Enlightenment and mysticism : the rapture of wonder and awe
A book excerpt from the Iconoclast Press online library.
As a young man my mother told me that a mother’s job was to give her children “roots and wings”, which I suppose it is, although, unfortunately, as hard as she tried, for the most part I had neither roots nor wings, but was more like a dandelion seed blown about in the air, and so I flew, but not by my own power, and was part of the earth, but rarely grounded.
My father once declared “We are spirits having a human experience, rather than humans having a spiritual one”, which is true, although, again, I was often neither spirit nor human, but only an amorphous mass of energy and form, unable to live in the world, and unable to escape beyond it.
My mother’s second husband, however, said perhaps the most pertinent thing of all to me when I was young; after he had finished expounding about one of the world’s scientific understandings, he turned to me and confessed, “But we really don’t know anything. We don’t know anything at all.”
It was this Socratic disclosure which was perhaps a prophecy describing my awaiting confrontation with conceptual lostness, or mystic ignorance, as it were. And by that I mean that during the years to follow, of struggle and disorientation, while attempting to ‘be myself’, another psychological valve eventually broke within me, and this new rupture became a massive turning point, because it shattered my novice reality and sent me out into the same old world, but as if I had never truly seen it before.
This event I have called, in retrospect, my hallowed unawakening. It was an experience that has colored the rest of my days ever since, for better or worse, of that I am not certain. It came upon me one evening in Vancouver, as I was strolling leisurely home from a friend’s house, after a night of revelry and merriment. I had fallen into that controlled and somnambulistic gait which comes upon an individual traversing the same path which they have walked back and forth many times before, and therefore they can drift off onto auto-pilot, as it were, and let their legs alone ferry them home.
And so I was ambling along, most likely deeply invested in one or more of the many questions that chronically plagued me at the time- the whys? and whats? and so ons of our existence- questions for which no one has of yet provided any reasonable answers. And I suppose that I had chased these fantastic conundrums down to the furthest reaches of which I was capable of attaining at the time, and from which, like a fool, I had expected to return to the surface with a proper answer and so be done with the business of thinking then and there, and then get on with the rest of my awaiting life. Boy was I in for a turn of events, for the exact opposite of my expectations happened; which is to say, at the height of my questioning I was suddenly and inexorably struck dumb with the very fact of existence itself, and, more specifically- my existence. What I mean is that I came to an abrupt halt in my peripatetic speculations, my mouth slid helplessly open, I clenched at my forehead and froze- I had become immobilized by the implausibility ...of being, and, more specifically- of my being. And yet this barely describes the state of mystic exasperation into which I had fallen.
I was in the mystery, and ¼I was the Mystery. Finally I had forgotten everything. Everything. Nothing but a blank, brilliant slate remained. Even that nebulous, impossible word ‘God’- even that- I forgot what it means, and, more importantly ...what it does not mean.
Everything came unglued. Everything melted away from probability, imaginability, and conceivability. It was as if my own I had suddenly seen the unlikelihood, absurdity, and inexplicability of being such a thing as I- of a self who, moments before, knew what a self was, and was nicely contained in names and ideas and the soft numbness of little understandings. But now that very self was the disbelieving center of its own incredulity. That self, which had been nonchalantly pondering over the hidden secrets of existence- that self was suddenly struck and amazed and shocked and stupefied by ...itself; as if the whole universe had inverted, and only mystery remained, and at the core of that mystery stood an I which did not know what I was, and was now so utterly flabbergasted that all the walls of meaning came shattering down and there was nothing this I could do to recreate, or define itself because what was this I and what could or would it do if it knew what it was. I was back again at the center, and the I alone was there; only the I, peering in and astonished that it existed, finally uncovered, finally cast back upon itself with no foundation to support it, rapt and stupefied, wondering and gasping for a way out but there was no way out and the awe turned into exaltation and something fell away from me at that moment which has never again re-grown. And thank God for that I say.
As I stood there in the middle of the night, holding my forehead, I slowly regained some of my faculties and walked on further, but then the whole mad show came tumbling down again, and again I stopped without intending and grabbed at my head and my mouth drew open, and again I was caught at the center of the fabulous miracle of self. The surging wonder and questioning went on and on right to the hub of the wheel, so to speak, stopping all and everything in its tracks. This happened a number of times and my life was inextricably altered forever.
Oh, nothing was solved in the maelstrom of my new, immanent ignorance, but, let me tell you, life became a mystery again.
The marvelous magnitude of being had suddenly swelled ferociously up and consumed me whole. Nothing was left which was able to obstruct it; no walls, no thought, no intention, no me. There was neither curse nor praise, but only a transparent, sober nothingness. I was the dumbest man alive. I was free.
I have often said that in that single instant of absolute wonder- when suddenly I forgot everything I had been told from day one- I lost my life completely. That is, I lost my life, yes, but not Life; I lost only the blind, heartless wombat I had been made into by others, and by my own spiritless cowardice and sloth.
But after it all came together, or perhaps fell apart, in that one irrevocable, passionate invasion- I was emancipated of all thought, and when it was over I was as if embalmed in a viscous mix of incapacity and exaltation. I was baptized in disbelief.
As if caught in a blessed vacuum of incomprehension, I had fallen helplessly into the infinite mystery where even God did not know himself. I was cleansed in a deluge of hallowed disremembrance, and had the stupor of Noah after the flood; the world was swept pure and clean of taint. Every last speck of the man I was, or had been, was no longer; every idea of truth, every reason, want and torture- everything was done. I was done. But that’s what death is anyways- you begin again. What’s gone is gone.
