Seven Pillars House of Wisdom > Articles > The Garden of Mysticism, Part II

The Garden of Mysticism, Part II

Lee Irwin

This article continues from Part I.

When we consider the diversity of spiritual paths, we can delineate three domains of mystical perception which each contribute to the fullness of the sacred human. These domains cut across multiple spiritual traditions and are not reducible to any particular path. The first domain is incarnational, the sensory mysticism of direct bodily perception. Every organ of the body is a perceptual basis for mystical intuition, a possible point in a curve whose range can extend into the subtle, interpenetrating Presence of Spirit. Touch, taste, sound, sight, smell and all the many other senses can be a base for direct mystical perception. This includes the erotic ecstasies of partnered love. Sexuality is a mystical ground, a joyful source of pleasure whose ontological depths support union, interpenetration, and a deeply shared love. The sexual is the very source of life and new birth; it is in many ways perhaps the most profound expression of spiritual life and vitality, the very mystery of co-creation. An emergent spiritual transformation, with a present-centered emphasis, requires us to develop more nuanced, sophisticated teachings that integrate sexuality and spirituality as profound reflections of the sacred human. The poverty of sexual teaching in many spiritual traditions is an indication of a bias that has not represented feminine sexuality as fully sacred, that has not discovered the spiritual ground in the very matrix of the life force. The spiritualization of the sexual is one of the tasks we are called to in the emergent mysticism of the future.

The sensory mystical life concerns the immediacy of perception, the value of nature, the power of the embodied and the dynamics of direct sensory perception. Mystical life in the world is fully embodied, fully incarnate in the specific, the physical, the material. The sacred ground is what supports all that is and all who are; every living being, every plant and life form, every element and atom. The presence of Spirit is all-pervasive, in the most minute sub-particle or vibratory string, in every atom, molecule, macro-life form, planet, moon, sun, star or galaxy. We all share this bounty as a gift of Spirit, an entire universe panentheist—filled with life in all aspects—even the subtle background energies between cosmic domains, all, all is permeated with sacred life presence. Thus, sensory life, immediate sensory perception, is participant in the mystical. Every sound, sight, smell, carries that presence, and in the sacred human it gives birth to deep appreciation, gratitude, and love for the creation. Sensory mysticism is the feeling that comes to you when you see the beauty of the sunset, the full moon, hear the wind in the trees, smell the fragrance of flowers. In that moment when the distance between you and what is collapses into a single continuum of participant being, then you feel connected, alive, embraced by Spirit.

An image of a pink flower, in close zoom.
Flower image courtesy Jim Frazier, used under the Creative Commons license.

A second domain is supersensory mysticism, involving perceptions that require a “higher,” more subtle, penetrating awareness. Here we can enter into the Imaginal, the visionary realm of dreams, mythic encounter, manifestations of a wide range of possible beings, entities, and angelic, deva-like presences. In Sufism this might be called the ‘Alam al-Mithal, or in the esotericism of Christianity, the Mundus Imaginalis. However, these are not necessarily hierarchical realms, not structures of being as much as metaphors of encounter. The supersensory is not a platform for fixed stages as much as an indication of multidimensionality, of possible domains of existence supplemental to the sacred human. These realms include the post-mortem realms of those who have passed over into other life, and also the presence of spirits or a diversity of beings ranging from every simple thought form and elemental to more complex and autonomous entities, to very powerful angelic, archetypal beings whose life and purpose remain mysterious and in many ways unfathomable. The supersensory also includes the “psychic and occult” capacities of the sacred human—telepathy, clairvoyance, distant viewing, psychokinesis, bilocation, reincarnational memory, psychic projection, and so on. The mystical life must incorporate these soul capacities into its paradigms of the sacred human; they are the natural gifts of Spirit and by no means secondary or insignificant.

The challenge of the supersensory begins in dreaming and extends into waking, such that we can erase the artificial boundaries between the two for a more holistic view of our perceptual capacities. Dreams are a portal into deep soul life and deserve careful study, reflection, and consistent effort to fathom and comprehend. From dreams we move to visions and sacred encounters, into the prophetic and revelatory, where prophecy is not the domain of only select men of the ancient past, but a current domain of fully active visions in the lives of many, among women perhaps more than men. The shift in the prophetic aspect of the mystical is toward new teachings, relational and interactive within a community of discourses, not a privileged discourse within only one tradition or individual. This communal aspect of the prophetic and revelatory is consistent with a new spirituality that is global, co-gendered, and shared through multiple points of confirmation. It is not one prophet or one voice, but a network of prophetic insights resonant with an underlying collective transformation, an emergence that is not confined to any one tradition or path. Our dreams and visions all contribute to the emergence of the sacred human, and the Sophianic heart of this revelation is shared by many as a non-exclusive call for diverse spiritual sharing. The revelatory ground is the hypersensory domains of the Imaginal in which new forms and possibilities are birthed and sustained through dedicated ways of living and caring for others.

The third domain is transcendental mysticism in which the seer and the Seen collapse into a single revelatory Now. In this luminous mystical union, the sensory and supersensory domains retain their vital contents but are momentarily dissolved into the very ground that sustains their arising. Here we move into a domain beyond form but not beyond energy or presence, not beyond knowing or being known. While this union incorporates both body and soul, it also extends far beyond the ordinary boundaries of mind, thought, memory and self. In a participatory way, this knowledge is emergent in and of itself—every mystical, deep transcendental encounter is a new revelation. It is not simply a confirmation of what was or even what should be, but of what truly IS in the very moment of emergence. The “I am” of this IS, emerging in creative immediacy, through its complete presence in the Now, as a revelatory moment beyond form and essence. It is not “one thing” or “one essence” but a deep ocean of currents and depths so profoundly beyond the sacred human as to hold us in thrall to a Mystery whose fullness cannot be fathomed. Blessed is the mystery and all those who embody that blessing for the good of all and not simply for the ecstasy of the moment. The call of the transcendental mystery is always to return, to embody, to contribute to the processes of life affirmation and co-creative partnership. We are not commanded, but offered a tremendous gift, to be partners in the creation of life in all its beauty and fullness, to be flowers in the garden celebrating uniqueness without diminishing the beauty and perfume of others.

