Newsletter #14 - November, 1999

A Cautionary Note on Seeking Experiences

The Forum Newsletter often prints accounts of people who have received contemplative experiences, moments of enlightenment, awakenings of kundalini energy, and so forth. These things do happen, and it is precisely because they exist, and powerfully shape the lives of those who receive them, and our spiritual traditions, that it is important to listen to them and freely discuss them.

But such accounts would do us a disservice if they made us indescriminate seekers after experiences. We need to make a distinction between what could be called experiences at the center of things, and accessory ones. In the life of prayer, for example, the experience of contemplation is at the heart of things, but visions and voices are accessory. Or in the pursuit of psychological growth, the experience of individuation is central, but messages from the beyond are accessory.

But even when it is a question of experiences at the center of things, we need to realize that they do not come to everyone in the same way. Not many people, for example, receive infused contemplation, and even those who do need to go forward in faith. And this journey by faith is something we can all do. Does this turn the experience of contemplation into an accessory one? I don’t think so. It is a central experience that we can aspire to because it is a conscious awareness of God’s presence in the depths of our souls. But this union exists, and we can deepen it, even if it does not become conscious in the way it does in infused contemplation. Similarly, the awakening of kundalini energy, if we understand its purpose as a movement towards enlightenment, is a central experience. But who is to say that it cannot be going on below the threshold of consciousness without dramatic movements of energy being visible? Do we really want to have these central experiences in their manifest forms? Read some of the accounts of these experiences, and the suffering that accompanies them, and decide for yourself!

We should not become seekers after experiences because it is the accessory experiences with their highly tangible natures that often first appeal to us and attract our attention. If we let them, they can lead us on a chase that deflects us from our spiritual goals. Experiences at the center of things can throw valuable light on what we are all called to, and they can inspire us to pursue our inner journeys. But we go on these journeys in our own particular ways, and life, itself, day by day, gives us ample opportunities to do this.


A Prayer Questionnaire response

1. I practice Christian Contemplation for one hour every morning and a shorter time every evening when possible. In the a.m. I always use my office in my own home, but it's only for convenience. So long as its private and comfortable, place for me doesn’t really matter much. My contemplation is without any mantras or thought, but is Christ centred. It fills my whole being with the presence of God, a loving awareness which often intensifies as one goes deeper. I just feel so full of the love of God that I often find myself telling Him " I love you God". Afterwards also I have a wonderful feeling of being full of the presence of God which lasts throughout the day. If I skip morning meditation it really makes not too much difference.

2. I had a mid-life crisis about 12 years ago, and turned to meditation to try and sort myself out .

3. After about 6 to 8 months I found sometimes I arrived after about 30 mins. of meditation to a stillness which was wonderful. I thought it a good time to pray, and used to say the Jesus prayer a few times. After that I began to have religious experiences, usually at time of prayer, perhaps at Mass. This intensified gradually and through major dreams, visons and inner voices when I was asleep, I found that I was being led into a closer relatioship with God. This was most important when I look back because I had great conflict at home from my wife at the change in me, i.e., spiritual reorientation, etc. This has deepened gradually over the last 10 years, and in the process all my Chakras or centres have been opened up.

4. I for the future just am so happy to see and feel a deepening relationship with Jesus. It gives me a feeling of oneness with the whole world.

5. I am a Catholic and a member of the local Secular order of Carmelites. This religious tradition is everything to me, as it was Jesus who led me and thank God still does on this Journey. It is a Journey of LOVE. I found the writings of the Carmelite Mystics, particularly St John of the Cross, most reassuring and helpful. I feel that the Catholic faith does NOT encourage in Ireland young people to practice Christian meditation. With other traditions and meditation I have heard of other people not of the Eastern cultures through meditation, awakening this Kundalini and having much suffering. I feel one should in these matters stick to one's own culture.

6. I was really taught by being led by the love of Christ always going deeper in his holy Love. I found a spiritual director very useful at the outset. I like to meditate in the Church sometimes, but am happy enough anywhere where there is "no interruption".

7. My spiritual director, a Carmelite contemplative monk, was just great and most reassuring. I know, though, the wrong one could do great harm.

8. It has made me more contented and less worldly.

9. Yes, indeed. All my centres were gradually awakened. At the very outset I was told I was going on a Journey to the Center of the World, and was being looked after. Also once only I had a vision of Christs passion. I had very many major religious dreams where I was told sometimes prophecies or things relating to my inner journey. I also every night have Light or Glow around the upper part of my body or head when anything spiritual is in my thoughts or if contemplating my abdominal breathing takes over which I can't really explain in a letter. Also I am sensitive to my Body energy or Kundalini force. All the time I can hear a very faint hum or buzzing sound. All of these experiences I have found most positive and never frightening. At the early stages I found "shadow dreams" scary, that's all. I think one has to be able to use discernment with these experiences, and when I look back in time I can see them in sequence, and then it all fits like a jigsaw.

