Walking with eyes or no eyes

Evelyn Underhill tells what she calls an “old story of Eyes and No-Eyes” — two travelers.

“No-Eyes” has to take a walk. “For him the chief factor of existence is his own movement along the road; a movement which he intends to accomplish as efficiently and comfortably as he can.”

Think of this as in an English countryside, with hedges along either side. “No-Eyes” doesn’t care what’s beyond the hedges. “He ignores the caress of the wind until it threatens to remove his hat. He trudges along, steadily, diligently; avoiding the muddy pools, but oblivious of the light which they reflect.”

Our other traveler, “Eyes,” takes the same walk, but “for him it is a perpetual revelation of beauty and wonder. The sunlight inebriates him, the winds delight him, the very effort of the journey is a joy. Magic presences throng the roadside, or cry salutations to him from the hidden fields. The rich world through which he moves lies in the fore-ground of his consciousness; and it gives up new secrets to him at every step.”

When “No-Eyes” is told of “Eyes’s” adventures, the unseeing one “refuses to believe that both have gone by the same road. He fancies that his companion has been floating about in the air, or beset by agreeable hallucinations. We shall never persuade him to the contrary unless we persuade him to look for himself.”

Underhill uses the story to talk about mysticism as it can be experienced by any person. “[O]ur whole life is enmeshed in great and living forces,” she says, but some do not “look” to notice. Or we do it only sometimes.

“The material for an intenser life, a wider, sharper consciousness, a more profound understanding of our own existence, lies at our gates. But we are separated from it, we cannot assimilate it; except in abnormal moments, we hardly know that it is.”

What does a more aware life, a more mystical or spiritual life look like?

“The visionary is a mystic when his vision mediates to him an actuality beyond the reach of the senses. The philosopher is a mystic when he passes beyond thought to the pure apprehension of truth. The active man is a mystic when he knows his actions to be a part of a greater activity.”

May we all be mystics some today.

Quotes from Evelyn Underhill. Practical Mysticism: A Little Book for Normal People (pp. 4-6). Kindle Edition.

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