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Paperback Practical Mysticism Book

ISBN: 0898041430

ISBN13: 9780898041439

Practical Mysticism

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Book Overview

Noted authority explains how the practice of mysticism can raise spiritual consciousness, resulting in a better grasp of reality, improvements in efficiency and problem-solving skills, and more.

Customer Reviews

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Mysticism for Everyone!

Some people say 'mysticism is a dangerous thing. It begins with mist and ends in schism' (haha)! Evelyn Underhill defuses this myth with this artistically written book addressed to the 'practical man who has lived all his days amongst the illusions of multiplicity'. She calls mysticism 'the Science of Love' - it asks us to stop seeing the world through our egoistic lenses and see it instead as it is. The world in fact for all its parts and diversity points to the Whole, the Real that gives unity to everything. The path of mysticism needs not be as ethereal and mystifying as it sounds to many people. It is a practical skill, to put it simply, of learning to see - a skill that the great theologian Thomas Aquinas reckons proper to all people, if only they get some training! This is what the book is about. It invites us and tantalizes us with the rudimentary steps of learning to *see*..with our inner eyes/ the eyes of the heart - a spiritual discipline mystics call 'contemplation'. The great obstacles of spiritual perception are 'thoughts, convention and self-interest'. We need to stop asking the instinctive, selfish question 'what's in it for me?' and see things as they really are and adjust ourselves to that reality, which we will discover far transcend the narrow confines of our self-centred, parochial world! Underhill gently invites us to some basic preparatory exercises of contemplation, training our eyes to see again by taking some simple objects to gaze upon, ceasing all habits of analysing, dissecting, measuring or labelling. As Teresa of Avila taught her disciples, 'I want you to do no more than to look.' That simple exercise when persisted long enough will gradually alter our way of looking at things, ourselves, others and the world around us. She then takes us through the three forms/phases of contemplation - the 'natural, the spiritual and the divine'. In short, they are (a) contemplation of the physical world, (b) inward contemplation in stillness and silence and finally (c) infused contemplation where we let go and God takes over and removes the last vestiges of our pride and self-interest, leading to union. In the last chapters, she eloquently handles the practical man's greatest resistance: 'what is this all about? is it not another navel-gazing exercise fit for the idle?' No, she contends, the mystical life far from being an escapist exercise, a dreamy pastime, an altered state of consciousness or simply a 'spiritual' experience as an end in itself, is in fact a most practical life-transforming discipline that will overhaul one's vision and unleash our God-given energy for the world! We become what we were meant to be! That is, to become a consuming fire - energised by the vision of the Whole as well as the well-exercised muscles of our will and love, 'nakedly stretched out through long periods of boredom and trials' and directed towards the mending of the broken, the union of the estranged, saving of the lost and the redemption o

A classic gem on Western Mysticism

I first encountered this book when I was an undergraduate student taking a Mysticism course in a Jesuit University. At the time, the book was out of print and the instructor thought it was so valuable he photocopied it for everyone in the class at his own expense. More than 20 years later, I agree with him that this book is unique and valuable. I also think that its message is still relevant to modern people and would rank it as a spiritual classic. What makes this book valuable is that it cuts to the essence of what mysticism is and how it is relevant to everyday people living in the world. It is written in a lyrical almost poetical style, which is to say that the author has the power to make difficult concepts come alive with great impact and beauty. There are many books on Western Mysticism, but this one is very concise and delivers the essentials in an easy to digest manner. While some of the language is outdated and the world has changed in many ways, the underpinning of man and the world have changed very little. This is why I still think Evelyn Underhill's message still applies and speaks across the decades directly to the human heart. At times, there can be a bit of a moralistic tone. However, when viewed from the mystic's side of feeling unworthy of the experience of union with God they are having, this makes sense. When looked at from the human side, it can be a bit disconcerting. However, I think its analogous to the situation where two people who are really in love with each other, don't feel worthy of each other. This is the way I try to view these sections because basically a mystic is much like a lover in relation to the divine. This book is only $10.00 and I wouldn't hesitate to buy it if you are the least bit interested in Western Mysticism or any kind of mysticism. If you just mine the book for powerful quotes and analogies it is worth many times the cover price. I believe I own at least three copies of it because I keep lending it to people and not getting it back! With respect to my background and spiritual inclinations, I am primarily a student of Eastern Traditions. However, this is one book that I feel helps bridge the gap between these two great traditions and is accessible to anyone.

A Jewel of Mystical Insight

Taking things for granted is a veil that must be rent and Ms. Underhill's little book contributes to that liberation of mind which lets "divine sensation have its way" through "a directness of apprehension" which sees the Eternal in the midst of Time. According to Ms. Underhill, "mysticism is the art of union with Reality" and "a mystic is a person who has attained that union in a greater or less degree; or who aims at and believes in such attainment." With this definition, she leads the "normal person" of common consciousness on to understanding the uncommon path of the mystic whose consciousness is more intense, more extended and, therefore, more open to the REAL since it embraces life AS IT IS in a sacred and liberated way. But such apprehension must come only through self-simplification, a purification of both the senses and the will. What begins in "active" self-discipline through the first and second stages of contemplation continues with the third stage of effortless "infusion" and passive suffering, called by St. John of the Cross "the dark night of the soul". This last stage is necessary to "complete the decentralization of one's character, test the purity of one's love, and perfect one's education in humility." The last fragments of narrow-minded selfhood are destroyed and the perfect peace of absolute surrender to Divine Reality, enveloped in a union of love, is manifest. "God's action takes the place of man's activity." Ms. Underhill's book is saturated with an experiential understanding of the great mystics which are referenced and quoted throughout. Names such as Plotinus, St. Teresa, St. John of the Cross, Kabir, Bonaventura, Ruysbroeck (her favorite mystic), Richard of St. Victor, Julian of Norwich, (Pseudo-)Dionysius, Thomas a Kempis, and anonymous works such as The Cloud of Unknowing and The Theologia Germanica all find their place alongside poets such as Keats, Whitman, and Blake. Before tackling Ms. Underhill's much thicker masterpiece "Mysticism", this slender volume is a fine place to start. It was a memorable reading experience and will always be readily available for reference.

An inspiring book that relates mysticism with action

Underhill addresses the reader as the "practical man", but if you are able to get beyond that exclusive language, you will be challenged and stirred by her words. Why don't I wake up now and seek this Reality that is so readily available to me? Why don't I discipline my mind to meditate on the natural world and leave myself open to the possibilites of the divine? It's questions such as these that linger about me after reading Underhill's book. Written with a poetry that may seduce someone into thinking this is just fanciful navel-gazing, Underhill's words pack a wallop in that it challenges the reader to re-orient their perceptions to the divine and discover this reorientation as useful, practical, even necessary. If you ever wondered what made St. Francis of Assissi tick, or St. Teresa of Avila, or Florence Nightingale, Underhill's book offers some powerful insights.

Makes the "mystical adventure" seem possible

Evelyn Underhill writes invitationally, engaging the reader in the possibilities of growing more deeply in relationship with "Reality", the God of the Universe. She is down-to-earth, concrete, and makes sense. At the same time her energy and enthusiasm draws the reader into wanting to be part of the holy adventure of mysticisim, moving into a profound relationship with God. It's short and easy to read -- try it!
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