This audio and the accompanying text are from Jorge Waxemberg’s book The Art of Living in Relationship.1
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Mysticism gives our life both universal perspective and direction. It makes us aware of our destiny.
When we refer to mysticism, we usually think of something disconnected from our daily lives. We imagine mysticism as the choice of certain privileged souls who are able to dedicate their lives to a spiritual ideal. We think that the only possibility we have is to fit the spiritual side of our lives in between our other, more-pressing obligations. The possibility of being mystics does not enter our minds.
Yet, if we analyze more deeply the teaching of the great mystics, such as Swedenborg, Sri Aurobindo or Simone Weil, we discover that they never considered themselves extraordinary or different from other human beings. Like us, they fulfilled their personal and social responsibilities.
Mystics are not people different from us nor do they live privileged lives. They face the same conditions as us: illnesses, disappointments, setbacks, misunderstandings. When we read about their lives we discover that they experience doubts, inner darkness, discouragement and anguish, as well as love, compassion and joy.
What is it that makes the mystic different?
What makes them different is the attitude with which they orient their lives, understand their difficulties and respond to problems and challenges. This attitude expresses itself in their everyday decisions. Daily life and mysticism are actually not contradictory. In fact, mysticism makes daily life a school of unfolding.
Mysticism gives our life both universal perspective and direction. It makes us aware of our destiny and, at the same time, daily life provides a wealth of experiences that form the foundation of an effective work on our spiritual unfolding. Let's try to summarize here this symbiosis between daily life and mysticism in some basic mystical attitudes
1.To dedicate, through mysticism, one's life to a transcendent objective
The first thing that we find is that mystics orient their lives towards an objective that includes all of humanity. They know they are part of a greater whole, and act in accordance with that understanding.
The mystical attitude consists in a process of expansion of perception and harmonious participation with family, neighborhood and country, until all of humanity is included. The greater the circle of participation, the deeper the mysticism.
This way of understanding our own life radically changes the way in which we do everything. Just as we change our lifestyle when we form a family, we also change our life when our family expands and embraces all living beings.
Besides having a dimension in space by encompassing a larger area and a greater number of beings, participation also has a dimension in time: to assume responsibility for the future.
There is consistency between short-term and ultimate objectives. The mystic understands that the happiness of today must be a step towards a better world and a greater happiness tomorrow. This is something very important. Without this mystical perspective, one finds trouble around every corner: the satisfaction of the moment is transformed into the cause of a future sorrow; the easy carelessness with which one consumes something today generates a shortage that oneself—and society as a whole—will suffer tomorrow. The effort to achieve selfish goals often implies a progressive and irreversible deterioration in our relationships with loved ones. The triumph of the moment can lead to future suffering for ourselves and for others.
Mystics extend the term of their objectives to include not only the well-being of the human beings living today but future humanity as well. What is good for all is good for oneself. Mysticism gives a sense of the eternal. It is an attitude and a way of living that encompasses life as a whole. This consciousness helps us to overcome the temptation to live for today without responsibility for the future. The future is not only our future but the future of all humanity.
When we look at ourselves and those around us, we can see that the present situation is, in great measure, determined by the apparently inconsequential attitudes and decisions of the past. It may surprise us that past attitudes can be important today. But how important they are! Each thing we do is important—even what we think and feel—since it has consequences in the future.
When the young and successful lawyer Gandhi suffered discrimination in South Africa, he did not take it as a personal affront or as a reason for feeling bitterness or hatred, but as a point of support to respond to the great drama of human suffering. He understood that many groups of human beings were suffering from prejudice. He decided to dedicate the rest of his life to correcting an unjust situation. The decision he made in that moment not only changed his own life radically but changed the life of humanity as well.
Mysticism leads us towards an ever-increasing and fuller participation with the world. It not only transforms what we do, but how we do it. It leads us to greater understanding of ourselves and of life. Not only that, but our participation encompasses the whole of reality which, though far beyond our present understanding and knowledge, exists and includes each one of us and the world.
2. To place personal experiences within the context of humanity
When we are happy we don't think about the meaning of our happiness. We simply enjoy being happy. But when something causes us pain, we despair. We ask, "Why me?" and we don't find meaning in our suffering. What we don't realize is that it is not possible to understand a particular event if we don't see the larger context to which it belongs. We have to see it within the greater picture.
Each experience, including the positive ones, occurs within a context of effort and suffering. Those times in which we suffer also contain a message; they are the counterpart of happy moments. When we learn to accept suffering we can begin to understand life.
By orienting life towards an objective that encompasses all of humanity, the mystic attitude develops our capacity to understand our own life. Personal experience with illness, old age and death, as well as happiness and joy, are understood when we place them within the context of all human life. This allows us to accept the laws of life fully and gives us the necessary discernment and strength to work on those aspects of our life that can be improved. This is what each of us can do in every moment. And it is imperative that we do so not only for our own good, but also for the good of humanity.
3. To establish a direct relationship with the Divine
Mystical life is fundamentally seeking union with God. It is the inner certainty that the possibility of union with God is inherent to our human condition; it is the certainty that our life has a meaning which leads us to the fullness of consciousness.
The life of the mystic is based on faith, prayer, and the inner work of participation.
Mystical faith precedes a belief in something particular. It is based on the intrinsic human need to deepen consciousness of being. That is to say, faith is the inner certainty of our countless possibilities and our freedom to fulfill them. This faith is the source which gives us the strength to face difficulties and to unfold our consciousness.
This faith is not limited to the mystic; it is a characteristic of the human condition that remains hidden behind our eagerness and the struggle to survive. Thus it is a gift we need to guard and cultivate, drawing inspiration from it to go beyond our prejudices, complexes and petty desires.
Faith leads us to prayer. Prayer reminds us of the immensity and the mystery of life and our place in it. Conscious acceptance of our own littleness is the key to a free and spontaneous relationship with God.
To pray is, essentially, to penetrate one's own heart, to discover one's own voice without the help of intermediaries and to give this good to others.
Everyone can pray. Even more than that, we need to pray. Prayer expands and deepens our understanding. And most importantly, it keeps us with an open and expectant attitude before the divine mystery.
Just as it takes only a moment for us to recognize the beauty of a sunset, so too it takes only a moment for us to become aware that we are passengers on the ship of time moving towards the divine. Mystics call these moments of awareness "stopping." It is good to make a habit of periodically stopping during the day to reflect on our notion of being passengers in time. These instants of awareness are indispensable for the unfolding of our notion of being since they help us to remember the main objective of our life and the need to be conscious of how we are fulfilling it. Let us think how much time we spend every day running, chasing after goals that are not even fundamental. How much more important it is to make the time to stop and become conscious of how we are living and where we are directing our efforts.
4. To work on our way of thinking and feeling
As we have already pointed out, we live in accordance with the way we think and feel. Consequently, improving our thoughts and feelings will help us to live better, to actually transform our life in a positive way and give it meaning.
Where do we begin? Where do mystics begin? First, we have to attain some degree of self-control. With practice and effort, we discover that this self-control increases as we practice it.
We are used to letting our thoughts and feelings carry us away. We think that this is the way it should be; we rarely think that we could do something about it. Yet, when we have to, we can control our thoughts. When certain obligations make it necessary, we can concentrate and can choose what to think and how. If we make a systematic practice of our capacity to ennoble our thoughts and feelings, our inner work will be reflected in all areas of our lives.
The way to do this is simple: every time we identify a negative or selfish thought or feeling in ourselves, we replace it with a more positive and generous one. Thoughts and feelings are negative not only when they are depressing, but also when they are aggressive and hurt us as well as others. Thoughts and feelings are selfish when they are centered exclusively on our own interests. These types of thoughts and feelings limit our perception and our consciousness. When we replace such thoughts with others that are more expansive, we perceive more, understand better and are stronger and more resourceful in making decisions about ourselves and the world.
This is why mystics say that a person's spiritual transformation begins when he or she learns how to generate one good thought, then another and another, thereby cultivating the habit of thinking and feeling expansively. Feelings become purer as we purify our thoughts.
The lives of mystics teach us that mysticism is a possibility for everyone and that it begins when we see the particular circumstances of our life within the greater framework of all life. All human beings participate in the same reality; they are subject to the vicissitudes of life, illness, decline and death. All of us face the challenge of the same fundamental questions: Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going? Knowing this helps us to appreciate our situation, face our difficulties, make decisions and realize our potential. By keeping always present the great panorama of life, we are not confused when we make decisions and choose objectives. Working on our way of thinking and feeling allows our inner voice to speak from the heart. We relate directly with God when we lean only on faith, on the certainty that, because we are human beings with consciousness, we have the possibility of understanding who we are and where we are going.
This is the secret of transforming common, ordinary life into a full and meaningful life. And this is something anyone of us can realize right now, wherever we are.
To read “Mysticism in Our Lives,” click here, Living Consciously, p. 49.