Harmonisation of Spiritual and Physical Development
Rising from an abyss
As no one in no place
Now, slowly transformed in light
And celestial joy
Returned home by the dream
Truly to eternity
Beneath all the diversity and confusion associated with the various stages of mystical development, there is a wonderfully coherent pattern which can now be summarised. As I have outlined throughout, the key dynamics of growth relate to process, mode and direction.
The first dynamic relates to the conscious and unconscious processes, which in psycho-mathematical terms are finite and transfinite (i.e. infinite) experience respectively.
The second dynamic relates to the cognitive and affective modes, involving real (impersonal) and imaginary (personal) experience respectively.
The third dynamic relates to the external (objective) and internal (subjective) directions involving positive and negative experience respectively.
With the commencement of life and the prepersonal structures there is a state of material fusion with scarcely any differentiation (in relation to process, mode or direction). Unity in this state is in fact largely indistinguishable from nothingness. This is the pleromatic stage of the fundamental structures.
The transition to the next stage involves the first emergence of the affective mode.
This leads in turn to the earliest primitive structures, where there is considerable confusion in terms of holistic (impersonal) reality and specific (personal) reality.
The next transition involves the proper emergence of reality through the positive direction, and the discovery of specific objects in the child's environment.
This leads to what I refer to as the natural structures of spontaneously generated images, still involving considerable confusion of external and internal experience.
The third transition involves the emergence implicitly also of the negative direction and the ability to maintain object constancy in the integer structures (i.e. greater object integration).
This transition represents the movement from pre-personal to the personal structures of rational development (I.e. the linear level).
The prepersonal level of experience thus involves three stages and three transitions.
The transpersonal level also involves three transitions and three stages which in mature fashion remarkably complement the earlier prepersonal level.
Thus the transition from linear to circular level involves the explicit differentiation of the internal direction (i.e. negative or mirror structures). What, at the prepersonal level, represented material confusion, now gives way to spiritual fusion. In contrast to the (solely) positive focus of the linear level, there is thus now both a positive and negative aspect to all phenomena in experience.
There then follows the circular level proper which involves the development of irrational structures - superstructures based on the complementarity of opposites - in both positive and negative directions. Thus increasingly subtle structures are developed in both directions until these directions themselves are fully harmonised.
The transition from circular to point level involves the explicit differentiation of the affective mode (i.e. imaginary or virtual structures). There is now both a real and an imaginary aspect to all phenomena.
The point level proper then follows with the development of the transcendental structures - structures based on the relationship between (rational) linear and (irrational) circular structures - in both real and imaginary modes (i.e. superstructures and substructures respectively). Ultimately both modes are fully harmonised.
The transition from point to radial level involves the explicit differentiation of the infinite or transfinite process (i.e. the null or purely simple structures). There is now both a (visible) finite and an (invisible) infinite aspect to all phenomena.
The radial level follows with the development of the complex structures - structures with real and imaginary components in positive and negative directions - with both finite and transfinite aspects. Both of these processes are eventually fully harmonised but not in this life. The goal of all mystical life really lies in eternity which is both the ever present source and end of everything in creation.
So just as circle of life commences from a state of material fusion (lacking all differentiation and integration), it is destined to end in a complementary state of spiritual fusion (which is both fully differentiated and fully integrated).
The radial level involves a progressive attempt to harmonise therefore the finite and infinite aspects of experience. This demands an extremely pure attitude greatly lacking in possessive desire. When any degree of selfishness enters understanding, the infinite aspect pervading all reality, quickly is lost. Phenomena then acquire a rigid and false identity - which is merely finite - separated from their true home which is eternal.
Thus during the radial level one must learn to engage once again with finite phenomena without becoming trapped by them, learning to treat them in pure freedom of spirit.
This capacity which greatly improves throughout this level is never fully mastered.
Perfection - even at this advanced stage - is unattainable in any absolute sense. One can however in relative terms continually attempt to progress towards this eternal goal.
On Going Development
The latter stage of development of the radial level involves a committed and dynamic involvement with ordinary life. Transformation of the self - now seen in cosmic terms - also necessarily involves transformation of the world. Naturally with the inner self now largely transformed, the focus gradually switches towards a selfless involvement with secular affairs.
