Glimpses of Light
"For some there be that without much and long exercise may not come thereto, and yet it shall be but full seldom, and in special calling of our Lord that they shall feel the perfection of this work; the which calling is called ravishing. And some there be that be so subtle in grace and in spirit, and so homely with God in this grace of contemplation, that they may have it when they will in the common state of man's soul; as it is in sitting, going, standing, or kneeling."--The Cloud of Unknowing
The way is a progressive one only in the largest sense. In actuality it consists often of stagnations and setbacks, falls and even withdrawals. Instead of smooth progression there are fits and starts, rises and falls. Nearly all seekers experience lapses and wanderings aside. Continuous advance without retrogression is likely to begin only after initiation into the ultimate path. The disciple should not worry about the ups and downs of his moods, but should wait patiently while continuing his regular meditation practices and philosophical studies, for if he has a teacher he will come within his sphere of protection, so that advice and guidance are always open to him, and inwardly he will be aware of this.
It is as much a part of the aspirant's experience of this quest to be deprived at times of all feeling that the divine exists and is real, as it is to be granted the sunny assurance of such existence and reality. The upward flights of his novitiate have to be bought at the cost of downward falls. A period of illumination is often followed by a period of darkness. At first the experience of reality will come only in flashes.
Many a student tells of disheartenment at the lack of results, and depression over the long period of barren waiting, despite the faithfulness with which meditation has been practised. They tend to overlook that the path is integral, is a fourfold and not a single one. Often there is something left undone by the student. For instance, no effort in character building may have been made by this student, or in religious prayer by that one.
Until the human psyche is equilibrated it cannot gain durable peace or solid wisdom, and the aspirant must turn his attention to those aspects of his psyche the development of which has not kept pace with those with which he has been most concerned. Balanced living does not overdevelop one phase and underdevelop another. If the student's advance is an unbalanced one, if its various points do not meet on the same even level, then there is no alternative but to go backward and bring up the laggards. If he has purified his emotions of grossness and selfishness but failed to purge his intellect of errors and illusions, then he will have to undertake this task. He has to build up the other sides of his nature, where they have been neglected in the building of the mystical side. And this will enable him in his mystical attainment to "bring it down to earth," as it were, and adjust it to the body, intellect, and environment.
It is very encouraging to him to have the "Witness Self" experience quite a number of times. It speaks more for itself than any descriptive words could do. The student's meditation may have been unfruitful on the surface for many years, yet if he remains loyally patient and persistent, he may have at last in this experience the definite and discernible fruits of seeds sown long before. The experience does help to make the burden--and it is such to old souls--of the body more bearable. It helps in the understanding of what Spirit means, and gives testimony of its existence. It demonstrates what the quest is trying to reach, and how real is its divine goal. It is very important that the disciple should have this experience, and it is a favourable augury for his future progress.
The vision of truth is one thing, its durable realization is another.
The felicitous experience of the Overself may come briefly during meditation. It comes abruptly. At one moment the student is his ordinary egoistic self, struggling with his restless thoughts and turbulent feelings; at the next the ego suddenly subsides, and every faculty becomes quiescent. All the disciple has to do is to be nonresistant to the divinity which is taking possession of him, to receive lovingly and not strive laboriously. The oncoming of this experience will be marked by various other signs: the intellect becomes suspended; will, judgement, memory, and reasoning slip gently into abeyance. A deep serenity unknown before takes possession of him, and an exquisite calm settles over him. In these moments of joyous beauty, the bitterest past is blotted out, and the ugliest history redeemed. With the mind deep-held by the Overself in an atmosphere of exaltation, the harassments and burdens of life beat but faintly at the portals of attention; the troubles of a lifetime recede to nothingness, the fears of the future decline into triviality. The disciple's outlook on the world becomes enlarged, ennobled, and illumined, and is no longer bounded wholly by commonplace interests. The veils hiding truth from him are lifted for a time. The idea that he has a higher self, the conviction that he has a soul, breaks in upon his "little existence" with great revelatory force, and he feels he is emerging into glorious light after a dreary journey through a long dark tunnel.
The Overself is enthroned. The disciple deeply realizes its presence in his inmost feelings. Nothing in his experience, intellectual or emotional, has ever possessed for him such satisfying ecstasy, such paradisiacal contentment. For the delight of the higher levels of mystical experience, unlike the delight of passionate earthly experience, never palls but remains ever fresh and vivid as though encountered for the first time. The world takes on the texture of a lovely half-dream. His feet tread air. Blissfully, wondrously, and overwhelmingly the disciple becomes that which he sought.
These glimpses are accompanied sometimes by a brief ecstatic state, wherein the world is half dropped out of consciousness and the mystic's body wholly held in a fixed attitude. An indescribable lightness will pass through his head. The flash will seem to transfix his thoughts and keep his body rigid for a while in the same position and place in which it found him. The bodily position in which the flash catches him should not be changed in any way. All kinds of excuses for such a change will be suggested by the ever restless lower mentality, but they should be resisted and refused. Even the pretext that it would be better to go to his usual place of meditation should be unacceptable. The contemplation should start and continue to its close in the very spot where the light first flashed.
Delight of these exalted moments and the fragrance of these heavenly visitations will linger in memory for years after they themselves have vanished, and the influence on subsequent life and thought is as long and beneficent as they themselves are short and beautiful. The experience will slip away, but the memory of its certitude will remain.
This all happens deep in the secret places of his own heart. One of the greatest events of his spiritual life-history passes by silently, unnoticed by those around him.
