A Mystic's Guide to the New Aging
March 5, 2017A Mystic Guide to the New Aging
The conscious aging movement has made many wonderful contributions to the psychology and spirituality of aging, inspiring us heal to the past, create personal legacies, mentor the young, open the heart, give back to society, grow the unfinished self, savor the autumn years, clarify our spiritual beliefs and prepare for death. As such, conscious aging offers rich mulch for new gifts, wisdom and love in our later years. One relatively undeveloped area, however, is the mystical dimension of aging. In this article, I'd like to share some personal thoughts on a process that has transformed my own journey and invite you to transform yours.
I want to begin this discussion by distinguishing religion and spirituality from mysticism and mystical consciousness. Religion, of course, involves an organized system of theological beliefs, worship activities, and community originating from one or more profound experiences of the divine. Spirituality, on the other hand, represents the personal beliefs we each create about religion and various ultimate issues, including the meaning and purpose of life, death, and our relationship to divinity. For example, a congregation of 200 believers will have a single religion but 200 unique spiritual interpretations on it. Finally, mysticism refers to the firsthand experience of the sacred.
Mysticism experiences occur when the divine leaks - or breaks - into everyday human awareness, including full-fledged Mystical Experiences, Near Death Experiences, Out-of-Body Experiences, religious conversions, and a variety of other non-ordinary states (such as the experience "flow" found in athletics or dance, the altered consciousness associated of a birth or death, the awe evoked before natural wonders or inspired religious architecture, and psychedelic expansions of consciousness). Major Mystical Experiences are generally considered gifts of grace that cannot be intentionally evoked or controlled.
There is another kind of Mystical Experience that we may call Mystical Consciousness. This state opens when we silence the mind's chatter, heighten awareness, and tune into the omnipresent divine consciousness within and around us. In the process, we can experience the same kind of mental, emotional and mystical shifts of consciousness found in Mystical Experiences though to substantially lessor degree. The value of mystical consciousness, however, is that we can intentionally enter mystical states and examine their nature and teachings.
Confessions of an Aging Mystic
For me, aging has become a flowering of Mystical Consciousness. I sense divine consciousness as the essence of my “own” consciousness, which is hardly surprising for the mystics have been telling us for eons that the cosmos is conscious and alive, everywhere saturated with divine presence and being. Our "own" consciousness is simply part of that. Ageless, timeless, eternal, pure, loving and transformative - this is the force of consciousness as I experience it. And more to the point, this consciousness is God. To be conscious of consciousness itself is to experience God directly.
This mystical re-orientation is like Galileo telling us that the sun, not the Earth, is the center of the Universe. In like fashion, we discover that the self-idea is not the true center of the personality; rather a divine consciousness dwells within as our truest Self.
Aging and Mystical Experience
How does aging awaken Mystical Consciousness? To the perceptive and prepared elder, aging is enlightenment in slow motion. The events and process of aging - changing bodies, fading identities, and losses of all shapes and sizes - steadily dissolve the identity and reality constructs that previously defined us. One day, staring at our latest photograph, we no longer recognize our self. Looking around, we no longer recognize the world we grew up in. While we can hang onto our past identity, achievements and the cultural bubble of our youth and middle years, these memories often become stale or ossified in aging. But as the mystics remind us, the surrender of the ego's self-idea represents the quintessential pre-requisite for enlightenment. When the filters of identity, time and story dissolve, what remains is consciousness - divine consciousness. We were victims of mistaken identity.
A new kind of aging has begun. Our unprecedented longevity and growing experience with conscious aging have created a new developmental stage in the human life cycle. We're living decades longer! With this gift of time, and a little guidance, we can begin to tune into the mystical dimensions of aging. More profoundly, Mystical Consciousness will change us if we pay attention, gradually reworking our personality. In the context of this New Aging, I believe we may soon encounter the radical possibilities of the Divine Human. Religions have long prophesized the coming or return of a divine savior - they just didn't realize that the savior is you and me.
What have I learned from my expanding experience of Mystical Consciousness? Here are some of the most important and transformational realizations:
• All Consciousness is God's Consciousness. Growing up, we mistakenly think that consciousness is ours alone, soon commandeering it for the ego's purposes. To know God directly, however, we need only cease our mental chatter to dissolve the self-idea and focus awareness instead on pure consciousness. We discover that consciousness is itself the divine Presence, with discernable qualities like love, tenderness, kindness, wisdom, and joy.
• All Being is God's Being. Being refers to the physical dimension of existence - life and material world around us. Because we project the culture's conceptual version of reality on the mystery of being, we tend to see primarily what we think and reduce experience to beliefs. When we "cleans the doors of perception" by dwelling in the consciousness behind thought, the world becomes a mysterious and sacred incarnation of God. We reclaim the forgotten experience of pantheism.
• Conscious Being Becomes Union with God. When we merge consciousness and being, that is, when we direct our thought-free awareness into the pure "ground of being" of our body, we experience conscious being, which represents one form of union with God. This merging increasingly embodies the divine as the "being of my being" further transforming our own lives.
