Mysticism is not a word bandied about in contemporary culture. Supplanted by the ad hoc, politically expedient term “spirituality”, mysticism and its fruits seem to have dried and withered on the vine…or have they? Where the ambiguity of spirituality can be seen as the epitome of postmodern deconstruction and its ironic juxtaposition of the real or original with the shiny and infinitely disposable mass market copy, mysticism, with its inherent focus on the internalization or interiorization of experience, demands an almost foreign adherence to historical specificity - a specificity that is archaic in our age of sounds bites and hyper text. Like some beguiling but ultimately foreboding character from a Cirque du Soleil show, we stumble across the stage of our spiritual practice rarely recognizing that behind the mirrors and the costumes and the acrobatics is a metaphor pointing us to a much deeper experience of ordinary reality. In a lecture titled The Way Of Art (The Inner Reaches Of Outer Space), Joseph Campbell discusses his wife who was an artist, a dancer, and her recognition that most people who participate in dance classes are mostly just interested in doodling - “creative psychological doodling”. The artist on the other hand may begin with creative, psychologically charged, doodles but ultimately moves the technique to a much deeper, subterranean realm. The mystic then and the artist are like old friends who cross paths from time to time in this subterranean realm that Jung called the collective unconscious. “The artist and the mystic visit many of the same places, but [the artist] is held to the world (Campbell)” through the object of his creation. The mystic on the other hand delves into the depth of his psyche looking for the soul or the heart or the will and emerges on the other side of the river with a transcendent vision made up of a language decipherable only by the initiated. As one of my favorite musicians Joni Mitchell said, “…a painter does a painting and that's it…somebody buys it and somebody buys it again or maybe nobody buys it…but no one ever says to him, no one ever said to Van Gogh, paint a starry sky again man - he painted it and that was it.” She is speaking about the difference between performance art and painting but the analogy holds true when we look at the difference between spirituality and mysticism. Spirituality is co-modified, stripped-down, reformulated, and repackaged for the purpose of being sold and while this may sound troubling, there is a definite positive - mass market appeal = many more eye balls on the “positive” message. Mysticism, on the other hand, is like a performance, unique and highly subjective and often limited to a particular time and space. To have a mystical experience is to step through the superficial aspect and into an interior space with common mammalian forms spoken and built upon the unique language of the soul. Mystical experience, while reproducible, cannot be redacted to some essential first principle and sold as pablum to the masses…it is the thing itself.
The unconscious is not just evil by nature, it is also the source of the highest good: not only dark but also light, not only bestial, semihuman, and demonic but superhuman, spiritual, and, in the classical sense of the word, “divine." Jung (The Practice of Psychotherapy, p. 364) The path to the soul lies within and must be traversed alone. It leads into a depth absent the frenetic, reflected light of societally obligated norms. At first this subterranean lair often appears to be filled only with the shadow aspect of our unexpressed sorrow but the longer we plumb its depths the more we recognize the inner cave of the soul is dappled with an enigmatic brilliance. The light of this brilliance emerges from the deep well of the silver river, Wodliparri (wodli=hut and parri=river), milky way, or universal consciousness.
Swinging between the poles of metaphysical skepticism and the totalitarian placidity of mainstream culture, it would seem the modern mystic has no place to call home. But then the mystic has always occupied a place of dislocation or more aptly a timeless space bounded by organic geometry. Like the inwardly spiraled nautilus, the mystic rests within the proportional perfection of balanced inner forms. His place is Plato’s metaxy, oscillating beyond contradictions.