You Don’t Have To Be A Monk to Be a Mystic
Ever thought about becoming a monk and living in some secluded beautiful place where you can contemplate divine mysteries and become one with what is eternal? Did you then realize that you wouldn’t be able to feed your kids or live your life and change your mind? The good news is you don’t actually have to become a monk in order to be a mystic. The divine eternal mysteries are actually all around you and even within you.
One of the ways mystics are reared in monasteries is by living simple lives and turning away from worldly pleasures. This is because worldly pleasure, like fine foods or passionate sex or intoxicating drinks bring us pleasure. Now, before you say “what’s wrong with pleasure?!” know that I agree with you completely. There is nothing wrong with pleasure including fine foods or passionate sex or intoxicating drinks. The problem arises when we begin to think that pleasure is the goal of life. Pleasure is a nice little side benefit to life – but it’s not why we’re here – it’s not what being human is about. Thomas Merton explained this wonderfully in his book New Seeds of Contemplation when he said:
Do not look for rest in any pleasure, because you were not created for pleasure: you were created for spiritual joy. And if you do not know the difference between pleasure and spiritual joy you have not yet begun to live.
This is such an important lesson to learn, and the good news is that you can learn this in a monastery or you can learn it in the world. Spiritual joy is nothing like pleasure. In fact, sometimes it can feel like overwhelming sorrow, or complete nothingness. It has been described as spiritual poverty, which you may remember from the beatitudes – Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. The reason this spiritual joy is an emptiness, a nothingness, an inner poverty is because it requires one to let go of the self. We become empty of self so that we can filled with God and once we are filled with God everything changes.
In a certain sense we become God. But not in a proud way – not in a way that we become powerful like God. Instead, we become God in a humble way – we become God like Jesus was God. We live the beatitudes and become meek. What our oneness with God does mean is that we can see reality, ourselves, those around us, and all of creation the way God sees it. We can love creation the way God does. This is the greatest commandment. To Love God with all of our being and to love our neighbor as ourselves. It is to have our eyes opened so that we can see that of God in everyone. When we love God, we love our neighbor and we love ourselves because we are all one in Christ.
Meister Eckhart said this beautifully in that famous quote of his:
The eye through which I see God is the same eye through which God sees me; my eye and God’s eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing, one love.
So, I implore you, dear sisters and brothers, to be a mystic either in a monastery or in the world, and know that pleasures are not joy. Turn away from worldly pleasures from time to time so that you do not become completely absorbed in them. To be absorbed in pleasure seeking is to be selfish but to be absorbed in spiritual joy is to know God and to live in union with God’s knowing and God’s seeing. So enjoy pleasures when they come to you but do not seek after them. Instead, seek after the Kingdom of God and the spiritual joy therein.
Justin Coutts is a contemplative teacher living on the beautiful and mysterious Manitoulin Island. While his practice is primarily Celtic Christian today his religious life has been very diverse. He spent many years as an apprentice to an Ojibwe elder helping people on vision quests deep in the Canadian wilderness. He was also raised in a traditional rural Quaker community which is still an important part of his contemplative practice. Today, Justin is the author of In Search of a New Eden and is working to find the intersection of these traditions and lineages. Through Celtic Christianity he hopes to bring people closer to the natural world and closer to their own souls – that we all may return to Eden like the Prodigal Son and live once more in harmony with the wind and waves, the trees and moss, the rocks and stars.
Contemplative Light offers an on-demand course on The Christian Mystics, covering the lives, works, and teachings of 20 historic figures that shaped the Contemplative tradition.