steps of illumination

Steps of Illumination and Spiritual Growth

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:

  1. 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.
  1. This clarity of vision may also be enjoyed in regard to the phenomenal world. The actual physical perceptions seem to be strangely heightened. …
  2. 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. Continue reading “Steps of Illumination and Spiritual Growth”

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illuminated self

Illuminated Self and the Continuing Journey

“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

Illuminated Self

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. Continue reading “Illuminated Self and the Continuing Journey”

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Illuminated Consciousness – The Mystic’s Goal

“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

Illuminated Consciousness

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.

Awakening Consciousness

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.

Ascetic Piety

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.

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Illuminator of Knowledge and the Fruit-Bearing Trees

“Once again, for the third time, the illuminator of knowledge passes by in great glory to leave some of the seed of Noah and the sons of Ham and Japheth—to leave fruit-bearing trees for himself. And he redeems their souls from the day of death. The whole creation that came from the dead earth will be under the authority of death. But those who reflect on the knowledge of the eternal god in their hearts will not perish. They have not received spirit from this kingdom but from something eternal, angelic. . . .

“The illuminator will come. And he will perform signs and wonders to scorn the powers and their ruler. Then the god of the powers is disturbed and says, ‘What is the power of this person who is higher than we are?’ Then he brings a great wrath against that person. And glory withdraws and lives in holy houses it has chosen for itself. The powers do not see it with their eyes, nor do they see the illuminator. They punish the flesh of the one over whom the holy spirit has come. Then the angels and all the generations of the powers will use the name in error, asking, ‘Where did this come from?’ or ‘Where did the words of deception, which all the powers have failed to realize, come from?’” ~The Revelation of Adam

Illuminator of Knowledge

Depending on how you choose to look at it, the Illuminator of true knowledge could be Christ or God. This should not be confused with Adam and Eve eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. That knowledge is on the material world, and therefore limited. It is also important to remember that it was good and evil. True knowledge comes from God and is never evil. True knowledge is spiritual and eternal. It isn’t about the realm of matter at all.

Fruit-Bearing Trees

While most people are in ignorance of their beginning and of the true knowledge of spirit, there are exceptions. Some have access to that knowledge. And most of us can still get access to it if we make the necessary effort. But it isn’t something that can happen instantly. Nor is it knowledge that can be fond in books. The ancients were very careful to put only a limited amount of the truth into writing for fear that the power of such knowledge would be used for evil. Those who gain access to that knowledge are the chosen, the fruit-bearing trees.

Redeemed Souls

Those who gain the true knowledge do not experience death. Not completely, anyway. They integrate with their immortal soul while still living in a body of flesh. When that body dies, their integrated mind and soul lives on forever. But it doesn’t just happen .We have to work at it. We have to want it. The Illuminator bring light only to those desiring it and wanting to use it for good.
Their spiritual truth comes from the realm of spirit, not from the realm of matter. So another reason it is never put into writing is that there is no written language capable of truly expressing it. Continue reading “Illuminator of Knowledge and the Fruit-Bearing Trees”

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