I was listening to the audio recording #27 in the Social Artistry Leadership self-study course when I heard Jean Houston speak about the eight stages of the Mystic Path based on the work of Evelyn Underhill:
Stage 1: Awakening
Stage 2: Release and purification
Stage 3: Illumination and creativity
Stage 4: Voices and visions
Stage 5: Introversion
Stage 6: Ecstasy and rapture
Stage 7: Dark night of the soul
Stage 8: Unitive life
I had never heard of Evelyn Underhill. Listening to Jean speak about anything is indeed a delight. In this case, the content — 8 Stages of the Mystic Path — spoke to me even more deeply, enough to do a little research into Evelyn’s life and writings.
I discovered that she had written a variety of books on mysticism. In the English-speaking world, Evelyn was one of the most widely read writers on Christian Mysticism, religion and spiritual practice in the first half of the 20th century.
Underhill was born in Wolverhampton England in 1875. She was a poet and novelist. “An only child, she described her early mystical insights as “abrupt experiences of the peaceful, undifferentiated plane of reality—like the ‘still desert’ of the mystic—in which there was no multiplicity nor need of explanation”. The meaning of these experiences became a lifelong quest and a source of private angst, provoking her to research and write.” (source: Wikipedia)
Then, I picked up a copy of Practical Mysticism. It is one of those books that you can turn to any page, point to a word and start reading. The lessons were so pertinent that it seemed like Evelyn had written it in 2017.
“This little book,” says author Evelyn Underhill in 1914, “was written during the last months of peace and went to press in the first weeks of World War I. Many might feel that in such a time of conflict and horror, when only the most ignorant, disloyal, or apathetic can hope for quietness of mind, a book which deals with that which is called the ‘contemplative’ attitude to existence was wholly out of place.
Reports from periods of war and distress tell us that the stronger the forces of destruction appeared, the more intense grew the spiritual vision which opposed them. We learn from these records that the mystical consciousness has the power of lifting those who possess it to a plane of reality which no struggle, no cruelty, can disturb: of conferring a certitude which no catastrophe can wreck.
Perhaps it is worthwhile to remind ourselves that the two women who have left the deepest mark upon the military history of France and England–Joan of Arc and Florence Nightingale–both acted under mystical compulsion. So, too, did one of the noblest of modern soldiers, General Gordon. Their national value was directly connected with their deep spiritual consciousness: their intensely practical energies were the flowers of a contemplative life.”
I found the book so valuable that I found myself editing the book to make it available here for friends and colleagues today in softcover: