The Mystical Doctor

‘View of Toledo’ – El Greco, 1596 (Metropolitan Museum of Art) – Wikimedia

.During the night of 2 December 1577, in the city of Toledo in central Spain, a priest was imprisoned by a group of Carmelites who were refusing Teresa of Ávila’s reformation projects for their Order. He was jailed for 9 months in a monastery under brutal conditions. He was publicly beaten at least weekly, confined in a cell of barely 10 by 6 feet, with only a little light passing through a hole during the day, with bread and scraps of salt fish for a meal, and no change of clothes. But his burning love of god, along with his unfailing devotion and clarity of mind, allowed the 35 years old friar to compose, along with other shorter poems, the greater part of a sumptuous poem — ‘The Spiritual Canticle’ — about a bride’s search for her beloved. The poem, symbolising the soul seeking union with god, and inspired by the ‘Songs of Songs’ of the Bible, starts with these eloquent lines:.

Where have You hidden Yourself,
And abandoned me in my groaning, O my Beloved?
You have fled like the hart,
Having wounded me.
I ran after You, crying; but You were gone
.”
~ ‘The Spiritual Canticle’

The name of this priest and poet was John of the Cross, a Spanish Catholic mystic born in 1542 near Ávila, to whom we owe some of the brightest exposition of truth in the Christian world. Thomas Merton, who held him in very high esteem, presented him as “one of the greatest as well as the safest mystical theologians God has given to His Church.” John of the Cross was born in a poor family of Jewish converts to Catholicism, and received a simple education. He entered the Carmelite Order, made his First Profession when 21, and met Teresa of Ávila a few years later, of whom he remained a faithful associate all his life. Although not a scholar, his studies in theology and philosophy allowed him to quote abundantly from the Bible, and be acquainted with the work of St. Thomas Aquinas.

Although I have chosen to quote here only from the poem ‘The Spiritual Canticle’, John of the Cross is the author of many other poems, among which the renowned ‘The Dark Night’ — better known as ‘The Dark Night of the Soul’ — and ‘The Ascent of Mount Carmel’. His poems have a rich and powerful imagery and are considered to be masterpieces of Spanish poetry. Although they transpire with beauty and meaning, they are not to be readily understood. This is why John of the Cross wrote precise and extensive commentaries on them, some soaring pieces of teaching whose beauty and profundity is sometimes breathtaking. The most exquisite poetry is here going hand in hand with both a great depth of understanding, and the sweetest accents of devotion. The commentaries were written in prose but are here occasionally presented in a free verse form when they lent themselves to it. I am sharing the 1909 translation made by David Lewis, with corrections by Benedict Zimmerman. Listen with what tender accents of poetry and longing the bride is here conversing with her bridegroom, and how a suffering soul who has tasted of the divine is longing for “the secret chamber of God”, which is nothing but the pure consciousness that is hiding in our innermost being:

.
O you soul, then, most beautiful of creatures,
who so long to know the place where your Beloved is,
that you may seek Him, and be united to Him,
you know now that you are yourself
that very tabernacle where He dwells,
the secret chamber of His retreat where He is hidden.
Rejoice, therefore, and exult, because all your good
and all your hope is so near you as to be within you;
or, to speak more accurately, that you can not be without it.”
~ ‘The Spiritual Canticle’, 1.8 (Commentaries)

[…]

Discover the rich poetry and commentaries of John of the Cross… (READ MORE…)

.

The Hypochondria of Being

‘The Imaginary Invalid’ – Honoré Daumier, 1860-62  – Wikimedia

There may have been a time in your life when you had a glimpse or experience that you had considered to be a major event or happening, some breaking news coming from god’s mouth. And yet you were left after it with only scattered shreds of truth. You had failed to inhabit your experience and make it yours. You had stayed on its threshold and didn’t dare to visit its interior and be blessed by it. You remained where and who you always were, with the bitter taste of a failed enlightenment as a topping. So you have entertained the memory of it. You have placed this experience on a pedestal. Worshipped it as something to be attained or achieved.

So you have searched for it. You have enquired, read, experienced, shared. Slowly, almost inadvertently, you have gathered some understanding. You have sailed on the sea of existence, harvesting here a tiny piece of truth, there a hazy recognition, maybe even a glimpse of a wee realisation, which you have again locked behind closed doors. And you have sailed further. It made you push or widen your understanding even more. Silently. Surreptitiously. Until one day home is coming closer to you. You find yourself inhabiting this truth. It is making itself known as being only who you are, or that which you are. It suddenly takes you by surprise and clarity. This is what it is!