10. Time for meditation/contemplation is most important, also being in good health, also consideration for one's spouse. As far as sex goes, I found the sexual energy is largely converted into spiritual energy, but that was gradual after about halfway through the awakening process.

I hope this is of help to someone.

Poem: Thoughts of a Contemplative....

To rest in love with all the Earth,
be one with the eternal
one with the God that dwells therein,
The Pearl within the Kernel.
To see him with the inner eye,
thence linked in love... what joy
and listen in the deep Heart's core
to the one that tells us why.

Peter Owens


Poems from The Fish Wednesday Book by Salvatore Tagliarino

The Book of Job C.12.

And Job proceeded to answer and say: For in fact you men are the people and with you wisdom will die out.

The horn calls of mortality sound effortlessly against the walls of time’s eternity and as well ineffectually time and time again in history’s measured cadence against the galactic whale swimming.

Deep inside the timeless sea star light system alive and well unbeached upon the reef of time and space.

The galactic whale who moves magestically in eternal spirit is host to all we know here living upon its back born amidst the apparent movement of planets’ passing stars.

What holds our simple thoughts fast here upon the moving whale’s back? Before we lift our mortal eyes above the white horizon to what really is peractivating all and everything now as light, pure light?

From Holy Flowers

The bones of man stir in our soup.
the milk of life runs dry
smell the chowder of eyeless fish
stuck in thick fat thought
and all that’s left without a doubt
is the bowl of smoking trout.


A Journeyer

I was born and raised and still practice Roman Catholicism but grew up with an ecumenical outlook since my Dad was a convert from the southern Baptist tradition and I just knew, had strong beliefs, that my Dad's Baptist parents and their 13 Baptist offspring were going to be there with me in heaven one day, along with my Roman Catholic parents and my 6 siblings.

My most influential formative spiritual experiences were as a teenager in the Charismatic Renewal of the Catholic Church. Also, I was heavily involved in youth and music ministries and the Church's retreat movements on manifold fronts.

Most of my adult life has been a trial of faith much akin to what Therese of Lisieux described in her autobiography; her trial of faith or crisis of belief has been a source of great consolation to me.

I almost self-diagnosed a Dark Night but conclude that that could be the proverbial cop-out, that, however consonant the description of this fog on Mt Carmel was to my malaise, it still just amounts to a brilliant rationalization. At the same time, following Ignatius, I hope this desolation and aridity don't find their genesis in a very conventional and mundane episode of back-sliding.

Despite all this I still love passionately and live the moral life; I still go through the motions of my Catholic faith and believe that it most perfectly articulates the manner in which our God would condescend to humankind. However, for about three years, on dozens of occasions, I enjoyed profoundly ecstatic numinous experiences which came and left of their own accord and have at least mitigated some of my angst by raising my outlook to that of what I can only describe as an existentialist, agnostic with sneaking suspicions and I am, like Simone (Weil), waiting on God for that gift of certitude that is Hers alone to give.

I saw nothing, heard nothing, touched nothing. I would usually be dreaming and would encounter manifold and varied situations which would move me to a loving awe, an unspeakable yes to a deep okayness, and then in an instant I would awaken and lying still in my bed all cognitive content would disappear and all would be silent and black and then my only sensations were an intense but vague somatic awareness that sensed intensely pleasurable goosebumps over the whole surface of my body from head to toe and moving as if in waves of electricity from head to toe or vice versa and growing in intensity and as they grew in intensity they permeated beneath my skin and they would further grow in pleasure/intensity and permeate my musculature and then organs and my very marrow and my body felt like it was convulsing as if being shocked although I have the clear notion I was in fact quite still and on occasion there was an extreme vertigo as if I were violently spinning in a vortex of all-consuming okayness and love and pleasure and any experience of orgasm could not speak to these experiences and the only cognition I recall was my nonverbal communication: "Don't leave me. Please don't leave me." and always it was if an unseen but definitely present spectre would slowly disappear and the process would fade in a precise reverse fashion that is the waves would then ebb and I would merely lay in bed and say Jesus over and over until I fell back asleep and I recorded (on a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit desk calendar mind you) only the inscriptions NE1, NE2, NE3 with the alphanumeric indicating "numinous experiences of varying intensities" and they lasted for about three years and I found no exact context within which to place the experiences in my faith or science perspectives until I came upon a quote from Isaac of Nineveh: "It happens at certain moments that delight and enjoyment invade the whole body. And the fleshly tongue can say no more; to such degrees now have earthly objects become but dust and ashes. The initial delights, those of the heart, fill us while we are awake. The spirit burns at the hour of prayer, at the moment of reading, in the course of frequent meditations or long contemplations. But the final delights come to us differently, often during the night, in the following way: when we are between sleep and wakefulness, when we are asleep without being asleep and awake without being really awake. These delights invade a person and the whole body throbs. It is clear then that this is nothing other than the kingdom of heaven."

