Julian Meeting for January 2021
When you look at yourself and the world about you with as objective and dispassionate an eye as you can, do you see both as phenomena to be understood, analysed and classified in a logical scientific way; or do you view what you see with a sense of awe? Do you have a sense of mystery?
Mystery is a word with a past. In ancient Greece the mysteries were initiation ceremonies through which the mystics gained a secret knowledge of divine things and entered into what was holy and timeless. Later, not long before the birth of Christ, the word had become to have a different meaning. It had come to mean a particular way of approaching reality through the use of our intuitive, as well as our intellectual, faculties; the belief that much of philosophy, art, poetry and music are inspired by a sense of something that lies beyond and unseen, something over and above the world as we perceive it with our five senses, though interwoven with it; if you like, the ‘beyond’ in our midst.
In what is called the mystical tradition, both in the East and the West, this consciousness of the ‘beyond’ is present, often in an intense form. A mystery in the religious sense is not some truth that can be fully understood once the wit and cunning of our brains have fathomed out. It is implicit in life itself, and above all in the mystery that is me. Let me name just some of them: timeless, daily human mysteries we can’t escape. The mystery that you are uniquely you. Your name is a convenience, a kind of shorthand, but doesn’t even begin to define the mysterious being you are. Your body will utterly change across your lifetime, yet you will retain your own unique chemical mix, your own irreplaceable self, recognisably you until the day you die. Then there is the mystery of your birth, the mystery of human relationships, the mystery of love, the mystery of evil and how, by what is called redemption, its poison may be countered and even good brought out of it. For every one of us there is the mystery of all those moments of human crisis that are in some way linked to our freedom: sickness, undeserved pain, accident, a world-wide pandemic, death, which leave us asking ‘why?’ – and learning to expect no very satisfying answer.
The mystics unite in believing that the world of matter, the world perceived by our five senses is only a partial aspect of reality. They claim that the material world is pervaded by, and finds its explanation in, a transcendental reality: that is to say, a reality that surpasses or goes beyond itself; that underlying all we are and know is a Divine Ground; known to the Chinese as the Tao, to Buddhists as the Void, to Hindus as the Brahman and to Muslims as the Reality. All believe that we can only realise the Divine Ground by intuition, by the kind of creative, imaginative insight that is as valid and as central to any concept of being human as our other faculties. I know that when I try to analyse who or what I am, I am conscious of experiencing two worlds: a visible material world outside me which I make mine by using my eyes and ears and hands and brain; and an invisible inner world which is utterly different and which consists of my thoughts and feelings. The question is: how are they connected? I am challenged by the transcendent mystery beyond me, and I can only make sense of what I feel about myself and how my outer and inner world relate if for this mystery I use the word ‘God’.
I am conscious of my self in terms of my ego, that ego which is so demanding, so clamorous, that it can deceive me into thinking that it is all that I am. I have come to believe, however, that there is another self, an inner, eternal self, my spirit, that spark of divinity which links me to the Divine Ground and, it is the purpose of my life to discover and identify myself with this true self, until outer and inner reality are one and I achieve an integrity whose marks will be an inner stillness, unity and peace of mind. May 2021 bring us all respite from the dreadful affects of the pandemic.