The return to sobriety is part of the task, to sink deep into ecstatic communion, to Be in the Now, but also to come back into the world-work of collective transformation, to offer our gifts, however great or small. These three domains are all important in a fully integral mystical life; all three are active and fully alive. There is no hierarchy of development, no right order of precedence, no graded and required series of steps that all might follow. There is instead the burning challenge of the Fire Rose, to ignite the loving heart such that its illumination offers a multitude of pathways, a diversity of teachings, and a sensitivity to the needs of each person in his or her struggle to share that fire and illumination for the benefit of others. Each person has his or her distinctive gifts, each brings that gift to the altar of everyday life as a testimony and as evidence offered in support of a sincere dedication. Each must discover how best to develop those gifts that Spirit may flow freely through each individual creating new possibilities for spiritual growth and development. The warmth and sweetness of the gift, the capacity to heal or to teach or to imagine, spreads its influences through the heart, through loving kindness, care for others, and receptivity to continual inspiration. The perfume is the subtle effect, carried by Spirit; the consequence, new revelation offered as a gift and the continued development of the sacred human.

Lee Irwin is a Professor in the Religious Studies Department at the College of Charleston where he teaches world religions with an emphasis on Native American traditions, western esotericism, hermeticism, contemporary spirituality, mystical cosmology, and transpersonal religious experience as related to dreams and visions. He is the Vice President of the Association for the Study of Esotericism (ASE) and a board member of the Sophia Institute and the Institute for Dream Studies. He has been a workshop leader and group facilitator for over twenty years, particularly in the areas of visionary cosmology and the development of the sacred human. He is the author of many books and articles, including: The Dream Seekers, Visionary Worlds, Awakening to Spirit: On Life, Illumination, and Being, The Alchemy of Soul, and Coming Down From Above: Prophecy, Resistance, and Renewal in Native American Religions.

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Comments (3)
  • Lee, as usual, broadens and deepens the possibilities of our living out of mystical perception, bringing its gifts into the world and in the process transforming it.

    — Susan McClure on April 11, 2009

  • Hello Lee,
    First, I want to thank you for these two illuminating articles and for being my mentor for twenty plus years now. 
    As both our professions and spiritual pathways weave closely together through our interests in the human-nature relationship, our many discussions frequently resonate and catalyze through the spiritual mediums you so eloquently express here. 
    I much appreciate:
    “The sensory mystical life concerns the immediacy of perception, the value of nature, the power of the embodied and the dynamics of direct sensory perception.”  It has been my experience that direct natural sensory relationship with a natural area, through a natural sensory attraction, can lead to profound communion in multi-dimensional and transcendentally resonant awareness (as with the Cotton-mouth Moccasin experience I shared with you).  This openness/allowance of communion is, in my experience, an essential component to dissolving the often culturally induced dualisms within our thinking, about being fully participatory and involved “with” Nature.
    As Dr. Michael J. Cohen’s nearly sixty years of research in Natural Attraction Ecology demonstrates:
    “Our ability to cognitively abstract our contact with the world constantly takes our sensory experience and hides it under a veil of thought.” (Cohen, 2003, The Web of Life Imperative, p.63), our linkages have become both culturally frayed and fragmented with regards to the value of direct sensory reconnection with Nature.  Moreover, each persons unwillingness to open to and allow the maturity and diversity of their unique inherent being short-circuits their contributions to the well-being of all things—both living and non-living—for the purposes ecological sustainability, and as a fully participatory citizen of peace and love with all things.
    Therefore, your inclusion and integration of ....“immediacy of perception, the value of nature, the power of the embodied and the dynamics of direct sensory perception.”, contributes to the understanding of the intrinsic value of all things in Nature—including humans.  I most appreciate this.
    Within my profession, I am most concerned about reawakening and facilitating ones’ capacities to reconnect with Nature through direct sensory relationship—in-the-moment. For me, this is not at all a therapy (as in conventional psychotherapy) but opening and guiding one to the essence of education—that is digging down deeply within to discover our common belonging and community with Nature. 
    Once again, Lee, you are as the Taoist Master, teaching me the way of word usage that can harmonize with our experience of, with, and in Nature.  Thank you, good friend.

    In Stillness, we can touch peace. In Openness, we can befriend. (Dan Shelton, Lesson from Female Hummingbird).

    Cohen, M. J., Sweeney, T., Edwards, S. A., Brittain, J. C., McGinnes, J. M., & McElroy,
    S. C. et al. (2003). The Web of Life Imperative: Regenerative ecopsychology     techniques that help people think in balance with natural systems. Victoria, Canada.

    Always your friend,
    Dan Shelton

    — Dan Shelton on April 12, 2009

  • Lee has been a beacon of Light and guidance for many of us over the years and by the gest of his writing here
    continues to be so….no doubt alot comes from personal experience which is the best kind of knowledge.
    How I would like to settle as a fly within his mind to watch and become apart of all he dreams imagines and envisions. from one of your admirers! Thank you, Lee.

    — Amanda Ford on April 15, 2009

30 March 2009

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