And if one could will these events one would but alas I knew not then and know not now whither and why they would come or would go and neither could one will to stop them for one was so very intense I knew that I would die right then and did not want to for manifold reasons and yet it did not stop and I had an element of fear even within the pleasure of it all, but it all passed that is to say: these consolations ceased.

I did nothing to bring them on. I did nothing to stop them. I was a sinner before, during and after them and remain so. I feel like I am more compassionate, long-suffering and forbearing in the years since these experiences. It took me years to tell anyone anything. These experiences had no sexual overtones but were so much more intensely pleasurable than any orgasm one could possibly have. I tried to rationalize the experiences away, in retrospect, as some oxygen depletion-endorphin release-near death experience, etc., but my reasoning ability and need to explain are truly frustrated.

I never practiced formal meditation or contemplative prayer technique knowingly but know that retrospectively a Brother Lawrence or Way of the Pilgrim-type practice of constant and continual turning to God throughout the day in glossolalia was de facto contemplative. I also prayed and sang, aloud and mentally, very often (still do) O' Come, O' Come Emmanuel for two decades before these experiences. The experiences increased my confident assurance in things hoped for, but unlike others, I don't KNOW with a certainty any matters of faith and I can still suffer bouts of existential doubt and angst (sorry). I love much and am passionately in touch with human suffering.

In closing, a word from Thomas Merton: "And so, many contemplatives never become great saints, never enter into close friendship with God, never find a deep participation in His immense joys, because they cling to the miserable little consolations that are given to beginners in the contemplative way."

Gulp! oh well. Therese of Lisieux and Simone Weil, pray for me.

Think of God as one who relentessly pursues you. I have often thought of God as follows: She is a cute little girl on the playground Who is chasing me, much to my chagrin. I run from Her. She never quite catches up with me. When I am very young, I really want nothing to do with Her. She remains a nuisance. She remains in pursuit of me whenever I set foot on the playground, even as I am getting older. In my pre-adolescence, I glance over my shoulder at times and I feel confused; I sometimes think of maybe letting Her catch me, but I am unsure for it seems best to stick with that strategy which has served me so well from childhood. After all, what would the boys think of me, letting Her catch me? The days and years go by and the playground pursuit is the only constant in my life and I am glancing over my shoulder longer and my confusion is giving way to new feelings.

I notice Her Beauty and I imagine what it would be like to be close to Her and, for the first time, I feel strangely and strongly attracted to Her. I resolve to get caught. I wonder:"What in the world was I thinking all these years, running from this gorgeous Creature?"

And She catches me and we collapse laughing and giggling into the flowered clovers and we embrace and the universe explodes with meaning and all of the eros and limerance and infatuation and chemistry of that universe are focused here, in time, in me, in Her, in us and I am left there, at once mystified and even somewhat stupefied!

Then, of a sudden, She is gone. I look around and see Her standing there and our eyes meet and we smile and She takes off running, laughing and giggling, taunting and teasing, now with me in pursuit! How the tables have turned!

And now I am filled with longing, yearning, pining for She has run clean over the horizon and out of sight! But, at times, I think I hear Her giggle and swear I can glimpse Her face in a crowd.

At all times, I think of Her and my heart aches, sweetly.


Should a person desire the activation of kundalini energy?

It would be a mistake to read accounts of kundalini experience and reflections about them, and imagine that this question must be answered in the affirmative.

The story of a man who underwent a full-scale kundalini awakening illustrates this. He grew up as a Catholic, went to Catholic schools for his higher education, thought about becoming a priest, and eventually became a lawyer. He lost touch with his Catholic faith and experimented with various spiritual traditions, the last of which had some teachings about chakras. Rather quickly he began to experience various phenomena associated with the activation of kundalini energy: movements of energy around the body, tingling and pressure in the head, the opening of the "third eye," etc., all phenomena that could be documented in one fashion or another in the kundalini literature either ancient or modern.

But these kundalini phenomena began to act strangely. The energies took the form of invisible hands that touched him, and amorphous animals that would attach themselves to him and bite him or lick his face. At first he accepted these things as part of some sort of spiritual journey, but he eventually became concerned about them and sought psychiatric help. But this was no psychosis in the ordinary sense of the term. Rather, what appears to have happened is that this powerful kundalini awakening activated the psychological unconscious, which produced a whole halo of images and experiences. It clothed itself in the contents of the unconscious, and so created a highly visible and tangible kundalini drama. But the activation of the unconscious was so strong that it began to flood the ego in a manner akin, but not the same, to what happens in psychosis.