There is generally a sense almost of anti-climax in the mystical accounts of this final stage. This is due to the fact that the normal human aspect of personality - often temporarily submerged through the painful process of change - now comes to the fore. One finally learns to accept oneself fully without masks or pretensions. In other words one's true human potential is finally actualised. All concern with levels and stages of growth melts away. They are now simply harmonised through a continuous spiritual presence as differing aspects of the same unified experience. So rather than devote any more attention to clarification of various structures, we will now concentrate on some typical characteristics of this final stage.
Involvement with the World
Mystical growth (i.e. transpersonal development) can lead initially to a considerable withdrawal from the world. However this is not an end in itself. The only valid purpose of such detachment is to reform the false focus of the self centred ego, so as to finally become truly and fully involved with the world in a selfless manner.
Unfortunately this "worldly" aspect is not always sufficiently emphasised in the mystical literature.
In the East, historically a fatalistic attitude has been in evidence ignoring somewhat the role of temporary affairs and the need for continual social progress. Too often the "wise" person is portrayed as one who - though spiritually advanced - remains somewhat remote from the common concerns of life.
In the West, mysticism has generally been associated with those who have chosen a specific vocation to the religious life. Again, such a vocation has often represented disillusionment with secular society. Though the lives of the great mystics invariably demontrate this final stage of mature worldly involvement, a transcendent other-worldly approach still tends to characterise the conventional treatment of mystical life.
Mystical development of course has two aspects. One is the desire to be truly divine and unlock the great spiritual capacity within the personality. The other is the complementary desire to be truly human and - despite one's many faults - be accepted unconditionally.
Christ - as we have seen - is a great archetype of such development. Christians believe that He was both fully human and fully divine. However, potentially that is equally true for each one of us. Deep within lies the same capacity to realise our true being as Christ did.
The earlier stages of transpersonal growth concentrate largely on the transcendent aspect of realising an inherent divine potential. The later stages - especially now - involve more of the complementary immanent human aspect.
The great paradox is that one can only be fully human by being fully divine. In other words, one can only fully accept oneself through the unconditional love of God Who essentially is one's true being.
At all levels of development, we encounter a wide range of different personalities. This is true of the radial level also. Though everyone - at this level - can be described essentially as a centrovert (i.e. primarily centred on God), secondary personality characteristics can vary greatly.
Some, for example, are naturally extroverted and others introverted. Typically - for extroverts - there will be a greater emphasis on expressing their mystical relationship through appropriate spiritual involvement with the World. The great Christian apostles such as St. Paul, St. Francis and Catherine of Sienna would belong to this group. The introverts, relatively speaking lay more emphasis on the contemplative life and intellectual clarification of experience. St. John of the Cross certainly belongs to this latter group with perhaps St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas (in certain respects) also qualifying.
In similar manner, some mystics - at the radial level - appear as " thinking" types while others appear as "feeling" types. It is a stereotype (with many notable exceptions) but male mystics more often correspond to the former group and female mystics to the latter.
This in turn tends to lead to a somewhat impersonal transcendent aspect in the general male approach to spirituality and by contrast a more informal personalised and immanent aspect to the female approach. Thus once again St. John - despite his great poetic gifts - exemplifies the first approach and his contemporary St. Teresa of Avila the second. Indeed the names of their greatest works illustrate the point well. For St. John, God was above all created things, and the journey to this union resembled a steep mountain climb. Thus "The Ascent of Mount Carmel" highlights the transcendent vertical approach. By contrast for St. Teresa union with God was to be found within the deepest centre of the soul. She likens the spiritual journey to a progression through the various chambers of a great castle with the desired treasure to be found in the inmost chamber. Thus "The Interior Castle" exemplifies the more immanent horizontal approach.
Again - using Jungian personality characteristics - some mystics are sense orientated and others more intuitive. Those of the first type will typically be very practical with a great capacity to deal with the actual problems they encounter from a spiritual perspective. The downside is that - again in relative terms - lacking intuition, they may be too conservative putting little focus on the possibilities - and indeed need - for change within Church and society. Mother Teresa in our own day is a fine example of this type.
Those of the second type - though often subject to more personality unrest - can be particularly valuable when society is in a state of transition. Typically they seek to uncover the potential for change within situations and adopt a more questioning approach to conventional norms. Thus they can be very creative and charismatic providing an authentic vision for the future. They inevitably come into conflict with the established institutions and yet paradoxically are the founders of great institutions. In religious terms, Buddha, Christ and Mohammed fall into this category. In our own times, both as a Christian monk and influential writer on mystical development Thomas Merton exemplifies this second type very well.
