Steps of Illumination
“There are three main types of experience which appear again and again in the history of mysticism; nearly always in connection with illumination, rather than any other phase of mystical development. I think that they may fairly be regarded as its main characteristics, though the discussion of them cannot cover all the ground. In few forms of spiritual life is the spontaniety of the individual so clearly seen as here: and in few is the ever-deadly process of classification attended with so many risks.
“These three characteristics are:
- A joyous apprehension of the Absolute: that which many ascetic writers call ‘the practice of the Presence of God.’ This, however, is not to be confused with the unique consciousness of union with the divine which is peculiar to a later stage of mystical development. The self … is not immersed in its Origin, but contemplates it.
- This clarity of vision may also be enjoyed in regard to the phenomenal world. The actual physical perceptions seem to be strangely heightened. …
- Along with this two-fold extension of consciousness, the energy of the intuitional or transcendental self may be enormously increased. The psychic upheavals of the Purgative Way have tended to make it central for life.” ~Evelyn Underhill
The Phase of Illumination
Ms. Underhill says that these three experiences generally happen during the illumination phase of spiritual development. She has probably defined elsewhere what the various stages are, but I don’t have the list handy at the moment. In any case, I think that virtually all spiritual growth is aimed ultimately at complete illumination, so there seems to me to be little need to define stages or phases of the process. It is sufficient to know that it is an ongoing process, not an instant event.
The Apprehension of the Absolute
The joyous apprehension of the absolute is the first of the major steps of illumination. It isn’t a thing that just suddenly happens. It isn’t like turning on a light switch. It happens gradually, in many small steps. The first step is simply the recognition that the physical world is flawed, or that it is largely an illusion. Next is the recognition, or at least consideration of, spiritual worlds beyond the physical. These spiritual words may seem like they are completely separate from the material one, but the next step is realizing that they are entwined. In fact, all the dimensions of reality are linked together, and crossing barriers between them isn’t terribly difficult.
A lot like traveling in the physical realm, though, going up is harder than going down. So we can very easily go from the third dimension to the second. We do, in fact, interact with the second dimension all the time without even realizing we have done it. To reach into the fourth and fifth dimensions, though, is somewhat more difficult, and is almost always done intensionally. This is another step in this Apprehension of the Absolute.
Clarity of Vision
Clarity of vision may be considered the second of the major steps of illumination. But that doesn’t mean that it begins when the first of the steps of illumination is complete. They are, in fact, usually being developed at the same time.
The first thing we have to learn about this is that spiritual vision is not something available to the physical eyes. Only vague shadows of the spiritual are ever seen by the physical eyes. The soul must be awakened so that the “eyes” of the soul can show us the spiritual. Only the spiritual eyes can truly see the spiritual realms. So awakening the soul can be considered a part of this second of the major steps of illumination.
Clarity of vision also gives us a greater and more accurate view of the physical realm, and that is what Underhill is talking about. A part of that is becoming aware that things are not always as they appear to be, a fact now backed by the science of Quantum Physics.
This third member of the steps of illumination is, like the others, not developed in a single night, but gradually over time. In short, the more spiritual you become, the greater your intuition develops. Partly this is because you reach higher levels of consciousness and greater levels of spiritual energy. It is also because when you grow in the other major steps of illumination, you reduce or illuminate the barriers between your conscious mind and your intuition. That allows them to communicate more readily. Also, of course, when you start to seriously develop your spiritual self, spiritual beings will help out. Sometimes this help comes in the form of little hints that reach us through the faculties we call intuition.