“In Illumination we come to the state of consciousness which is popularly supposed to be peculiar to the mystic: a form of mental life, a kind of perception, radically different from that of ‘normal’ men. His preceding adventures and experiences cannot be allowed the quality. His awakening to the consciousness of the Absolute—though often marked by a splendor and intensity which seem to distinguish it from other psychic upheavals of that kind—does but reproduce upon higher levels those characteristic processes of conversion and falling in love which give depth and actuality to the religious and passionate life. The purification to which he then sets himself—though this possesses as a rule certain features peculiar to mystical development—is again closely related to the disciplines and mortifications of ascetic, but not necessarily mystical, piety. … Here, the mystic does but adopt in a more dramatic form the principles which all who would live with an intense life, all seekers after freedom, all true lovers must accept. … The mystic has now a veritable foothold in that transcendental world into which they penetrate now and again.” ~Evelyn Underhill
There are many interpretations of what constitutes illumination. There are probably even more about what consciousness is. Underhill here puts the two together and defines it quite simply: illuminated consciousness is that which is “peculiar to the mystic”. That might be a good definition if we were were all familiar with mystics and mysticism. Today, however, few are. For our purposes, we will keep it simple and say that a mystic is one who devotes his life to spiritual development. Real spiritual development, not just the basic first step of meditation.
A major part of spiritual development is the attainment of higher states of consciousness. How many levels of consciousness there are is a matter of conjecture. But we can say that we can’t consider ourselves at all illuminated until we climb to a level of consciousness where we understand the spiritual nearly as well as the physical. These higher states are radically different because they reveal the reality of the physical world as eventually illusion. The further reveal the spiritual realms, which are real and permanent.
The illuminated consciousness isn’t something that we actually awaken. What we do awaken is the soul. It is through the awakening and developing of the soul that we gain access to higher levels of consciousness. The consciousness itself is always awake and always will be.
Different levels of consciousness are basically different frequencies of energy. To reach higher levels, you need more energy. You get that higher-frequency energy from the spiritual sun. There is more to it than that, of course, but that is the first rule. More energy, more growth. The more high-frequency energy, the more illuminated consciousness you can access. And as you reach those higher levels of consciousness more regularly, it soon becomes permanent.
Religious and Passionate Life
Underwood being a very religious person naturally speaks of this achievement of illuminated consciousness as religious life. Most people today would think of it as more of spiritual life. We could also say that it is the life of a mystic, but that term is also frowned upon today. But despite the fact that many practicing today’s new-age type of spirituality are opposed to religion and often the ancient mystery schools as well, spirituality is both a part of real religion and mysticism.
Ms. Underhill says the spiritual student who can achieve illuminated consciousness does so with methods that are similar to those of an ascetic. That may be true to some degree, but being an ascetic is not what awakens the soul. Rejecting material possessions, eating a limited and simple diet, avoiding excess of all sorts may help, but with limits. One can have material possessions as long as he doesn’t become too attached to them. There are many things that can be of some help in spiritual growth. The more we use, the more likely we are to succeed.