Reality, says Eucken, is an independent spiritual world, unconditioned by the apparent world of sense. To know it and to live in it is our true destiny. Our point of contact with it is personality: the inward fount of our being: our heart, not our head. We are real, and in the deepest sense alive, in virtue of this free personal life-principle within us; but we are bound and blinded by the ties set up between our surface intelligence and the sense world. The struggle for reality must be a struggle on our part to transcend the sense-world, escape its bondage. We must renounce it, and be “re-born” to a higher level of consciousness; shifting our center of interest from the natural to the spiritual plane. According to the thoroughness with which we do this, will be the amount of real life we enjoy. The initial break with the “world,” the refusal to spend one’s life communing with one’s own cinematograph picture, is essential if the freedom of the infinite is to be attained. We are amphibious creatures: our life moves upon two levels at once—the natural and the spiritual. The key to the puzzle of our lives lies in the fact that we are “the meeting point of various stages of Reality.” All our difficulties and triumphs are grounded in this. The whole question for us is, which world shall be central for us—the real, vital, all-embracing life we call spirit, or the lower life of senses? Shall “Existence,” the superficial obvious thing, or “Substance,” the underlying verity, be our home? Shall we remain the slave of the senses with their habits and customs, or rise to a plane of consciousness, of heroic endeavour, in which—participating in the life of spirit—we know reality because we are real?
The mystics, one and all, have answered this question in the same sense, and proved in their own experience that the premises of “Activism” are true. This application of the vitalistic idea to the transcendental world does in fact fit the observed facts of mysticism far more closely even than it fits the observed facts of our ordinary mental life.
(1) The primary break of the sense-world. (2) The “new” birth and development of the spiritual consciousness on high levels—in Eucken’s eyes an essential factor in the attainment of reality. (3) That ever closer and deeper dependence on and appropriation of the fullness of the Divine Life; a conscious participation, and active union with the infinite and eternal. These three imperatives, as we shall see later, form an exact description of the psychological process through which the mystics pass. If then, this transcendence is the highest destiny of the race, mysticism becomes the crown of our ascent towards Reality; the orderly completion of the universal plan.
The mystics show us this independent spiritual life, this fruition of the Absolute, enjoyed with a fullness to which others cannot attain. They are the heroic examples of the life of spirit; as the great artists, the great discoverers, are the heroic examples of the life of beauty and the life of truth. Directly participating, like all artists, in the Divine Life, they are usually persons of great vitality: but this vitality expresses itself in unusual forms, hard of understanding for ordinary people. When we see a picture or a poem, hear a musical composition, we accept it as an expression of life, an earnest of the power which brought it forth. But the deep contemplations of great mystics, their visionary reconstructions of reality, and the fragments of them which they are able to report, do not seem to us—as they are—the equivalents, or more often the superiors of the artistic and scientific achievements of other great beings.
Mysticism, then, offers us the history, as old as civilization, of a race of adventurers who have carried to its term the process of a deliberate and active return to the divine fount of things. They have surrendered themselves to the life-movement of the universe, hence have lived with an intenser life than other people can ever know; have transcended the “sense-world” in order to live on high levels the spiritual life. Therefore they witness to all that our latent spiritual consciousness, which shows itself in the “hunger for the Absolute,” can be made to mean to us if we develop it; and have in this respect a unique importance for the race. It is the mystics, too, who have perfected that method of intuition, that knowledge by union, the existence of which philosophy has been driven to acknowledge. But where the metaphysician obtains at best a sidelong glance at the Being “unchanging yet elusive,” whom he has so often defined but never discovered, the artist a brief and dazzling vision of the Beauty which is Truth, they gaze with confidence into the very eyes of the Beloved.
The mystics, again, are, by their very constitution, acutely conscious of the free and active “World of Becoming,” the Divine Immanence and its travail. It is in them and they are in it: or, as they put it in their blunt theological way, “the Spirit of God is within you.” But they are not satisfied with this statement and this knowledge; and here it is that they part company with vitalism. It is, they think, but half a truth. To know Reality in this way, to know it in its dynamic aspect, enter to “the great life of the All”: this is indeed, in the last resort, to know it supremely from the point of view of human beings—to liberate from selfhood the human consciousness—but it is not to know it from the point of view of God. There are planes of being beyond this; countries dark to the intellect, deeps into which only the very greatest contemplatives have looked. These, coming forth, have declared with Ruysbroeck that “God according to the Persons is Eternal Work, but according to the Essence and Its perpetual stillness He is Eternal Rest.”