“Our contemplation of the cosmos stirs us. There’s a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation as if a distant memory of falling from a great height. We know we are approaching the grandest of mysteries.” (145)
- Carl Sagan, from “Cosmos”
“It always amazes me the effect a light skiff of snow can have on one's experience of the woods and fields in which one is walking ... "
Yesterday afternoon I took off early from work and headed out to the woods. With only a couple of hours of daylight left, I wanted to get as much time out on the hoof as possible before dark. The weather was changing, and I felt the temperature dropping as the day waned around me, dusk coming quickly. I thought of night hikes I have taken over the years, and was inspired to remember vivid conversations about philosophy, earthen spirituality and imagination that I’d had with friends along the very trails I was walking.
As the light began to fade, I thought of the poetics of mysticism and how mysticism is an art. The beauty of the oncoming twilight lifted me into thoughts about the depths of reality and how poetics, coupled with science, has become my best ‘engine’ for exploring and elucidating the world in which we live and dwell and have our being; the natural world—the Earth & Cosmos. Mysticism from one angle is an ‘art’ in the old sense of it’s being a ‘craft.’ The experience of Mystery is the impetus to Mysticism; yet if the mystic hopes to express their experience of Earth & Cosmos, they must turn to symbols, metaphors and analogies—that is, to the use of a poetics.
“The light was dwindling as I hoofed it along the familiar trails_ and soon I began to feel enlumined!”
A careful line has to be held when describing and interpreting one’s experiences of Mystery. Too much baggage can too easily be imported into the experience, as when – on a hike in the mid-1980’s – I interpreted three beams of sunlight falling down through breaks in the evening cloud cover, falling into a pine grove in front of me, as a manifestation of the three-personed Trinity manifesting itself. [LOL] A genuine poetic interpretation of such an experience is never that 'direct' or literal; the light-beams could be interpreted as symbolic of the Trinity; but could not be the that imagined Transcendent Truine Unity itself. They could just as easily have been interpreted according other ways; according to different poetic systems. _Alas, I was still a fairly young and inexperienced mystic!
“As I walked, I had not noticed that clouds had covered the skyscape, and now_
Snowflakes were falling, quickly covering the ground with a glistening of white!”
On the other hand, an experience of the Mystery inherent in Earth & Cosmos can be so underplayed that one misses out on its depth and wonder. Being lifted out of the ordinary by wonder or awe, it is best to savor the experience and allow it to imprint itself on the ‘soul;’ i.e., one’s being-in-becoming. As the snow fell, I felt a sudden refreshment, and let go of the cares of the world for a few moments; the awful news stories of events around the globe that seem to illustrate our very human nature at its worst. As I walked in the world now being garnished by the falling snow, the white snowflakes patterned against the backdrop of the dimming twilight seemed to stand for a temporary ‘return to innocence;’ not in any naïve way, but perhaps as a hint of what William Blake would have called “radical Innocence”—that ‘Innocence’ that can be nurtured after one has passed through the Vale of Experience.
Mysticism as an art entails crafting one’s interpretation of an experience of Mystery with the tools of Poetics and Imagination. It demands responsible speaking – the mystic must endeavor to never put forth an interpretation that merely serves his or her own needs or, worst still, prejudices. One must be diligent to re-present the experience of Mystery in words, images, sounds, etc., and not distort it. Of course, it takes time to mature out of one’s early biases; imprinted as these are by our upbringing and then reinforced by society’s mores. But, in time, if you persevere honestly in seeking the truth, beauty and depth of mystical experience—much of your early bias may well fall away, eventually, allowing you a slightly better access to reality.
“Things appear more as they are, in the enlumined night of being.”
I suddenly stopped in my tracks as I came down off the hill towards town. It had stopped snowing, almost as quickly as it had started. The snow that was now lying upon the ground was ‘giving off’ a wondrous, subtle glow. It had a blueish cast, owing to the light being refracted through_ and reflected off of_ the crystals in the fallen snowflakes. The glow seemed to form an ‘aura’ above the ground, and I realized that as the ground had been warmed during the day, a slight mist was now forming, about 2 feet deep, floating above the late Autumn leaf mulch, sticks and stones of earthen ware.
“I was stilled in the ambience of the snowshine; I was deep-enlumined!”
I walked down off the hill, marveling at the quality of light given off by the slight layer of snow that was covering the mulch all around me. I thought of the optics of the phenomenon and then of the metaphor of being enlumined; which I thought of as “a mystical state of openness to reality in which we allow the beauty and sublimity of Nature to imprint itself upon us in experiences such as these.” I have long found that such experiences enable me to cope with life and deal more adroitly with its exigencies.
“The Snowshine_ that’s what we used to call it_ infused me as I left the Woods and sauntered homeward.”
I came home and did all that needed to be done in the evening. I went to bed but could not sleep. I was not 'restless;' I was just not ready to fall asleep—still infused with the beauty of the snowshine I had witnessed. I got up and came down cellar to meditate. I got Stile Antico’s CD Puer Natus Est out for the first time since Epiphany last January, and, listening to it, went down deep into the Well of the Self. I hummed along with some of the chants – which are becoming familiar to me – and began to think about what I might write and compose during the Winter Solstice Season!
I felt enlumined as I dwelt in the Cave Nemeton of the Self. The Cave of the Heart seems lit up as with snowshine! I was on the threshold of an imaginative journey, and I went with it_
I got up and danced around the Meditation Circle in time with the chanting on the CD. After a while I sat down in front of the Meditation Table. Peace enveloped me. As an icon for my meditation I used the picture of Stile Antico standing in a circle, back to back, that’s on the inside of the CD case. There is something about that photo that wakens me every time I see it! I think of them singing without seeing one another, having to cinque with one another by sound – and possibly body language – alone. The sense I get from this photo is of something deeply earthen; the circle being so important in earth-centered spiritualities. I also thought of Nicholas of Cusa, the mediaeval Christian mystic and mathematician, for whom the circle stood as a symbol for the completion of Creation as well as the infinity of the divine. The circle, for me, is a profound rune for the ‘circle of existence’ in which we dwell in Earth & Cosmos.
As I meditated on the iconic photo of the choir and listened to them sing those beautiful works by Tallis, Taverner, Byrd and others, I went on an imagined journey; flying in the Moonlight across snow-covered landscapes—seeking the entryway into another of my imagined nemetons: the Crannog Oratory! I saw standing stones and a dolmen in the open fields below me; all lit up by moonlight—though I never found the Oratory. I flew down close to the ground a couple of times, and felt the spray of cold, icy snowflakes on my face and hands.
At the point where Robert White’s Magnificat came on, I returned to my Meditation Circle; having been ‘out and about’ in my imagination. I arose up out of the Deep Well, ascending into the candle-flickered darkness of my own rooms as the choir began to sing Puer natus est. I stayed in the Meditation Circle until Sheppard’s verbum caro was over. In the silence I sat for a few minutes before rising.
After the music ended, I went back up to bed, refreshed and in a state of near wonderment—as if I was about to dream. I didn’t; at least not that I remember. Yet I awoke at 7 AM this morning feeling refreshed and ready to engage with the day. I’d had an Enlumined Night.
“As I drifted off to sleep, the blueish snowshine enlumined my bedchamber with subtle hues and calming effect.”