What Is a Mystic?


evelyn underhillI’m getting ready to launch Home for Evolving Mystics, an on-line learning community, exploring evolutionary spirituality. It will be a home for those who locate themselves within the lineage of Jesus, and those who do not—those who may follow other religious lineages, identify as spiritual but not religious, including atheists. A few people have expressed concern about the term “mystic”, wondering if that term included them. Here’s my take on what a mystic is, and then you can decide if you are a mystic, or even better, leave a comment about what makes for a mystic.

Let’s start with a very down-to-Earth definition from English poet, novelist, and mystic, Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941):  “Mysticism is the art of union with Reality. We know a thing by uniting with it; by assimilating it; by an interpenetration of it and ourselves.” A mystic has such a commitment to metabolize one’s experience so deeply that he becomes one with it. What passes for “reality”in conventional society is seen as mere appearance. Below, above, behind, within these appearances is the beating heart of the Real.

A mystic is what it meant to be human before Adam and Eve reached for the fig leaf, before shame caused a contraction, generating an illusion of separation from reality.

A mystic is one who pauses before a meal and gives heartfelt thanks for the plants and animals who metabolized

Richard Brookes

Richard Brookes

the sun’s energy, filling us with light and energy, and the heartfelt desire to make of this priceless sacrifice, an offering of beauty with one’s life.

A mystic is one who has displayed the courage to look into her soul mate’s eyes, knowing that love, like holy acid, will strip the veneer of personality down to the very grain of Selfhood, and knowing that the world will care little for the revealed beauty, and that when all is said and done, there will be nothing about this apocalypse that will help to pay the mortgage.

A mystic is one who has discovered that there actually is no self, only a Selfing process that is a living universe in an evolving soul, having a human experience for a short time upon this unlikely planet.

A mystic at some point along the journey just got tired, very tired, of the endless vigilance required to sustain all the self-images that have helped him to prove, and justify, and bully, and seduce the world into loving him. Tired of being tired, and realizing that the cost of vulnerability is not nearly as high as the cost of pride, the mystic surrenders to Love.

hummingbirdThe mystic steps outside, fills her lungs with the morning air, and intuits that it’s all one energy, transformed, shape-shifted into the diversity of what she sees and feels and hears—that the hummingbird’s whir is the sound of the whole universe seeking nectar for whatever is next.

The mystic has learned to love the unknown and the unknowable as the Great Mystery that cannot be comprehended, but which if we’re lucky will apprehend us, every now and then, reminding us to rest in the perfection of this and every moment.

A mystic never lets a crisis go to waste, wrestling, like Jacob with the stranger, until he finds the hidden blessing within his fear, and then goes limping across the river Jabbok, to claim a lost Love that kept him from breathing, from being breathed by G_d, for all these years.

A mystic is one who grieves openly and often upon discovering how much life she has missed by investing in the superficial.

A mystic laughs and dances and sings an unusual amount, and paints his toenails blue, and realizes that he truly zorbadoes not care what the boys in the locker room think.

A mystic accepts reality as it comes to her, not as she wishes it were, knowing that there is no blessing in a life of denial and wishful thinking.

A mystic has replaced, through grace and gentle discipline, compulsive yearning with Holy Yearning, the Spirit’s sighing through her, for a world that our hearts know is possible (Charles Eisenstein).

A mystic that he is one with a blessed unrest, from which a universe is born, and continues to evolve.

“Mystics are artists, and the stuff in which they work is most often human life. They want to heal the disharmony between the actual and the real; and since, in the white-hot radiance of that faith, hope, and charity which burns in them, they discern such a reconciliation to be possible, they are able to work for it with a singleness of purpose and an invincible optimism denied to others”

—Evelyn Underhill

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  1. Toni Pieroni says

    Hi Bruce, I particularly loved the line about Holy Yearning. That’s what was coming to me – that deep felt knowing that more is possible that what appears on the surface. And also, many of us have likely had an experience when the veil got lifted, even for a moment and long to touch and live from that reality. James Finlay said: to live faithful to it. I, too, look forward to your new venture!

    • James Horn says

      Yes, Toni, the experience of “when the veil got lifted” is a part of what being a mystic means for many of us. The surprise for me is that it came when I was seeking no such thing!

  2. Lee Warren says

    “Mystics are artists, and the stuff in which they work is most often human life. . . “. This entire quote exploded within me and has blown open a whole new way of naming and honoring the alluring dedication to soul work and social justice as a creative act. I have recognized my own inner drive to create but not being “artistic” I’ve limited how I see my own creativity. But what if we understand the commitment to redesigning our lives into the likeness of Christ, the re-creation of new eyes and new hearts that know the ineffable in the immediacy of the ordinary, the healing of own woundedness in order to create a new generation of healers, and on and on, as artistic endeavors? An yes, this singleness of heart carries with it an inexplicable degree of optimism and joy, especially when we can reframe our frustrations and irritations into welcomed opportunities of creative self redesigning.

  3. helen goodall says

    Thanks, Bruce. So many words; so many ideas but I’ve just read it after opening the door to take three deep breaths to “fill my lungs with the morning air.”
    As I continue my new “solo” life, I am learning to “love the unknown and the unknowable as the Great Mystery,” and to find the hidden blessing in my fears.
    I’ve certainly “looked into my soul-mate’s eyes” and can relate to the stripping of “the veneer of personality.” That’s one of the few blessings of having a husband with fronto-temporal dementia.
    I do think I’ve lost my self in reality, and I’m wondering if I am becoming a mystic: some people have called me such. Maybe this is just what happens as we grow deliciously old.
    Please continue to challenge my thinking with your writing, Bruce, and please return to happiness. I feel you are grieving.

    • Bruce Sanguin says

      Sounds like you’re a mystic Helen! Thanks for your heart. In terms of grieving, hmmm…not so much grieving, as adjusting to having put myself in a position of being stripped down, without all the usual props. A bit scary. Could be grieving the loss of these props, yes.

  4. Bill Turner says

    Thanks Bruce
    Some great snapshots of what a mystic is.
    I feel a mystic’s presence can be seen and felt in many ways. But I view a mystic as some one who has become accustomed to walking in this physical reality with one foot over the line. The mystic sees no separation between the grunge of this natural world and the presence of Spirit, the essence of creation from infinity into the finite.

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