“This new apprehension of reality generally appears to the Illuminated Self as final and complete. As the true lover is always convinced that he has found in his bride the one Rose of the World, so the mystic, in the first glow of his initiation, is sure that his quest is now fulfilled. … He has yet to pass through that night of senses in which he learns to distinguish the substance of Reality from the accidents under which it is perceived; to discover that the heavenly food here given cannot satisfy the ‘hunger for the absolute.’ His true goal lies far beyond this joyful basking in the sunbeams of the Uncreated Light. Only the greatest souls learn this lesson, and tread the whole of that ‘King’s Highway’ which leads man back to his Source. ‘For the many that come to Bethlehem, there be few that will go on to Calvary.’ The rest stay here, in this Earthly Paradise, these flowery fields; where the liberated self wanders at will, describing to us as well as it can now this corner, now that of the Country of the Soul.
“It is in these descriptions of the joy of illumination—in the outpourings of love and rapture belonging to this state—that we find the most lyrical passages of mystical literature. Here poet, mystic, and musician are on common ground: for it is only by the oblique methods of the artist … that the wonder of the vision can be expressed.” ~Evelyn Underhill
I think what Ms. Underhill is saying really applies to those who are only partially illuminated. That, of course, is all of us. No one living in a physical body is fully illuminated, so all of us fall into the category she is discussing.
If you have been studying some form of spirituality for a while, you know that there are many who insist that there school, or their guru, or their beliefs that they picked up from various books, is the only true spiritual teaching and is the ultimate and complete teaching. Therefore, once they have learned what is required, they have nothing else to learn, they are complete. They only need to continue to practice whatever it is that they have learned to date. Unfortunately, no matter what school or teaching you follow, that simply isn’t true. As Underhill note, your “bride” is not the only rose in the world, though you might think she is. She is, of course, using this as an allegory for our relationship with spiritual development and enlightenment.
Bride and Groom
Carrying that analogy or hers a bit further, we might also note that many think that one they have found a bride or groom, a soul mate, a twin soul, etc. their journey is over, done. But many marriages fail because of this idea. Just because you found the one and are married, doesn’t mean you can coast through the rest of life. Both of you change constantly and so both of you have to continue to grow and keep the relationship fresh so those changes stay compatible rather than pushing you apart.
Likewise, just because you have had a spiritual awakening, have leaned certain spiritual practices to follow, doesn’t mean the quest is over. You have to continue to grow and learn forever. Reaching a higher state of consciousness isn’t enough. You have to reach for, and join the highest level of consciousness that most call God. Your illuminated Self is never finalized.
Night of Senses
What Underhill is calling the “Night of Senses” is, I think, when the person realizes that the evidence of the physical senses can be misleading. Not only can the senses be tricked into believing things that are not true because they rely on the brain-mind to interpret want the sense, but they are also limited to knowledge of the physical, which is only about ten or fifteen percent of reality. Beyond the physical (or material) levels, we have the psychic and the spiritual. So the illuminated Self learns to experience things beyond the physical through the awakened spirit and soul which have senses of their own.
Beyond Uncreated Light
In a way, we have to say that there can’t be any “uncreated light” as all things have to be created. I think what Underhill means here is that light that is part of the creation of the Demiurge, not God. The Light created by God is full of spiritual knowledge and truth. The physical light created by the Demiurge is not. This dim light of the Demiurge shouldn’t even be called light. It would be more appropriate to call it twilight. But when one has been living in the darkness of matter, this twilight can seem bright and be mistaken for the true Light of Spirit. Underhill is saying that the Illuminate Self sees beyond this illusion and goes beyond the physical light of the senses to the Spiritual Light that originates with God and flows to us through the Spiritual Sun.
Underhill is correct in saying only a few of us takes that King’s Highway—the Path of Enlightenment—all the way to the Source, which is God. And becoming one with God again is the goal of any real spiritual system. Sadly, there are many today following the foolish belief that there is no “King’s Highway,” no one path for the Illuminate Self, but that we should all follow whatever path appeals to us. That is like saying if I want to go from New York to Rome, I should just get on any plane at random and it is bound to take me there eventually. The Illuminated Self knows better. It is the spiritual equivalent of the business person in a dead-end job represented by the image of a man on a giant hamster wheel who thinks he is moving forward when he isn’t.