I’m working my way through a new book – Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness, by Evelyn Underhill. (It’s an old book, just newly discovered by me). It’s wonderful, and deserves a much more thorough treatment than a single quote (I’ll work on a larger post). In the meantime, I wanted to share this one excerpt, because it’s so close to my heart that I cried when I found it.
Thus St. Catherine of Siena spent three years in hermit-like seclusion in the little room which we still see in her house in the Via Benincasa, entirely cut off from the ordinary life of her family. “Within her own house,” says her legend, “she found the desert; and a solitude in the midst of people.” There Catherine endured many mortifications, was visited by ecstasies and visions: passed, in fact, through the states of Purgation and Illumination, which existed in her case side by side.
This life of solitude was brought to an abrupt end by the experience which is symbolized in the vision of the Mystic Marriage, and the Voice which then said to her, “Now will I wed thy soul, which shall ever be conjoined and united to Me!” Catherine, who had during her long retreat enjoyed illumination to a high degree, now entered upon the Unitive State, in which the whole of her public life was passed. Its effect was immediately noticeable. She abandoned her solitude, joined in the family life, went out into the city to serve the poor and sick, attracted and taught disciples, converted sinners, and began that career of varied and boundless activity which has made her name one of the greatest in the history of the fourteenth century.
Nor does this mean that she ceased to live the sort of life which is characteristic of mystical consciousness: to experience direct contact with the Transcendental World, to gaze into “the Abyss of Love Divine.” On the contrary, her practical genius for affairs, her immense power of ruling men, drew its strength from the long series of visions and ecstasies which accompanied and supported her labours in the world. She “descended into the valley of lilies to make herself more fruitful,” says her legend. The conscious vehicle of some “power not herself,” she spoke and acted with an authority which might have seemed strange enough in an uneducated daughter of the people, were it not justified by the fact that all who came into contact with her submitted to its influence.
That last sentence, the conscious vehicle of some power not herself, which commands authority with those who hear it, is precisely the experience of the higher self coming through… (I wrote about my own experience of this in the last post).
Here’s another story on this subject.
Some time ago, I was working closely with someone who had this happen to him as well; his consciousness opened to the expression of his higher self. It was a very brief experience, lasting just a few minutes, but it was intense and profound for both of us.
The person didn’t say or do anything of significance, but the energy of the room shifted so dramatically that it was impossible to mistake for anything else. I was standing with my back to him, about 20 feet between us, when it happened. Feeling something strange, I turned around and was almost knocked off my feet. A huge wave of energy came washing over me, engulfing me completely. Seemingly out of nowhere, I suddenly felt really really small, and in the presence of something vast and incredibly powerful. For those few minutes, this person’s entire demeanor shifted. It was like he became someone entirely different (all the same characteristics I wrote about last time – direct, stoic, very loving and kind, and yet extremely fierce).
The presence of the higher self in human expression produces a deep sense of reverence in the atmosphere of the room – not for the person, but for him as the conduit of this sacred force. It is unmistakably divine; in the sense that it produces those very same feelings of humility and insignificance that other experiences of divinity produce. It’s truly breathtaking when it happens. There is no doubt that those who encountered St. Catherine when that power moved through her would have been completely taken over by it.
As I wrote last time, there aren’t many clear descriptions of this experience in the writing of the mystics (or there are, and I just haven’t found them yet). So finding these tiny allusions in the histories brings about huge feelings of comfort and a sense of belonging within me. I’ll begin sharing them more when I find them.