Society at present is witnessing unprecedented changes. More than ever, there is need for such enlightened individuals to emerge unencumbered with the baggage of the past to provide new models of religion and culture in keeping with the authentic needs of the time.
It is very sad but true however, so many unenlightened leaders lacking true discernment continue to hold sway in both religious and secular society.
Thus we have a wide variety of behavioural characteristics at the radial as at each of the other levels. A select few - at this level - are destined to shape the course of history leaving a permanent imprint. Others, in a less public manner will be a profound source of inspiration to all those they meet. Many are destined - as with the majority of people at all levels - to remain largely unknown, their intense spiritual commitment remaining a secret to virtually everyone, perhaps even themselves.
What really defines integration at the radial level is that a person reaches a dynamic equilibrium, which in a unique and mysterious way optimises the capacity for further personality growth.
Quite simply, true mystics realise - generally early on in life - that their personalities do not properly function at the conventional levels of development. They are essentially driven by a special vocation to find the one thing necessary - whatever the cost - that will bring true happiness and peace of mind. What we can say with certainty is that this inevitably leads to these people becoming centred directly in God.
However the expression of this centredness can be remarkably varied. In the natural order of things the ego is generally developed around a person's special abilities. One may from infancy well display certain gifts and talents gaining praise and recognition from others. They may seem therefore the ideal platform from which to build a successful career and social life.
However because the ego inevitably becomes heavily identified with these strengths they can prove especially problematic for the aspiring mystic and a great source of conflict. The earlier part of the spiritual struggle is largely devoted to surrendering all selfish attachment to such gifts which is an incredibly difficult task and indeed is rarely completely achieved.
The later part is more concerned with addressing in depth the shadow side and weaknesses in one's personality. This task requires great interior honesty and humility. If successful, it results in a high level of self acceptance free of pretence and illusion.
Normally, at the radial level - with the task of transformation largely completed - those gifts and talents which were willingly surrendered in pursuit of spiritual union are once again restored to be now used selflessly on behalf of the wider community.
Typically, therefore commitment to the world will at this level be expressed in line with one's special talents. Those with "practical" gifts now often become highly dynamic operating within an appropriate spiritual context. Others with a more intellectual bent can with an authentic spiritual vision return to various fields of enquiry with renewed insight and enthusiasm.
A "practical" mystic may for reach the highest level of sanctity, and clearly be not an intellectual. However, such a person to remain balanced cannot completely ignore this important complementary dimension of experience. For the "practical" mystic a certain degree of (intellectual) development will be required before the more gifted side of the personality can fully operate. Likewise the "intellectual" mystic cannot afford to neglect the more "mundane" levels of experience. Again, some degree of commitment to serving in society the immediate needs of people, will be necessary to preserve an essential balance in perspective. In both cases the precise degree of complementary activity required for optimum effect will be unique to the person involved.
Of course - just as in the natural order - some at the radial level will be especially gifted with a wide range of extraordinary gifts. However - even at this advanced level - this is the exception, rather than the rule. Just like everyone else mystics suffer from various limitations and are only too likely to be keenly aware of their defects. Indeed continual exposure to these shortcomings becomes the very means of maintaining an attitude of genuine humility.
The radial level is the great equaliser, the great leveller. When we see ourselves as separate egos we are inevitably led into numerous comparisons rating ourselves in some respects "better" and in other respects "worse" than others. Our self esteem becomes tied up with these invidious comparisons and remains constantly under threat of erosion. However with a cosmic based personality, such comparisons - except in a secondary sense - lose their relevance. One's essential personality is now in God and one sees all others in a similar light. Thus from this perspective all people are essentially equal and one now sees one's life as intimate participation in an unique project shared by all.
Indeed the root of most evil in society is that original sin whereby the (partial) ego is made separate from the whole. The solution to this fundamental problem is the mysterious transformation whereby the original unity of creation is once again restored in self and in society.
Mystics are those who have devoted themselves fully to this task of transformation.
This is a very important and often neglected aspect of understanding which indeed has very close connections with mystical experience.
Paradox is the essential element in humour. Humour thus always carries an element of the unexpected challenging conventional reactions to life.