In his enthusiasm and ecstasy, the student may believe he has been granted the ineffable cosmic consciousness and will enjoy it for the rest of his lifetime. But such an event is an exceedingly rare one. He will find instead he has been granted only a brief foretaste of its memorable sweetness, a momentary touch of its awakening hand.
Afterwards, with the return to his ordinary state, the aspirant realizes that the whole lovely, miraculous event was but a single movement, one quick step.
Any man who will desert his present standpoint for the higher one may get the same result. It is the mystical crossing-over from the limited shallow personal consciousness to the wide deep impersonal one. When this happens during meditation there is a clearly felt sense of abrupt displacement, of sudden transformation.
The aspirant should be very grateful for such rich and rare spiritual experiences. They bring him truly into touch with his soul, and demonstrate that divinity is both with and within him. They establish in his consciousness the knowledge of its real existence and the understanding of its real character.
The higher self will not yield to him completely before he has entirely detached himself from his lower nature. And any such deficiency in his character or mentality puts a term to his ecstatic mood and compels him by natural reaction to return to his normal state and set to work to make it good. To encourage him to do this and to strengthen his willingness to turn away from the lower nature, the higher self alternately reveals and hides itself at intervals. Once the Overself has vouchsafed to him its Grace, he must make himself increasingly worthy of the gift.
The aspirant should regard the glimpse afforded him in the glow of his best moments as a working blueprint. He has to make himself over again according to the mental picture thus placed before him. The difference between the Idea and the actuality should shame him constantly into renewed endeavour. The purpose of this brief glimpse is to call him to more serious, more frequent, and sterner efforts, and to arouse in him increased ardours of moral self-improvement. It has shown him his finest potentialities of virtue; now he has to realize them. All elements of personality must be adjusted to the ideal shown by the glimpse, as the whole personality itself has to be surrendered to it. A work lasting several years may be rooted in a flash lasting only a few minutes.
The disciple should remember that the emotional uplifts will eventually subside leaving only the moral, intellectual, and intuitional elements remaining. Therefore this period should be used for cultivating these elements and for rethinking incessantly his whole attitude towards life. The glimpse afforded him is only a glimpse, and therefore transient, but it is enough to suggest new developments in several directions. It is highly important that the disciple should recognize watchfully every such manifestation of Grace and respond to it quickly. The chance to advance is thus given him, but the duty of co-operating with it must be fulfilled. No gross earthliness can be carried into that sublime atmosphere. Hence his glimpse of the supernal state must necessarily remain only a glimpse. If he wishes to make it something more, he must set to work purifying himself. It is true that occasional glimpses and momentary exaltations may occur, but they are quite sporadic and may disappear altogether for a long time. The moral re-education of the self is indispensable to the reception of a continuous and durable experience.
To that diviner self thus glimpsed, he must henceforth address all his prayers; through its remembrance he must seek succour; in its reliance he must perform all his endeavors; by its light he must plead for grace.
For the Overself to give itself wholly and perpetually to a man is a rare and wonderful event. Most often it gives itself only for a short time. This serves to intensify and enlarge his love and attraction for it, and to provide him with beautiful memories to support and sustain him in faithfulness to the quest in the fatiguing long-drawn years of struggle and darkness.
The glimpse is a fleeting one because he is still too unprepared to remain abidingly in such a lofty order of being. The glowing experience is glorious and memorable, but he falls back from it because he is dazzled by its brightness. He cannot retain it precisely because he is unequipped for so doing. But he who has once seen the goal, felt its sublimity, discerned its reality, enjoyed its beauty, and known its security, should draw from the experience the strength needed for the hard upward climb.
Although what the mystic feels is a genuine glimpse of the Overself, it is not necessarily a full or complete one. It reveals the ideal but he is not yet strong enough to realize it. New life has come to birth within himself but it is still in the embryonic stage. These glimpses make him aware of the existence of his spiritual self but do not make him united with that self. They fulfil their chief purpose if they awaken him from sleep in the senses or deceit by the intellect. With this awakening, he becomes aware that his great need of this higher order of being is so supreme that his lower life can no other than be dedicated to its rediscovery. And thus he enters upon the Quest. What he must do henceforth is to fortify and expand the union of his ordinary consciousness with his extraordinary Overself with unremitting effort.
Nobody is likely to be content permanently with but a mere glimpse of reality; he wants also to live it. He is not likely, and he should not be satisfied with these transient inspirations. Constant spiritual awareness should be his distant yet attainable goal. This is not to sway to and fro between periodic unions and separations but to dwell always with and in the Overself.
It is a common complaint that exalted experience of the Overself's presence are not continuous, are indeed utterly beyond the mystic's control. The Overself seems to leave him and the loss brings him back to his ordinary self. These phenomena are not subject to his will. It has no power of itself to repeat them. The heavenly visitations come he knows not how, and as mysteriously they depart. He will never be able to observe precisely the mechanics of this movement of grace. This indicates they are vouchsafed to him by the grace of the Overself. Because they are so exceptional, it is folly to demand their return but wisdom to work for it. The fact that he is unable to control these alternations between pleasurable and irksome meditations, between fruitful and barren ones, should show him that he is in the presence of an unknown and unpredictable factor. It should show him that by no act of his own will alone can he attain success in this labour. Patience is needed. He must wait for further revelations in the Overself's good time, and not his own. And no rhapsody can last. Life itself brings it to an end whether it is musical or mystical.
The momentary glimpse of the true self is not the ultimate experience. There is another yet more wonderful lying ahead. In this he will be bound by invisible hoops of wide selfless compassion to all living creatures. The detachment will be sublimated, taken up into a higher level, where the universal Unity will be truly felt.
-- Notebooks Category 22: Inspiration and the Overself > Chapter 8: Glimpses and Permanent Illumination > # 107