Christian Yoga Part 5
The second step of Christian Yoga is the way of Mary
The birth of Mary symbolises this change of heart, and the life of Mary shows what can come of it. Mary as an image of your own human situation represents the possibility of a virginal mind and feelings. Put simply this means that we drop preconceptions, we melt away fixed opinions, rigid attitudes, perhaps through prayer, meditation or perseverance.
The story of Mary beautifully illustrates this. She is a young girl who has just started menstruation. She is therefore fertile, open and loving. How much more we can receive from that mysterious spirit of life that is around us and within us if we have an open and loving heart, a love that has unfolded like a beautiful flower toward the unknown mystery that we have given the name of Life or God? EvelynUnderhill, writing under the name John Cordelier in her book The Spiral Way, has this to say about Mary:
So many had gone up the mountain to that one desired encounter; only to be thwarted by the cloud that broods upon the summit, and hides from human eyes the Shining Light within. The great prophets, poets, and philosophers of the antique world – all these had gone up, all had marked classic moments in the ascent of the race. Then came a little girl, pure, meek, and receptive: and ran easily to her destiny and the destiny of the universe because she was ‘full of grace.’ She held out her heart to the Invisible and in this act flung a bridge across the chasm that separates Illusion from Reality. Mary becomes by this circumstance the type and pattern of each human soul. Consciously or unconsciously, all are candidates for her high office. All, truly can become the mothers of God. (Published by Watkins – See http://www.evelynunderhill.org ).
The life of prayer is often spoken of as part of the Christian path. But prayer can so easily be the mechanical mouthing of certain words, repeated over and over. We may make the movements of our mouth, we may repeat the words, but do we really experience them – do we make them an outflow of a real inner feeling? The great saints of East and West have gone beyond words and ego-directed movements, to the real changing of self. Some of the changes they made within themselves are almost universal. This is true of the Prayer of the Virgin Soul.
The prayer of the virgin soul
The symbolism of the Virgin Mary, and the many other virgin mothers in the world’s sacred literature, show how universal a realisation this is. But if you wish to practise it, you have to make it an inner reality. In doing so you have to realise that by “inner change” is meant an inner condition, an inner state of being. It is also helpful to understand why you attempt this. It is because, until you clear at least part of your consciousness of preconceived ideas, biases, convictions, rigid emotions, unconscious habits, and so on, you cannot conceive new realisations from your own inner possibilities, you cannot give birth to the awareness of that Mystery that you are, to God. Basically this is very practical. In trying to remember someone’s name you may fail utterly because you are certain it begins with ‘S’ – when in fact it begins with ‘B’. You will never remember the name until you drop your preconception.
So the virgin posture of the soul is an attempt to bring about an inner state, an inner feeling of fertility and love towards your invisible and unknown potential – purity from preconceived ideas – the offering of your whole being as material for your potential to use in creating a new self – the act of supplication in which you let go of your thoughts, emotions and body, so they can be played upon as a piano or organ by Life. There should arise a feeling of warmth toward and desire for the unseen Life, openness to any possibility Life may have in store for you, good or bad, allied with trust. If you have a temperament capable of this, then make it an act of love, a real devotion, approaching ones darling.
When you manage to let go of what you think God or Life is, what you believe yourself to be, or what you are convinced is so about yourself and the world, then you are ready to receive something new. Then, that divine conception can take place in you that enables the spiritual (that which exists beyond the barriers and boundaries of your own ego) to gain a foothold in you. Then you become pregnant with new life and eventually give birth to the More of yourself in the way you live and act. This conception and the following birth will become known to you in some way. It will be felt, or maybe shown to you in a dream. The following is the dream of a man who for some time had been practising the way of Mary.
I dreamt I was lying in a cellar. I was myself, yet at the same time, I was my wife and another woman I loved. I was in labour, and after a time the baby was born. It was a boy, a wonderful child. The membrane covered part of its face and I pulled it away. The baby then began to breathe, and looked about, fully conscious and very alert. Then, to my wonder, it spoke the name of Jesus, and said, ‘It is gone’.
