate of the secret plan. Hence, whilst ‘all creation groaneth and travaileth’, slowly moving under the spur of blind desire towards that consummation in which alone it can have rest, he runs eagerly along the pathway to reality. He is the pioneer of Life on its age-long voyage to the One, and shows us, in his attainment, the meaning and value of that life.

“This meaning, this secret plan of Creation, flames out, had we eyes to see, from every department of existence. Its exultant declarations come to us in all great music; its wild magic is the life of all romance. Its law – the law of love – is the substance of the beautiful, the energizing cause of the heroic. It lights the altar of every creed. It runs like ichor in the arteries of the universe.

“All man’s dreams and diagrams concerning a transcendent Perfection near him yet intangible, a transcendent vitality to which he can attain – whether he call these objects of desire: God, grace, being, spirit, beauty, ‘pure idea’ – are but translations of his deeper self’s intuition of its destiny; clumsy fragmentary hints at the all-inclusive, living Absolute which that deeper self knows to be real.

“This supernal Thing, the adorable Substance of all that Is – the synthesis of Wisdom, Power, and Love – and man’s apprehension of it, his slow remaking in its interests, his union with it at last: this is the theme of mysticism. That twofold extension of consciousness which allows him communion with its transcendent and immanent aspects is, in all its gradual processes, the Mystic Way. It is also the crown of human evolution; the fulfilment of life, the liberation of personality from the world of appearance, its entrance into the free, creative life of the Real.”

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