Many times it has happened:
Lifted out of the body into myself;
becoming external to all other things and self-encentered;
beholding a marvellous beauty;
then, more than ever, assured of community with the loftiest order;
enacting the noblest life, acquiring identity with the divine;
stationing within It by having attained that activity;
poised above whatsoever within the Intellectual is less than the Supreme:
yet, there comes the moment of descent from intellection to reasoning,
and after that sojourn in the divine, I ask myself how it happens that I can now be descending,
and how did the soul ever enter into my body,
the soul which, even within the body, is the high thing it has shown itself to be.
Plotinus, Enneads, 4.8.1
I cannot tell you how surprised I was the first time I felt my heart begin to warm. It was real warmth too, not imaginary, and it felt as if it were actually on fire. I was astonished at the way the heat surged up, and how this new sensation brought great and unexpected comfort. I had to keep feeling my breast to make sure there was no physical reason for it! But once I realized that it came entirely from within, that this fire of love had no cause, material or sinful, but was the gift of my Maker, I was absolutely delighted, and wanted my love to be even greater. And this longing was all the more urgent because of the delightful effect and the interior sweetness which this spiritual flame fed into my soul. Before the infusion of this comfort I had never thought that we exiles could possibly have known such warmth, so sweet was the devotion it kindled. It set my soul aglow as if a real fire was burning there.
Yet as some may well remind us, there are people on fire with love for Christ, for we can see how utterly they despise the world, and how wholly they are given over to the service of God. If we put our finger near a fire we feel the heat; in much the same way a soul on fire with love feels, I say, a genuine warmth. Sometimes it is more, sometimes less: it depends on our particular capacity.
What mortal man could survive that heat at its peak -- as we can knokw it, even here -- if it persisted? He must inevitably wilt before the vastness and sweetness of love so perfervid, and heat so indescribable. Yet at the same time he is bound to long eagerly for just this to happen: to breathe his soul out, with all its superb endowment of mind, in this honeyed flame, and, quit of this world, be held in thrall with those who sing their Maker's praise.
Richard Rolle, The Fire of Love, prologue
Sitting one day in his room his eyes fell upon a burnished pewter dish, which reflected the sunshine with such marvellous splendor that he fell into an inward ecstasy, and it seemed to him as if he could now look into the principles and deepest foundations of things. He believed that it was only a fancy, and in order to banish it from his mind he went out upon the green. But here he remarked that he gazed into the very heart of things, the very herbs and grass, and that actual nature harmonized with what he had inwardly seen. He said nothing of this to anyone, but praised and thanked God in silence."
Jacob Boehme, Aurora
Many years ago, in the spring of 1974, I visited the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. There were not many people around, and it was quiet and still inside. I gazed in silent awe at the great Rose Window, glowing in the morning sun. All at once the cathedral was filled with a huge volume of sound: an organ playing magnificently for a wedding taking place in a distant corner. Bach's Tocata and Fugue in D Minor. I had always loved the opening theme; but in the cathedral, filling the entire vastness, it seemed to enter and possess my whole self. It was at though the music itself was alive. That moment, a suddenly captured moment of eternity, was perhaps the closest I have ever come to experiencing ecstasy, the ecstasy of the mystic." (p. xiii) Jane Goodall. Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey New York: Warner, 2000.
It is hard now, after twenty years, to recapture that moment of ecstasy in the cathedral---although the experience has never left me. It became incorporated into the warp and woof of my very being. If I hear Bach's fugue, no matter where I am, the result is the same: just as the chimes of Big Ben trigger an unconscious spasm of fear, so that music floods my whole being with love, joy, and a sort of spiritual exaltation. It was not important, I think, that the music was Bach, or that particular fugue. And I suspect the experience could have occurred in another cathedral, or a church, a mosque, a temple, a synagogue. It was the glorious reverberation of the organ in an ancient place of worship, sanctified over hundreds of years by the sincere prayers of so many thousands of people. The impact was so powerful I suppose because it came at a time when so much was changing in my life, when I was vulnerable. When I was, without knowing it, needing to be reconnected with the Spirit Power I call God---or perhaps I should say being reminded of my connection. The experience, whatever else it did, put me back on track; it forced me to rethink the meaning of my life on earth." (p. 266)
Lost in the awe at the beauty around me, I must have slipped into a state of heightened awareness. It is hard---impossible, really---to put into words the moment of truth that suddenly came upon me then. Even the mystics are unable to describe their brief flashes of spiritual ecstasy. It seemed to me, as I struggled afterward to recall the experience, that self was utterly absent: I and the chimpanzees, the earth and trees and air, seemed to merge, to become one with the spirit power of life itself. The air was filled with a feathered symphony, the evensong of birds. I heard new frequencies in their music and also in the singing insects' voices---notes so high and sweet I was amazed. Never had I been so intensely aware of the shape, the color of the individual leaves, the varied patterns of the veins that made each one unique. Scents were clear as well, easily identifiable: fermenting, overripe fruit; waterlogged earth; cold, wet bark; the damp odor of chimpanzee hair, and yes, my own too. And the aromatic scent of young, crushed leaves was almost overpowering." (pp. 173-174)
Many years ago, in the spring of 1974, I visited the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. There were not many people around, and it was quiet and still inside. I gazed in silent awe at the great Rose Window, glowing in the morning sun. All at once the cathedral was filled with a huge volume of sound: an organ playing magnificently for a wedding taking place in a distant corner. Bach's Tocata and Fugue in D Minor. I had always loved the opening theme; but in the cathedral, filling the entire vastness, it seemed to enter and possess my whole self. It was at though the music itself was alive. That moment, a suddenly captured moment of eternity, was perhaps the closest I have ever come to experiencing ecstasy, the ecstasy of the mystic." (p. xiii)
Jane Goodall. Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey New York: Warner, 2000.
Suddenly, I realized that this was a crushing of the self by an unknown power beyond myself. It was then that I began frevently to pray, feeling forlorn, humbled, terrified and lost. I lost the feeling of the passage of time. I felt severed from earthly reality and became dizzy at the thought that I had reached the end of my endurance. Then I swooned. The moments just before I fainted were filled with indescribable horror. But I soon awoke. A tiny flame of hope appeared in my heart. And then it grew and grew. My first thought was that God was answering my prayers. I began gradually to feel close to the people around me once more; closer than ever before. Some hours later reassurance gradually returned to me and I felt mature and newly born. Enlightenment seemed to come.
Paul Brunton, quoted in Kenneth Thurston Hurst, Paul Brunton: A Personal View. Burdett, NY: Larson Publications, 1989.