To be a spectator of Reality is not enough …

“To be a spectator of Reality is not enough. The awakened
subject is not merely to perceive transcendent life, but
to participate therein;  and for this, a drastic and
costly life-changing is required.”
Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism, 1995, p. 195

Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941) was an English mystical poet, author and Christian theologian.  In the 1995 edition of her book, Mysticism she wrote that when the self begins to stir or to question its’ existence, “… a change occurs in the individual, a change whereby that self turns from the unreal world of sense in which it is normally immersed, first to apprehend, then to unite itself with Absolute Reality” (p. 174).

Because of the spiritual or other-worldly experiences which have populated my life since childhood (as they have the lives of others), I find a strong sense of resonance with Underhill’s words. In reflecting on those experiences which are as deeply etched in my mind as an adult as when I experienced them then, it seems to me that the self is the instrument through which the individual acquires a new understanding not only of the reality of its’ existence, but of the reality of life.

And if Underhill is correct, when the self stirs, when we know within ourselves (and in a way which cannot be denied or argued against) that our way of seeing and experiencing life is illusory, then it is one’s very existence which is challenged.  Suddenly everything is different, and those things which were once meaningful and fulfilling are now no longer so.  And this happens because they have been replaced with new meaning and a new way of being in the world.

Underhill  put it quite simply, stating “We see a sham world because we live a sham life.  We do not know ourselves …  hence attribute wrong values to [their] suggestions and declarations concerning our relation to the external world” (1995, p. 199).  Importantly, Underhill also highlights something else, which is that the mystical adventure, regardless of form, must begin with change of attitude.  This mental shift is crucial, especially because true self-change can only be initiated by the individual themselves.

How does this change in attitude come about?  What is it that compels one person to question and contemplate the nature of their existence while for another, the thought or impulse never arises?  Why is one person born with the flames of future burning questions already pressing upon them, while for others  such things manifest not?  Perhaps change in attitude has its birth in a sense of inner dissatisfaction, or perhaps it springs from the feeling that there is simply more to life, that ‘life’ has hidden depths which gently beckon to be known.  Then again, maybe the answer to the question of ‘why?’ isn’t important, maybe just the fact that we awake to the realisation is enough.

Michele T Knight Written by:

Dr Michele Knight is a Social Worker, Social Scientist, researcher and independent scholar. Her interest and research in the end-of-life has its origin in the lived experiences of her own bereavements, her near-death and shared-death events, the returning deceased and attitudinal responses to those experiences. Since 2006, she has been extensively involved in community development, support and advocacy in both a professional and community services/voluntary capacity in the areas of bereavement and grief, hospital pastoral care, and academic lecturing/tutoring. Her PhD, Ways of Being: The alchemy of bereavement and communique, explores the lived experience of bereavement, grief, spirituality and unsought encounters with the returning deceased.

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