The Muse of the Spanish Mystics

Deep thanks to each of you who shared reflec­tions on your own expe­ri­ences of grief and trans­for­ma­tion in response to my maiden blog voy­age.  Your accounts and your will­ing­ness to show up so fully for the jour­ney are pow­er­fully inspi­ra­tional to me.  I look for­ward to hear­ing more Tales from the Road! There are two mys­tics whose teach­ings closely mir­ror my own path of suf­fer­ing and trans­for­ma­tion: the six­teenth cen­tury Span­ish monk, John of the Cross, and his men­tor, Teresa of Avila.  I had already been swim­ming in their poetry and prose for years, but after my daughter’s death I com­pletely sub­merged myself.  It was in that descent that I learned how to breathe under water. John of the Cross, known for intro­duc­ing the term dark night of the soul into the ver­nac­u­lar, was refer­ring to the kind of spir­i­tual cri­sis that squeezes every drop of devo­tional suc­cu­lence from our senses and entirely dis­man­tles the edi­fice of our reli­gious con­cepts.  In the throes of the dark night, we can­not feel the pres­ence of the sacred any­more, no mat­ter how many tricks we use to con­jure up old feel­ings of con­nect­ed­ness.  We can no longer even con­ceive of such a notion as God, which has become a mere word, devoid of mean­ing. While this ordeal car­ries an intense emo­tional charge, it is not pri­mar­ily a psy­cho­log­i­cal expe­ri­ence.  The cat­a­lyst for enter­ing these depths may be a dis­as­ter – the end­ing of a mar­riage, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job or a home or a com­mu­nity – but the mys­ti­cal dark­ness John speaks of tran­scends trauma.  It is deeper than depres­sion.  It is a dis­solv­ing of the sep­a­rate self into the blind­ing light of love.  Yet the divine radi­ance only becomes vis­i­ble when our old eyes have been utterly con­sumed.  This anni­hi­la­tion is excru­ci­at­ing. Teresa of Avila speaks about the beau­ti­ful wound of long­ing for union with God.  The soul that has tasted even a fleet­ing sip of his love will catch on fire and only absolute union with him will end her ter­ri­ble suf­fer­ing.  She will be unable to speak of this agony, and yet silence melts her bones.  In the very depths of this predica­ment lies the solu­tion.  Our yearn­ing for con­nec­tion with our divine source is in itself the divine response.  The call and the answer are rec­i­p­ro­cal.  Only the empty cup can be filled. Both of these mys­tics tes­tify to the neces­sity of endur­ing the pro­found pain of sep­a­ra­tion on our path home to God.  Both remind us that the divine dwelling place lies inside our­selves, and is in fact none other than the truth of who we are.  Both reveal that the joy and peace that lie on the other side of our shat­ter­ing so far exceed any plea­sure we have ever imag­ined that it would be like com­par­ing the light of a can­dle to the blaz­ing of a ten thou­sand suns. Finally, both John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila teach us that the only real pur­pose of the mys­ti­cal expe­ri­ence is to be of sim­ple ser­vice once we have returned from that gar­den of blend­ing with the absolute to the rel­a­tive desert of our ordi­nary con­scious­ness.  We are back, but we are dif­fer­ent.  Trans­fig­ured by the encounter.  Dis­abused of our illu­sions.  Divested of a false sense of sep­a­ra­tion and rooted in the cer­tainty of inter­con­nect­ed­ness.  Once we have wit­nessed every­thing we ever believed to be true go up in flames, we have trou­ble ever again iden­ti­fy­ing with the story of our own thoughts. When  Jenny died, I became fear­less.  The worst thing I could imag­ine had hap­pened.  What did I have left to be afraid of?  And with that loss of fear came a desire to give com­fort, to give sanc­tu­ary, to call out to my com­pan­ions drown­ing in the dark­ness: look for the trea­sure that lies only at the bot­tom of the well of grief.  And, when you have found it – and you will, I promise, you will — bring it back. If we can col­lec­tively rec­og­nize the gifts that lie in the strip­ping away of all our false con­structs, and, as a human col­lec­tive, sur­ren­der to know­ing noth­ing, we can reap the fruits of this trans­for­ma­tion and get on with the task of feed­ing each other, both spir­i­tu­ally and mate­ri­ally.  The dark night of global cri­sis will reveal itself as a state of pure lumi­nes­cence, where noth­ing is at we thought it was, and the only pos­si­ble response is com­pas­sion­ate action, rooted in shat­ter­ing sor­row and blos­som­ing in radi­ant joy.

One comment

  1. Gina Villa-Grimsby says:

    Dear­est Mirabai,

    Your words give me a huge shot of hope, faith and courage to descend deeper instead of fight­ing against the waves of unbear­able pain and attempt­ing to catch a gulp of air.

    I must ALLOW the waves to wash over me, allow myself to sink deeper, to empty out even fur­ther in order to dis­cover the gifts behind this anguish and despair.


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