Finally, rather battered, he began to emerge from these experiences, regain his ordinary life, and reconnect with his spiritual roots, and tried to live a life in relationship to Mystery. He writes: "I mostly just want to live a natural, engaged, moderate life and to relate to Him. I am a human being. That's all." In this regard he composed the following haiku:

"My heart beats, not I,
and as new centers throb, why
grasp or meddle now?"

And he comments: "If there is one thing I've learned, it is that "experiences" only serve to show that reductionistic scientism is incorrect. If they have any other purpose (and they well may), I don't know what that is, and I don't care to speculate. My profound intuition is that life itself - all the events of our lives, especially the small and ordinary - is ultimately the best, most growth-enhancing "experience"."

Kundalini may well, indeed, be an inner movement towards enlightenment, but this does not mean we should seek it in a highly visible and dramatic form. This kind of search for "experiences" can be dangerous to both our psychological and spiritual health.

The Editors’ Corner

A good part of our summer season was taken up in getting our new book to the printer. It was a relief to be finally done with it, and we think it has something important to say about how our Christian mystical past is still influencing contemplative life today.

From St. John of the Cross to Us: The Story of a 400 Year Long Misunderstanding and what it means for the Future of Christian Mysticism by James Arraj

The Western Christian mystical tradition, so beautifully renewed by Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross 400 years ago, soon fell into crisis and a long, dark night from which it is still trying to recover. This is the story of that crisis which centered on a misunderstanding of the writings of John of the Cross, which has persisted until today and how it has shaped our understanding of Christian mysticism.

Meet the men and women, some famous, but most forgotten, who have shaped Christian mysticism as we know it today: Tomás de Jesús, a Carmelite prodigy of the early 17th century who almost single-handedly altered the course of Western mysticism, Antonio de Alvarado, Francisco Quiroga, Juan Breton, Miguel de Molinos, reviled as the chief of the Quietists, Augustín-François Poulain, Juan Arintero and many others, down to Thomas Merton, Ruth Burrows and Thomas Keating.

Table of Contents

Part I: St. John of the Cross on Contemplation
Chapter 1: Christian Contemplation Today
Chapter 2: John of the Cross’ Teaching of Contemplation

Part II: A Lost World of Christian Mysticism
Chapter 3: Tomás de Jesús and the Tratado Breve
Chapter 4: El Camino Espiritual
Chapter 5: Text Riddles
Chapter 6: The Early Carmelites and Acquired Contemplation
Chapter 7: The Publication of the First Edition
Chapter 8: Antonio Rojas and Juan Falconi
Chapter 9: A World Soon to Vanish
Chapter 10: 1675
Chapter 11: The Dark Night of the Mystics

Part III: The Mystical Revivals of the 20th Century
Chapter 12: The First Revival
Chapter 13: The Second Revival

Part IV: Towards a Theology of Mysticism
Chapter 14: Jacques and Raissa Maritain, Theologians of Mysticism
Chapter 15: Contemplation and the Spiritual Unconscious

A Research Balance Sheet

272 pages, trade paperback, extensive bibliography, index, $18.00. ISBN 0-914073-10-9.
Click here for more information about From St. John of the Cross to Us.


Philosophy, Theology and the Life of Prayer?

The life of prayer is so personal, and paradoxically often so dark and difficult to articulate that we might be excused from thinking that it has much to do with philosophy and theology, especially since these disciplines are often made to appear as if their proper place were the classroom and they were somehow divorced from real life.

But the deepest and best philosophy and theology are wonderful nourishment for the spirit and its journey towards union with God. Take metaphysics. Modern philosophers may endlessly debate whether metaphysical knowledge is even possible, but genuine metaphysics can, and ought to be, an exhilarating adventure in which the mind attempts to know the very existence, or isness, of things, and in and through this isness, the existence of God. Metaphysics understood in this way enriches the life of prayer because God, although in different ways, is the goal of both. And incidentally, it is such a metaphysics that would be in invaluable partner in any east-west dialogue.

Much the same could be said of theology because at the heart of theology is what could be called an intuitive, or visionary, theology in which we attempt to glimpse something of the interconnected mysteries of Christianity, that is, of the Trinity and Incarnation, and the drama of sin and redemption, and the working of grace and the virtues and gifts of the Holy Spirit which are the very realities that the life of prayer calls us to come into intimate living contact with.

So philosophy and theology in a sense are the living foundations for the interior life, and their studies should be part of our spiritual practice.

Jim and Tyra Arraj

Copyright Ó 1999

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