From the Introduction: The Search for Mystical Unity
Mystical unity. Poets dream about it. Scholars analyzed it. Saints and Avatars across faith traditions have lived it. And, throughout time, ordinary seekers, like you and me, have yearned for it. It’s why we pray, meditate, sing, and chant. It’s why we rise early for morning prayers, hold fast to familiar ritual, seek wisdom from religious and spiritual leaders. In particular, it’s what we cry out for when life circumstances have brought us to the end of all we know and we’re left feeling lost, alone and adrift on a dark, unforgiving sea. We sense, at such times, that some, any, connection with the great divine is all that can save us. Now, it’s all that matters. And, it’s our very yearning for such connection that can also kindle hope that perhaps, just perhaps, joy may, can, will come in the morning. (see Ps 30:5) Just the imagining can spark a weary heart to morn for its life again.
Still, while we recognize this ubiquitous yearning for mystical unity with that–which–is–beyond–understanding across the human spectrum, and can find it herald as the pinnacle of religious experience, it’s perhaps the most difficult of all experiences to describe. Simply, it can be. Yet, many who’ve brought their yearning hearts to prayer, in multiple ways across faith traditions, know this place well, this place that resides just beyond our understanding. They know because they’ve been touched—touched by an indescribable, yet unmistakable, experience. They’ve been blessed to hear, sense, to know the holy one in a truly visceral way. And as a result, a fundamental shift happens. Now, they find that they trust this place, this place just beyond understanding, more—infinitely more—than anything known before.
And, sometimes, most blessedly, perhaps the purest form of mystical unity may occur—moments of full emersion with the our beloved God that dissolves all separations and distinctions. Blessedly, such moments are only recognizable in hindsight as, graciously and quite unexpectedly, we are brought outside the finite realm of time and space and into the infinite, eternal, heart of God. And here . . . we are left humbled, still and filled with awe.
Such sweet moments of unity leave us, in particular, fully aware of Kabir’s revelation: “All know that the drop merges into the ocean but few know that the ocean merges into the drop.” For in moments of mystical unity, we as a drop in the ocean of God, experience being the omnipresence known only to the ocean. It’s not an experience of ourselves as a small, tiny part, suddenly feeling like a part of the whole. No. In fact, it’s not a feeling at all or a thought for that matter. It’s the experience of being the ocean itself. Now that greatest of all fears echoed across faith traditions, that we’re separate and alone, is fully negated by the experience of mystical unity. We know now we could never be alone. We know now as Jesus knew, “I and the Father are one.” (John 10:30)
I’m fond of calling all moments of mystical unity love’s kiss because, in truth, they make lovers out of us and send us out again and again into our inner wilderness in search of that love everlasting that now we know is real. Such is the gift of Mantra Prayer which, through its sacred sound current, helps us to create those conditions for mystical unity deep in the depths of the silence that follows our prayers.
And, most graciously, such experiences linger close like a sweet fragrance that, with just the remembrance, can rekindle something akin to joy—that eternal devotional joy fully capable of sustaining us through all weather patterns particularly when, suddenly, we find ourselves alone and adrift on that unforgiving sea. For even then, we find we can conjure up an inner smile knowing now as the Paramahansa Yogananda knew, “From joy I came, for joy I live, in sacred joy I melt.” We know now because we’ve been kissed.
And, once kissed, the yearning for more becomes insatiable. With parched lips, we journey through our inner wilderness in search of that fountain, that kiss, again and again. Along the way, we’re brought to our knees and left empty and aching, filled with nothing but that yearning. And, we’re raised up to soar with eagles on states of grace we could have never believed, imagined or known were possible. Just the memory of the kiss propels us forward. It is both deeply personal and, yet, not personal at all for now we’ve been touched by the indescribable, we can find delight in being a unique expression of the creator, a single drop in the ocean, and, at the same time, we know we are one with all. We’ve been the ocean. We’ve glimpsed eternity. We’ve been kissed.
From Part 1: Becoming Lovers
Just imagine. What if deep in the unexplored wilderness of your inner soul lies a secret passage into a place where silence speaks of all there is to know—a place to which we can only point—yet, once discovered, know better, trust more, than any other place we could possibly conceive of or imagine? What if, beyond all you’ve ever feared, beyond all your doubts, even beyond all your questions, there was a simple answer waiting, waiting for just the right moment, to cut through all you thought you knew to, imperceptibly, lay at your feet the one truth that informs all the others—that right there, within you, all along, was the treasure you’ve been so desperately seeking? What if you finally understood that this treasure could not be found or created—only allowed—for, in truth, it is already you?
Perhaps then, you might just pass by yourself . . . and wonder.
Praise for Lovers in the Wilderness
“Stephanie speaks, writes, and lives from the heart. To read this elegant writing is to journey with her through your own wilds and find moments of stillness. She is a guide who takes your hand and walks with you instead of pointing and talking about. Her authenticity is essential in these turbulent times and any time we want the courage to listen to our heart’s whispers. Taking this journey, we can gain the courage to love, listen, and be fully alive. When we learn to grasp gently the whole, to not disturb it, it reveals itself to us and us to ourselves. The infinite becomes intimate and tangible.”
—Gurucharan Singh Khalsa, Fish Interfaith Center at Chapman University
“Dr. Stephanie Rutt offers us simple practices for tuning into our original nature, furthering peace and ease in daily life. The spirituality she invokes is simply a part of who we already are, waiting to be brought forth. She guides us to listen deeply, and open to inner guidance though practice. Thus, we begin to tap into the awakened heart that interconnects all life. One could say she is an artist at demystifying mysticism, integrating profound inner realization with practical everyday life.”
—Murshida Halima Sussman, Sama Center, Sufi Ruhaniat International
About the Author
Stephanie Rutt is Director of the Tree of Life School for Sacred Living, and founder of the Tree of Life Interfaith Temple. She received her DMin from Andover Newton Theological School, now Andover Newton Seminary at Yale, where she graduated with honors. She is the author of four other books, an interfaith curricula program for the Tree of Life Interfaith Seminary, and has appeared on the TEDx stage.