By Jill Lowy
What is a Modern Day Mystic? Well, first of all a modern day mystic is a mystic. According to the Wikipedia, “a mystic is one who practices mysticism”; “Mysticism (comes from the Greek, mystikos, an initiate of a mystery religion) It is the pursuit of communion with, identity with, or conscious awareness of an ultimate reality, divinity, spiritual truth, or God through direct experience, intuition, instinct or insight. Mysticism usually centers on a practice or practices intended to nurture those experiences or awareness.”
The essential part of being a mystic is the direct experience of the Divine, whether through personal experience, intuition or insight. Mystical experience shares this common thread through all religions. There are Catholic mystics, i.e., St John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila; Islamic mystics and the Sufis, i.e., Jalaladdin Rumi, Kahil Gibran; Hindu mystics, such as; Patanjali, Paramahansa Yogananda, Sri Aurobindu; Taoist mystics, i.e., Lao Tsu, Chang Tzu and many others.
According to Evelyn Underhill, there is a process of mystical experience that she delineates into five stages:
First is the awakening, the stage in which one begins to have some consciousness of absolute or divine reality. The second stage is one of purgation which is characterized by an awareness of one’s own imperfections and finiteness. The response in this stage is one of self-discipline and mortification. The third stage, illumination, is one reached by artists and visionaries as well as being the final stage of some mystics. It is marked by a consciousness of a transcendent order and a vision of a new heaven and a new earth. The great mystics go beyond the stage of illumination to a fourth stage which Underhill, borrowing the language of St. John of the Cross, calls the dark night of the soul. This stage, experienced by the few, is one of final and complete purification and is marked by confusion, helplessness, stagnation of the will, and a sense of the withdrawal of God’s presence. It is the period of final “unselfing” and the surrender to the hidden purposes of the divine will. The final and last stage is one of union with the object of love, the one Reality, God. Here the self has been permanently established on a transcendental level and liberated for a new purpose. Filled up with the Divine Will, it immerses itself in the temporal order, the world of appearances in order to incarnate the eternal in time, to become a mediator between humanity and eternity.
Not all mystics go through all these stages of mystical experience, nor do they have to undergo them in any kind of special order. But Underhill’s depiction of mystical experience is a good description of what many mystics go through. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is also a good outline of the process of mystical experience. Basically Patanjali discusses eight steps of mystical yoga practice. They consist of: Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi. The first five steps of: Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama and Pratyahara are ways to purify the mind and body, preparing one for deep mediation. This would be similar to the awakening and purgation stages of Underhill’s mystical experience. The last three steps of the Yoga Sutras consisting of: Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi are the contemplation and meditation that result in the final stage of union with the One Reality. This would be similar to Underhill’s last stage of mystical experience or union with the Divine.
A major difference between Underhill’s stages of mystical experience and Patanjali’s eight steps of the yogic mystical process is the “dark night of the soul”. Underhill describes this as a complete purification marked by helplessness, confusion and absence of God’s presence. For Patanjali, the mystical yogi has prepared for this through the purification of mind and body, so there is not quite the despair that is evident in the “dark night of the soul”. But in both processes the individual mystic does have to let go of the ego in order to reach Samadhi or union with God.
In conclusion, a mystic is really anyone who has had these mystical experiences. If you have had direct experience of God or Divinity, whether through your intuition or direct awareness, than you are a mystic. So what then is a modern day mystic? First of all, I came up with the phrase “modern day mystic” when I wrote my book, To Jill with Love, Memoirs of a Modern Day Mystic. Then later after my book was published, I noticed that Thomas Lyons also uses this phrase in his book, Modern Day Mystic: A Psychic & Spiritual Journey Through A Not Quite Ordinary Life. To quote from his book: “A mystic is someone whose very existence is an immersion in the Divine Mysteries of Life.”
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word “modern” comes from the Latin modo meaning “just now” and from modus meaning “measure”. “Modern” is defined as that “which relates to the present and may involve recent techniques, methods and ideas”. So a definition for a “modern day mystic” could be: “someone who practices mysticism in the present day and may utilize recent innovations, techniques, methods or ideas.” Why is this important? Because a modern day mystic has to communicate his or her mystical experiences through present day culture, religion and technology. Things are different now than they were in the past. We have become a more global society due to new technology and transportation. I am more aware of other countries, religions and nations than my grandparents were. I can turn on the TV and see what is happening on the other side of the world instantly. I think this has given arise to a more global consciousness. And part of that global consciousness is a more expansive view of oneself and the world. Ancient mystics were more restricted in communicating their mystical experiences through their specific culture and religion. Now as a global society, we are much more aware of other religions and mystical practices. Also with advances in technology, we understand the universe differently than we did in the past. Through the advent of Quantum physics, scientists have redefined the nature of matter and energy. The universe is not what it appears (what many mystics have said all along), it is really an illusion. When we observe matter closely, it is not solid at all, but actually consists of electrons and protons swirling in a magnetic field. The table that I lean upon, may seem solid to my senses, but in reality is far from it. So as technology progresses, our understanding of the universe changes and it is up to the modern day mystics to share how the divine manifests in the present day and age.
A modern day mystic knows the universal mystical reality that is the source behind all creation and a modern day mystic never loses sight of the truth which is very ancient, but ever experienced anew.
For further information:
Evelyn Underhill’s Mysticism: A Study of the Nature and Development of Man’s Spiritual Consciousness,
Thomas Lyon’s Modern Day Mystic, A Psychic & Spiritual Journey Through a Not Quite A Ordinary Life,
Jill Lowy’s To Jill With Love, Memoirs of a Modern Day Mystic.