[…]

A playful interpretation of the nature of spiritual experience… (READ MORE…)

.

The Incidental Life

I would like to live the incidental life. Not the one that is a toil. Not the one that finds its significance in happenings and accidents, in various changes or transformations, in happy or sad expressions. I don’t want to be dependent on the forms of life for my happiness. I don’t want to be bound to its many injunctions, be they ones that are imposed or desired. For this is how life acquires its tragic quality. This is how life becomes something that we have to endure or bear with. Something that we have to go through with clenched teeth — which is with hope and belief. Something that we can be happy with, or grateful for, only if we take the right decisions, make the right efforts, and have some good luck too. I don’t want my life to be so brittle and uncertain. To be so imprisoned in endless causes and conditionings. And to have fear as its background music. No. I don’t want to be so grandiose. I want the incidental life.

To have an incidental life is to forever place our gaze on the horizon of being. This gaze implies surrendering to what is, or not minding what happens, as Krishnamurti once affirmed. This gaze will make you see life as being drenched in beauty and love. And this gaze will render you to your eternal, inborn, given nature of peace, happiness, and freedom. This is when experience clothes itself in a sumptuous dress of truth or understanding. One that will allow you, in familiar terms, to leave your life alone. For it can verily and simply take care of itself. Life doesn’t need your painstaking involvement. It doesn’t fancy your pity or concern or greed. Doesn’t want to be taken advantage of. Let your life be in its right place, which is the place of humility. This is where it will find its true colours and expressions. This is when it will rid itself of all the suffering that encumbered it. This is how it will find its own sacred purpose. Don’t give your life an undue position. Don’t take what is secondary to be foremost. And what is foremost to be secondary. See only being as foremost. This is the sun of life: this being. Its essence and direction. The rest? Well, let it be incidental.

.

~~~

Text and photo by Alain Joly

~~~

.

Other ‘Ways of Being’ from the blog…

.

The Highest Language

‘Silence’ – Odilon Redon, 1911 – WikiArt

In our language, the word ‘silence’ is defined as the complete absence of sound, or the abstinence of speech. Yet silence has fascinated us beyond these elementary descriptions to evoke the unknown and the mysterious. Something in silence speaks to us, and is a presence beyond its apparent nature as absence. Spiritual teachers from all traditions have abundantly used the word for its richness of meaning and its powerful evocative dimension. So pregnant and profound is this experience of silence that the word has often been likened to awareness or the nature of god’s silent being. Among others, Ramana Maharshi has often pointed silence as being the ultimate teacher in these matters, and Krishnamurti has described it in supremely effective and graceful words just below. This page is dedicated to their many expressions of silence:

~~~

The experience of silence alone is the real and perfect knowledge.”
~ Ramana Maharshi (‘Be as You Are’)

~

Keep silence, that you may hear Him speaking
Words unutterable by tongue in speech
Keep silence, that you may hear from that Sun
Things inexpressible in books and discourses.
Keep silence, that the Spirit may speak to you
.”
~ Rumi (‘Masnavi i Ma’navi’)

~

Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came
.”
~ Wendell Berry

[…]

Read these many quotes on silence by various teachers… (READ MORE…)

.

The Craving

Why do you keep falling, my heart
To all that impart an immediate pleasure
Truth is not an easy catch that can be met
In the petty, neither one that you can grab
In the temporal and all its passing hues
There is more to it than mock or parody

You have to only stay where you are, to
Not take that first step ahead, allured by
The fire of thoughts, elated by feelings
Be only so present so as to sight
A calm within a space, a space within a calm
That nothing can stir or move or shake

And you shall stay there, not concerned
By all that in you shout and scream
By all these thieves that claim your fall
And beg in the usual, the false order restored
A peace so cheap as to be no peace at all
You know what an imitation of truth is

This is an endeavour of unbounded courage
You need some heart to inhabit your heart
You’ll be surrounded by liars and impostors
All these preachers of facile commands
They too dwell where you truly dwell
They go only by effort or indulgence

Presence is a magnetic field that attracts
Always only itself. No need for exertion
No need to launch a campaign for truth
Desire is their last treacherous injunction
So repulsive when it comes to being home
You are already where you crave to be

.

