A Mystic Journey

A Mystic believes in spiritual truths beyond the intellect and seeks for unity, through direct contemplation, with the divine.

A spiritual journey to explore inspiring books, articles and ideas by and about classic and contemporary mystics and challenges along the way.

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This is the fourth short post that I have written to reflect books and novels that have impacted me over the years.

A Discussion of Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse

I am amazed how powerful this novel is almost 40 years after I originally read it. Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse speaks to our duality, that part of us that is “human” and that part the novel describes as “wolf,” or the shadow side we try to hide. But, as Hesse suggests, we are more than these two limitations.

The novel proposes that our plight as humans may be to learn to enjoy the daily and the mundane, to embrace life’s pleasure and surrender ourselves to intimacy, while suffering the pangs of loneliness, isolation and abandon — the pain of knowing there is something more we can’t attain. Perhaps that attainment is locked into the daily routine. Perhaps it is hidden in the joys of sharing with others or within the human encounters when we let ourselves experience the emotion of the moment and subdue the intellect. Perhaps it is all of these.

There is a way to transcend our plight and get lost in Steppenwolf’’s world of blurred lines. Hesse wants us to learn to laugh:

“Now, true humor begins when a man ceases to take himself seriously.”

While humor is not the answer to everything, it does seem to fit many scenarios. Laugh at the ambiguities and the unfairness of life. Laugh at ourselves trying to understand them. Laugh and we can begin to live consciously, not just as a prelude to death.

Perhaps laughter teaches us what Harry, the main character, discovers: There is more to us than our personality. Life isn’t just a duality of man and wolf. There is another level — the spiritual or mystical world. Part of us lives there, too. To get there, we must let go, laugh and enter an unknown, sometimes scary world. Harry does. He reluctantly enters the “mystic union of joy” and escapes his personality, or the “prison where you lie.” There is so much more to us. We can transcend the two parts of us, the civilized, tamed human and the wild and instinctive wolf or shadow side. We need to let go of one in order to not fear the other. Then we can rise above both and glimpse that other world of spirit.

This novel shows more than the importance of finding an equilibrium between the “human” and the “shadow” within. This is a chance to enter and get lost in a bizarre environment where you may find that other dimension, an opportunity to accept that the world we see isn’t the only reality. That blurring line between what we think we know and what we sense gets even less clear. And that is the good news.

A mystic journey with laughter as we transcend our humanity and accept our spirituality.

A Discussion of Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine

This is the third short post in which I am revisiting some old favorite books. While this one may not be considered a spiritual novel and is not written by or about a mystic, I am drawn to include it here.

I love Louise Erdrich’s powerful use of language in her novel, Love Medicine, but her characters are what I most admire. She portrays Native Americans with their strengths and their weaknesses, and while we may not initially like many of the characters, they grow on us as we experience their stories. There is a potency, a history, a past and a connection. Despite lives ruined by government intervention, alcohol and hard luck, there is an ability to endure hardships that generates our respect.

I write about books that provide a connection to the divine. I find spirituality in Erdrich’s characters: in the commitment to themselves, to each other, and to the returning home to their past. This is a belief in something greater than ourselves. Spirituality is not what name we call God or a Higher Being; it is living as if such an entity or belief exists and matters.

Louise Erdrich’s characters have a resolve not immediately apparent in their lives, but as we watch them grow, that resilience becomes obvious. Their lives aren’t easy. Their plight is one for which we deserve so much blame, a blame alluded to in the novel, yet not the focal point of any of the short stories that weave this work together.

In the face of adversity, these characters rise up as an admirable group, one that deserves respect for their toughness. Yes, that is the human spirit rising above the mundane. That is spirituality, a larger-than-life view.

Erdrich’s characters love one another, they love family, and they love their tribal connections. That is what we admire. They never seem completely lost. Even when one commits suicide, we don’t see the desperation as much as understanding and acceptance. Is this because of their Indian ancestry? Do they inherit a past we can never fully comprehend or mimic? Are all peoples so strong? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

The story is compelling; the characters force us to care. And we do. We want to be better people without realizing why, as we watch them surmount the human condition, no matter how depressing or abusive their lives.

We want to rise above a feeling that we should shoulder blame for allowing Native Americans to be confined to reservations, ripped from their culture, and forced into schools only to be spit back again with limited resources and opportunities. Our challenge is to read about and accept that blame, then move on to be as strong as our Native American role models in conquering the past while incorporating it into our consciousness. Her characters do that. 

So must we as we continue our mystic journey.