When asked what was gone, the beautiful baby replied, “The other ego, where has it gone?” I seemed to know exactly what it meant. The baby had been part of the cosmic awareness, of universal consciousness, and was now but a babe; and I said, “The cosmic still exists within you, to become known as you grow”. I then carried the baby from the cellar upstairs, and knew it to be a holy and wonderful child.
Deep within us, when we have opened to God as a virgin, in the cellar or cave of our unconscious, among the beasts of our instincts, and physical energies, the New Life tentatively begins its growth to consciousness, to birth. The star and the stable are the highest and the lowest in us uniting in this wonderful task. Joseph, our intellect and outer creativeness, difficult though he finds it to believe in this miracle, listens to his intuitions and dreams, and protects and cares for the childlike mother.
This new life of the spirit emerging in you, as the story of the Gospels suggest, is just a baby. It is vulnerable. It needs caring for and nurturing. It needs protection against the Herod’s of the world. It also needs recognition that the Christian drama takes place in your own life, as the following quote suggests.
Though Christ a thousand times in Bethlehem be born, but not within thyself, thy soul will be forlorn: the cross of Golgotha thou lookest to in vain, unless within thyself it be set up again. (Scheffler, a German mystic, quoted from The Perfect Way by Anna Kingsford & Maitland, Watkins, 1923) (See http://www.sacred-texts.com/wmn/cws).
Some helpful pointers to this inner posture of the soul are as follows:
- Try to shift the condition of your inner feelings to one of a young and loving girl who is opening herself to the mysterious spirit of Life. In this way you are opening not to the known, but to what is an eternal mystery.
- Remember that you are an expression of that Mystery, so it is not far off or unattainable; it just needs an open doorway into your conscious life. Open that doorway with some sense of wonder.
What is born this day?
When you open to the Mystery that is the foundation of your existence something happens within you. An influence starts to work in you, and this is often depicted as conception. It takes time for this gentle influence to grow, and this is why pregnancy is such an apt symbol of it.
EvelynUnderhill, ever explicit about the growth of Christ in us, says:
The long strange months of our expectation are over: that hidden certain trust of ours, that joyous consciousness of crescent spirit, ‘our own yet not our own,’ is justified at last. It is justified in the actual outbirth and appearance of that most real and mystic Life; which is so profound just because it is so simple, so far above us just because it is divinely near. Welcome all wonders in one sight, Eternity shut in a span, summer in winter, day in night, Heaven in earth and God in man, great little one, whose all-embracing birth lifts earth to heaven, stoops heaven to earth.
In terms of its symbolism the New Testament is again a wonderful statement of what happens when the divine is born in your life. Although the newborn Jesus is recognised as a special child, there are still shown to be surrounding doubts, objections and oppositions. This is the way it will be for most of us. Because the wonderful thing has happened to us, it doesn’t mean we are without doubts or that we can now see our way clearly. The growth and maturity of this new path still faces the passage of time and the complications of growth. There will be times when the light opens and shines in your life, but there will equally be times when the darkness returns and you lose sight of the wonder that is emerging in you. These are represented by the child Jesus talking to the teachers in the temple, (Mark 2:46), and the doubts of those around him.
Writing about this inner change, Maurice Nicoll, in his book The New Man, says:
The Gospels are from beginning to end all about this possible self-evolution. They are psychological documents. They are about the psychology of this possible inner development – that is, about what a person must think, feel, and do in order to reach a new level of understanding. The Gospels are not about the affairs of life, save indirectly, but about this central idea – namely, that Man internally is a seed capable of a definite growth. Man is compared with a seed capable of a definite evolution. As he is, Man is incomplete, unfinished. A person can bring about his or her own evolution, their own completion, individually. If he does not wish to do this he need not. He is then called grass – that is, burned up as useless. This is the teaching of the Gospels.
Nicoll also reminds us that what we are dealing with here is not the rational organised realm of thought. We are dealing with the Mystery, that which stands beyond what we understand. Therefore we cannot neatly organise it and control it. We must open to it and be fertilised by it or reject it. This is why Mary is shown with Joseph, an old man who cannot understand her condition, but nevertheless supports her.