• Conscious Being Produces Sacred Action. Joining consciousness with being, our ordinary state fills with divinely inspired feelings and motives, permeating our everyday lives with gifts of love, beauty, and compassion. Awareness of unity also means that what happens to another is happening to me so I must respond, but I do so from a larger transformed state.
• Conscious Being Leads to the Divine Human. As consciousness merges with being in the progressive ecstasy of incarnation, we grow into an entirely new kind of human, a Divine Human. This powerful alchemy transforms aging from a grim expectation of decline to a celebration of the imminent divine as our being, consciousness and world.
• Divine Consciousness Opens the Perceptual Gates of Heaven on Earth. Experiencing mystical consciousness progressively transforms perception. We normally project our concepts of the world onto the mystery of being. Awakened, thought-free consciousness reveals in its place the living divine fabric of existence, literally Heaven on Earth, right where we are. We come to know ourselves as divine beings in a divine world.
Experiencing Mystical Consciousness
Let's explore the state of consciousness that is so central to the mystical transformation of aging. What follows is a brief experiential exercise meant to give you a taste of Mystical Consciousness. Do it slowly and consciously but don't worry about doing it perfectly. Follow the directions and see what you notice.
Find a peaceful place where you will not be interrupted. Settle comfortably in your chair but don't close your eyes. This is not meditation, guided imagery, or spontaneous fantasy. Quiet your mind and come into the here and now. Listen to the silence and sense the stillness of the present moment that is everywhere. Sit quietly in this stillness. Any time your thoughts resume, remind yourself to stop thinking and return to the silence.
In this still and conscious moment, heighten and sharpen your senses. Become as alert, awake and aware as you possibly can. Now focus this intense awareness on something close to you: the cloth of your pants, your hand, a pencil. Pick something stationary no more than 12-20 inches away. Choose just one thing. Carefully examine its texture, construction, color, pattern. Notice how the light plays on it. See it exactly as it is without thought, labels or interpretations. This is pure perception without cognition, awareness without thought. See it as if you've never seen it so clearly before.
Keep staring steadily and directly at the object. As you look at it, become aware of your own consciousness. In other words, become conscious of consciousness itself. You may soon be able to sense that consciousness now exists all around you, as if space itself had come alive and awake. This consciousness is God but don’t think about this.
Notice how this state of consciousness further changes your perception of the object you picked. It may seem brighter, more beautiful, interesting, radiant, or alive, and it is, because you are dissolving the lens of thought that normally separates you from the divine world. This enchanting world never left, you did when you went to live in your mind, but you can come back. Take your time. Look again, intensely, deeply, with radical awe.
Now bring this pure and awakened consciousness into your body. Feel the being of your being, the energy of embodiment. This is God being you. See if you can feel joy rising with this realization. This is the bliss of being that underlies all being. Try to experience it without thought or interpretation. See how it expands. Let it fill you.
Finally, return now to normal everyday consciousness. Move around a little, sit up, and get back in touch with your customary self experience. Reboot the operating system of your mind.
While the perceptions described here may be subtle at first, they will intensify as your skills with Mystical Consciousness increase. Whatever happens, look for those moments when you noticed something unexpected, surprising, or intensely real - they may be your openings into divine consciousness. If you were distracted by doubts or negativity, start over and keep working on silencing the mind.
Freed from the structure and boundaries of my former professional identity and beliefs, my experience of Mystical Consciousness keeps expanding. I sense divine consciousness in and around me for grounding, comfort, inspiration, direction and wisdom. In this conscious aging, everyday, every moment, is new and filled with sacred potential. This utterly consistent experience dispels my doubts and reassures me that this ongoing transformation of age, no matter how “strange” it might seem to others, is the unfolding truth of my twilight years. My life has always led here, to the mystical possibilities of the New Aging.
The ideas expressed in this article have been more fully articulated in the following publications.
Robinson, John. (1997). Death Of A Hero, Birth Of The Soul: Answering the Call of Midlife, Council Oak Books, 1997.
Robinson, John. (1999). But Where Is God? Psychotherapy and the Religious Search, Nova Science Publishers, 1999.
Robinson, John. (2000). Ordinary Enlightenment: Experiencing the Presence of God in Everyday Life, Unity Books, 2000.
Robinson, John. (2005). Living the Myth of Inanna, Psychological Perspectives, C.G. Jung Institute of Los Angeles, Vol. 48: 110-120.
Robinson, John. (2008). Heaven on Earth: Keys to the Garden. Paradigm Shift, Issue 37, 5-7, 2008
Robinson, John. (2008). A Theology of Resurrection and the Vision of Heaven on Earth. In Henry, Matt (Ed.). Originally Blessed.
Robinson, John. (2009). Finding Heaven Here. Winchester, UK: John Hunt Publishing (O-Books).
Robinson, John. (2009). Finding Heaven Here. Science of Mind Magazine, Vol. 82, No. 1, pp. 86-93.