A Discussion of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig

This is the second post in which I write about a favorite old book. I loved Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig (1974) years ago Funny, but what we knew in our youth was a surprising wisdom. Sure, we tend to be smarter as the years go on, but when it comes to knowing who we are and what is really important, we knew much in our 20s. That is not a good or bad thing, but too often we let life take us away from what we always wanted. Maybe it is time to remember. Reading this novel is a journey to reconnect to forgotten memories. Today, the message changes slightly to include a spiritual twist, one that was always there but seems more urgent now.

The narrator, traveling across the country on his motorcycle with his son, attempts to define “quality.” What he finds is that we all know what quality is. There is no need to define it. The search is important, but the answer is within.

Our quest to define “spirituality” is similar. We know what spirituality is for each of us. There is no need to define it. The search is important, but the answer is within. We try to make it more complicated and often don’t have enough faith in ourselves, but we know. This is the role of a mystic, as stated on my website’s Homepage:

“A mystic believes in spiritual truths beyond the intellect and seeks for unity through direct contemplation, with the divine.”

Personal, inner experience is our answer, not some external search. This motorcycle ride is merely symbolic. Pirsig’s character is us. He retraces the steps of his life to discover his identity. Maybe, like the character, we are not as crazy as we thought. We might benefit from a similar, if less complicated and extensive, pursuit.

As the narrator in this novel is discussing his search for the definition of the word “Quality,” he thinks,

“Ancient Greece. Strange that for them, Quality should be everything while today it sounds odd to even say quality is real. What unseen changes could have taken place?”

Again, I’m reminded that this same statement could be said today regarding spirituality. How strange that in ancient cultures, spirituality was part of everything and related to the way of life. Too often today, we don’t acknowledge this aspect of our lives as real, significant and affecting our daily activities.

We also know exactly what spirituality means, without taking a physical search for the answer. We can go inside and listen to that knowing about our essence and our connection to something higher, even if we have temporarily misplaced that feeling. What are those “unseen changes” that happened? How far back in our lives must we go to uncover what we lost? And isn’t it time to reclaim that spirituality, to feel what it is like to be connected to a power greater than ourselves?

This literary motorcycle ride might help jog our memory and provide another way to remember who we are.

Pirsig opens us to the connection we may have been missing, to a belief that we may have ignored along our way. We know what spirituality is, even if we have forgotten our longing for that feeling of comfort. Remember that. Bask in the knowledge that we are not crazy at all, as the narrator in this novel discovers. We may simply be reconnecting to a lost past.

A Discussion of a Norman Mailer Book

In my mystic journey, I find I am revisiting some of the books that I loved when I was in my 20s and 30s. How fun to discover that what I resonated with then, I continue to find relevant. I wanted to share short posts on a few of those books. Here is the first.

On God: An Uncommon Conversation by Norman Mailer with Michael Lennon (Random House, 2007) is not by or about a mystic. If you love the work of Norman Mailer, do not, or are unfamiliar with him, his conversations will, at least, make you think. Not considered a spiritual writer nor a spiritual figure, he was one of my favorite American authors. This book was published shortly before his death in 2008.

I am fascinated with Mailer’s thoughts in this book. While I don’t agree with all of them, he presents ideas to consider, which is what great writers do. The main point that Mailer reiterates throughout his book, and the most significant, is that God is a Creator, but one that is still evolving. Mailer considers that we are developing with God and, because of this, He needs us as much as we need Him. Perhaps Mailer’s view is egocentric, but if we are still progressing, why wouldn’t our Creator be doing the same? Why wouldn’t we reflect all aspects of the divine?

Mailer reflects an updated view of God rather than the older, theistic one that directs our lives. He questions:

“God may be developing along with evolution. Why must a god be independent of time?

I mention this same concept in my book, Do It Yourself Guide to Spirituality: Seven Simple Steps (2011):

“God is evolving, in our world of shifting knowledge. While many argue that a changing God who fits our constant demands is self-serving, history show this is not the first time God has developed. The last 3000 years held to a mythic, theist God after magical gods gave way to ‘a ruler, a punisher, a patriarch.’
Why would we expect this view to remain unchanged?”

I like Mailer’s description of humans as “not finished,” as if we were a story being written. He makes the concept of “Creator” real. Rather than some almighty force, God becomes a more understandable artist molding his creations as He Himself changes. That is what an artist does; why would God, or whatever name we choose, be different?

Mailer claims:

“The point is that the purpose of life may be to find higher and better questions. Why? Because what I believe – this is wholly speculative but important to me – is that we are here as God’s work, here to influence His future as well as ours.”

I love that he wants us “to find higher and better questions,” similar to raising our vibrations. He wants us to assist God, as God assists us; we are here to create. While he may express the ideas differently and use other words, most mystics agree.

We are here to participate in the creation of our lives and in the world around us.