I wake in the night. The house is quiet and my husband sleeps beside me, breath slow and steady. No noise explains my waking, and there is no worry in me this night. I lay still for several minutes, but sleep does not return. I begin to wonder if perhaps I’m being called. At the very least, meditation would be a much better use of my time than lying here waiting for sleep.
I rise, wrap my robe around me, climb the stairs. I sit on my cushion in the darkened room~~and am immediately drawn into a silence, broad and deep. This silence envelops me as it seems to hold everything~~the tick of the clock, the creak of the bird feeder swinging below my window, even the wind that sets such swinging in motion. Minutes pass, though the sweep of time, too, seems absorbed within something much larger, something vast and unchanging. My edges begin to blur.
In The Monk and the Rabbi, an online video, Benedictine monk, author and lecturer Brother David Steindl~Rast defines mysticism as, “an experience of communion…with the Ultimate,” one so complete that, at least for a few moments “an annihilation of the self” occurs.
Psychologist Abraham Maslow coined the term peak experience to describe those moments when we feel exceptionally alive, wonder~filled, and deeply connected to the world around us. Time stands still and individual concerns fall away. Brother David tells us that Maslow maintained throughout his life that “the peak experience was indistinguishable from the mystic experience,” and only avoided the word mystical to side~step the skepticism of his peers.
The capacity for such transcendence seems part of our human wiring, available to us all. As Brother David puts it, “The mystic is not a special kind of human being, but every human being is a special kind of mystic.”According to this man who has spent the vast majority of his 89 years as a contemplative and student of the Divine, the only difference between mystics and the rest of us is that, “the great mystics…allow this experience to flow into their everyday living.”
Sitting on my cushion, the silence swells and pulls me deeper. While I don’t know if I experience “an annihilation of the self,” my individual life does seem largely irrelevant, no longer a focus of attention.
No, the Ultimate holds me. Cradled in that silence, I experience the truth of Rumi’s words, “Silence is the language of God/All else is poor translation.” This language fills me until, at last, I gather myself together, and return to bed~~and find the Ultimate accompanies my every step.
It cushions me as I lay my head on the pillow, enfolds me as I settle the flannel sheet across my shoulders. It seems I needn’t have left my bed’s cozy warmth at all.
Immersed still, I tumble headlong into a deep sleep.
Here's a link to The Monk and the Rabbi. And here's a link to Brother David's website, gratefulness.org, which has lots wonderful things. I particularly enjoyed the longer videos under Spiritual Biography, in partnership with Commonweal here.