I finally recovered enough of my senses to return to the functional delirium of facts and figures, and as such I made my way home that evening. And I slept that night like a new man who didn’t know what it meant to be new, nor what it meant to be a man, nor what it meant to be, and when I awoke the next morning all I could think of was returning to the splendid magnitude of that wonder.
I now return as often as possible to that zone of unbound grandeur, to the foundation of this exasperating, inexplicable world. Sometimes I can forget entirely where I was, where I am, where I am headed, and forget everything that has gone before me, everyone I have ever met, and even myself. I forget it all and float off into the reverie of the untethered spirit, with neither anchor nor meaning to hold me to the ground.
And yet I have never fully returned to the height of that initial insurrection. I have never since that evening been allotted the power of that staggering vision of the immanent mystery which we are. To be sure, at quiet times, when I am oblivious and empty and have settled back into the source of my soul, I can still walk part of the way back down that blessed tunnel; I can, for brief moments, re-experience the benediction of that bewildering night when divine ignorance swept me clean of all that was and is and gave me wings to forge on through the densely knotted morass of mankind’s misconceptions, but I have never come undone like I came undone that night. I suppose that this is the way it must be, for were I to have continued in that state of rapture and idiocy and not come out of it, I would surely be locked up in a loony-bin and eating baby food through a straw. I say this without exaggeration; for the human life, the way we live it, cannot sustain these types of ecstasies for any great duration; not, that is, until we are done with our work on this tepid and sluggardly plane, and have returned again to the liquid fire and bounty of our ethereal homes, which is a dream I carry with me- that when I am done with the labors of this life I may be privileged and capable enough to fall away from all of it again and to return without ending to the living core of the eternal, implausible, wonderful, mysterious self.
Until then, however, I have no reasonable explanation why life is the way it is. I know only that in that inaugural, tempestuous night of absolute astonishment- when suddenly I could not believe that I existed- I know that this event was God’s first conscious glimpse of being incarnated as …me. Who? Me? Who is this me? How could this be? What is this that I am? I do not know and yet I know it was God struggling to believe within me.
Writing all this down reminds me of a dream I had when I was eight years old in which I fell out of a boat into the water and the Devil grabbed my foot and pulled me under so as to capture me. But as I was descending I suddenly transformed into a little infant, and the Devil looked at me, and because I was only a child, he had to release me.
I suppose that my later experience of profound wonder and of childlike innocence of mind, as it were, some twenty years further on, was the fulfillment of that dream, for I was made free from being held captive in the manifest the moment I became ignorant and did not understand what this life is about, why it is, or what I am which is it.
I have related these events quite a few times to others, in an effort to share the effect of these experiences upon me. But then I wonder, why am I trying to convince others of the profound lostness of incomprehension that is so debilitating within me? Am I suggesting that one ought to willingly learn how to not know? Should I seek to condemn others to these outlandish confines I must exist within simply to experience myself? Do I seek simply to establish a city-state of wonder, inside an oligarchy of despotic facts? What is to be accomplished by confronting such debilitating unfathomableness? Have I, because of its mildly euphoric qualities, forever banished myself into my own polished stupidity? What is the use if I am merely claiming, vehemently, to not know what is not knowable? Have I been hyperventilating petty truisms? Flatulating ontologies? Have I sought only to parade the mind's inadequacies? Am I merely claiming all others truant from the gymnasium of contemplation? Am I but a weak man flagrantly bragging about having found the strength to bear weakness? Or am I the only fool who sees through unmystery into mystery? Have I legitimately witnessed the unimaginable event of being? Or have I been deceived by the intensity of a false experience? Was I simply soaring over a great abyss and mistaking it for height? Am I but a dwindling salmon, instinctually bursting with its own continuance, yet tragically fighting its way up the wrong river? Must one simply be cured of the mind? A spider extricated from its own binding web? And do I attempt to continue not-knowing because of such pleasant, profound absorption? Have I set myself adrift on the dubious raft of doubt so as to escape an inhospitable certitude? Have I simply exaggerated my confusion by assuming a possibility of clarity? Have I improvised a certainty out of everything that I am claiming to doubt? Have I embraced nothing from this world except the disorienting effects of my own confusion? Has the ability to enter into a perspective which cannot conceive itself become my way of avoiding knowing, however erroneous? Am I more comfortable being thoroughly baffled than being wrong? Has not‑knowing become my latest justification for the anguish associated with interpretation? Why is it that I struggle towards the intense lucidity of nescience? Have I invented my own ignorance to cloud over an unbearable event- being? Do I merely hope to consecrate these unavoidable misunderstandings into a more practical, soothing obliviousness? Have I concluded it all unfathomable, rather than it being quite fathomable, and I am simply unable to fathom it? Has the incredible impact of not knowing deceived me into abandoning myself to it and it alone, and then never seeking a possible knowing? Has ignorance become my latest defense, absolving me from confronting unavoidable perspectives? Have I been deliberately confusing myself, intentionally focusing upon what I am definitely not capable of perceiving, so that I would not have to acknowledge what I can see? Is non‑understanding an honest outcome of contemplation, or merely a defendable subterfuge‑ a hideout from the known? Should one cease to be astounded by the astounding? Should one go further than astoundedness? Should one even lose lostness? Does wonderment itself eventually stand in the way, and it too must be cast aside? Is rapture the wet nurse of a growing temerity? Has awe become my latest addiction? Have I been forever trying to feel at home in this world, most recently within the foreignness of incomprehension? Must I abort everything; capitulate into total, irredeemable possibility? And ...and will that be faith?
(excerpted from In and Of: memoirs of a mystic journey, by Jack Haas)
Books by Jack Haas. Autobiography, Memoir, Spirituality, Mysticism, Comparative Religion, Poetry, Art, Photography.