William Johnston and the new mysticism 2

When William Johnston was explaining to a correspondent about the new mysticism he outlined a number of characteristics: the first that it was open to everyone and anyone – not something practised only by monastics; the second was the holistic nature – in other words it included psychological awareness and philosophical understanding and so was acceptable to psychologists and philosophers; the third was an emphasis on posture and breathing; the fourth its emphasis on faith; and the fifth the emphasis on enlightenment.

Johnston thought that breathing and an emphasis on how we breathe is the gateway to the unconscious and can be used as a way to unleash a flow of energy. He was really writing about the practice of mindfulness so: ‘when I breathe I know that I am breathing. When I walk I know that I am walking. When I sit I know that I am sitting.’ Keeping the back straight and gathering strength in the lower part of the body and indeed reciting a mantra or a special word all lead to one-pointedness, and lead people to the door of the interior castle. But Johnston reminded his correspondent that then to ‘enter and meet the Inner Guest is the work of Grace alone.’

The faith of the new mysticism is not to do with words and letters and thought but rather a pure naked and dark faith. He says that in his experience from living in Japan he has been astonished by the totality of the Buddhist faith commitment – ‘even if it kills me, I will go through’ cries the Zen practitioner. The Buddhist he feels puts their faith into the Buddha, the dharma and the sangha – not because they’ve reasoned it out, rather it’s believed because it’s believed… She believes because she believes. She sits because she sits…

It’s a refusal to think and to reason; it’s about renouncing all thought, and through this all dependence on words and letters is given up. Again it’s somewhat similar to what Carl Jung thought about people attending the Catholic Church (it came up in a post several weeks ago) and this would be in the early part of the twentieth century. Jung thought that unlike the Protestants there was not an emphasis on what you believed and whether you believed what you were supposed to believe, rather people came because they were in it – they had faith without thinking it through.

So what happens if we stop thinking and give up reasoning? As Johnston says one enters the void. One becomes nothing. Nothing, nothing, nothing. This nothingness is in fact pure faith, naked faith, dark faith. Both Johnston and Jung understood how hard this was for Western-educated Christians. We seem somehow so caught in reasoning, and giving reasons as though we could prove the doctrines of faith by our reasoning. In the same way that the unconscious cannot really be proved but it can be experienced; neither can faith be proved but it can certainly be experienced. So this is what is meant by a leap in the dark.

As Jesus said ‘blessed are those who have not seen but believe.’

Blessed are those who have no reasons but believe.