~~~

Text and photo by Alain Joly

~~~

.

Suggestion:
Voices from Silence (other poems from the blog)

.

The Angel of Death

‘Stranger Things Graffiti’ – Paul Sableman (Jher Seno & the Arty Deeds) – Wikimedia

.

A myth is a mask of God, a metaphor
for what lies behind the visible world.”
~ Joseph Campbell (‘The Power of Myth’)

.

There is an astounding profundity in popular culture. It is just for us to see when it pops up, when it arises above the sea of confusion that our life is for the most part. What is designed to be just light entertainment, what appears to have no depth or consistence other than being an easy escape out of ourself, can hide the brightest of gems if we can elevate ourself to its hidden meaning. I stumbled across one such meaningful gem recently.

Running Up That Hill’ is a song created by pop singer Kate Bush in the eighties. It recently got a second life and triumph by appearing in one scene of the famous sci-fi thriller series ‘Stranger Things’. In this particular show, there is a hideous monster that roams in an imaginary city, and feeds on the minds of teens deeply affected and traumatised by their past, luring them into its parallel and ultimately illusory reality. In that particular scene, the girl is trapped in some dark chamber of her mind. The ugly beast keeps her prisoner there — a cave like place where she is about to be engulfed in the monster’s hideous mind. She manages to escape the grip and run towards an opening in the distance where is her true self and salvation. Pieces of rocks are falling all around her to stop her course, but she keeps running one-pointedly ahead while hearing Kate Bush’s song ‘Running Up That Hill’. The reason for her escape is to be found with her friends playing this song she deeply loves, and creating in her that powerful call and incentive.

Why does a particular blend of a scene and a song suddenly hit a target, move people beyond what could be possibly expected? Just one glance in the comments of that particular scene on YouTube makes it clear: “Best scene of the series”, “This scene made me want to live”, “Cathartic”, “A metaphor for what’s battling your mind”. Why does anything hit us and move us to feel in ourself a feeling of being alive? Tears may come, a feeling of thankfulness, maybe even some sense of profound happiness. What is tilting in our minds in these ineffable moments is the recalling of our life’s most essential meaning and purpose, and the remembering of a place in ourself that we have neglected. This place is the forgotten but obvious target for all our thirsty mind-arrows. It is the open space of our deepest being that we keep missing at every moment of our lives, precisely because of its total intimacy and openness. How do we manage to miss it? Because we focus on the periphery of objective experience. We are enclosed in a dark chamber of our own making that lures us into itself, and makes us fragile, hopeful dreamers with fearful minds, forever caught in the prospect of impending death.

[…]

See how popular culture is infused with non-dual reminiscences… (READ MORE…)

.

The Most Important Thing

That might be the most important thing of all. Not the meditations that leave you in a state of gratitude and wonder. Not the repeated understandings, no matter how deep and essential they are. Not the feelings of awe in front of that experience of oneness — the disappearance of yourself, and the appearance of your true, revealed, precious self. “I got it at last” were you thinking… But no. That would have been a bit too easy. None of these might do it in the final end. For these extraordinary revelations will eventually have to die down. For these experiences will have to end of their natural end. For these lack the last little remaining kick. There always seems to be another last ‘top of the mountain’. Another frontier. Another clarification. Another hope. Another deception. Another naïve expectation. And another waving hand and unwanted reminder from your sense of being a separate entity. “Hey, I’m still alive!” And back are you on your meditation cushion for another sprout of failing expectation.

That might be the most important thing of all. Not to leave a way out for yourself to escape and hide in a little corner. To grab yet another last little pleasure. To keep yet another wee sense of pride. To have yet a negligible remaining sense of being ‘me’ and enjoy the show from a distance. For these little remaining indulgences, no matter how small and inconsequential they may appear to be, will give rise once again to a fully grown sense of being a person. And this ‘person’ still has on a leash the dark beast of suffering that seems to come back with ever more strength and power. We might finally be eaten by it and be left here, a panting failure. We might never make it… The beast is barking now. Growling in the background. Waking itself up. Hungering for more and better with sharp scintillating teeth.

That might be the most important thing of all. Simply to give yourself up to just being. To not think you’re going to participate to your own banquet. You cannot be a guest of honour when you are yourself the one to be devoured. You just have to give it all up. Every thing of you. Every remaining bits or crumbs on the table of your apparent self. And it will have to be a pleasant offering. For it will never be forced on you. You are invited to die willingly. Or more precisely, to die understandably. To let go of that pestering little thought of yourself. That old haunting belief. That erroneous identity. Knowing that it’s your only chance. The last little thing left to do. That last remaining kick. The most important thing of all. So do it… That’s how you have a really joyful banquet.

.

You can’t both drink the cup
of the Lord and the cup of demons.
You can’t both partake of the table
of the Lord and of the table of demons
.”
~ 1 Corinthians 10:21 (The Bible)

.

~~~

Text and photo by Alain Joly

~~~

.

Website:
BibleGateway

.
Other ‘Ways of Being’ from the blog…

.