I began our conversation by asking her what it meant to be a mystic; but the term mystic, like mystical, carries with it a connotation that may not be appropriate for a more pragmatic age which shuns the hocus-pocus and supernatural subtext the word may carry. It may also lose the heart of what a so-called mystic may be doing. That is, the activity of contemplation. The etymological definition of this word is:
“religious musing,” from O.Fr. contemplation or directly from L. contemplationem (nom. contemplatio) “act of looking at,” from contemplat-, pp. stem of contemplari “to gaze attentively, observe,” originally “to mark out a space for observation” (as an augur does). From com-, intensive prefix (see com-), + templum “area for the taking of auguries” (see temple).
The contemplative, then, creates a “space for observation” and that is none other than their own lives; their mind, body, environment, experience. Out of their life they build a “temple” (con-templative) and a rigorous and challenging practice of looking at themselves takes place.
Rather than mere self-absorbtion, the contemplative unites with the world.
It is possible, Emily suggests to me, that everything in the world can be seen as sacred. We can access a method of gazing at ourselves and the world that allows us to perceive this hidden, sacred quality. In this way, we walk through the world con-templatively – “with the temple” – because the sacred space is found everywhere.
Towards the end of our discussion, Emily balanced the geeky view – of meditators embracing technology and seeing contemplative practice as a kind of parallel “inner” science – with the acknowledgment that at the heart of a contemplative practice is mystery. It is the willing act of giving up our knowingness, not for ignorance, but humility towards this existence. The healthy scientist, like the contemplative, embraces a “don’t-know” mind and is thus more receptive towards understanding the world than someone who believes we have it all figured out.
In regards to the future, she suggests that geeks will play a major role, but they won’t be the only ones who have a voice. Artists and poets, too, belong to the emerging world.
I hope you enjoy our discussion. It left much to ponder on being a modern spiritual practitioner, and reminded me that the sense of mystery has in no way left us in the age of abundant information.