Human experience moves between opposite poles. At one time we may feel serious, at another time frivolous; at one time happy, at another time sad. In relationships it is thus necessary to be able to switch from one aspect to another when the need demands. For example, at an important social function people often take themselves too seriously, feeling very self conscious. As we know, a touch of humour in such situations can be invaluable in switching poles (i.e. lightening the atmosphere and easing tension).
In this sense humour is very similar to the process of mystical understanding, the purpose of which is to integrate opposite tendencies in the personality in a harmonious fashion.
However though in some ways similar, mystical development does differ in important respects from humour.
Humour essentially acts as a short term solution to a dilemma. It offers a momentary and discrete injection of light into a situation which of course fades away quickly and is not permanent. In terms of many trivial type disturbances, this might be quite sufficient. However in relation to the more serious misfortunes in life, humour of itself cannot provide a solution. Whereas it may well provide a temporary answer to a problem, it cannot satisfy the deeper need of the personality for a continuous flow of the spirit in life's struggles.
In one respect, mystical understanding represents a deep refinement of the sense of humour. This sense of humour, if it is to adequately serve the personality must be balanced by its opposite (i.e. a reverse sense of humour). Whereas it is helpful to be able to lighten too much gravity through humour, it is equally helpful to be able to imbue seemingly insignificant events with a sense of occasion. This important capacity is developed by this complementary mirror aspect of humour.
If humour is relied upon in an attempt to lighten the serious side of life, it can become unbalanced and even pathetic. It is interesting that so many great comics have basically very serious personalities. It is this psychological need to offset this tendency to gravity in their personalities that leads to their great capacity for humour. Without the frequent lifts which humour brings they would be in danger of frequently falling into depression. Indeed this often happens eventually in any case, as humour cannot offer a permanent solution to this depressive personality tendency.
Mystical development can be seen as a means of so refining humour (and reverse humour) that in becoming fully integrated with the personality, it becomes continuous with it.
Indeed this whole capacity for refined and continuous humour is usually identified with what is called charm. A charming personality has in fact a certain mystique. This mystique arises because there is always another hidden dimension in the personality balancing what is presented at face value. The truly charming person seems always at ease. When relationships appear strained and serious, they have the facility to lighten matters. Equally when dealing with events that might seem trivial and insignificant they are able to imbue them with an unexpected depth of meaning.
It is very unfortunate that the highly important role of humour is neglected in the formal treatment of mystical development Often faced with the serious demands of the spiritual life, aspirants lose a sense of perspective developing a one-sided unattractive personality.
The true sign of authentic mystical development would be that it gives a person a charm of personality in a way that influences others for what is best in their own personalities.
Such charm has to be distinguished from the woldly variety. The problem with worldly charm is that despite pleasing mannerisms and graces, at bottom it remains empty and uncommitted.
Mystical charm by contrast is based on total commitment. The "charming" mystic radiates such a deep sense of acceptance of people that it often awakens in them an enhanced awareness of their true dignity.
If transpersonal development is to appeal to the modern world its human face must be presented. In finding God, one does not lose one's human personality, but rather finds it totally fulfilled. With this often comes an enhanced sense of humour, especially regarding stereotyped models of "spiritual" behaviour.
The desire for God cannot be separated from the desire to find one's true self in human terms. In fact both desires are identical.
Security and Self Esteem
A key feature of the fully developed mystical personality is a profound sense of peace and inner security. This remains true even in the face of the many tragedies of life and grave personal difficulties.
In the very deepest sense the true mystic, after a long exile returns home, to become intimately at one with both self and the world.
Problems with security arise very early in life due to separation. This process begins in the womb so that even before entering the world the inevitable separation of the infant foetus from the mother has begun. With this comes the experience of loss and the consequent growth of fear and insecurity. This tendency as we have seen is greatly aggravated by our culture. Dominated as it is by the rational paradigm we are literally trained to see ourselves as separate from the world. The scientific world view thus is conventionally based on matter existing independently of mind. The (Western) religious world view in turn is based on a supreme God understood as ultimately separate from His creatures. Our very use of He to represent God as a Father figure, corresponds directly with a patriarchal society operating unduly from the "rational" masculine principle.
Thus a deep sense of insecurity and alienation increasingly underlines modern highly specialised technological society.
The solution to this problem of separation is often sought in materialistic terms, through possession of goods, property, power, reputation etc. But this approach paradoxically only brings enslavement with increased insecurity and fear of loss.
