I wrote this book because it was the one I longed for; a companion book for those with a deep curiosity about the ‘spiritual question’ but an equally deep aversion to dogma. Most of spiritual literature and guidance I have found is instructional: 'How to reach nirvana' or 'Achieve grace in 4 steps or 8 stages" (the buddhists are particularly keen on numbers, the Hindus and Christians less so ). The spiritual masters (note masculine noun) of all traditions tell of the joys of achieving this elevated state, but very little of what it’s like en route, with all it’s amazing and miraculous parts and the smelly, dark and, funny bits.
After 30 years in pursuit of inner peace, I suspect now that the even concept of ‘arrival’ itself is a myth, a piece of unhelpful spiritual marketing designed to make us feel hopeless and in need of more self help books/guidance/gurus. But that would be very sceptical....
When it came to deciding how to write this book, I felt I could only authentically offer my own experience. But to do so was very exposing and scary. I can see why spiritual writers choose to write instructional books. ‘How to find the mystic within’ would have been an easier book to write, but it also felt like hiding and a philosophically untenable position.
With so much spiritual misguidance around - why bother with it? That is a very good question. Some of us don't have a choice it's just something we're irresistibly drawn to and can't stay away from (that's me), just in the same way Arsenal fans can't become ballet enthusiasts. We just find ourselves pre-occupied with the deep questions of life; and no matter what life throws our way we come back to the same questions? Why are we here? What is life about? What is my life about?
For me personally, depression and anxiety clouded my life for decades despite the prescriptions of several therapists and medications. In the end the answer was to dump the therapists and the religions and adopt the the way of the mystics. In doing so I discovered a greater freedom from mental anguish and joy in life than I have ever thought possible. I still feel like a beginner. I am still dogged by dark days and struggles, don't get me wrong, but when I look back on the journey, I can see how much freer, curious and joyful my relationship to life has become.
It has been more of a snail trail than a flight path. The contents are ordered to reflect this.
How do I know that what worked for me will work for you? I don't. The sneaky unspoken truth is,, no-one does not even the famous masters. We can only truly know our own experience, so in the name of authenticity I give you mine. I also associate instruction with patriarchy, and I don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough of it. So I offer my story in the hope it, at least entertains, and at best encourages you to explore the wisdom of the mystics without fear of entrapment in dogma or a deterioration in dress sense.
While writing these pages, I found myself getting weary of the sound of my own voice and so, in the interests of variety I have occasionally included the stories of others who have helped me along my way and used poetry and quotations to enliven the text. But also to show, in a demonstrable way, that I didn’t travel on my own. Because that's one of my deepest revelations; we need each other. It takes a team to make anything worthwhile. `It took a team to write this book, and if it's not worthwhile, that's my lookout.
Hoping to be informative and entertaining, I have formally introduced mystics whose voices and visions pointed my way and to whom I am greatly indebted for their example of courage and trust.
Maverick and individualists though the mystics are, they do seem to agree that contemplation or the practise of paying dedicated attention to the world within is vital if we are to find the Divine source within us. So to keep to my promise of being transparent and honest I’ve shared the various ways I try to pay attention here. To avoid being 'instructional' I haven’t written about these in such a way that would be useful if you wanted to have a go yourself, but I will explain more about how who are curious enough to want to know more on my website.
Finally, while the word ‘mysticism’ is perhaps traditionally associated with the occult, the strange and the wacky: a little research proved that the roots of the word are quite…prosaic.