It can be said that the divine itself is openness. In its wonderful ability to be open, we can learn from the flowers, which always incarnate this principle for us. A flower simply opens to the light and warmth of the sun and receives the moisture from the earth and the rain.
The inner journey also grants us the ability to be genuinely present to others in all senses. When we are present, we meet them in the eternal now, where everything is continually arising. Through this incomparable gift of presence, we fashion and shape ourselves as a home for the divine within us, a place for ultimate realization of creation, and all others. One sign of enlightenment and spiritual maturity is this ability to be present to others, and to do so without exception. It is not an easy capacity to acquire. To surrender to the present moment with an open and trusting heart is a sign of great spiritual progress.
Deep spirituality also gives us the capacity to listen. The nature of this deep listening is much more subtle and comprehensive than the ordinary mode practiced by most people. It is a complete inner attention, a devout listening with one’s whole heart. Ultimate reality expresses itself and speaks through all things in each moment. All we have to do is listen.
Individuals who are mystically awake also have the ability to just be. Indeed, they are vitally conscious of the importance of this capacity for simply being. Contemplative spirituality is a call to being: to just be who we are in the deepest sense of our nature, our contemplative, mystical being. We all have this dimension of being by virtue of our humanity; everything else we do only adds to what we already are. In this, the flower is again our teacher. The flower doesn’t do anything. The flower doesn’t read books, answer letters, give speeches, or attend school. It just is.
Closely associated with the ability to be is the capacity to see: to see really as it is, to see ourselves as we are without pretense. This seeing arises from the depths of spiritual discipline; it is a knowing from the heart. Mystical seeing, which also depends on self-knowledge, is really the gift of perspective, of being able to see everything in its proper place. It means being able to rise above the pettiness of life and see the larger picture. Perspective, as a fruit of the inner life, allows us to attain real balance in our awareness of everything with which we come in contact.
Many years ago, I learned one of the great practical teachings about this attribute from a Carmelite nun, Sister Mary Roman. A Jewish convert to Catholicism, she was a professor of German at Wellesley College when she entered the Catholic Church. Until its closing in 1997, her monastery was in Barre, Vermont. I was in a small monastery in New Boston, New Hampshire, and when I first entered the monastery, I visited Sister Mary. She and I and her community of twelve nuns had become friends over the years, and from time to time, I would drop in on them. I asked her if she had any advice for me, as I was embarking on the monastic life. I have never forgotten her incredibly wise words: “There is only one thing I would suggest, and it is this. Keep a sense of proportion. Don’t overreact. See things in perspective. You will realize that very few things in life are worth getting disturbed over. If you maintain a sense of perspective, you will grow in wisdom, depth, and holiness of life.”
In this observation, Sister Mary Roman was following the counsel of her guide, St. Teresa of Avila, who possessed profound perspective. In virtually every convent, monastery, and parish of the Catholic tradition—something all nuns, brothers, bishops have on holy cards is this bit of compelling and useful advice: “Let nothing disturb you, nothing worry you. Everything is passing away. Only God is changeless. God alone suffices.”
Her words have guided me through serious as well as trivial matters. It is the small things that often cause the most trouble because of our tendency to overreact instead of letting things go in silence.
Joy is an unmistakable sign of the deeper life. It comes as an abiding gift when an individual has reached union with the divine. This inner bliss that saturates our being, life, thoughts, actions, and relationships is an expression of spiritual plenitude, the fullness of the inner journey.
This joy, and all the other fruit of the inner experience, culminate in a mystical, supernatural or nontemporal peace. It is the peace that is the possession of the divine, the peace that rests in the absolute.
From The Mystic Heart: Discovering a Universal Spirituality in the World’s Religions. Copyright © 1999 by Wayne Teasdale. Reprinted by arrangement with New World Library, Novato, California.