The ultimate solution to the dilemma involves a radical degree of transformation, whereby the self is understood as inseparable from God and the world. Since both are already - in the most fundamental sense - part of this cosmic self, there is no need to possess either. One is therefore free to enter - as an equal - into intimate participation with both God and nature. One is now able at last to return to one's true home, eternally existing and everywhere.
The later stages of the radial level leads to increasing involvement with the world. This worldly transformation is now increasingly understood as an extension of a cosmic body.
Because of the strength of one's primary spiritual commitment one is able to engage in such activity without becoming diverted from one's primary source. In religious terms this represents the mature dynamic integration of the active and contemplative life (i.e. finite and infinite realms). There is no longer any meaningful separation between contemplation and activity. Indeed both serve and enhance each other. Intense private contemplation provides a central focus for action and fresh reservoirs of spiritual energy. This enables extensive involvement without undue stress in worldly affairs. Before the spiritual well runs dry, one turns to further contemplation enabling yet more worldly involvement. Experience is thus both highly integrated (through contemplation) and highly differentiated (through activity) in the fullest expression of personality development.
As this active life unfolds, suffering is likely to play an increased role. In part this reflects a mature form of disillusionment with a world in so many ways resistant to the "good news". It may also represent a natural reaction to the prolonged expenditure of energy and intense commitment. Also by this time one may well be advancing in years and beginning to suffer an inevitable decline of physical vigour. However most of all, it represents a vital and necessary form of true compassion in total identification with the many problems of the world. Through intimate sharing these now become one's own problems.
Thus the most complete expression of life involves the combination simultaneously, of the light and the dark in total compassion with humanity through (passive) contemplation, and active involvement through commitment to the world.
Beyond the Radial Level
We are now facing the primary - yet highly difficult - question regarding the ultimate purpose of life. Many religions speak of an eternal life beyond death. However here again such conceptions are inevitably culture bound and defined by the philosophical paradigm employed. As we have repeatedly seen, in the West the rational paradigm holds sway. It is customary therefore to employ a linear time framework with eternal (infinite) life succeeding this temporal (finite) existence. However, from a true spiritual perspective this is unsatisfactory. Properly speaking we are already living in eternity. True mystical development - in enabling detachment from phenomenal existence - is the path to this realisation. Eternity has already begun. Indeed, it was always there to begin with, as essentially only the present moment truly exists.
Ultimately existential anxiety arises from the separation of this temporal world in space and time from eternal reality which alone presently exists. The rooting experientially of finite transient reality firmly in the eternal present, is therefore the very means of coming to terms with our final destiny.
Our polarised thinking is also deeply in evidence in terms of the Christian theological division of Heaven and Hell. Nowhere is separation more absolute than in the traditional interpretation of this doctrine. However from a spiritual perspective the complementarity of opposites is a more satisfactory basis of explanation. In such dynamic terms pure existence (Heaven) and pure non-existence (Hell) are two sides of the same coin. All life emerges from nothing into eternal existence. Hell then can simply be looked on as the eternal state of non-existence preceding the emergence of (all) life into phenomenal existence. This in turn is due to the repeated failure by evolution - shared by everything that exists - to be fully transformed into the spirit. Thus, from this perspective, creation is condemned to forever continue in this - ultimately vain - attempt to realise its Omega point.
This latter interpretation is more intrinsic to the cyclical (intuitive) Eastern religions. Thus there is a strong belief in reincarnation and the transmigration of souls. The unfinished task in evolution - manifest in previous lives must continue. This view that one has already enjoyed a series of past lives can seem very fanciful in our rational Western culture. However there is a strange paradox here. A key doctrine of Christianity is the Incarnation whereby Christ is sent into the world to redeem (i.e. transform) it. In a certain sense, His mission inevitably fails. Therefore His work must continue through continual reincarnation of His person in the world. Indeed this is truly what being a Christian means, where one identifies with Christ as part of the same mystical or cosmic body. Christ is thus born again in each of His members to carry on the continual task of redeeming the World (i.e. transforming evolution). Therefore in this fundamental sense we are all reincarnations of the same one life.
The ultimate meaning of life will always remain - as is proper - totally mysterious. Coming to terms with this meaning only comes from entering fully into this mystery, This experience alone provides a fulfilling answer.
The genuine mystic, while still living, has already experientially come to terms with death. Since eternal life has already begun in the life of this person, the prospect of physical death holds little fear. Rather, it is awaited with joy as the removal of the final barrier to full participation in true life.