A 17th Century English Mystic
|by Richard Lang
The following quotations are all from the 17th Century English mystic,
No brims nor borders in my self I see, My essence is Capacity.
The world was more in me than I in it.
Do not your inclinations tell you that the world is yours?
You never enjoy the world aright till the sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens and crowned with the stars; and perceive yourself to be the sole heir of the whole world.
The streets were mine, the temple was mine, the people were mine, their clothes and gold and silver were mine, as much as their sparkling eyes, fair skins and ruddy faces. The skies were mine, and so were the sun and moon and stars, and all the world was mine.
O the riches of thine infinite goodness in making my Soul an interminable Temple, out of which nothing can be, from which nothing is removed, to which nothing is afar off; but all things immediately near, in a real, true, and lively manner.
Thomas Traherne (c.1636-74), an Anglican priest, was also a metaphysical poet. Born in Hereford in England, the son of a poor shoemaker, his finest work appeared in the 1670s but was lost until rediscovered and published as Poems (1903) and Centuries of Meditations (1908).
Traherne was alive to, and rapturous about the one 'thing' that every being in the universe has in common: the boundless space or 'Capacity' which is our innermost being. Nearer to each of us than our own breathing abides this Awareness. In appearance each of us is a limited 'thing' in the world, but in reality each of us is the Self - what Traherne in one of the above quotations calls his 'Soul'. In this Soul all of us live and move and have our being. We may of course choose other words for our innermost identity: Spirit, Godhead, True Nature, Buddha Nature, the Beloved. At this level of our being we can all truthfully say 'I am not in the world, the world is in me'.
When we awaken to Who we really are we find that nothing is distant from us. For Awareness is room for all things, includes all things. The furthest star is right here in one's being. Perceiving this inspires in Traherne profound wonder and joy.
Since all things are directly given in Awareness, all things belong to oneself - not the human self we see in the mirror which obviously does not possess the world, but our true self. Being 'Capacity' we contain - we are - all things. From a grain of sand or a flower in the hedgerow to the moon and stars - all these are one's own. Having no appearance at centre, we are clothed in the living universe.
Awakening to our full identity is not so hard as we might sometimes think. As the great Indian teacher Ramana Maharshi said, it is easier to see the Self than to see something you are holding in the palm of your hand. For any object is a complex thing, but the Subject is simplicity itself. Seeing the Self is seeing the No-thingness at the centre of one's being, the place we are looking out of right now, our Original Face, our no-face.
Until we awaken to the Self we 'do not enjoy the world aright'. We continue living the illusion of being separate from the world. No wonder we feel alienated. But when we are awake to our own 'no-thingness/everythingness', then, as Traherne puts it so beautifully, 'the sea itself floweth in your veins'. Awakening to our own infinite being, we stumble upon a profound and peaceful Aloneness - an Aloneness that is alone by including all things, not by excluding them. Not one atom of the whole cosmos is outside our being. And so, when we look up into the night sky we find - O wondrous thing - that we are crowned by the stars.