Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Ordinary Mysticism

"Moonlight Refections"
-in the desert skies-

Several years ago, Philosophy and Religion Professor James Carse wrote a book, Breakfast at the Victory: The Mysticism of Ordinary Experience.  The book had a significant impact on my own spiritual awareness - an influence that I continue to carry with me to this very day. 

The Victory Luncheonette was a cramped little "greasy spoon" diner in Manhattan's Lower East Side. On his way to class, the professor would regularly stop by the "Victory" to get his morning bagel and cup of coffee. It was here in this very unspectacular "hole in  the wall" that Carse came to experience a sense of "transcendence" in the simple everyday conversations with Ernie, the fry-cook and other ordinary New Yorkers on their way to work. 

When I first read this book something clicked with me.  I was always looking for "God" in the spectacular- a splendid church service, a magnificent cathedral. And, whenever I thought about mystics and mystical experiences, I imagined the ecstasies of great saints who were transported into spiritual realms far beyond the ordinary experiences of my everyday life.  But now, here was someone talking about something far less spectacular and far more accessible - transcendent experience in a "greasy-spoon" luncheonette in Manhattan.

Yet, it all made utter sense to me. It did back then and it does now.

When you move away from "dualistic" thinking and come to understand that there is no separation from the sacred and the secular, when you realize that every "part" belongs to the "whole" and all the many parts are the ONE, you then also realize that ONE is always present and able to be encountered in the littlest of ordinary things and events of life. 

In his book, the professor offers a very "Zen" explanation for his ordinary, mystical experiences at the Victory Luncheonette:

When there is no more separation between 'this' and  'that',
it is called the still point of Tao.
At that still point in the center of the circle one can see the infinite in all things

A professor on his way to class, sitting at a lunch counter talking to Ernie the fry cook realizes that there is "no separation." He listens to all those boisterous New Yorkers "chowing down" their eggs and toast and talking about yesterday''s ball game - and there are no isolated individuals, only the many who belong to the ONE. And in this moment the professor becomes an ordinary mystic while having breakfast at the Victory Luncheonette. 

Ordinary experiences never "hide" the infinite, they "reveal" the infinite. And every one of us is a mystic if we have the eyes to see.

Yesterday I had one of those ordinary mystical moments. 

My wife is an Administrator at a Senior Citizens' housing complex,  and I attended a luncheon they were having with the residents. I sat across from an older man wearing coveralls, looking down, quietly eating his food, saying very little. I figured we probably wouldn't have much to say to one anther, but eventually we struck up a conversation. I learned that he had been quite an accomplished photographer throughout his life, and when I told him of my own interest in photography he went to his residence and returned with some of his photographs.

I was bowled over by the artistry of his pictures, especially one of them- a photograph of a beautiful green hummingbird who with fluttering wings was actually perching on the man's fingertips. It was at that moment,  while gazing at that photograph,  that I had a moment of "ordinary mysticism."  There was no chorus of angelic voices, no heavenly rays, no voices from heaven- just a quiet sense of "no-separation" and a realization that we all belonged to one another.  Me and that man, everyone in that room- we all belonged to one another, the many are the ONE.  

It was the "still point at the center of the circle where there was no separation from 'this' and 'that'- where one can see the infinite."

Ordinary experiences in everyday life do not "hide" but "reveal" the infinite. It is only when the walls of ego break down that we have the eyes to see. 

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