The mystical poetry of all spiritual traditions shares a common language and purpose. The same thread runs through the Biblical Song of Songs and Medieval Christian mystics like Mechtilde of Magdeberg and St. Theresa of Avila; Rumi, Hafiz, Rabia and the Sufi poets of Islam; wandering poet-saints of India such as Mira and Laladev. Their purpose is not just to entertain and pacify, but to rebel against external hierarchies of religious power, to restore our own divine radiance, and to re-open the gates of the Heart.
Mystical poetry invites our nervous system, at the finest level of feeling, to reconnect the broken circuitry linking the cerebral cortex, through the hypothalamus and amygdula, to the cardiac plexus, which physiologists now know contains neurons and neuro-peptide transmitters as complex as the brain.
This neurological path from mind to heart was intentionally broken by the priesthoods of religion - from the pharaoic priests in Egypt, to the Brahmans of India, to the modern ecclesiastical hierarchy. Their fear-based, punitive dogmas kept human physiology in a constant fight-or-flight reaction, preventing our bodies from developing neural pathways that might conduct the subtler energy of infused divine radiance throughout the human form: the true meaning of 'resurrection.'
The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is the brain-stem branching up into the cerebral cortex. We are permitted to witness dualistic thinking in this brain-tree, but not to grasp it, lest we fall into a world of conflict created by our own minds. This dualistic thinking, in terms of 'I am right and you are wrong,' is the source of sectarian conflict and religious dogmatism. But our primary nourishment was intended to come from that other tree, the Tree of Life at the center of the body, which is the Heart.
The rebel poets invite us to leave the Tree of the Knowledge of Right and Wrong, along with our addiction to the dualistic fruit of Opposites, and eat from the living Tree in the Garden, where Lover and Beloved drink the Wine of bewilderment: be-wild-erment. Every religious tradition describes this Garden in the Heart. It is the neural center of our original innocence, the place where unity outshines duality. This Heart radiance is Eden. It is also garden where the Bridegroom meets the Bride in the Song of Solomon. Likewise, it is the garden of the Resurrection, where Mary Magdalene meets Jesus. It is also the garden of Vrindavan, where Radha meets Krishna in love's longing. And it is the garden of the Islamic Sufi mystics, where Rumi invites us to meet in "a field out beyond every concept of right and wrong."
In this Heart wilderness, creatures fulfill the real purpose of creation, merging back into the creator with fully individualized awareness. Then Lover and Beloved can be Two in One, and One in Two. We cannot celebrate this Wedding in the cerebral brain, which insists that one cannot be two, and two cannot be one. We only have this affair with God in the awakened neurology of heart, a wilderness of love. That is why so many mystics and passages of scripture call us into the wilderness.
The prophet Hosea remembers a time before Israel adopted the pseudo-sophistication of city life. He recalls their sacred wandering in the wilderness, the divine intimacy of being lost. For when we are most lost in the wild of our original nature, we find ourselves most surrendered to the Spirit. So God calls with yearning to Israel:
"I will woo her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her. There I will restore her vineyards... On that day, she will call me My Husband, and will no longer call me My Master! (Hosea 2)Through the prophet Jeremiah, God sighs:
"I remember the unfailing devotion of your youth, the love of your bridal days, when you followed me into the wilderness, through a land unsown." (Jeremiah 1)Jesus also called us back into the wilderness: "Come away by yourselves into the wilderness, and rest awhile" (Mark 6:31)
It is in this sense that later mystics spoke of "bewilderment." I love that word, be-wild-erment. It suggests not only a state of marvelous wonder, but being in the wild. The young Martin Luther wrote, "Bewilderment is the true comprehension." German Catholic mystic Johann Tauler used wilderness imagery to describe the realm of the transcendent Godhead, beyond dualistic thinking:
"In unity, all multiplicity is lost. This unity unites multiplicity in an incomprehensibly wild wilderness... the simple hidden wilderness beyond being." (Johann Tauler, Sermon 6)These mystic poets do not call us to negate civilization, but to establish a new civilization of the Heart. In his essay On Poetry, Shelley wrote that "the poet is the unacknowledged legislator of reality." Or course, this is also true of the artist, dancer and musician. The revolution that will transmute our reality into "a new heaven and a new earth" does not begin with the programs of the political scientist, or the theories of the economist, or the protests of the activist. No political or economic reform can change the world until there is a transmutation of the Heart, a resurrection of matter itself in the physiological circuity of the human body. The transformation of our body's subtlest energy-pathways, empowers us to envision unity in the midst of conflict, to evolve competitiveness into cooperation, and reshape hierarchy into the circle of community. The opening of the Heart has profound sociopolitical meaning: it means that we can choose love over power. And this revolution begins with the effect of the artist's vision on our sensibility.
Full activation of the brain-heart complex is the necessary prerequisite to any meaningful social revolution. This is why the mystical artist is necessary for the revolution. Without the awakening of the Heart, mere political and economic reforms fall short, simply replacing one hierarchy of power with another. This is also why, throughout history, mystical poets were exiled, imprisoned, or executed as heretics.
Mystical poetry casts down the pomp of the over-educated mind, liberates the heart from duality of vision, and demolishes patriarchal authority systems. Patriarchal systems always use hierarchy, whereby he power-elite uses fear to subjugate the powerless. And this reign of fear is more efficiently accomplished through religious dogma than through armies or police states.
Despite the futile judgment of religious authorities, who would punish us for becoming whole again, mystical poetry reconnects the brain-heart Circle, leading us naturally to form circles of community rather than hierarchies of power. When the Circle is complete, the gates of Eden spontaneously open.
Mystical art does not accomplish this revolution through any form of violence, conflict, confrontation, or even argument. The poetry of the mystic may be ironic, iconoclastic, even shocking in its imagery, using the vocabulary of sensual love, wine cup and wine, and ecstatic dance to convey the union of God and the Soul. But the poem is never angry or demeaning. The poet of the Heart gives us invitations, not ultimatums; inspirations, not creeds; possibilities, not laws. For the endocrine and neural pathways to the Heart must be built with the subtlest and gentlest feelings, never violent ones. New protein tracks to the Garden cannot be laid down by the arousal of fear, or the rigidity of intellectual belief. These paths are soft wilderness trails through the neural landscape of the meditative body, entangled with blossoming weeds of tenderness, longing, and feelings of Grace.
The joyful voice of the Heart calls us, ever so gently, not to believe but to surrender:
"Who told you that you transgressed? Who told you that you sinned? Who told you that the Divine would punish you for becoming Divine again? Now inherit your birthright: you are God's love, flowing back to its Source.
"The voice you heard, proclaiming original sin, was the voice of the false priest, the wielder of the staff of Religion. It was not the voice of the Beloved. For your inheritance is not original sin, but original innocence. The only God worthy of your worship is the God who calls you 'Lover,' not 'sinner,' the Lord who invites you to be One, not two. Spirit created you in the image of Spirit; why would Spirit anoint you with any oil less precious than your own divinity?
"Come! Give up fear. Do not build barriers of separation, hiding shamefully from the Lord who walks in the cool of the evening with you, in the Garden of your Heart. Listen not to the voice of judgment, but to the flute of divine longing. Then, when your silence overflows, speak to the Beloved as the Bride spoke, in the Song of Songs:
O let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth... for your love is sweeter than wine, and your name is perfume poured out! (Song of Songs, 1)