Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Discipline of Everyday Mysticism

"Dawn in the Desert"

Almost every day I try to make a trek to the local Starbucks where I sit in a corner with my ritual glass of iced tea and do nothing -no texting, no emails, no browsing the web on my smartphone.  I just practice the discipline of “being present” to all that is going on in that very busy coffee shop.

During my routine Starbucks' visit yesterday I was reminded of one of my favorite books, Breakfast at the Victory: The Mysticism of Ordinary Experiences, written several years ago by Philosophy and Religion Professor, James Carse.

The “Victory Luncheonette” is a busy little “greasy spoon” diner located in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and on his way to class every morning Professor Carse would routinely stop by the “Victory” for his ritual coffee and a bagel. It was there in that very unspectacular and unassuming place that Carse would often experience a mystical sense of  “transcendence” in his everyday conversations with “Ernie the fry cook,” and in interactions with ordinary New Yorkers sitting at the counter next to him “catching a quick breakfast” on their way to work.

As I sat in the Starbucks yesterday I realized that my time in our local coffee shop is often quite similar to what Carse described about his experiences at the Victory Luncheonette, and I suddenly became aware of why I go there almost everyday. I often experience a sense of transcendence when I sit there in that very ordinary coffee shop immersed in the sea of human interaction. I am often pulled out of my self isolation as I realize that every single one of us sitting at those tables all belong to one another.

When people think about mystics or mystical experiences, vast cathedrals and pictures of great saints having ecstatic “other-worldly” experiences often come to mind. But I have come to believe that that we are all mystics and mystical experiences are available to each and every one of us each and every day in the most unspectacular places – places like a “greasy spoon” diner, or a Starbucks, or in the aisle of a supermarket.

People who live in a “Western” culture often have a very “dualistic” view of the world - they see everything and everyone as separated parts. They imagine that the world is made up of “me” separated from “you,” separated from rocks and trees and plants and animals, all of which is “down here” with maybe a “God” living apart from everything up there. But when we move beyond that very limited dualism of our “Western” worldview and are able to see that there is no separation,  that all the many parts are in fact the “One,” we are on the path of mysticism.

There is a Zen saying of which I am very fond

The fundamental delusion of humanity is to suppose that
I am here and you are out there

In his book, Professor Carse also offers this very Zen explanation of his everyday mystical experiences in that very ordinary New York Diner:

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

As I sat in a corner and sipped some iced tea yesterday I realized why I come to Starbucks so “religiously” every day. For me it is a sacred space where I practice the discipline of everyday mysticism by simply sitting in the moment, awake and present and discover that there is no separation between “this’ and ‘that.”

There in a local coffee shop on an ordinary routine day I am at one with that innocent child smiling at me, I am in relationship with those friends at the table next to me who have met up at Starbuck’s to renew old acquaintances, I am part of the life of that elderly man sitting across from me with tears in his eyes as he looks at pictures of his family.

We are all mystics and every space is sacred space if we simply chose to be present to it all and realize there is no separation between “this” and “that.” When that happens we can "see the infinite in all things." 

Its almost time to head out for my routine “Starbucks moment” -  time to practice the discipline of everyday mysticism.

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