How to Read the Mystics for Depth & Transformation

Amy EdelsteinCultural DevelopmentLeave a Comment

How to Read the Mystics for Depth & Transformation

with Amy Edelstein

Most of us have discovered access to spiritual depth and insight through books. Books by mystics. (Ramana. Teresa of Avila.) Books by poets. (Kabir. Rumi. Dickinson.) Even books by science fiction writers. (Herbert. Asimov.)

Often our inspiration comes when we’re not thinking about it. Somehow, during those moments when we’re so absorbed that we forget what we’re doing, something slips in. Bam!

Consciousness expands. Heart awakens. Pulse quickens with joy.

Great. But more often than not, we’re more intimidated by books than we are excited. We want to read but the books we’re drawn to are too big, too dense, too demanding, too sacred.

Sound familiar? Do you have a stack of books you would like to have read by your bedside? A stack that periodically you move to a shelf, to take down on that beach vacation when you’ll get caught up?

Let’s open up the world of books and experience a new way to engage and discover the riches hidden within again.

These 10 big ideas are real ways to tip your experience from dread to delight:

1. Read for depth not for quantity

We’re taught to skim, cram, and acquire knowledge. Resist the temptation to relate to spiritual books like science texts. Read for depth. Take note when something hits. When you find yourself feeling unexpectedly uplifted, happy, let yourself hover over that experience. Let the transparency at the deeper part of the self seep through you and see what happens.

If you find yourself unexpectedly constricted, if you keep reading the same words over and over—pause. You may have had enough. It may be time to reflect, not consume more. Or you may be venturing beyond what you know and that new terrain could be causing some discomfort.

Leave some space. See where you go. Be easy. Transformation often takes place around the edges of the familiar. Sometimes sitting back and gently watching is the best way to allow Spirit to take hold in new ways.

2. Learn about the culture of the time

No text appears in a vacuum. Think about how it works.

Take a familiar text and think about it culturally. The Ten Commandments appeared at a time when that cradle of civilization was going from chaotic tribal bands or larger territories kept in line by a powerful ruler. They marked a move to a more universal rule of law. Those ten injunctions beautifully responded to the times. They uplifted a people, created a new order or relatedness, and pointed to spiritual truths that are relevant and rich today.

Consider the 20th century Indian philosopher and mystic Jiddu Krishnamuti. He spoke passionately about what he called the “violence of thought.” He saw the whole process of thought as one that, if not understood properly, enforces separation and duality, which leads to actions that have grave consequences. K, as he was often called, was born in 1898, he lived through both World Wars, he witnessed the brutal division of India and Pakistan, that left one million dead.

His insights into a particular type of spiritual awakening responded to the conditions of his times. And he also pointed to something deeper, simultaneously communicating universal truths about the immediacy and uncharitable nature of freedom.

3. Explore the life of the mystic

Take the Buddha. Would his appreciation of the universality of suffering have come with such authority if he had not had that unparalleled access to wealth, comfort, luxury? If anyone could find a material way out of sickness, old age, and death it would be one in his position as a noble prince. He could not. So he dug deeper. His teachings on the Four Noble Truths and the way out have guided aspirants for millennia since.

4. Take in the mystic’s view on its own terms

Before judging and critiquing the mystic you’re reading, before comparing it to what you already believe in, take it in on its own terms. When we open up and see through the eyes of the visionary, see the world through the cultural setting of the times, appreciating the forces they were countering, we get a waft of precariousness.

Mystics ventured way out on a limb, they saw through the boundaries of the acceptable. They had an inner courage that’s rare and wondrous. Allow yourself to appreciate that courage and adventurous spirit. Take them in on their own terms and learn from their humanity. You may see their conclusions a little differently after you do!

5. Meditate before and/or after you read

Meditation creates space for the unknown and unexpected. It gives us space from the ordinary flow of our thoughts. It lets the pressures and excitements of our lives recede temporarily into the background. Meditation tills the soil of ourselves. Experiment, prepare the ground for new growth.

6. Inquire

When we read the mystics for insight and transformation, engage. While you’re reading, rather than assuming these are answers you are imbibing, ask: “What is s/he pointing to? What does it mean about the life I’m living? Does it change what I always thought was most important in life? Is there a different, more illumined purpose to life than I’d imagined?

7. Watch for feeling cues

Mystics touch us in many ways. Our emotional or heart response can open up some intriguing insights about ourselves and about life.

Great visionaries sometimes agitate and disturb. We may feel uncomfortable that our lives aren’t lived in a big enough context. We might discover that we could be much kinder, more generous, more awake than we customarily allow ourselves to be. That’s a good tweak to experience. A little conscience can support us to live a much happier life.

Great mystics also soothe and ignite us with passion. You might not think a 15th century nun or a 2nd century yogi could create a sense of thrill and adventure. Let the unexpected take over.

8. Ask, what does the world look like through their eyes?

This is an art and a skill. It’s great fun to practice.

We can’t really go back to earlier times. We’re deeply acculturated into our own nationality, ethnicity, and time period. But as we make the effort, we become aware of our own cultural conditioning and habits of thought. We learn to question. We learn that much of what we assume is truth are a bunch of conclusions that seem true because of the conditions we grew up in.

9. Let go

To connect with the mystics, allow yourself to go way out on a limb where they are. Let go of limitations about who you are, about what you know, what you believe is possible.

The mystics were people like us. They experienced awakening of consciousness, perspective, and heart. But they were people. Which means . . . a lot more is possible for us than we might imagine.

Let go and let the mystics inspire you to reach higher.

10. Experience gratitude

As you read, experience awe, reverence, and gratitude for the pathfinders who have come before us. Develop a sense of appreciation for the shoulders we’re all standing on. For the ground breakers. For the saints and sages that lived illumined lives and demonstrated a higher potential for all of humanity.

In postmodernity, we’re taught to critique and deconstruct. Cultivate the habit of thankfulness. Not only will we see how much richness there is around us, it’ll also soften the inner voices of criticism we often hold, and enable us to appreciate the effort we make to go against the grain, develop, deepen, and bring Spirit into the world.

What do you think?

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