It is, at best, an obscure vocation. Who needs such things? They don't do the dishes or pay the rent.
Nonetheless, there's a long history of individuals who seek; and one could argue that it's all been said before — as, indeed, it has. While there are those, like myself, who have the patience to read exhaustively in texts by masters such as Dogen, Ibn al 'Arabi, Swedenborg, Eckhart, Gurdjieff, and so on, the vast majority do not — they prefer brief excerpts. And no one who reads these texts, even in detail, can possibly claim to understand everything — or even much at all — of what any one author of such stature has said.
Yet the act of reporting on these efforts is vital; it must be, or generation after generation would not attempt it. Those of us who can bring such reports are obliged to; every generation needs its own voice in these matters, because the voices of earlier generations were attuned specifically to those generations and their own way of hearing and seeing.
I say this tongue in cheek, for accuracy is impossible; every individual's contact with the divine is rightly sacred and unique, and ends up being expressed differently. There is, of course, a large territory of commonality, but because the divine is infinite and infinitely expressible, every expression of it — none of which repeat themselves — has features which will never be found again. This makes reporting on the search for the divine an extremely difficult task, since we generally rely on finding familiar features, over and over. This is, in its essence, what transmission seems to consist of — the transmitting of familiar features.
Yet what if transmission is different than that? I leave you to ponder this question.
I've written on this subject — the subject of inner spirituality — over the course of more than a thousand essays, without ever quite explaining the situations and circumstances that set me on this inner path.
Where, for that matter, did it begin? Before the picture accompanying this essay, when I was three years old, naked in a bathtub with the girl who would become my childhood sweetheart in our teenage years?
Who can know these things?
I lay awake here in the hotel room in Shanghai two nights ago carefully remembering the earliest moments of my life, yet this one didn't stand out — and why not? Certain unique elements and events in life are indelibly marked on Being, and others are not. Yet perhaps all of them should be.
We do not even know what is within us, yet we presume to know who we are.
My mother-in-law recently gave me a book entitled "Proof of God," and even the title itself was irritating to me, though I could see the book was well meant.
As I pointed out a number of years ago in an essay, we can't roll up what happens to us in pills and give it to others. Only personal contact with the Divine will verify it for an individual; and proselytizing, no matter how well meant, leads to superficial contact, not the deep transformative experience that is necessary for any individual in order to encounter the humility and the dissolution of ego that we need in order to grow.
Despite the unfolding of our possibilities into the endless darkness of the unknown, one must go on; and one knows that within this endless darkness, light is born. One does not know when that will take place, or what it will consist of, because the light is hidden — deliberately, lest we violate it.
While I write about "modern" mysticism, I don't think it exists. My own experiences are far more medieval in nature. What to say, when one's outer world is one of voice dictation and iPhones, yet one's inner world is one of angels and forgotten energies?
Those who turn to this column, I think, understand that they do not come here in the least for what is modern in it; but what is timeless. The outer changes endlessly. The inner has no time in it, but only proximity to the sacred.