"As we mingle with Nature more, the pain caused by the melting of all beauties into one First-God Beauty disappears, because after their first submergence in fountain God, they go again washed and clean into their individualisms, more clearly defined than ever, unified yet separate."
The Contemplative John Muir
In many of the world's great mystical traditions, the point of the spiritual journey is the merging of all forms, ideas, images, words, distinctions and individuality back into the Formless. In its beyondness and transcendence, this formless reality - or "Absolute" as it is sometimes called - is quite masculine in cast. After all, masculinity - in both men and women - is the quest for solitude, detachment, abstraction and the movement back or beyond the particulars of life, including the emotions that would enmesh us in the grand Drama called life. However, this movement beyond, when made into an end in itself, becomes dangerous insofar as it denigrates the arena of everyday life - often disparagingly called "the Relative" by mystics of this variety - when it treats everyday social and environmental issues as unworthy of attention.
In the fundamentalist Christianity in which I grew up, this overemphasis on transcendence took the form of an obsession with "the Rapture," where Christ would return to Earth and snatch away all true believers to heaven, leaving the Earth to a planned divine destruction and re-creation. In fact, I recall a junior high Sunday School teacher criticizing me for being interested in environmental issues. "Why should you focus on THAT," he asked me, "when the present Earth is going to be destroyed, ANYWAY?" In mystical Christianity during the era of the bubonic plague - especially in the 14th century, often called "The Age of Adversity"- this transcendence took the form of a hyper-intensification of the teaching of Meister Eckhart, whereby contemplatives would seek to disappear into formlessness - into "God" - as a means of escaping the intense trials of the time. Eastern Religions, of course, have their own version of this kind of detachment and transcendence. It is for this reason that Buddhist spirituality, for example, has recently begun emphasizing "Engaged Buddhism" as a corrective means of caring for the Earth and issues of the day. Otherwise, life tends to be viewed merely as a suffering-based samsara that must be escaped at all costs.
In Wilderness Mysticism, the whole point of transcendence, beyondness, detachment, Silence, or "God" is to discover the vast spaciousness or limitless Love that serves as a sort of "Sky" or "Ground" or "Backdrop" out of which all of the particulars of life are continually emerging. Only by detaching ourselves from particulars can we discover the backdrop out of which they all appear, thereby heightening our appreciation of those very particulars! Here, transcendence is a kind of playful divine "set-up" that enables us - and the Divine present within us - to watch in spellbound amazement as all form, energy, particularity, words, insights, concepts, images, thoughts, emotions, personality types, cultures, religions, species and landscapes come popping out of that seamless Spaciousness or Sky like echoes arising out of nowhere!
In theistic terms, "God" empties himself through love and blissful forgetfulness into the sky-like expanses of mind, heart and landscape in order to become the emptiness out of which all of form can then appear and STUN us with its beauty! Thus, formlessness, transcendence, beyondness, spaciousness - "God" - are NOT the ultimate end. Rather, the forms, immanence, this-worldliness, poetic insights, words, distinctions and individuals are the TRUE end - as long as we then allow them all to merge back into the sky-like Backdrop, in order to watch - spellbound - as they emerge yet again, over and over and over!
This vertical-oriented mysticism - where form appears out of the formless and words appear out of the Silence, and then merge back into It in order to reappear once more - is, of course, only one side of the story. The other side is the corresponding Reality of the seamless feminine River of Life - a horizontal type of Unity out of which all things - including horizon-like Transcendence -appear and then endlessly mirror and support one another. But this is a story for another day . . .
Photos: Snowy Range, WY, November 9, 2015
I am available for one-on-one sessions giving instruction in Wilderness Insight Meditation and Wilderness Contemplative Prayer, or for spiritual direction / mentoring via phone or Skype. You can contact me at email@example.com if you are interested. The rate is $65 per hour-long session. You might also want to check out my Spiritual Direction with Stephen Hatch Facebook page.
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Stephen Hatch, M.A. is a spiritual teacher and photographer from Fort Collins, Colorado. His approach is contemplative, inter-spiritual, and Earth-based.